Friday, March 14, 2014


GMy first week in Bali has been relatively quiet.  While I am in a rural area, and my house is set back from the road, there is a house under construction nearby, and the sound of saws and hammers interrupt the week of quiet stillness I had promised myself.  The churring cicadas and crowing roosters in my left ear compete with the construction noises assaulting my right ear.

But I have kept still in spite of the imperfect world aound me.  I clean up the lizard feces from the floor of my outdoor bathroom each morning and brush off the particles of grit that seem to constantly rain from the ceiling onto the bedsheets and floor.  I make my breakfast in the kitchen, a separate room at the side of the house that is entered from the outside.  It is clearly a man's kitchen with its paltry equipment--two pans, chipped plates, an odd assortment of utensils and dishes, no hot water.  There is a toaster oven and a rice cooker, two modern appliances that enable me to cook basic meals.  There are two luxuries here--air conditioning and cable TV with English language stations.  I am renting this house from an American expat, so for the first time in my travels, I have quite a selection of programs.  This and reading have been my primary entertainment, along with walks on the country road that runs through rice fields and small villages.

Kadek, the woman who does my housekeeping comes by to see me every day, at least once and more often twice.  She is surprised that I am a neat person who makes my bed and washes my dishes.  Kadek is a loquacious woman in her mid-forties, married to Made, and they have two sons, 15-year-old Wayan and Kadek, her namesake, who had his 9th birthday just two days ago.  Over the last week, I've learned a great deal about Kadek's life.  She grew up in a very poor family in Denpasar before she met and married Made over the objections of Made's parents who had selected another bride for him.  I'm not sure I understand everything she has told me about her life, because her English isn't very good.  She says she's been married for 14 years and yet Wayan is 15, so there may be a bit of "scandal" here that is at least in part the cause of the friction that has continued between Kadek and her in-laws.  Maybe I have misunderstood this--sometimes I'm very challenged to figure out what she's saying.  The friction between Kadek and her in-laws has continued over the years.  This is complicated by the close proximity of Made's family.  They live in a multi-house compound, all the houses built over time by the men of the family.  So, for Kadek, there is no escaping the daily haranguing of her in-laws even as she cares for them in the infirmities of their aging.

I ride into the town of Ubud on the back of Kadek's motorbike to buy groceries.  One morning I went to the local market with her.  I wanted to see what was available there, and it is everything from soup to nuts.  Kadek instructed me to follow her at a little distance because prices are inflated for white people.  I gave her my list and did my best to keep her in sight, which wasn't easy considering the narrow aisles that ran between the rows of vendors with their wares spread on truck beds and tables or in baskets on the ground.  It was a maze of a market on different elevations, inside and outside, and I surely would have become lost without Kadek in the lead.  Kadek supplemented my list with purchases of some Balinese spice mixtures and instructed me how to use them.

Kadek brings me samples of her cooking almost every day.  Most of it is simple food.  But sometimes, it is food she prepares for some special ceremony at the local Hindu temple.  There seems to be some special ceremony every other day.  She takes this special food to be blessed by the Hindu gods and brings it back home to her family.  In the morning, she cooks rice and a melange of vegetables in a mildly spicy sauce, sometimes with a small amount of minced chicken, sometimes not, depending on how much money she has that day.  This is what the family eats all day, supplemented by the ceremonial food she makes.  

After only a few days here, it feels as if I have been integrated into Kadek's family.  I ate dinner with her family one night.  I gave her money for the food and she prepared a Balinese feast, with me as her sous chef.  Made's "auntie", a widow who lives in the house next to them, spends most of her day at Kadek's house and shares meals with them.  She wouldn't sit at the table with us because she is shy and doesn't speak English.  She comes to rake the fallen leaves around my house every two or three days.  We smile and greet each other with the Balinese "Hai" and she proceeds with her voluntary work, which Kadek says she does "for exercise".  Made is artistic, and I am quite impessed with the pencil drawings he showed me.  They are mostly drawings that tell a story about some Hindu god, but my favorite is a drawing of birds perched on tree branches.

Neither Kadek nor any of her family have ever eaten in a restaurant.  When I invited Kadek to go to lunch with me at a restaurant, she told me she would rather that I ask one of her sons instead, because she would like them to have this experience. She says she wouldn't enjoy this luxury if they could not.  This touching maternal response brought tears to my eyes.  Kadek's love for and pride in her sons was apparent to me when I had dinner at her home, but her denial of this simple pleasure (in my mind, but a greater one in hers) in favor of her sons spoke volumes about her devotion to them.  

While Kadek helps to support their family by housecleaning, Made works in construction.  In fact, the house being constructed next door is theirs.  Three people for whom Kadek cleans house have loaned them money to finish one floor of the house so that they can rent it out for income.  This is their longer term plan, to finish the house and earn rental income so that they can provide their sons with a college education.   They have been working on this house for five years now.  So, I cannot be upset that my serenity is disturbed by the hammering and sawing, because every board and nail brings Wayan and his little brother Kadek, the sweetest boys you would ever meet, one step closer to the brighter future that education can provide.

No comments: