Stressed? Just throw a good old-fashioned tantrum.

Yesterday I woke up cranky. Perhaps a smidge beyond cranky. The usual start-the-day-right rituals, wash face, make coffee, journal, do yoga, meditate made it as far as the journal. By the time I’d written a few sentences trying to get to the source of my dire mood I was so antsy and agitated I couldn’t sit still.

That state is rare for me – like once-every-twenty-years rare – and the usual methods of dealing with small irritations weren’t working.

I got up from my journaling chair and paced. It felt as though the house couldn’t contain all my roiling, boiling energy. I had to escape. I grabbed my phone and sent a quick message to Ketut. Do you have plans today?

The reply was instant. No plans. You have?

I’m stressed. I want wind in my face. I want adventure.

Ok. What time?


One of the many things I love about the Balinese people is their passion for gossip. We’d barely straddled the motorbike when Ketut said, Why you have stress? I was only too happy to vent my wrath to the back of his helmet, yelling my grievances: drought, heat, politics, monkeys, my friend with cancer. He nodded his understanding while navigating the insane Ubud traffic. When I stopped for breath he asked more questions plumbing for details, anything juicy.

It was during one of those breathing moments that I realized what was happening. I was speaking Indonesian and the vocabulary to describe emotions, frustrations, the craziness I was feeling wasn’t translating well from English. The words I pulled in to communicate my bizarre state of mind changed the story. My rant sounded silly, even to myself. I wondered how Ketut was hearing it. The image of a naughty child in full-on tantrum mode flashed before me and I exploded into laughter.

Ketut’s helmeted head swiveled as he ventured a curious glance over his shoulder.

Ya? You okay? That made me laugh harder. Was I okay?

Okay? I repeated, my heart pumping pure gratitude for this friend. Yes. I’m finished now. No more complaining. Thank you for listening. It’s your turn, Ketut. How do you feel today? Is your family good? Is your garden planted?

I knew what he would say – could have mouthed the words with him: Ya. Good. Same same. There was a pause as landscapes I hadn’t noticed to this point rushed past. I sucked lungs full of clean air and feasted on the glorious greens of paddies and jungle – and waited.

I’ve learned a bit about Ketut over the years. He’s a great listener but given the opportunity he’ll tell me just about anything. I was hopeful. Then, Maybe I borrow cow, he said and the floodgates opened.

We sailed along climbing steadily toward the rice terraces of Sidemen. I sat back, clear-headed, relaxed and content to listen to Ketut’s happy prattle.

From the precipitous roadside I caught glimpses of farms spread like patchwork far below, and Mt. Agung ringed in clouds. Our destination was Warung Uma Anyar, a rooftop cafe perched on the mountain with sweeping vistas of terraces, paddies, and jungled foothills. The memory of that view had prompted my urge to flee Ubud and we were getting close.

An hour-and-a-half after leaving home we pulled off the road. There it was: the chalkboard sign out front, the smiling owner, and the sinful cup of Nescafe with fake cream and processed white sugar that I’d been craving.

Crispy kerupuk, peanuts still hot from the roasting pan, and chemical-laden coffee. Heaven! Ketut took a minute to answer emails and I morphed into a vegetative state of bliss.

Mount Agung in the background almost obscured by clouds

We snacked on peanuts and crisps and basked in the immensity of solitude. Then the food came. I’d ordered vegetable soup picturing something like the canned Campbell’s we used to have growing up and couldn’t have been more pleased when the Warung Uma version arrived.

My delight must have been evident because the man who delivered the colorful dish beamed and told us he’d worked in a big hotel for nine years. It was owned by an American and featured a Thai restaurant. He’d learned to cook everything on their menu. Then bankroot, he said.

The meal proved as tasty as it looked. Ketut and I lingered over it, chatting about the tawon that appeared to be building a nest in the roof. Ketut asked what tawon was in English. Maybe bee? I said. Or hornet? A quick consultation with Google pegged it a wasp. When we couldn’t scrape another morsel off our plates, a young man appeared to clear the table.

Bali people eat 15 minutes, Ketut said. We already eat two hours! But he seemed to approve the slower pace. When I observed he hadn’t ordered his usual Coca Cola and would he like one now, he smiled and nodded. Okay, he said.

While he enjoyed his sugary hit of extra caffeine, I studied the map. Let’s go home a different way. See? I showed him the phone. If we turn here, we can cross over to Sidemen village and take the other road. He asked me to put it on my phone. I plugged in the route and we headed off, waving goodbye to our host and promising to come back soon.

The warung was still in sight when Google sprang into action issuing orders. Right turn one-hundred meters, left turn one point five kilometers. The paved two-lane road narrowed to one lane. Left turn six-hundred meters. The asphalt was old here. Chunks were missing and what remained was potholed and lumpy.

We bumped along. A little farther on even the patchy asphalt disappeared. Then we were climbing again. The single lane became a trail of eroded, rocky gravel. We rounded a switchback. I gasped and grabbed Ketut’s shoulders. The way ahead was a vertical plunge to another sharp turn a long, long way below. My terrified croak, I’ll walk! was swallowed by the crunch of wheels grinding into the gravel. Good view, Ketut said as we started down. I shut my eyes.

By some stroke of fate (or Ketut’s expertise) we made it to the bottom, rounded the hairpin curve intact, and trundled on. The trail now was the width of a motorbike tire, a mere depression in the grass.

And then…

We’d been following Google’s instructions all the way. The map on the phone showed the road leading to a river. We were there. Water rushed wide and brown in front of us. Rice paddies stretched in all directions. But that was all. No more road. No bridge. This isn’t Sidemen village, I said.

Maybe Google not understand Bali, Ketut answered.

Definitely doesn’t understand Bali, I agreed.

We stood a few more dazed minutes. Then without a word, Ketut turned the bike around and I climbed back on. The impossible hill wasn’t as bad going up.

It was a magnificent day – the perfect adventure. There was not one single bit of it, not one fraction of a moment that I wish had been different. The wind in my face, the beauty, the terror, the food, the fiasco, and best of all, the friend who listened.

*Note: The ‘tantrum photo’ at the beginning of this post was taken by Sharon Lyon. Thanks, Sharon, for the worst photo anyone has EVER taken of me!

Popcorn, Guinness, and Downton Abbey

Life here is surreal. One minute I am dressed in my sarong and kebaya, looking as much like a traditional Balinese woman as a white-skinned, pale-eyed Norwegian can. The next I’m sitting amongst the cushions on my terrace eating popcorn sprinkled with chili powder, drinking Guinness, and watching Downton Abbey with my neighbor from Michigan. Nina has the whole series. She offered to loan it to me. I started to tell her ‘no thanks,’ but before I could get the words out she said, “No! You NEED to watch this. You’ll LOVE it.” Nina has a flair for the dramatic (her Sicilian side) but she’s believable. I watched the first five minutes of the first episode and was hooked.

Image from Bing

Image from Bing

I think the U.S. has a fascination with the Brits. I always have. What does a lord do, exactly? And what is the function of a valet, or a footman, or a lady’s maid? Downton Abbey gives it to me, all of it. I’m in on the dirty little secrets of both the gentry and their staff. So when Nina offered to make popcorn, a skill I have yet to acquire here, and do a Downton Abbey marathon, it was a solid thumbs-up. The only thing I like better than salty popcorn, come to find out, is salty popcorn sprinkled with chili powder. The Guinness chaser was icing on the cake.

Image from Bing

Image from Bing

Last night around 8:30, Nina and the popcorn appeared. I had my computer ready. We arranged the cushions and pillows for maximum comfort and settled in. About mid-way through, as I switched out CDs to disc 2 of season 2, it hit me. It was one of those strange moments when everything slows way down. Colors bleed together and sounds move far away. Where am I? The question was real. I felt detached from everything tangible. Had I been meditating I would have assumed I’d reached enlightenment, or some grand altered state of consciousness. But I was watching Downton Abbey and I wasn’t yet drunk, nor was I going to get drunk as I only had two bottle of Guinness and Nina was drinking the other one.

It’s an odd sensation, like waking up in a strange place. Eating popcorn and watching movies with friends was a happy part of a different life.  It hasn’t been my reality for almost a year. But here I was, doing exactly that with another white-skinned, pale-eyed Midwesterner. It seriously played with my mind. The moment passed and I rejoined myself at the movies. But it made me think.

The longer I am in Bali, the more I experience the sensitivity of the body. It adapts to where it lives and does what it needs to do to exist there. In the West that often results in a numbing process that enables it to survive the continuous onslaught of stimuli and inordinate amounts of stress it is subjected to. Alcohol, television, movies, are some of the sedatives of choice to help escape a toxic lifestyle. Like most poisons, it takes time for the body to rid itself of the effects of those toxins. After nine months of gentle, uncomplicated living, mine has loosened, the muscles have unknotted, the mind has stopped spinning.

What I experienced in that weird interlude of disconnect, was a body/mind reaction to something it perceived as out of context. It went deep. “This isn’t your truth,” the body warned. “I don’t want to go back there,” the mind echoed. They had their say. I slid disc 2 into the computer and was soon carried away with the Grantham family and their dramas. I enjoyed the story, the popcorn, and the companionship of my friend, thoroughly. And now that I’ve had a chance to reflect, I see that a movie and a beer means something different here. It isn’t an escape from anything. It’s just pure play.

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