He said…She said…

This day began, like most in my blessed Bali life, with Ketut. He appeared punctually at 8:45 with my breakfast and the daily profusion of fresh flowers: blood-red hibiscus, fragrant frangipani, and the lovely golden throated bloom that neither of us can identify.

But today was markedly different. His appearance with food was not preceded by the call-and-response mantra between me on the balcony and him in the garden. Every day for the past three months the pleasantries of “Good morning, how are you? Good, and you? Good. How did you sleep? Good, and you? Good, thank you,” have been exchanged from my lofty perch to his earthy one, followed by:

“You want eat?”

“Yes, please, papaya, toast, tea.”

“You want now?”

“Yes, please, now.”

Nine days out of 10 I order the same breakfast. I am bored hearing myself repeat it.

So yesterday, armed with my dictionary, I said, “Ketut, breakfast is always the same. Why don’t I eat every day at 8:45 a.m. You bring papaya, toast, and tea at 8:45. Does that work?” We agreed that if I anticipated wanting a variation on the theme I would alert him the night before, otherwise he would appear at 8:45 with the usual. So there he was this morning, 8:45 on the dot, beaming.

Feeling almost giddy with a new system that seemed far superior to the old one, we chatted away as I ate. I asked him about his childhood, what did he do when he was little. He made a chopping motion with one hand and said, “For cow.” We have spent enough time with each other by now that even the most cryptic of phrases, with accompanying hand signals, is decipherable.

“Oh!” I exclaimed. “You cut the food for the cows. How old?”

“Ten,” he said.

“What did you do when you were younger?”

“Play,” he said.

“What did you play?” I’ve been to his village. There are no toys, no kiddie parks, no swing sets.

“No have…” he stopped.

“No toys, no games?” I supplied the missing English words.

“Ya, no many many. Play in…” he made horizontal motions with his hands.

“Street? Yard?” I’m guessing.

“Ya,” he said.

“With other children in village?”

“Ya,” he said again. “Like this.” He pointed to the tiles on the floor of the balcony and pantomimed drawing lines. I got excited.

“Oh! You draw rooms on the ground? Pretend house?” He looked confused.

“No. Like this,” he said and began jumping from one tile to another. It was hopscotch! I leaped out of my chair bursting with laughter. “Oh! Sama-sama! In my country also!” Then we bounced around the balcony in an imaginary game of hopscotch wildly impressed with each other. After that we played jump-rope, and hide-n-seek.

These mundane occurrences are profound. They span oceans, decades, and vast cultural divides. They form a link where none exists between a 30 year old Balinese man from a remote mountain village and a 60 something woman from a place and culture he cannot even imagine. It says that maybe we are not so different after all. Once we were children. Once we played hopscotch, and hide-n-seek, and jumped rope with our little friends.

We did not intentionally pose like two peas in a pod for this photo!

We work hard to understand each other. His English is sketchy. My Indonesian is hit and miss, mostly miss. But there is a language that transcends all differences. It is blind to color, class, or creed. It is neither written nor spoken, but today we spoke it fluently. It is called childhood.

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Bali Nights

I talk a lot about the fabulous days and very little about the night life in Bali. That’s because I hadn’t ventured out to find it. But the past two nights I’ve been part of the after-dark-action and I’m lovin’ it!

No trip to Bali would be complete without seeing a Kekak Fire Dance. It is a colorful theatrical production of Ramayana, a Hindu epic story. The orchestra is composed of a male chorus of 100 men called the gamelan suara. They sit in a circle are bare chested and wear checked sarongs. Their sing-chant continues throughout the entire hour and a half performance and adds considerably to the drama.

The only lighting is the flaming tiered device in the center. The performance takes place inside the circle of men. The women move slowly, hands and fingers doing things that most hands and fingers were never made to do. Their feet, too, are moved carefully, deliberately, at odd angles.

The story is high drama with love, jealousy, deceit, heartbreak, battle and a stunning rescue scene when Hanoman, the white monkey, shows up.

Following the Fire Dance is the Sanghyang, or Trance Dance. The function of this dance is to protect society against evil forces and epidemics. The hobby horse is associated with trance in Balinese culture so in this Trance Dance the man performing the dance is symbolically riding a hobby horse through a bed of burning coconut husks. He has been lulled into trance by the repetitive sounds of the gamelan suara.

Men with rake type brooms, wearing tennis shoes, push the burning hulls back into the center after each firey pass-through made by the man with the horse who, you can see, was barefoot.

How does he do that??? He is obviously in an altered state because he kept running back into the fire, over and over again, until two men from the gamelan pulled him away.

The dancers posed on the staircase for photographs after the show. The costuming is spectacular.

The female dancers are simply exquisite and dance brilliantly. The performance is of a calibre that could command the stage at Orchestra Hall or the new Cowles Center for the Arts.

Tonight is quite a different scene. It is the full moon festival and grand opening of the new facility at the Yoga Barn.

The moon is glowing just to the right of the roof of the new building. Notice the gentle curve to the staircase. I can’t help think about commercial building codes when I look at structures in Bali. Hundreds of people went up and down that stair tonight and the first step down off the top platform was definitely a bigger drop than any of the others. I guess uniformity is nice if the math works out, but unnecessary if it doesn’t. Wish that’s how my high school algebra teacher thought!

In the yoga pavilion at the top of the spiral staircase hundreds of mats are spread on the floor in readiness for the evening. But before the festivities begin, a Balinese Holy Man walks through the crowd of seated yogis sprinkling holy water on each one of us. Nothing in Bali happens without the blessing of the Holy Man and he has pronounced this an auspicious night for a grand opening.

The grounds flicker with luminaries everywhere. A group of Balinese men sit by a mound of coconuts all night, chopping off the tops and making them available to anyone who wants fresh coconut milk. On the other side of the platform there are little food packets of rice, chilis, green beans, fried tempe, and tofu available. Everything is free on this special evening.

But the high point of the evening for me was meeting Andrea, from Oslo, Norway. She’s here for five weeks getting yoga certification training. I told her I have relatives in Oslo. We had a deep philosophical discussion about the meaning of uff-dah. It was magical.

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