Bali | Restoring Balance

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Oct 14, 2015 | Lodtunduh, Bali

It’s midnight and I’m feeling the tiredness of a day spent wandering Ubud, the sun beating hot on my shoulders. The light in the living room casts an amber glow on the dark floor boards and teak beams. The overhead fan spins quietly. The lotus flowers in the pond have folded inward and moonlight hangs over the gardens. From across the rice paddies I hear the sounds of chanting and the barking dogs who embrace the night.

Before turning in I remember that I have banking to do and sign-in online. I’m startled to find two cash withdrawals made earlier in the day—one of which I’m certain I didn’t make. Having suffered the frustration of ATM fraud before, I know the drill. I attempt to call the international number on my bank card but there are problems with the landline. I use my mobile instead and my minutes run out while I’m placed on hold… The next couple of hours are spent trying to route my call through local operators. The connection works only intermittently and ultimately, not at all—an operator tells me the phone line to Canada is “broken”. It’s mid-afternoon back home and I email a family member who contacts my bank. When he finally reaches them, they’re unresponsive to my request that someone contact me in Bali and won’t discuss my situation—confidentiality and all that. My hands are tied and I’m flooding with despair; I can’t even cancel my card. Tears of frustration come and I try not to imagine being in any other emergency situation without phone access.

Being in Bali feels surreal at times. My stress is melting away but it’s an adjustment living alone in this house in the rice paddies. It’s ink black at night. I’m so far away from street lights the stars pop in the sky. The main Joglo is one large living area, surrounded by glass and wood doors on three sides. Sliding open the doors—walls, really—is my favourite morning ritual and I can’t imagine ever becoming immune to the beauty of these gardens. But at night, fish-bowl living has my senses heightened and tonight I’m on guard against strange movements and curious sounds. The bedroom, kitchen and bathroom are in an adjoining Joglo. At night I slide and lock the bedroom doors, draw the mosquito netting around my bed and listen to the sounds that come from the dark.

I’m isolated here (the neighbours are away for a few months) and my mind reverts to fight or flight mode. What is that tapping on my bedroom door? It grows insistent over the next hour, and louder. I sit up in bed, flashlight in hand and feel my heart beating in my throat. I speak to my fear and try to reason with it, which is as unwieldy as an exhausted toddler gone jellyfish—I can’t really get a grip on it. My fear of the unknown is broadcasting waves of panic throughout my body. It’s been a couple of weeks and I’ve got this cohabiting with geckos, tiny lizards and frogs thing down pat now. I’m even best buddies with a frog that visits me nightly and hangs out for a couple of hours. But the energy of the night is heavy and I’m aware of feeling vulnerable to the prospect of a trespasser. I don’t even know if this is a reasonable fear. It would be at home (sadly enough) but is it here? Something tells me that given the Balinese belief in karma and the sacredness of family life (and everyone’s close proximity to that hub), cat burgling is low on their list of night-time activities. Besides, the owner of this house assured me of my safety in this garden paradise. Still, my monkey-mind is in full swing.

I loosen my grip on the flashlight and let myself relax into the pillow. I think about an earlier conversation with Dewa about ritual and the spirit world. How each person is accompanied, from the time they’re in the womb, by their four spirit brothers or sisters (the kanda empat): Anggapati has the characteristics of a poet, Mrajapati, the virtue of friendship, Banispati, the virtue of intelligence and Banispati Raja, the characteristics of strength. In the womb these invisible companions are represented by the amniotic fluid, the uterine blood, the vernix caseosa, and the placenta. If treated respectfully, the spirit siblings offer protection throughout life—and beyond. In times of need, you can summon each by name and ask for their protection, especially before sleep. So with as little desperation as possible, I call upon my four spirit sisters and let go into the darkness …

I get four hours sleep and wake for the first time since I’ve arrived feeling unbalanced. My driver, Dewa, calls and is inordinately sympathetic. He provides me with the right phone code to reach Canada, and success—the landline co-operates and my call is connected! But it’s jammed with static and I don’t dare jiggle the cord while I’m on hold with the bank, afraid the call with drop. Eventually, the situation is resolved and the money is returned to my account.

I need to clear my head, so I open the gate onto the rice paddies and follow the path to the resort pool. I slip in … the tiles gleam cobalt blue in the sun and the water pulls me into its warmth. I float on my back watching as clouds form whisps like spun sugar, then slowly dissolve. I swim to the edge and rest my head on my hands. There’s a woman working in the rice fields. She’s wearing a canary-yellow silk blouse, fiery as it catches the sun’s rays. Turquoise and purple shorts reach her knees and mud climbs up her legs to meet them. Her t-shirt has a heart drawn on it and it makes me smile. I watch as she removes her straw hat to undo her top knot. She tilts her face to the sun and loosens her hair with her fingers. It’s black and woven with strands of silver and spills down her back. She briefly meets my glance then fastens her hair and continues moving, a dog at her heels. She floats steadily across the fields bending rhythmically with her sickle in hand and I’m lulled, at last, by the steadiness of her movements.

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