The living room and the forest
Thursday, July 16th, 5:30 a.m.
The Bali you see in advertisements, hear about, and imagine, is not the Bali that exists away from the hotels that line the beaches. Beautiful, but….. the real Bali is a third world country, a tropical country, and beautiful.
We took a trek along the river yesterday, climbed down 159 steps (Yanni, Dawn’s son, was counting) to an 11th Century Buddhist meditation temple and caves. The government put in the steps in the ‘90’s, thinking it could be a tourist site, but didn’t follow through any further, so no one goes there but the locals. They get water from the springs pouring out of the side of the cliff, and they bathe in the thundering waterfalls next to the river.
The river is contained on each side by cement walls, which also form the walkway. On one side of this walkway, farmers put in pipes to shunt off water for their fishponds, prawn ponds, and rice fields. The back walls of home compounds abut the other side of the river. There is no garbage pickup in rural Bali, so people dump their refuse over the wall. There isn’t a lot: whatever can be put into the compost heap won’t be found in this dump. Any bottles, cans, or paper that can be sold for recycling won’t be there. What is there in the unsightly pile is plastic. Plastic food wrapping, plastic bags, and whatever other plastic refuse you can think of that can’t be recycled. Some of the plastic shifts from the piles and floats down the river.
People take their daily baths in the river. You are polite and don’t look at them, and thus they are in the privacy of their personal bathing place. The river is also the toilet. We walked past two men who were defecating in the river. On the way back, we waved to a woman who had just slaughtered a chicken, thrown the refuse in the river, and was washing the chicken. Yanni jumped in and swam in the river to cool off. The concept is: the river carries it away. One doesn’t consider what was thrown away upstream.
My water comes from a tap (where it is prior to that, I dare not think), and I boil a huge kettle full every morning. I fill one old wine bottle that I leave in the bathroom to brush my teeth with. I fill another bottle that I put in the refrigerator to have a cold drink in the afternoon. I make my first cup of tea, and leave the rest of the boiled water in the kettle to use throughout the day for washing dishes or rinsing fruit before I peel it. When the kettle is empty, I refill and boil it again.
My guesthouse has a western toilet, for which I am grateful. Using an Asian toilet – two foot rests and a hole in the ground, does not captivate me. I placed my toothbrush, toothpaste and contact supplies in a bowl and covered it with a kitchen towel. I didn’t like to picture the mice running across the bowl after taking their nip out of the bar soap on the sink.
On Wednesday we drove all afternoon on errands. The first stop was the “greenhouse” which name does not really fit because everywhere here is green and flowering and lush. Dawn needed to purchase some lotus plants for her new fishpond. The lotuses have large, rippled, dusty green leaves that reach for the sun. The flowers are a luscious pink with an incredible yellow seedpod in the center.
Our next stop was in the gold and silver smith village. Dawn bought some leather string to make necklaces, which she sells on consignment in a store for tourists. Then we drove to Ubud, where there were many westerners in evidence. I bought a loaf of organic, whole wheat bread and a jar of organic peanut butter. There are women begging everywhere, sitting on the steps of stores and gathered at stoplights with their children, who run to thrust their hands in your car window when you stop for a red light.
For lunch yesterday Dawn picked lettuce and Thai basil from her garden. I cringed when she washed it in the tap water, but I have to get over my German fastidiousness or starve. The salad was lovely. For supper last night we had the long green beans from the garden, chopped tiny and stir-fried with garlic, shallots, Thai red peppers, and mung bean sprouts. Dawn also added tempe and served it over rice in a sauce made from turmeric and coconut milk. My vegetarianism is now confirmed.
The coconut milk was made from a coconut that fell off of a tree in the back yard. Agung, the housekeeper, took the husk off and split the nut. Then Dawn broke it into pieces and removed the brown, hairy, shell. She chopped it into small bits, threw it into the blender with water, and blended it until it was fine. Then it was strained. In the morning we had a ladle of coconut milk over warmed black rice mush with some palm sugar for sweetening. My children would starve to death! The coconut milk was quite rich and tasted nothing like the coconut shavings we find on cakes at home and which I abhor.
It is 6:30 a.m. and the sun has risen. It is very hazy in the morning, so I haven’t gotten any lovely “sunrise over the rice fields” yet. The priests in the temple have begun chanting.
Sunrise burning off the mist – view from my living room.