Ubud Writers Festival – Khairani Barokka

I’m in writer’s heaven. Where else but Bali could I find 130 writers from all over the globe assembled in one place? And where else would I have the opportunity to ride with different ones to and from their speaking engagements and assist with their needs? I am one of about 200 volunteers who have the pleasure of working with these auspicious figures of the literary world. I am in awe of the superhuman effort that has been undertaken to produce an event of this magnitude. Let me tell you about today…

I awake before my 7:00 a.m. alarm. It wasn’t a peaceful night. There was a domestic quarrel taking place somewhere nearby at about 1 a.m. That never happens, but it did last night. I made sleepy note of the fact then fell back to sleep. About 4 a.m. a pounding rain hit. I love the sound of rain, even at 4 a.m. Again I observed, appreciated, and fell back to sleep. A little before 6 the roosters, doves, ducks, and who knows, monkeys, giraffes, hyenas…every living creature woke up talking. Who does that? The first fingers of morning were sneaking across the sky and once it’s light out there’s no more hope of sleep for me. I get up and send a message to Ketut’s phone, Tolong makan pagi 8 am, sama-sama. Translated: Please breakfast at 8, same as usual. In a minute there is a little beep on my phone. Message from Ketut: OK.

At 8:45 I am astride Ketut’s motorbike on blissfully empty streets speeding toward Casa Luna, the venue for the workshop I am assisting today. The staff there is amazing and I introduce myself to Made, my contact “go-to” person. He takes me through the first level, then down a marble staircase, through the second level, down another marble staircase, through the third level (the restaurant hugs the side of a river gorge) across a marble bridge and into a lovely room. No projector. Whoops! It’s all supposed to be here. Well, that’s why they have 200 volunteers and why I am here an hour before showtime.

About 9:30 Khairani Barokka, the writer, arrives. Still no projector. Ms. Barokka, fondly known as Okka, registers mild concern and is assured that it is coming. I secretly hope this is accurate information.

At 9:45 the group, 14 students and two teachers from the Jakarta International School, arrive and begin their descent to ‘the room.’ To my intense delight a very tall man with a huge projector screen is bringing up the rear. I begin to breathe.

At 10:05 all systems are go. Okka starts her presentation. She is amazing, delightful, and we all listen, mesmerized.

At 10:15 the room goes dark. I leap from my chair and make a mad dash to find Made. Across the bridge, up one flight, two flights, but he’s nowhere to be found. Down one flight, two flights, across the bridge…the lights have come on in my absence. I tiptoe to my chair.

At 10:20 Okka fires up the projector that is linked to a computer where she has downloaded videos of spoken word poetry. Once again I forget to breathe. Nothing happens. The screen is dark. She shoots me a questioning look. I leap from my chair…

Let me tell you about Okka. She is a true performer, a tribute to her kind who, in the face of difficulty know that THE SHOW MUST GO ON. This amazing woman doesn’t miss a beat. Without hesitation she whips out her laptop all the while explaining to the group that since the video is not available she will do a live spoken word performance for them. And what a performance. She is brilliant. I am secretly glad, as I clap until my palms vibrate, for the mysterious electrical snaffu that made her improvisation necessary.

At noon it’s over. I’ve actually been breathing for about an hour. Pre-arranged vehicles arrive to ferry the students back to their hotel. I  sms Ketut. He’s here in a heartbeat and I gratefully sink into the comfort of the now familiar bike seat and sweaty hot helmet. There are three more Festival days to go. Note to self: BREATHE.

Khairani Barokka, Indonesia

Khairani Barokka is a writer, performer, producer, artist and researcher. Okka has performed in the US and Indonesia, including livestreamed the @atamerica Jakarta show. She has a Masters from ITP at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, as a Tisch Departmental Fellow, and was the first Indonesian writer-in-residence at Vermont Studio Centre.

%d bloggers like this: