Bali | Ceremonial Days (Part Two)

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October, 2015

I’m riding on the back of Wayan’s motorbike, trying not to squeeze the breath out of her. There’s a wedding ceremony taking place in my village and getting there means I have to outsmart my fear of speeding bikes. It isn’t too dramatic to say that if there’s a six-inch gap on either side of a car, a motorbike (or three) will find a way to squeeze past, likely dodging a dog or person as it does. There are next to no traffic lights here, and rules of the road seem to be open to interpretation. I haven’t yet graduated to that level of daring. Wayan knows it and stifles a laugh. She coaxes me like a child onto the bike, promising to drive “slowly”—whatever that means on these hellish, narrow roads. It’s only a fifteen minute ride but on-coming cars are close enough to brush my knee and I jerk it back. I close my eyes and force myself to breathe deeply, to feel this terrifying freedom as the wind hits my face … Before I know it we’ve arrived. I climb off and as the fear in my belly dissolves, laughter rises and spills out. Wayan congratulates me before speeding off, and I feel ridiculously triumphant about this small victory.

The wedding set-up has been on-going for several days. I’ve caught glimpses of it from the car window on my drive home from Ubud in the evenings. Everything and everyone vibrates colour: gold, crimson, purple and pink jewel tones, elegant and explosive in the mid-day sun. The bride wears a gilt headdress and necklace and not even the braces on her teeth come close to dampening her glow. True to tradition, this ceremonial day stretches from morning til night. It’s laden with food, music and the rise and fall of conversation as people find a rhythm to the day, to the heat. I’m on my own and feel as hesitant about moving through this large group as I do about taking out my camera. I keep it in my bag for most of the day, choosing instead to wander in quiet observation, committing mood and moments to memory. Then some kids wave me over, offer me ice cream, and I sink into the afternoon with the first feeling of true comfort … and my camera comes out for a short while.

Because I don’t have a sarong with me my access is restricted within the compound—the temple, for instance, is off-limits. I consider walking home to get one but by mid-afternoon, walking safely on this road is a gamble. Instead, I make a spur of the moment decision to go to Ubud. Because this is Bali, and there’s a motorbike and driver on every corner (taxi service or not), I summon my nerve and approach the nearest one—I’m gonna shake the rest of this fear out, right here, right now. I hop on the back of the bike … We fly through traffic and up and down hills. I gradually loosen my grip on this guy’s waist … and I catch my reflection in his mirror. I barely recognize my face: I am ecstatic.

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