The Neighbor Behind The Wall

Standing by the entrance in a wealthy family’s compound

I come from the rugged individualist mindset of the Midwest. When I first arrived in Bali, my senses were assaulted on too many levels to count. One perplexing issue that baffled me was the fact that whenever I left the house I was asked, “Where are you going?” When I entered a shop, salespeople interrogated me. “Where are you from? Where do you live? How long have you been here?” And every time I returned to my neighborhood I was quizzed again. “What did you buy? How much did it cost?”

My sensibilities didn’t know what to do with such intrusions on my privacy. I judged the Balinese to be the nosiest people I’d ever met. To protect myself and avoid being rude, I devised indirect responses that didn’t answer their questions but often brought laughs.

Now, years later, I understand.

The Balinese are straightforward, caring, curious, and engaging. If you’ve gained weight, they’ll tell you you’re a little fat, not to be mean, they’re just honest. If they like the way you look they’ll gush over your appearance and want you to show them how you do your hair all the while with an arm wrapped around your waist. Physical touch is natural and comfortable for my Balinese-women friends.

The first time I was treated so intimately I had to fight tears. I was out of my comfort zone but deeply moved. Such a simple thing, touch. But in the West we’ve assigned innuendoes, connotations, suspicions. We’ve lost the ease and comfort to be had in simple acts of sisterly affection. So unfortunate.

But about walls and neighbors…

Every Balinese family compound I’ve visited is surrounded by a hefty wall. On the inside, often three or four generations of the family live together, share food, a single kitchen, and the duties of everyday life. Their neighbors, with a similar configuration of family members, live on other sides of the wall. As you can imagine, advanced levels of cooperation, and respect are essential.

From Bali Now – Mapping Bali 20: The Traditional Balinese House Compound
Culture | Written By, Bruce Granquist September 22nd, 2017

I didn’t know any of that at first and I wondered why Ketut was constantly in service – helping others in the village build a cow shed, repair a cistern, or loaning his car. I suspected that perhaps it was caste-related as many things are in this Hindu society. I couldn’t have been farther off the mark.

After I’d learned enough of the language to merit deeper conversations, and realized Ketut was willing to talk about absolutely anything, I got around to asking why he was always being called upon to assist.

“If I help them, when I need help they help me.”

“Yes…but…it seems like you help all the time. Does anyone ever help you?”

“Always! Sometimes I do many little things but then I need one big thing.”

This culture, and Ketut’s wisdom, have changed me from an independent, I can do it myself-er, to an integral part of a tight-knit, inter-dependent community. The family on the other side of my wall benefits from Ketut’s ability to fix anything and I’m the beneficiary of his big-hearted willingness to help.

The other night a friend came to visit. She limped in on a motorbike with a flat front tire. Ketut was gone for the weekend so I called my neighbor. He came in a flash with his tire pump and the situation was remedied in no time. Not only that, he sent my visitor off with his pump in case the tire deflated again before she got home.

A few days later, I needed documents from a village an hour and a half away. My neighbor is in the midst of a building project, a busy man, but he knew the location and volunteered to go with Ketut to pick up the paperwork. Off they went at 6:00 a.m. the next morning and returned four hours later, mission accomplished.

By my accounting, that was far beyond the tit-for-tat code of neighborliness. I remembered that he likes whisky, specifically Jack Daniels. In spite of the tireless service mentality, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to show appreciation in unexpected, tangible ways. From the look on his face when I delivered the bottle this afternoon, he won’t mind lending a hand next time I call.

Funny thing though – about five minutes after I made the delivery, I heard my neighbor summoning Ketut. Laughter and happy conversation has been floating over the wall ever since. Are you thinking what I’m thinking…???

Five unforgettable lessons from my solo trip to Italy

The past month has changed my life. A different creature than the one who flew off to celebrate turning seventy will disembark the plane in Bali. This trip has been as transforming as the one I took at sixty-two when I made the choice to leave Minnesota and set up permanent residence in Indonesia.

The difference has been in the speed and intensity of this mutation. The move to Bali was like slowly opening one cherished gift after another. The island just kept on giving. Praiano must have sensed the time was short. I’ve been zapped by successive lightning bolts of insight that have dazzled and humbled me.

What you’ve seen in my almost-daily posts as I navigated the heights and depths of Praiano, were descriptions in words and pictures. What I haven’t shown are the results of those lightning bolt revelations that have rearranged me from the inside out – the inner odyssey.

Come along…

1) A smile opens doors, but knowing the language gets you inside.

As much as I hate U.S. entitlement and strive not to be that person, I made an ignorant, arrogant assumption. I assumed that most people in the touristy Amalfi Coast area of Italy would speak English. I was wrong. Perhaps during high season it’s different. But right now I may be the only tourist in this small town and it’s a rare joy when I’m understood.

The locals treat me beautifully, but point and gesture is as good as it gets with communication. It’s insanely frustrating. Before I do an extended trip again, I’ll learn the basics of my host country’s language.

2) Always be willing to change what you think you know about yourself.

This is big. If you tell yourself anything long enough, you’ll start believing it. And when you believe it, it becomes your reality and shapes your life. While I’ve been here I’ve experienced seismic shifts in the stories I’ve told myself for years. One catalyst that inspired change was a book that just ‘happened’ to be on the shelf. Another surprising insight came as a result of my daily posts to this blog. A third became clear as I spent significant time alone.

My goal for this trip, other than a septuagenarian celebration, was to gain clarity for the future. That intention provided fertile ground for inspiration and revelation to germinate. I was receptive to receiving and the Universe delivered, as she always does to the willing seeker.

3) It’s essential to tell yourself the truth and then live it.

The truth can be a very confusing idea. But our perception of truth goes hand-in-hand with the stories we tell ourselves. So how do you know if you’re telling yourself the truth? What does your life look like? Is there any area of your existence where you’re miserable, dissatisfied, unhealthy, bitter, angry, or whatever other negative response is possible? Isolate that part then ask, What am I telling myself about this circumstance that’s causing distress? You may believe that what you’ve been telling yourself is true. My guess is that it’s not.

I’ve always been very good at hiding my feelings. I’d do anything to keep the peace. I perceived myself as diplomatic, self-controlled, level-headed, composed, but in truth, confrontation terrified me. Not being liked wasn’t an option. As a result, nobody really knew me and I was okay with that, until now. Turning seventy flipped a switch. All of a sudden, being known feels more important than being liked. Maybe the grumpy old man, crotchety old woman thing is just the point in life when we become real. Look out! I’ve arrived.

4) Expect the unexpected, anything can happen.

When I left for Italy, I didn’t expect that over the course of one month the world would be thrown into a state of panic. That a virus would leap international boundaries and rip through countries with unprecedented ferocity. I personally don’t tend to imagine worst case scenarios. A flight delay, luggage lost – that’s as far as I go with ‘what ifs’. I don’t buy travel insurance. Ever. To me it feels like betting on disasters which as yet, in seventy years, haven’t happened to me. There have been flight delays and my luggage has arrived several days late a few times, but that’s it.

As the numbers of infected persons worldwide continued to rise, and the possibility of restricted air travel became reality for some areas, I entertained the idea of cutting my trip short. I bought into the overarching anxiety for about half a day. Then I caught myself. No. Why should I run scared? I have the funds to extend my stay if that becomes necessary. This began as an adventure and has become an even greater adventure. It’s a huge lesson in flexibility, in trust, in dealing with what comes in a sane and sensible, way. I have a friend battling cancer. That alone puts everything else in perspective.

5) Your mind is your ally only if you can control your thoughts.

I said I bought into anxiety for about half a day. When fear-energy amasses on a global scale, it’s necessary to take an intentional stand against it or it will play games with the mind. I was being sucked into that energy.

I’ve employed several ways of dealing with unwanted emotions that are working effectively for me.

  • Movement is number one. Getting outside for a walk, doing a yoga routine, even sweeping or vacuuming the house helps. Then I meditate.
  • Meditation makes a huge difference. I use a soundtrack in the background and concentrate on the notes, the mantras, the rise and fall of volume, anything other than what’s inside my head. I also focus on gratitude, all the things in this amazing life I’m grateful for.
  • Information gathering, assembling those facts that apply to my situation and screening out the rest is essential to keeping anxiety in check.
  • Distraction may seem like a negative but in the case of monkey-mind, when I can’t seem to stop myself from thinking about something that there’s nothing I can do anything about, it’s necessary to divert attention elsewhere. For me, writing, reading a good book, watching a movie or documentary, researching music I haven’t listened to before, all work well as diversionary tactics. I’m finding that preparing and eating a healthy meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is soothing as well. Good nutrition helps regulate moods.
  • Self-talk is ultra important. The story I tell myself must be true or I won’t believe it. I also want it to enable me to continue to enjoy this beautiful town, its kind people, the extraordinary view, and my last few days here. The key is to remain grounded in the present moment and not extrapolate what might happen. In the case of COVID-19, even the experts can’t accurately predict the outcome. So my truth is that in this moment I’m fine. I have empathy for the suffering this epidemic is causing and will continue to cause for an unknown period of time. But I will not contribute to fear.

Nothing excites me more than the boundless potential for human evolution. If we’re open to expanding self-awareness, intuition, compassion, understanding, knowledge, and become active participants in our own growth, there’s no limit to where it can take us. It isn’t always a comfortable ride, and sometimes to get there we have to take ourselves, alone, to parts unknown, so lightning can zap us.

Look what just appeared outside my window! After lightning bolts, a rainbow!

My Top Ten Resolutions for 2015

* 1) Don’t forget how to be still and stare off into space P1070437 2) Trust your gut and follow its guidance photo 3) Remember every day to be grateful for exactly where you are P1080226 4) Allow the abundance to flow through you to others P1080117 P1070406 5) Accept help gracefullyPriest applying the ash to my forehead 6) Ask for help when you need it P1080495 7)┬áHog your peace: don’t over-extend and don’t over-commit P1070797 8) When you’re uncertain, wait. Don’t be pushed into a decision before you’re ready IMG_7947 9) Continue to be a student of life…and love P1040793 P108040310635758_10152536452433037_2535777418164997883_nunnamed 10) Live your truth!



%d bloggers like this: