Escaping the Shelter

I’ve waxed poetic to whoever will listen about the return of the electric blue bird with neon orange beak and feet. He disappeared several years ago. And the clever jumping squirrel is back. He, too, has been gone for a long while. Butterflies are mating in my garden once more doing their tandem spiral dance. And dragonflies, by the hundreds it seems, flit about like mini helicopters.

It’s because of this:

No tourists and no traffic. Just a construction worker pushing a wheelbarrow and a dog lazing on the sidewalk.

How did I acquire these photos when I’m supposed to be sheltering in place?

Once in a blue moon I allow myself to walk to the end of the long gang that takes me to the Delta convenience store that is – well – convenient. It’s located on Monkey Forest Road right at the end of my path. I’ve walked that trail a total of three times in the past three weeks and I’ve never met another soul coming or going. It’s an adventure of mammoth proportions and I linger, chatting with the young man behind the counter, asking him whatever I can dream up to make conversation.

“Oh! You have two different kinds of batteries. Will you check the price for me please?” (Nothing in this shop has a price on it.)

He does my bidding and tells me very respectfully that the black package is ninety thousand rupiah and the red is only sixty thousand. I thank him and tell him I’ll take the red.

He sees me eyeing two brands of peanut butter. “I will check the price, Ibu.” (Ibu is a sweet form of respect loosely translated as ma’am, or mother.)

“Thank you.” Their difference is only a few rupiah and this time I take the more expensive one. “It’s very quiet on the street,” I say as I return the unwanted jar to the shelf. “How many people come in the shop in one day?”

“Maybe two or three,” he says. “Until at night. Then it gets a little busy.”

“They come in after work?”

“Not many people working, Ibu.”

He was right. I shook my head. “I know. Very hard times for Bali.” As he was ringing up my items I asked if I could take his photo for Facebook.

“Yes, of course.”

“And the shop, too?” Again he gave me a thumbs-up.

This was a SOCIAL EVENT the equivalent of a masquerade ball. It felt so special. I wore a mask, of course, and stayed a good distance from my cashier friend. Then I walked home.

The path to the Delta shop and Monkey Forest Road

Once inside, hands and purchases washed, I ripped open the bag of Zananas. The yellow packaging had caught my eye – a new item in the shop – and anything that says spicy these days is on my radar. While munching on a handful of the chili-coated banana chips I flipped to the back to read the nutritional info and nearly choked.

  • Two servings per package.
  • One serving = 1000 calories.

That’s like 9/10ths of of my daily food intake. I could have one serving of Zananas and a bowl of sprouts to fulfill my sedentary lifestyle limit.

I didn’t spit them out but I made a note to self that unless I wanted to double my size in a New York minute, this bag of treats should last a month.

In my old life – walking, walking, walking – I never counted calories. I ate healthy food and maintained my weight. But in this new life – resting, napping, dozing – a bit of vigilance is required.

Preparing and eating a meal has become one of the high points of every day. I’m grateful for anything that provides entertainment. The Delta convenience store. The cute cashier. My tropical garden. Thunderstorms. The walk-able path. Monkeys in the morning. Rats in the attic at night… The rats have actually provided a week of comic relief. But that’s another story!

It stands to reason if the desirable animals are staging a comeback, the undesirables aren’t far behind.

Hmmm. It just occurred to me. Forget the sprouts. Zananas and a glass of wine, that’s close enough to the calorie quota, and it must be 5:00 somewhere…

The life-or-death importance of how to properly eat an egg

The cover of The Lilliputians Newspaper April 25, 2016

My world is Lilliputian. The reality sinks in a little more each day. It’s an adventure to go from my door down the steps to the garden with my parcel of compost, heave it into the bin, pick up the few leaves that have fallen during the night, and back upstairs again. If I were a citizen of Lilliput and only six inches tall, that would be a herculean undertaking. I’d have a hero’s welcome when I returned. If I returned.

Last night, however, there was real excitement.

In the morning the monkeys came as usual. When I caught one trying to crack open a coconut on the ceramic tiles at the entrance to my door, I grabbed a stick and made loud, threatening sounds. He ran but I could hear him pounding again somewhere on the roof.

Out of sight, out of mind. Eventually the pounding stopped.

During the day I made my famous spicy sweet potato dip and bribed my neighbor. If she would do a Tarot reading for me, I’d ply her with rice crackers and dip. It doesn’t take much to lure either one of us from our separate isolation quarters.

It was a fabulous reading. I got the answers I needed. Then we did hers, paying no attention as a storm rolled in and rain pummeled the roof. Deep in spicy dip and Tarot, nothing could distract us.

Around eight p.m. she took her leave. The rain had stopped. Five minutes later my phone dinged. It was a WhatsApp message from my neighbor. There’s water pouring out of the light fixtures.

I rushed downstairs.

It was a flood of epic proportions. The kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom floors were wading pools. Half of her thick foam mattress topper was soaked. Rivulets of water trailed down the walls and streamed from can lights in the ceiling. She’d gotten a shock when she touched the light switch.

It was no mystery what had happened. The monkey, in his attempt to crack open the coconut, had broken fragile terracotta roof tiles. From the amount of water I seriously doubted there was any roof left.

It had only been eight days since I sent faithful household manager Ketut, home and told him to stay there and stay safe for the month of April. In a panic I called and relayed the story.

This morning he arrived, his perpetual sunny smile in place, and by noon the broken roof was fixed.

To revisit the Lilliputian reference, remember Gulliver’s Travels, the political satire written by Jonathan Swift in 1726?

When the small boat Gulliver was traveling in ran upon rocks, he swam to the island of Lilliput where he walked ashore and fell asleep. When he awoke he was surrounded by people less than six inches tall. They had tied him to the ground with hundreds of tiny ropes. He could easily break free, but he didn’t want to frighten them so allowed himself to be restrained until he’d gained their trust.

Gulliver learned that the Lilliputians were at war with a neighboring country. The source of their conflict was a disagreement over the proper way to eat an egg. He agreed to help them.

In Bali and elsewhere, people are being encouraged to shelter in place. But those of us doing so are a bit like Gulliver. We’re allowing ourselves to be restrained.

In time, cooped up in tight quarters, even if it’s done willingly, patience grows short, tempers flare, and something as ridiculous as the proper way to eat an egg can become the most important priority of life. Be on the lookout for such silliness and take a step back to consider before you engage.

If the enemy is external, say monkeys for instance…

I also had to take a step back and remember they were here first. I’m the shipwrecked giant washed up on their shores, the scary stranger who consumes their food and ruins their environment. The issue isn’t the proper way to eat an egg. It’s domination. Who gets to be here and what price do we pay to stay?

Right now we’re paying the price of our massive consumption of wilderness at the expense of the animal life it supports. If winning this war against disease means going back to the way things were, we’ve lost. That reality is unsustainable. That’s what got us where we are.

If losing means learning how to eat an egg their way, we’ve won. But nobody knows what that looks like. And nobody knows who ‘they’ are.

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