When you just keep falling in love

For someone who’s sworn off men, I’m not doing too well. I’m alone, that isn’t the issue. But my defenses have been shot to shreds in the loveliest possible ways and I find myself falling in love a little bit every day.

First there’s Ketut. I’ve written thousands of words about Ketut, glowing, gushing words. When I first came to Bali he was my room staff. I remember when he met me at 3 a.m. as I disembarked from a taxi after a trip of thirty-six hours from the States. “You Zely?” he asked, then hoisted my brick-heavy suitcase on his shoulders and told me to follow him. The next morning, there he was again. “Breakfast?” he said. “Kopi? What you want?”


Ketut with baby daughter Nengah

I remember my thoughts. A man? Why? Couldn’t I have a sweet girl cleaning my room and bringing my breakfast? Drat! I don’t want to put up with man-energy. But I didn’t understand then that the Balinese man isn’t like the men I’d known in the West. Ketut filled my room with flowers, daily. He anticipated me, knew when I would be hungry and showed up with treats. Knew when I wanted company and hung around to chat. Knew, even more importantly, when I wanted to be alone, and left me alone. His intuition was far more highly developed than mine, and I’ve come to realize that’s true of Balinese people in general. (But I won’t go into details here! Another time.) In short, Ketut healed my heart.

Enter, Gede! He’s another member of the staff in the neighborhood where I live. Gede is a clown, a twenty-one-year-old little boy who loves to laugh and make others laugh too. One day he gave me a lift on his motorbike and told me he wanted to bring me a kebaya. That’s the beautiful, traditional blouse that women wear to ceremonies here. It seemed far too generous a gift for someone who doesn’t even employ him, but the next time he went to his home in Kintamani, he came back with not one, but three stunning kebayas for me. They all fit like they had been custom tailored for my body. I fell in love with Gede long before the kebayas, but I fell a little bit deeper that day.


Gede…always the trickster!

The Tukangs working on my house, we’ll call them Dewa One, Dewa Two, and Pak Mandi, all have a slice of my heart. Dewa One scared the bejeezus out of me when I first met him. He had an angry man look, his hair was wild and his body was as tight as a coiled spring. He snapped orders at his crew and I steered clear. But his work was immaculate and one day I drilled up the nerve to tell him how happy I was with his skillful precision. He smiled. No, you don’t understand. He SMILED! There isn’t a more beautiful face on earth than the smiling face of Dewa One. My heart became gooey. Now I find every possible opportunity to praise him and he graces me with that gorgeous grin every time. I love Dewa One.

workers that took down the yoga deck

Dewa One…you’ll have to trust me about the smile!

The most outrageous of my loves is Pasek. He’s blatant, calls me his second wife, makes highly suggestive comments and enjoys watching me bristle. I’ve met his first wife and I adore her but I wouldn’t want to be her. Her hubby’s a handful. But do I love him? Oh yeah. Pasek is the one I call when my electricity goes out, when my faucet leaks, when I need food from the market, or when I want to know about Balinese culture. His harmless joking has become just another part of life here. And he, too, anticipates me and shows up just when I am about to dial his number.

Bali - Pasek's Family (26)

Pasek and his wife, Nyoman

But it doesn’t end there. I’m in love with my tailor, with the taxi drivers, with the man who sells tickets on the street, and the shop keeper at the corner convenience store. I’m in love with my neighbor’s husband, and pretty much every Balinese man I know. Do I use the word too loosely? I don’t think so. The men in Bali are kind to me. I’m susceptible to that. In the West kindness has become a lost art. We have bumper-stickers to remind us to be kind. But here it’s a fact of life, so I just keep falling in love.


The neighbor’s husband! (Don’t worry, Nina…you have zero competition here!)



Hopelessly in Love – Bada Bing Bada Boom

I am. There’s no way around it. Deeply, irrevocably, and hopelessly.

IMG_7630 (640x480)

Dewa and his wife, Trina

When I first came to Bali I met Dewa, the proprietor of Jati Homestay where I spent two, delicious, delirious months. Dewa was my introduction to Balinese men. Every morning he greeted me with a gorgeous smile. He patiently answered my questions. I often took my notebook to a table in the breakfast area to write. One day he found me there and asked what I was writing about. “My issues with men,” I said. He put his hand on his chest, utterly crestfallen, and asked, “Me?”

I laughed. “No, not you, Dewa. Just other men!”

002 (3) (640x480)

My ‘issues’ bouquet

That brought the smile I loved. He disappeared. About fifteen minutes later he returned with a bouquet of flowers in a clay vase. He set them in front of me. “Here. Look at these while you write about your issues with men,” he said.

Bada bing bada boom.

My next residence was Rumah Kita. Enter Ketut.

I arrived from the thirty-hour flight at 2:00 a.m. My driver pulled to a stop in the deserted street. A hooded figure jumped off a bench in front of the convenience store and hurried over. “Good morning!” he said. “You Zely?” In my benumbed state I realized he was saying my name and answered in the affirmative. “I take you Rumah Kita.” With that he hoisted my overweight luggage on his shoulder and started down the path. I paid the driver and hurried after him.

Let me explain that the journey leaves me, not exhausted, that sets in later, just buzzed. So at 6 a.m. when I was still poking around my new house, unpacking, settling in, there was a knock at the door. The hooded figure from the night before stood in front of me, hoodless, beaming.

“Good morning!” he said for the second time in 4 hours. “You want kopi?”


You want kopi?

“Okay,” I said, wondering why he was here at my door at 6 a.m. Moments later he reappeared with a tray. There was a pot of coffee, a cup and saucer, sugar, cream, and a profusion of flowers: red hibiscus, yellow frangipani, and something periwinkle.

“On terrace?” he asked.

“Okay,” I said again and pattered after him to the broad balcony overlooking rooftops and gardens. The sun was just coming up. “What’s your name,” I asked as he transferred the contents of the tray to the low table and arranged the flowers.

“Ketut,” he said.

“The flowers are beautiful!” I was overwhelmed. “Thank you!”

That was the beginning. Each morning Ketut brought coffee, flowers, and breakfast. He was on hand to take me by motorbike wherever I wanted to go. And as if that weren’t enough, he appeared shortly after noon, daily, to clean my house.  You could eat off the floor. There was never a crumb. Spotless. And after each cleaning flowers appeared everywhere, a frangipani blossom on the vanity, one on my laptop, the bedside table, the statue of Buddha, the incense holder, and a couple on the toilet tank. They were replaced fresh every day, and positioned in new and ingenious places that made me laugh.


Yes, the toilet tank…really.

I wondered about Ketut. Who had trained him to provide this level of service? Was this the norm in Bali? By the end of four months he knew my routines. On many occasions he appeared seconds after I’d thought, “I’m hungry,” with a snack or a smoothie. “Did you read my mind?” I’d ask him.

“Possible,” he’d reply.

My time was up at Rumah Kita. I returned to the U.S. and Ketut e-mailed. “Apa kabar? How are you?”

“I miss Bali,” I told him. “I’m coming back soon.”

When I returned, I rented the house next door and soon discovered all Balinese house staff are not created equal. Ibu, my new helper, was moody. On a good day she might smile. On a bad day she was a looming thundercloud. The whole neighborhood tip-toed around Ibu. I heard it whispered that she practiced black magic. I really didn’t care, I just wanted her gone.

Each day after Ibu left Ketut stopped by. “You want eat?” he’d ask. I wasn’t his responsibility anymore, so I declined and thanked him. He wasn’t deterred. “Ya, I cook,” he’d say, and so he did, and wouldn’t take payment. Not ever.

That answered one question about Ketut. He wasn’t just staff. We were friends.

I finally summoned the courage to let Ibu know I wouldn’t need her anymore and arranged with Ketut to work for me part-time. I named a figure and asked if that was acceptable. He shook his head. “No pay, it’s okay.”

This time I wouldn’t hear of it. I wrote a contract spelling out what I wanted him to do and how much I would pay him to do it.

Now my life is once again managed by Ketut. I didn’t request them, but every day he fills my house with flowers, and my heart with joy. He cooks. When my supplies are low, he replenishes them. He brings me treats, Balinese sweets and fresh fish from Lake Batur. I asked for cleaning twice a week. He seems to be unconscious of time and my house gets the once-over daily.  He made a lotus pond for me, and manicures the lawns and gardens. No amount of money can buy such selfless giving.

And he reads my mind.

I have papaya for breakfast. Always. At 6:30 a.m. this morning, in the middle of an inverted yoga pose, I remembered I’d eaten the last of it the night before. There were eggs and bread in the fridge. I was recalibrating my taste buds to accept the change when a voice said, “Hallo?” It was Ketut, in my doorway, holding a papaya.

My friend is thoughtful, helpful, generous, and kind and has single handedly ruined me for anyone else. I am deeply, irrevocably, and hopelessly fond of this special man who asks so little and gives so much. Terima kasih, Ketut. Thank you. You healed my heart.


Ketut, his wife Komang, and their daughter Nengah

%d bloggers like this: