In Defense of the Dustah (and other shapeless garments)

Lottie Nevin is one of the most intriguing women I ever met. She was living in Jakarta with her husband, Irishman she called him, when our paths crossed. He was teaching at a university there but they were often at their vacation home in Bali. Lottie and I were instant friends. Then they moved to Spain. I miss her.

She was a sunny-side-up, can-do person and everything she said was hilarious. One comment in particular has stuck with me. She was talking about her garment of choice. “I hold comfort in the highest esteem,” she said. “Why would any woman want to be trussed up like a Christmas goose and totter around on pointy-toed, spikey-heeled chambers of torture?” Her look of baffled disdain spoke louder than words. Then she shrugged, shook her head, and groaned. “But Irishman hates my dustah.”

“What’s a dustah?” I asked. It sounded exotic and foreign. She looked at me aghast.

“You don’t know? It’s that shapeless thing that hangs off your shoulders and doesn’t come in contact with your body anywhere else…the most comfortable thing alive. You can go naked as a jay underneath – it’s heaven.”

A memory took shape in my mind’s eye of my mother’s floral pastel, snap-up-the-front housecoat. She’d called it a duster – dustER. Ah-ha!

So that’s what we were talking about. Lottie’s accent was decidedly not English in the Midwestern U.S. style. It had the delightful flavor of the British Isles that made ah’s out of r’s.

I remembered Mom wearing her gown in the morning. But after school lunches were packed and breakfast eaten, she exchanged comfort for clothing that fit her form. It sounded like Lottie missed that step and dear Irishman didn’t approve.

Mom had Dad to impress. Lottie has Irishman.

I don’t cater to anyone but myself. But Lottie’s words stick in my mind every time I slip into my most comfortable outfit. I’ll have walked a mile or more with intense tropical sun beating on my head. I’ll be dripping, my clothing drenched in sweat. As soon as my feet touch home turf, I beeline for the shower and peel off the soggy garments.

Showered and refreshed, I reach for the dress. As it slips over my head, pure joy floods my soul. Stress leaches out of my body. Invariably I inhale, deep and long, and release a blissful sigh. Nothing else even comes close to the relief of lounging the afternoon away in unbound ecstasy.

The pandemic has changed my apparel. Comfort is the ultimate driving factor and yesterday I came face-to-face with the consequences of that. For eighteen months I’ve worn nothing snug – nothing that requires me to suck in my stomach. I’ve sat way more than I’ve stood or walked. Now that I’m packing for a trip to see family in the States, I’m trying on ‘real’ clothes. To my horror, a fleshy spare tire seems to have settled around my waist and hips. I’m pear-shaped with toothpick legs and that is not okay.

There’s not much hope of remedying the situation in the eleven days before I leave. But once there…

Jessa and Dan have promised long hikes on the ridges along the California coastline overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

In Minnesota, I’ll stroll the path along Minnehaha Creek to Lake Nokomis and Lake Hiawatha with my twin grandsons.

Pennsylvania with Joy and Kellen and my very active, very precocious granddaughters will be anything but sedentary. By the time I return to Bali I’ll be whipped into shape.

Re-formed.

Or…Maybe I’ll melt back into my ‘dustah,’ breathe that blissful sigh, and revert to my old, wicked ways.

Do any of you out there share Lottie’s love of the shapeless, unconfined comfort of the dustah?

Has the pandemic changed the way you dress?

Has anyone else gone pear-shaped?

Love is a Decision of the Will – Really?

It was 1981. I’d stopped in to see a friend, a strong, smart woman who had been married long enough to have three children – the oldest was four. She was large with striking looks, double the size of her husband, and she wore the pants. He was a sweetheart, mild-mannered, jovial, engaging. He adored her and took her bossing with a good-natured wink.

On this particular day our conversation turned to intimate themes. I can’t remember what triggered her statement, but I’ll never forget what she said.

“Sherry, love is a decision of the will.”

I felt as though I’d been gut-punched. I didn’t want to believe it. How cold. How unromantic. How, how, how…true?

I thought about the two of them, what an unlikely match they appeared to be. Was it a struggle for her? Was her morning mantra, I will love him today? Did she make that choice every single day, deliberately? Or was her comment in response to something I’d said? I hadn’t married the man of my dreams, but I didn’t want anyone to know that. It was all about the show, like my mother and our perfect family. But I felt safe with my friend. I might have let it slip that he was a disappointment – perhaps going so far as to say I no longer loved him.

Love is a decision of the will.

“You can’t mean that. Where’s the magic? What wife wants to have to will herself to love her husband? It shouldn’t be that hard.” At that time I was still trying to believe in happily-ever-after.

She didn’t smile. It was more of a raised eyebrow, you-poor-ignorant-child kind of look as she slowly nodded her head and sighed.

I ‘willed it’ with that husband for fifteen more years, long after any feelings of affection, any modicum of respect, any hope of change had withered. Her words gripped me with a force that commanded obedience and I obeyed.

Then one morning I woke up and chose not to love anymore.

There are two lessons here:

  • Words are powerful – what we say can change the trajectory of a person’s life, impact them emotionally for their betterment or their detriment, enhance or endanger their self-esteem, reverberate in their head forever
  • Strong statements must be tested – don’t swallow them whole even if someone you admire speaks them

Is love a decision of the will?

Forty years later, I’ve come to the conclusion that love is not one-size-fits-all.

For instance, there is nothing my girls could do that would ever stop my loving them. It isn’t possible. No matter what their feelings for me, no matter what their choices, no matter what, I will always love them. It’s unconditional. a response as involuntary as my heartbeat. It isn’t something I decided.

For everyone else, my love has an IF attached.

I’ll love a good friend IF they respect me, reciprocate my affection, and don’t misuse me.

Love for family members used to be automatic. I have to love you, you’re family. I no longer aspire to that belief. It takes a lot, but IF a relative won’t associate with me for whatever reason, I may choose not to love that person.

A partner?

Tricky, tricky, tricky. But I think I’ve learned a bit in my old age. Love cannot be based on a feeling. Romantic love is an illusion – a pleasant one – but an illusion nonetheless. It’s 70% hormones and 30% imagination and it’s unsustainable. Some of us can manipulate those percentages masterfully so imagination approaches 100%. It’s a story we tell ourselves to make believe things are better than they really are. It’s easier than admitting to a dysfunctional relationship. Easier than leaving.

We have to know ourselves well enough to understand what works for us and what doesn’t then negotiate the terms with our partner. There are those who have said:

I can love you IF we maintain separate homes. It works for them.

I can love you IF you will allow me the freedom to see other people.

I can love you IF I can spend one week a month away.

I can love you IF you give me $1000/week for whatever I want (Trust me – it happens.)

I can love you IF…

Then there are those precious ones who are so good to us that whatever they do that could be cause for annoyance is quickly forgiven and forgotten. Affection deepens with time. Trust grows. Love is easy. IF you are that good to me…

Love, then, is a compromise.

There’s more softness there. It suggests working together for the common good rather than one person’s steely-minded commitment not to hate. To me, a decision of the will says I will tolerate you, and that’s a beggarly substitute for love.

I don’t believe we can force ourselves to love. There has to be some element of love-ability which can be totally in the eye of the beholder and not visible to another soul, but it must exist.

These are my personal conclusions from a life lived with an abundance of misunderstanding around love. I very much enjoy deep philosophical discussions. Is love a decision of the will is a question ripe for exploration. You may wholeheartedly disagree with my point of view, and that’s wonderful. Let me hear your juiciest thoughts. Then I’ll decide whether or not I love you!

About the Monkeys…

Like slogging through a muddy rice paddy, we enter our seventh week of lockdown in Bali.

There are places to go. Grocery stores are open, Some restaurants ignore the take-out-only mandate and allow customers to sit and eat. It’s business as usual at petrol stations, banks, clinics, and pharmacies. What boggles me though, is the overwhelming number of buildings being built or remodeled. Is it optimism? Do they know something I don’t know? Or is it simply wishful thinking as numbers of new Covid cases in Bali nudged 2000 this past week. Builders’ supply stores are doing a booming business. That’s good news because I’m in the market for a new roof.

Ubud is home to The Sacred Monkey Forest. In the past, tourists paid handsomely to walk the mouldering jungle paths. They bought bananas at the gate which, one-and-a-half steps later, were snatched from their clutches to the absolute shrieking delight of besotted onlookers.

Those visitors have been gone for over eighteen months and none have come to replace them. The monkeys are bored without their daily entertainment. What’s worse, they’re hungry. Funds that used to feed them evaporated with the death of tourism.

They roam through town, performing acrobatics on electrical cables that festoon the streets. They savage neighborhoods, thieving food from fruit stands and pilfering bags full of groceries as customers depart the store. They stage war games on rooftops sending fragile clay tiles crashing to the ground.

My roof is in their path.

This never used to happen. The smart, mischievous macaques were happy in their forest sanctuary. At first they paid an occasional morning visit. As Coved droned on, that progressed to every morning. Then a late afternoon stop-by was added to the routine. Now they’re a constant presence, appearing throughout the day. If I lunch on the terrace I’m certain to attract a furry guest, or ten, who think it’s perfectly acceptable to snatch the plate from under my nose and eat the contents in front of me. Any move to salvage it is met with barred teeth and gut-chilling snarls.

It requires constant vigilance. If the house is left open and unattended, havoc is wreaked.

I’ve actually learned to tolerate most of it. But the roof is a constant source of concern. If a tile slips even a little, I’ll know it when the next storm passes through. If several are broken and I’m unaware of the damage, I’ll be scooping buckets of rainwater off the floor as mattresses get soaked and I practice words I didn’t know I knew.

Ketut spends more time on the roof than he does on dry land these days, replacing tiles.

That’s why we set out on the motorbike this morning. I’d found a shop online that sells metal roofing that looks like clay but it’s nailed in place. No slipping. No shattering into a million pieces on the ground. Ketut tells me metal isn’t completely monkey-proof. If one of those hungry beasts decides to break open a coconut up there, all bets are off. Even metal can’t withstand the jackhammer pounding of a determined monkey with a fresh nut. What are the odds that will happen? Quarterly? Once a year? Never? I’ll take my chances.

Today was gorgeous. Twenty-five minutes past lime-green rice fields, across bridges spanning bottomless gorges, through eye-blink villages, brought us to Sinar Sukses, a miniscule shop. The young man laughed when I told him Google said he had metal roof tiles. “Why would Google say that?” he shrugged. “This is a plumbing shop.” He suggested we try the building supply just a few blocks back the way we came and around the corner. Two women there listened to our request then pointed. Sheets of corrugated tin in various colors leaned against the far wall. No, they didn’t have metal tiles. Only the sheets. We asked if they knew where we could find what we were looking for. We left with an address a few miles away.

This store was large. It looked promising. We removed our helmets, washed our hands, entered and stated our business. A sad-eyed girl behind the counter shook her head.

It was on the way home that Ketut remembered a cousin recently roofed his home with metal tiles. He said he’d ask him where he bought them. A few minutes ago, the answer came. It was a building supply next to the market in Gianyar – the town we’d left a few short hours before.

I love it. I really do.

No, not the crashing roof tiles. That sound fills me with sickening dread and blood-lust – monkey blood.

I love the adventure. The thrill of The Hunt. The camaraderie as Ketut and I zip along roads that used to be clogged to a standstill with traffic this time of year. The laughter at our inside jokes that nobody else in their right mind would find even remotely funny.

The thing is, we’ll locate the tiles. Over much hemming and hawing – maybe this, perhaps that – a price will be negotiated. The job will get done. But right now, for my sanity’s sake, the longer a project takes the better. The more convoluted the search, the less time I spend missing my faraway loved ones. I seek out distractions with the same manic fervor I used to employ to avoid them.

It’s Bali. It’s lockdown. It’s life.

Flowery Curses for an Unfaithful Lover

There isn’t much to laugh about, and plenty to curse in Bali these days. Indonesia is the world’s pandemic epicenter with a surging Delta variant. But they’re doing the right thing. Lockdown has just been extended for yet another week.

All this ‘down time’ affords me the luxury of micro-spection – a word I’ve coined to describe the way I observe the very tiny universe that is my current world.

I have the house and garden, sky and clouds, plants, birds, butterflies, and monkeys. (I’ll save those hairy maleficents for another story.)

As a child following Dad through the fields and forests surrounding our farm, I learned the names of trees, weeds, grasses, and flowers. It felt important, and respectful, and matter-of-fact. It was as if they were saying to me, “You live here. You walk among us. Of course you will know our names.”

Moving to Bali opened a new realm of botanical mysteries. Just when I thought I had my garden memorized, look what popped up.

This apparition nestled beneath a giant fern, looked so blatantly incongruous amongst the mundane leaves surrounding it I nearly cried. I’d never seen a fungus even close to the elegance of this queen of mushrooms. She rose from the humble sod standing a good ten inches tall in her spotless white gown.

After photographing the spectacle from all angles, I googled ‘fungi with lacy white dress,’ and there it was: Bridal Veil Stinkhorn.

Bridal Veil seemed an apt description for this stunning presence. But Stinkhorn? Really? Why the shocking slur on a masterful creation? What did this glorious ‘shroom do to deserve that?

One thing leads to another and bored minds wander. A quick search affirmed that botanists possess a diabolical kink in their nature. So many plants have naughty names. In a matter of moments, I’d listed several prime examples. Caught up in the irreverence of my project, I imagined how a jilted lover might find the colorful monikers useful for cursing an unfaithful maiden.

In a cloud of fury he’d yell, “You Bloody Cranesbill Horehound!” Or, “You Stinking Hellabore Barrenwort!”

Then she’d shout back at him, “You Sticky Willy Nipplewort Knobweed!”

I kid you not. Those are labels assigned to innocent members of the plant kingdom!

But hold on…it gets even better. If you consider yourself an intellectual and you find the crude English used above distasteful, get down and dirtier with Latin. Formal nomenclature spares no feelings. I dare you women, next time you don’t relish the attentions of a persistent man, just say this:

“Darling, get your Phallus impudicus

Phallus impudicus

away from my Crassula vaginatus

Crassula vagnatus

before I Ilex vomitoria

Ilex vomitoria

all over your Narcissus assoanus!

Narcissus assoanus

That’s what happens when I’m denied polite company for weeks on end. I can’t be held accountable. No offense intended.



Revising My Blob-ish Lifestyle

Before Covid, I had destinations. I walked.

In early Covid days, with Bali completely locked down, I did qigong, yoga, and surfed the net for workouts. I had to keep my body moving to manage the trauma. I couldn’t concentrate. The only thing I could focus on was movement.

That lasted about two months. Then I started writing again – and sat.

I sat through the last six months of 2020 and the first six months of 2021. Here we are in July and I’m a blob. Granted I’m a flexible, strong blob thanks to my continued dedication to yoga, But even though I haven’t gained weight, my flesh has settled into a new arrangement. I’m totally shapeless from my sagging seventy-one-year-old boobs to my flat buttocks.

It’s not that I can’t hit the pavement and hike around Ubud. I don’t have to battle tourists. There’s no traffic. The air is unpolluted. But I’m not one of those who can walk aimlessly just for the sake of walking. I need a purpose – a goal.

Without somewhere to walk to, I can’t make myself do it.

A week ago, as I was staring off into a sky puffed with cottonball clouds, I heard a sound that has become so familiar over the years it’s part of the morning music. My neighbor was jumping rope. He’s as faithful to his routine as I am to yoga, but that’s where all similarity ends. He’s ripped. His calves are knotted with muscle and there’s not an ounce of unnecessary flesh anywhere. Okay, he’s fifty, and he’s been doing this forever. But the light went on for me as his rope slapped the floor.

Faster than you can say Amazon, I was online with the Indonesian counterpart to that mega-store searching for jump ropes. There were choices. Some were plastic tubes with flashing lights. Others came in glow-in-the-dark colors. I settled on utilitarian black with ball-bearings in the handles, guaranteed to make the rope turn with a mere flick of the wrists. I put it in my cart and clicked the buy button. A message flashed on the screen. You need two more items. I puzzled over that for half a second. The rope probably didn’t cost enough to warrant shipping. It was about $5.

There isn’t an English language option on this site so rather than confuse myself, I added two more jump ropes to my basket. This time the order went through. Delivery July 6th.

They arrived yesterday, July 1st. I love that about Lazada – they under-represent and over-perform.

The ropes were long enough to accommodate an eight-foot supermodel, but they were adjustable. I spent the afternoon customizing one of them to my 5′ 2″ height, then tucked it beside my workout clothes and promised myself I’d start tomorrow.

Tomorrow arrived this morning.

My neighbor jumps non-stop for an hour. I decided I would set the timer for two minutes jumping, one minute resting, two minutes jumping etc. A nice, easy start. I spread my mat on the terrace, set the timer, and assumed position. Jumpjumpjumpjump – too fast.

I stopped, reset the timer, and started again. Jump…jump…jump…jump… Still too fast. One more reset. Jump………..jump……….jump……….

Heart pounding, I sat down to rest and revise my expectations.

After numerous stumbles and fumbled starts, I found a combination that worked – jump for thirty seconds and rest for 60. I kept that up as long as I could which today was about 15 minutes.

What a workout. I had no idea. And I also had no idea how little stamina I have. This rope has arrived just in time.

I’m not discouraged. It’s the kind of challenge that excites me. I don’t have to meet my neighbor’s level of endurance. OMG. Never in a million years! But I can and will keep at it until I can do two minutes non-stop without going into cardiac arrest.

There seems to be an added benefit. After that brief but intense exercise, the rest of the day I’ve been supercharged with energy and my mood is elevated in spite of the news that Bali is going into another lockdown July 3rd. The Delta variant has reached us and numbers of new cases have spiked from weeks of double digits to 311 today. That’s heartbreaking for the struggling economy and the millions out of work.

But the sad reality is, lockdown doesn’t actually change much of anything for me except physically meeting up with a friend in an outdoor restaurant. As of tomorrow, restaurants close to all but pick-up and delivery orders. Seventeen months later we’re back to square one. But I’ll tell you what… When this is over I’ll have the endurance of an ostrich.

**The ostrich runs at 30 miles per hour and has the endurance to keep it up for hours on end, thanks to their remarkable anatomy that minimizes effort while running. Having evolved on the plains of Africa, they are well-accustomed to the heat as well.

Baffling Bountiful Indonesia – Doors Fly Open For Wayan

Mysterious Indonesia, the largest island country in the world, is made up of over 17,000 separate island provinces. Most of them have their own language, their own religions, rituals, and customs. The country spreads in a graceful curve just north of Australia and has the world’s fourth largest population.

I’m reminded of the Tower of Babel story – in reverse. According to that tale, the Babylonians were building a magnificent city that would touch the heavens. They wished to make a name for themselves. God foiled their plans by confusing their language.

They could no longer understand each other so all work ceased.

Indonesian leaders realized the only way they were going to successfully govern such a mixed bag of rugged individualists was to create a national language and make it mandatory throughout the entire educational system. So when the country gained it’s independence in 1945, that’s what they did. That action emphasized and underscored Indonesia’s motto: Unity in diversity.

Because this diverse population is able to communicate with each other, the people, goods and wonders of all the islands often intersect.

In Bali, I’ve come to expect the unexpected. Opportunities to experience vastly different cultures and viewpoints present themselves daily. At the same time, the potential for misunderstanding is huge. Patience is essential and waiting until all have had their say, then coming to an agreement that suits everyone is diplomacy at its best. “Good for me, good for you,” is a familiar phrase in Bali indicating a satisfactory compromise.

The Balinese have also mastered kesabaran.* They sit for hours in full temple dress waiting for the high priest to arrive so a ceremony can begin. Unlike us in the West, they don’t expect anything to happen fast, not in ceremony, not in life.

I’ve sat with them on the ground, sweating in my corset and lace, eaten by ants. But when it begins…OMG! The pageantry, the ritual, the sound and color make me forget the hours of discomfort.

Wayan’s journey is proving to be no exception. As we go forward, we make new contacts and realize there isn’t just one option available. Right now we’re in the process of researching an offer that would allow her to begin training sooner and work abroad more quickly.

Every step advances Wayan’s adventure. It thrills me to see how willing people are to help this young woman achieve what very few in her position can hope for. All of you who donated so freely are the ones making this possible.

Hang on, friends! I’ll keep you posted as we go. This promises to be an exciting ride!

*kesabaran – patience

GoGetFunding and other nightmares!

In spite of tutorials…

In spite of Google searches…

In spite of having created my own websites and accomplished other technical tasks on my laptop, setting up a fundraiser for Wayan pushed all my luddite buttons.

Luddite (Urban Dictionary): One who fears technology (or new technology, as they seem pleased with how things currently are…why can’t everything just be the same?)

I’ve never felt so ill-equipped to deliver on a promise…EVER! That will teach me (hopefully) not to offer up specific help without doing a tiny bit of research first so I know what the heck I’m talking about.

But this is not all about me. It’s about my Balinese friend, Wayan, whom I’ve known since she was thirteen – she’s now twenty-one.

Wayan is Ketut’s sister-in-law. The oldest child in her family was a boy. He died young leaving six sisters and his grieving parents to cope without him. When I visited Wayan’s family home, I felt like I’d been whisked backward in time to a much earlier period.

At one point during my visit, Wayan’s mother handed her a large bucket and asked her to get water. I tagged along thinking I’d help her carry the pail. Once it was full it was bound to be heavy.

We walked a fair distance then the path dipped over what looked to me like a cliff. Wayan proceeded as though still on flat ground. I hesitated. Should I follow her, scooching down on my bum? I managed to keep up, slip-skidding sideways, grasping branches, and maintaining somewhat of a grip with my flip-flops – not the best for mountain climbing. We descended a distance of a two-story building then Wayan stopped at a bubbling spring. She filled the bucket, placed it on her head (no, really???) and began the ascent while I clawed my way behind her, crablike, in awe.

I think that’s when I knew this girl could accomplish whatever she set her mind to.

Unlike many young people raised in remote mountain villages of Bali, Wayan had aspirations. As I grew more adept at the language she began to share stories of her life. Her parents could not afford tuition to pay for high school so Wayan worked on a construction crew, carrying washtubs of rocks on her head to building sites. When she had enough saved there was a family emergency and her parents needed her money. “I was very sad, but I must help them,” she said.

Her education was delayed. Eventually, Wayan found a school in Tegalalang that offered night classes. She stayed with a family that had a small cafe there, working in the cafe during the day and going to school nights.

It was during that time, while still attending night classes, she came to work for me. She was even more industrious than I had believed and her desire to excel in everything she did was inspirational.

The need to better herself obsessed her. After graduation, she heard about a culinary program at Crystal College that offered evening courses. She was accepted into the program. Upon completion, she was granted an internship at a five-star hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.

There’s a phrase in Indonesian for that kind of resilient courage. Keberanian tangguh. Wayan has it in spades. She went to Bangkok and began her work at the hotel. Two months later the hotel and the whole world shut down. Covid had arrived. Wayan came home, devastated. She felt she’d failed.

Her parents had plans for her. She would marry her cousin. That way they’d have a male heir and the home would remain in the family when Wayan’s parents passed on. He’d agreed to come and live with them contrary to Balinese custom where the wife always goes to the family home of her husband. Women inherit nothing.

Wayan wasn’t on board with the plan.

In March, she came to visit so we could celebrate her 21st birthday. She was working to support the family, selling vegetables at the night market in the capital city of Denpasar. When her shift ended around 6 a.m. she motorbiked to Kintamani, 1 1/2 hours away, to cook in a cafe during the day. This was her schedule seven days a week.

“When do you sleep, Wayan?”

“There’s no time to sleep,” she said, and the deep purple half-moons under her eyes confirmed the truth.

Wayan’s 21st birthday dinner at Famous in Ubud

So when I got an excited message from her weeks later that said she was considering a job in Japan, I wanted details. Crystal College works with an international employment agency and they were interviewing for positions at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo. Wayan had interviewed and been accepted.

I messaged her and asked why she wanted to work in Japan. She sent this reply:

“I want to change my life to be better and all people who underestimate me see me success even though I’m just a poor person. I want to pay for my sisters’ school, I don’t want both of them to feel same as me – can’t continue to senior high school because my parents couldn’t pay for it. I want to build a new house and family temple for my parents. That is why I want to go to Japan.”

Wayan (center) with her parents and two sisters in front of their home

There was only one catch. Money.

Wayan’s current two jobs gross about $10.00 US/day on the days she works both of them. She’s supporting her family since her father is out of work and her mother isn’t well. Her starting salary in Japan would be many times that.

If she wants to work in Japan, she has to pay the agency 35.000.000 rph ($2,500 US) for providing her with two months of Japanese language education, a visa allowing her into the country, a work permit and sponsorship authorizing her stay there, arranging accommodations, providing airline tickets, and a three-year contract. She’d also needs to buy warm clothing – something unheard of in Bali.

That’s when I made my harebrained promise to set up a fundraising campaign to help her finance this opportunity.

It’s taken three days and many frustrations, but as of now Help Wayan Change Her Life is live on the GoGetFunding platform. If you have a little extra to spare, I can’t think of a more deserving person than Wayan to bless with a leg-up.

Please don’t ever let this become ordinary

You know how things that once amazed and delighted you fade to ordinary over time? It happens with just about everything: jobs, clothing, marriage.

When I moved to Bali, I remember sucking in fragrant, moisture-laden air, staring enraptured into bottomless ravines, tasting foods that exploded with heat and thinking, “Please don’t let me ever take this for granted.” I’ve gotten comfortable here, but I’ve never lost the tingle of delight at the scents, the landscapes, and the bursts of fire on my tongue.

Early on, I learned to ask for “Not spicy, please,” whenever I ordered Balinese fare. There’s one memorable eating adventure that still makes me giggle. I’d pointed to the word Rujak on the menu and asked the server what it was.

“Fruit salad,” she replied.

“Safe,” I thought. Little did I know the sweet papaya, pineapple, banana, and watermelon would be served drowned in a dressing heavily laced with cayenne pepper!

I’ll admit, though, there is one thing that did fade over time.

I was curious about the whistling I heard daily. It wasn’t raspy, electrical-wire-humming sound that cicadas make. This was pure, melodious, and it went on continuously for around thirty minutes every morning. One day I was having coffee with my neighbor and there it was. The whistling.

“What makes that sound?” I asked.

“What sound?” It had faded into background noise for her.

“The whistling,” I said.

“Oh, that. It’s just birds.”

Whistling birds circling over my Bali garden

I accepted her explanation and thought little more about it. Nine years later, I sat down to lunch with an expat friend who had lived in Asia most of her adult life. I’d watched the birds circling and whistling that morning and was mesmerized anew by their disciplined flight pattern and ceaseless sound. Once again, I wondered what kind of bird it was. No amount of Google searching on my part had turned up any evidence. She answered immediately.

“They’re a kind of pigeon – like homing pigeons. They’re trained to fly in circles.” I quizzed her for more but she shrugged and said that was all she knew.

Later that afternoon, I refined my Google search and this time hit pay dirt. It was one of those mind blowing moments of discovery.

Wikipedia told me that whistling pigeons have been used in China since at least the Ching Dynasty (1644 – 1912) and are also popular in Japan and Indonesia. But wonder of wonders, the birds aren’t born whistling. Tiny, lightweight whistles, painstakingly carved, are sewn into their tail feathers. The sound changes with the speed and direction of flight.

Photos from China Today

I was instantly obsessed and had to learn more. Who makes the whistles? How are the birds trained? This video answered all of those questions and several others I hadn’t thought to ask.

It seemed the flock that circled my garden was the only one of its kind in town. Over the past year of lockdown however, with time on their hands, it sounds like others may have gotten into whistle carving and pigeon training. Now there’s a new school that circles high over my back garden as well. (Pigeons. A band, dropping, flight, kit, loft, passel, plague, school – notice I resisted using plague for obvious reasons!)

The practice in China has diminished due to increasing urbanisation and regulation. I understand why. It’s a noisy hobby.

Ubud is more laid-back. People here can raise anything they want. Across the street from me in the town’s center, a family keeps chickens in makeshift coops on their flat rooftop. When the humidity is high and the wind is right, I’m keenly aware of the pig farm a block away.

It’s the complexity. The element of surprise. The strict rituals of Bali Hinduism nudged up against the relaxed approach to the rest of life that keeps amazement and delight alive in me. There will always be a mind-blowing vista to discover, a suspicious cuisine to sample, a new perspective on an old idea to explore.

Ordinary? I should say not. Extraordinary? Absolutely – like falling in love again with each sunrise.

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…???

Mother’s Day Confessions

I’ve never admitted this to anyone but as Mother’s Day rolls around, I’m reminded of the strange disconnect I experienced as a mom. Maybe you can relate. Maybe not. Here’s the story.

As a young adult, motherhood wasn’t on my to-do list. I’d never given it much thought. Neither had my first husband. We were about three years into the marriage when his highschool sweetheart wound up pregnant. As it turned out, he was the father. I left him with her in Muskogee, Oklahoma – can’t say I was terribly disappointed to escape Muskogee or my philandering husband.

Children weren’t on the agenda three years later when I married again. But after a tumultuous six months we had a night of unprotected passion and…our divorce was final the day before my first daughter was born.

Six years later, married again, I gave birth to my second daughter near Alum Creek, Texas. My husband was an accountant for a company that laid oil pipelines, hence Texas. Two years after that, my third sweet girl arrived. By then we’d moved into the eye-blink town of Smithville.

My daughters are the joy of my life. As they were growing up, every year when Mother’s Day approached they went into giggling-hush-hush mode. Breakfast in bed was the highlight. I awoke to chocolate ice cream on Trix cereal one memorable morning.

But I promised a confession and here it is.

Every year it was the same. Amid the hubbub of my own household, I forgot that I also had a mother. It would hit me, perhaps the night before, or the morning of, and I’d panic that I hadn’t given a single thought to honoring that dear woman on her special day. It was too late to mail a card, but with a hurried personal call to the florist in my hometown who was a friend from school, and a Happy Mother’s Day Skype with Mom later in the day, I always covered my dilinquent tracks in time.

Mom passed a year and nine months ago. But it’s strange – as that day approaches and I see promos for flowers or gifts popping up on my phone, I forget that I’m a mother. All my thoughts are of her until one of the girls calls with a cheery, happy Mother’s Day Mamma, and I recall that I’m the matriarch now.

As a result of those chotic, childrearing years, I understand if my kids momentarily forget me. In Bali I’m a day ahead anyway and no one caring for toddlers can be expected to keep in mind the time zone variations of my reality on the other side of the globe. It’s a thrill and a joy whenever I hear from them.

Before I bid you a happy day and get on with mine, I want to mention how freeing and healthy it is to have no expectations. It’s the key to contentment. If you don’t expect something from someone, you won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t materialize. Unmet expectations are at the core of unhappiness.

Here’s wishing you a very happy Mother’s Day whether you hear from your offspring or not! Send your wishes to them first If they have children – jog their memory – remind them that you exist. They’re busy!

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