I haven’t had a hot shower in over a month. I wear flip flops every single day. I wake up when the roosters start crowing. I have mango or papaya or pineapple or water apples or mangosteens or rambutans or some other exotic fruit every day (though durian, soursops, and snake fruit are not to my liking). I feel fairly busy every day although the next day I couldn’t tell you what I did. It is quite lovely.
The bus dropped me off at Lovina Beach, in the village of Kalibukbuk, a suburb of the town of Singaraja, in the regency of Buleleng, Northern Bali on Christmas Eve. There I met a cute guy and decided to stay a bit longer than a few days. After some more days I moved my departing flight back a week. A week later I moved it back even further, checked out of my guesthouse and moved in with the cute guy and his extended family. It was my Eat, Pray, Love move before there was an Eat, Pray, Love.
When I say his extended family, I really mean just about everyone. He lived in a fairly traditional multi-family compound home. The entrance to the home was to the north, towards the beach. As you enter the gate in the center is an open courtyard. To the right of the courtyard there are three rooms. The first is a roofed area, walled on three sides and completely open on the fourth. It is an all-purpose room, there are simple wood benches, and there is a loom. Later, after I have been here some time, I sat with a group of women here to make hundreds of Balinese flower offerings. The second and third rooms are kitchens. I learn later that it is this way because the cute guy’s mother does not get along with one of her daughter’s in law and they refuse to use the same kitchen.
To the south at the back of the courtyard were two bathrooms. They were two large rooms each with a concrete floor, a squatting toilet, and a large cistern with buckets to use to wash or to flush the toilets.
I have to take a deep breath before I throw a bucket full of cold water on me. Usually a few buckets later and I feel quite nice, but I can never quite get over the shock of that first bucketful. And the toilet paper, or rather the lack of it, is rather a mystery to me. No one else uses it but how they accomplish this feat without soaking themselves is beyond me. I can observe the eating with hands (or rather hand, only the right) and sort of copy it and get some of the food within the range of my mouth. But I cannot exactly observe the mysterious toilet paper-less feats. So every week I buy myself another roll or two and continue to look somewhat like an idiot clutching my paper as I make my way to the bathroom.
The left of the courtyard had the living quarters. The southwest portion housed cute guy’s third oldest brother, his pregnant wife, and their two daughters. From their section, the next room was that for cute guy’s parents. The was then a long open hallway where the family gathered for watching television and eating sitting on the floor; it wrapped around with more hallway and two additional bedrooms, one for cute guy’s second oldest brother, his wife, and their daughter, and then cute guy’s room.
Cute guy is named Kadek. Though I usually try not to give away names, because of Balinese naming convention, this actually gives away little. Names in Bali. You can call me Putu. If I were born in Bali that would be my name as I am the first born. In Bali children are named by their birth order and then given another name. If you are first born then you are called Putu or Wayan. If you are the second child you are Kadek or Made. The third is Komang or Gede. The fourth is Kutut. If you are the fifth child, then you are Putu or Wayan again. And so on. The names are for males and females. Kadek is named so because he is the sixth child, but he also has a nickname. However while in school he was called Made because there were already enough Kadeks to go around. His second name is Partama, but until the age of 5 it was something else, until his uncle said it was a stupid name and it was changed. There are no family names. The second name, the given name, is also chosen depending on caste, but it is changing was some children have foreign names. Some people are called by their birth order name, some by their second name, and some by a completely different nickname.
It was amazing to live with this family. I learned a lot about Balinese culture and incredibly was welcomed by and became woven into the lives of the family.
Kadek’s third oldest brother’s wife gave birth to their third child while I lived there. One morning they roared off on the motorcycle to the hospital and a few hours they roared back with a newborn.
Nearly every day for four months I watched Kadek’s second sister-in-law Ngah, from the village of Tenganan famous for its double ikat weaving, sit at her simple wood loom, pumping her legs and snaking her arms in an elaborate and fluid dance until she produced a beautiful piece of finished purple cloth with gold threads. When she, with her sister in law, came to my room to offer me the piece at the family and friends price, I readily accepted it. I felt I belonged.
It took a little time for the children to warm to me, but soon I felt like part of the family. Bodoh tai tunglep, which translates from Balinese to “you are as ugly as chicken shit” is a fond taunt of little children. All the children from three and up regularly call themselves and their friends UACS (ugly as chicken shit). It is a sign of my acceptance by the children that they now fondly call me the same. It is very touching and often brings a tear to my eye to be called ugly as chicken shit, have the child smack me, and run away giggling. Progress it is!
In my time in northern Bali I had the opportunity to attend a wedding ceremony, a cremation, a tooth filing ceremony, a child’s naming ceremony, and a Balinese wayang kulit (shadow puppet) performance as part of a wedding reception. I also was able to attend important festivals in the Balinese calendar.
Bali is gearing up for the big festival of Galungan, when the deified ancestors return to the family temple and must be entertained with food. This week the family has been busy. Sunday was the day to prepare the bananas. Monday was the day to prepare the caked of rice and today is the day to kill the pig. Ah, nothing like a good animal sacrifice. Okay to be truthful I am not all that comfortable with the animal sacrifice. It unnerves me to hear the squeals of pigs or squawks of chickens in their death throes. It is more unnerving to step outside and see a just roasted pig on a spit leaning up against the kitchen door or to have a chicken with its throat cut trying to make its last getaway throw itself at my feet.
So the deified ancestors are coming and will be around to party for about three days. Three being an auspicious number for the Balinese, as it is for many Asians. I will probably borrow some temple dress from Kadek’s sister-in-law again. Although the last time I was tempted to stuff the top with toilet paper as my bust is a bit smaller than the average Balinese woman’s.
I also experienced the Balinese New Year. This Saturday is New Year’s Eve and Sunday welcomes the New Year 1923. Yesterday there was a procession from the family temple to the community temple and then finally to the beach (or lake in other parts of Bali) to cleanse in preparation for the New Year. I was in my traditional temple clothing, my handmade sarong from Kadek’s sister-in-law. Today people are generally getting the house ready and heading to their home villages if they have not already. Tomorrow there will be a festival of giant monster effigies called Ogoh-ogoh. They were built in competition between villages. They will be paraded through the streets and then burned. Then on Sunday people stay home to welcome the first day of the new year. Traditionally people do not eat, drink, work, smoke, or go outside the home compound, although generally the guidelines are not so strict anymore. Eating and drinking will be practiced in many homes and some people, probably me included, will sneak out for a little while just to see what it is like out on the streets with no one else about. Happy New Year 1923.
It was not all festivals and celebrations of life events. Many of the days there was little to do; it rained every single day in February. But I went on walks, several dolphin sighting trips with snorkeling, I learned to play pool pretty well as that was one of the few pastimes in the local bars and I memorized all the songs to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication because it was the primary soundtrack and go-to playlist for the bars and bands in the area.
Ultimately it did not work out between Kadek and I, though I am very grateful for the time I was able to spend with him and his family and the people I met in Lovina. However, it was time to stop putting off the final legs of my around the world journey.