It’s hard to believe it’s been a week since we arrived in Bali. In many ways it’s been a great week, but – for me at least – it’s also come with its share of frustrations. I’ll start with the negative and end with the positive:
On Friday I woke up feeling queasy and for the next 24 hours my stomach battled it out with some unknown assailant. I knew I was bound to get sick at some point over this trip, but the sudden onset and intensity surprised me. It’s hard to be sick in a foreign country: normal challenges such as the language barrier and finding clean water become all the more daunting, and I’ve never wished for air conditioning and TV so strongly. I was also disappointed to miss our class trip to a barong performance and practice interviews afterwards. Luckily, however, the worst of it lasted only a day. I’ve mostly recovered, though I’m still having trouble digesting anything spicy, fried, or with meat – in other words, Indonesian food. On the bright side, Jen (who also had a bad day) and I were kindly driven to Bali Bakery by Termana and Ika. The bakery, only the second time we’ve indulged in Western food, was comforting in its familiarity (cheese! bread! salad!). The prices were also familiarly Western: my bowl of yogurt and honey was two or three times as expensive as an average warung dinner.
I mentioned the language barrier. One of the surprises coming from Jogja to Bali is that most Balinese “don’t speak Indonesian.” (Remember that there are over 200 language groups in Indonesia, but ever since the islands were united into a nation almost everyone learns Indonesian in school and speaks it addition to one or two local languages.) Balinese, of course, do speak Indonesian. However, they have a different accent, mix in Balinese words, and have sexual or bathroom connotations to many common words – as Jen learned when she told an elderly woman at a warung that she was full, which can also mean horny. It’s not like we had that much of a grasp on Indonesian in Jogja, but it’s still frustrating to have to relearn words such as titles and to have people laugh at our accent and overly formal word choices.
When I say people laugh at us, however, I don’t mean it as a bad thing. One of my favorite aspects of Indonesian culture is how much everyone smiles and jokes around. I really enjoy living in Taman, and I’m excited to do my research here. I suppose I should pause and explain Taman. Taman 1965, or 1965 Park Community, is a family compound in Denpasar that was made into an informal NGO nine or ten years ago. 1965 refers to a dark year in Indonesian history, in which several complex factors prompted the massacre of hundreds of thousands of real or alleged communists. The government covered up the killings for decades and it has been only recently, with the fall of President Suharto in the late 90s, that people have begun studying and talking about 1965 and ideas of human rights in general. Many of the Indonesian students in our class said they were learning about 1965 along with us; some said their only knowledge of 1965 was the government propaganda videos they were forced to watch every year in grade school. Many Indonesians we’ve talked to are still hesitant to talk about 1965 in public, which is why an informal space like Taman is so important.
Taman as a family compound is a series of houses, courtyards, and family temples, all connected by a maze of alleyways. The entrance on Jalan Supratman, between the nasi campur vendor and the store that sells cell phone minutes, is easy to miss because it’s just wide enough for a motorbike to get through. Then there’s the main courtyard, with a stage area bearing the words “Forgive But Never Forget.” Last week we were invited to the 50th birthday party of one of Termana’s uncles, celebrated in the courtyard with a hundred or so friends and family members. There were performances by various bands and family members (including the birthday boy himself, pictured below), heartfelt speeches, dancing, and plenty to eat and drink all night long. Jen and I live in two rooms on the second floor of a building that belongs to a family with an adorable daughter, just off the courtyard. Our rooms are connected by an outdoor walkway and balcony/porch area, from which you can watch the street vendors, the kites (you can see a half-dozen high in the sky at any given time), and (this week) the Galungan processions. Most of our classes take place on an outdoor platform less than a minute away; there’s always a flock of small children running amok to play with and dote upon; and there’s even a shop in Taman that sells snacks and fresh-made juices.
I’ll leave you with some short explanations of the pictures to follow (they got out of order in the upload but you can figure it out):
- The first few are from Galungan, a Balinese Hindu holiday. The holiday has been patiently explained to us several times but I’m still a little fuzzy on the details. On a broad level it celebrates the triumph of good over evil and features ornate offerings, processions to the temple, and lots of prayer. In my pictures you can see some of the offerings (which the women make, often working on them from 6am to midnight in the days leading up to Galungan) and a procession we saw one morning from our balcony. You can also see us getting dressed up in traditional sarongs and then heading over to the family temple, where we were shown how to pray. I hope I’ll have a chance to write about religion in Indonesia someday – it’s really fascinating.
- The next picture is a typical warung meal, though it’s actually from a Javanese place. Most places here will wrap food up for you in banana leaves and wax paper to make a perfect little boxed lunch that we can then take to eat back at Taman. This meal included rice (what meal doesn’t?), an egg thing, various veggies (some as yet unidentified), tempe, and peanut sauce. I got the watermelon juice from the shop in Taman I mentioned earlier.
- The last picture is of our host sister, who Jen and I like to call “our” baby. She is doing one of her favorite activities, namely riding her tricycle around in circles in the courtyard while being admired by her bevy of American fans.