A (Very Small) Room of One’s Own

Virginia Woolf had it right. People need a place to escape the rigors of social interaction otherwise known as life. Some of us need it more than others. You closet introverts know who you are.

I used to fight my introverted self. It isn’t the preferred category. The extrovert catches the worm. The introvert agonizes over the proper approach to the worm, whether or not the worm will be receptive to the advances, rehearses a dozen different speeches to break the ice and by then the worm is gone.

When Pasek asks me if I want to rent the place next door while mine is being renovated, I say, “Oh no. I’ll stay in my house during the construction.”

“No,” he says.

“Yes,” I say. “It’s okay, I like building projects.”

“No,” he says. Pasek is the project manager. Normally I would defer to his greater knowledge of best building practices in Bali. But this time I’m adamant.

“Yes,” I say, and that’s the final word.

It begins innocently enough. I arrange the sofa and chairs in my open living area so the crew can relax while they eat breakfast and lunch. I buy coffee, tea, and sugar for their morning and afternoon beverages. I make the extra bathroom available for their personal needs. In my mind it’s like a very long tea party and I’m the ultimate hostess.

My yoga and meditation routine gets pushed to 6 a.m. so I can be finished before the noise starts.

During the day I sit with my laptop at the dining table so I can watch the work while I write.

After a month the dirt and noise encroach. I remove the dining table and chairs, shove the sofa against the back wall, and relocate my writing to the front terrace. Not sturdy enough for constant use, the sofa breaks. That too is removed. Then the bags of concrete arrive and take over the terrace.

The desk in my bedroom becomes my island of calm.

A day later, the concrete for the new second floor is poured. Without warning, gray cement water rains through the bamboo ceilings of both bedrooms flooding them in minutes. I lurch away from the desk and run for buckets, mops, rags, anything to staunch the flow. I feel my enthusiasm slip a few notches.

Hours later, with the help of Ketut, things are drying.

P1060554 P1060555

“Roof go tomorrow,” he announces as we return the furnishings to their original places. “Maybe furniture move, move.”

“The roof? Tomorrow?” I squeak.


“Ya,” he says.

We assess the situation and I send him to buy tarps. The next morning I get up with a plan. There’s space in my extra large bathroom for the wardrobe and the chest of drawers. If I move those things out of the bedroom and arrange everything else at the far end to avoid possible future flooding from the unprotected area, the absence of a roof should matter less. I set to work. By the time Ketut comes back I’ve finished.

“Have help?” he asks, as he eyes the large, heavy wardrobe and chest now sitting in the bathroom.

“No,” I say. “I did it myself.”

“Not broken?” he asks.

“No, not me and not the furniture.” He laughs.

P1060865I change the bedding, arrange the side tables and hang a few things on the wall. Not bad. I sink into a chair and gaze at my handiwork. With the bulky items out of sight in the bathroom, the space feels larger. And it looks more like a studio apartment than a bedroom, granted a tiny studio, but the energy of it has shifted.

It’s a refuge. It contains everything I need.

Pasek says in two months the work will be finished. Yesterday two months would have sounded like twenty years. But now I have a place that feels organized and moderately clean where I can shut the door and claim private time. I’ve banished the ridiculous notion that I’m entertaining guests. Enthusiasm has resurfaced. I’ll be fine. All I need is a nook, an undisturbed corner where I can duck away to recharge my introverted batteries…a (very small) room of my own.

Hate your job? Try this…

I’m sure you work hard. The stress level is crushing. The equipment is outdated and your boss breathes down your neck. I’m sorry.

Perhaps you would like to change places with the building crew that arrives in the back of a battered pickup truck every morning, hauled down from their homes in mountain villages in the pre dawn chill. They’ve already cooked the rice and vegetables that they bring along to sustain them through the day. I try to be up before they arrive.

P1060507This time I’ve been awake for hours. I know in a general sense what is supposed to happen today. I’m eager and a little apprehensive.

Before sunup ten people gather in my garden. They’re here to pour concrete for the second level. I know the drill, breakfast first. I’ve set out ten glasses with coffee and sugar. The water kettle is boiling.

P1060511 The boss is a jovial bloke and to look at him I’d never know how quickly he’ll rally the troops and get things moving. Time is never wasted but neither is it rushed. Everyone knows his or her place and what is expected. First the tower and cable must be installed that will carry the bins of concrete to the second floor, fifteen feet above the ground.

P1060537The column goes up while my back is turned to photograph the women carrying bags of cement from the garden to the mix site in the back. It’s done by hand, or head shall we say, with smiles and waves.


This is a specialized crew that comes complete with the mixing machine.They know exactly how much rock, sand, and water must be added to the concrete for just the right consistency. P1060525

I watch as the motor for the generator is cranked, and cranked, then cranked again. With a chug-chug and a puff of dirt-black smoke, it grumbles into service. The mixer turns and women come from both directions with tubs of rock and sand on their heads. A bag of concrete is dumped in, then water, one after another, robotic in their consistency, until the contents is ready. The man at the lever flips the bucket over into the waiting bin. Grey slush pours out and is whisked heavenward to the second floor. It’s a scene that cannot be believed. I took a short video from the terrace that tells the story much more eloquently than I can. View it in all its intensity here. It’s in real time and just as loud in reality as it sounds virtually.

After staring open-mouthed and mesmerized at the perpetual motion below, curiosity gets the best of me and I climb the makeshift ladder to check out what’s happening upstairs. It’s only a little more chilled out up here. The lumpy liquid pours out of the chute and is troweled into place by the dude in rubber boots, knee deep in the slush.


 They’re hard at it for five hours then it’s finished. The equipment is gone. The people have vanished. Lingering diesel fumes hang in the air but otherwise there’s not a trace of the industry that hummed so efficiently around me mere moments ago. It’s almost too quiet. I feel stunned, like I’ve been pulled out of a blender just before it pulverizes me. My eardrums still vibrate.

It’s a bizarre dichotomy this Bali life. One part of this world is the glitz and glam of all that money can buy, yachts, Hummers, and private jets. The other has barely entered the Machine Age. I’m suspended between the two, well maybe not yachts and Hummers, but I definitely have a foot in the past! And I kind of like it there. I may put both feet in.

Sanity is Green

I didn’t sleep well last night. There was one mosquito…. But it wasn’t just the annoying buzz around my ears. I was waiting for another sound that didn’t come until after sunrise, after I’d shampooed, showered, and dressed, after I’d had coffee and my morning bowl of fresh papaya. I was waiting for voices, the workers who would come en mass today to pour my first floor terrace. I didn’t know how many to expect. Pasek said “Many.” How many is many? He didn’t know. But he brought extra glasses, more Bali coffee and sugar, and  watermelon and kue from the market. Pouring a floor is a big, big deal here in Bali. So I was on high alert knowing that the whole thing has to be finished the same day it starts and knowing also that they would begin early and stay as late as necessary. I was a little apprehensive in an excited sort of way.

P1060120Yesterday morning the floor looked like this.


By the end of the day there were identical boxes perched on 2 x 4s at either end of the structure.


And at 8:00 this morning…!

A crew of ten workers arrive. They come in the back of a pickup truck from a village in the district of Bangli. A breakfast of rice and vegetables, sometimes chicken, is packed early when food is made for the whole family. They unpack it and laugh and joke over their morning meal. I bring out the plates of kue, Balinese cakes, and Ketut heats the water for coffee. They love to joke with me and I know just enough Indonesian now to be dangerous. I’m not always certain what I’ve said or what I may have agreed to. They’re a raunchy bunch!


The big guns arrive. Pasek, the project manager is in the forefront and Dewa, the contractor, is next to him. They’re here to make sure everything gets off to a good start. Sudi, my neighbor, is the third in the line-up, and Ketut in red takes it all in. By 8:45 the place is like an anthill. Everyone moves at once and knows what to do. Water flows into the big square boxes. Bags of cement come in carried atop the women’s heads. Stones are dumped in with the concrete mix. Scraping and mixing and commotion ramp up to full volume.

By 9:00 a.m. I’m in search of sanity. Which, as it turns out, is green.

Lucky for me, my friend wants me to go with her to Denpasar today to buy fabric. So at 9 a.m. Sudi and Ketut pull up on their motorbikes and we escape.


Flooded paddies with new plantings reflect the sky


Older growth yields layers and layers of green


A small temple posts watch

For miles we roll through serenity. My nerves calm. My mind clears. We pass a small temple at the edge of a paddy and I remember that on the other side of the world today is Easter Sunday. It doesn’t take much, I realize, to ground me, to restore balance in my mind. Sanity is green, just a few miles of small road through acres of natural beauty.


 Tonight my new floor looks like this.

The concrete is poured. The thunderous piles of black cloud that surrounded Ubud all afternoon didn’t leak a drop. The work was uninterrupted. All that remains of my diligent crew are these soggy gloves, hanging on the skeleton of a pillar to dry. Until tomorrow, that is. P1060151

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