Bali: Before and After

My love for this island hasn’t wavered. I’ve written poems and posts praising her wondrous landscapes and warm-hearted people. My taste buds have acclimated to chilies and fish sauce. I can’t imagine going back to canned-soup casseroles after thriving on fresh-off-the-tree dragon fruit, papaya, mango, and the magnificent red banana.

Here’s what I wrote in June, 2013, a word-picture of the old Bali that put all her eggs in the tourist basket. And the last verse, the Bali now, is a much different scene. As you read it, the word Bule means foreigner and is pronounced Boo-lay, accent on Boo.

Bali Beats

  • Kuta Beach, braid your hair?
  • Won’t take long…buy sarong?
  • Maybe two…good price…
  • Kuta Cowboy nice, you want
  • Mushroom? Weed? Speed?
  • What you need, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Gamelan in the streets, cremation tower
  • Dodging power lines, three times
  • Black bull circles
  • Dizzy spirits flee
  • Can you see it, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Kecak chorus, chant, trance
  • Women dancing
  • Golden deer and Hanoman
  • In the night by firelight,
  • Are you frightened, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Rubbish smoking
  • Choking when you breathe it in…
  • The din of tourist bus
  • Clogs narrow streets
  • Defeats the purpose, Bule…
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Trash in ocean, river, piling up
  • While Bali smiling for you, Bule…
  • Taxi, yes? Today? Tomorrow, maybe…
  • Where you stay?
  • What you pay, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali bleeds…
  • Covid came and Bule fled
  • Business dead, no smiles here
  • Just fear, uncertainty
  • And empty streets
  • So quiet I can hear
  • The beats…of Bali’s…heart

The situation is bleak, and it’s a stern wake-up call. An economy based almost solely on tourism is fragile indeed. But the Balinese are resilient and creative. They will adapt. Many have already gone back to resurrect their paddies and vegetable gardens. But those who no longer have land, those taxi drivers, hotel staff, and restaurant owners who depended upon a steady stream of tourism for survival, are suffering.

I’m a Bule who is still here, and while I grieve for my Balinese friends, I also watch wildlife return. Birds and butterflies I haven’t seen for years twitter and flutter about the garden. Fumes from the exhaust of too many cars, buses, and motorbikes, jammed in gridlock, have faded away. The air sparkles clear.

They say it’s like Bali twenty years ago…before the Bule stole her heart.

BALI Four Years Later…

I came to Bali in March of 2012. Today I checked the archives of my blog to remember what I was doing this time four years ago and was stunned. Swirling around me in a crazy juxtaposition of images and feelings was a journey, upon a journey, within a journey!

As I revisited those first months I saw myself the way I see everyone who arrives here from the relentless time pressures of the West. In the space of thirty days I managed to tour a village famous for woodcarvings, visit an organic farm, the Green School, the John Hardy jewelry factory, Goa Gajah elephant cave, a traditional market, a black sand beach, GitGit waterfall, the Bali animal sanctuary, and a school for children with learning disabilities. I took a cooking class, attended a Kecak Fire Dance, a Grand Opening for the new Yoga Barn, and a Balinese wedding. As if that wasn’t enough, I walked to a yoga studio every morning for an hour of Vinyasa! I thought, I truly thought I was slowing down. The thing is, compared to what I’d left behind, I was.

Observing myself in energizer bunny mode dazed me.

Then I pulled up accounts of Dewa, the owner and host at Jati Homestay where I spent my first months. I remember how compromised my feelings about men were at that time. The only good man was a…well, maybe not a dead man, but any male with heterosexual tendencies was unwelcome in my world. Dewa cracked the stony wall around my heart with his kindness and laughter.

Besides an inability to slow down, and a desire to avoid interactions with men, my head was wrapped around the novel I was writing, a psychological suspense thriller that distanced me from my own reality and kept me entwined in the imaginary lives of my characters.

And now…

I’ve slowed to a point where I’d make a slug appear speedy. I’ve embraced and embodied, dare I say mastered, the art of sacred idleness. There is nothing I would do today that can be put off until tomorrow, or later, or forever. I meditate and daydream and spend chunks, huge slices of time gazing at clouds. Have you ever been lost in the magnificence of clouds?


And let me tell you about men. When I moved into a more permanent residence after two months at Dewa’s, and discovered that I would have a man looking after me literally twenty-four hours a day, the discomfort that arose was irrational and immense. I was Ketut’s job. His only job. Many things crossed my freaked-out mind. But I loved my new quarters and as the days passed I grew curious about Ketut. He spoke almost no English but greeted me every morning with, “You want breakfast now?” His quiet, humble ways and attention to detail captivated me and the frozen places within commenced a tectonic shift. Since then I’ve existed almost exclusively in the company of men. First there were the adorable guys who built my house, and now the neighborhood staff, five of them, like to hang out, play my guitar, and beat me at Uno.

Ketut still manages me and I can’t imagine life without his friendship.


Two years ago I completed the fiction novel and cast about for what to do next. Many times I’d been told I should write my story. I’d tried, but the tough things were still lodged in a pain place and I couldn’t make myself go back there. All attempts ended in failure. But that was before. Now felt different, so I began. One chapter led to another, then another. I dug through detritus within myself that hadn’t been touched for decades and found it had fermented and become delightfully intoxicating.

Today, as I read the blog and traced those first exploratory steps in a foreign place where I knew no one, not even myself, and superimposed the image of who I’ve become, the magnitude of change hit me. What a testimony to the energetic magic of letting go. If I hadn’t sold everything four years ago and leaped into the unknown…

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