The Joy of Landing
After spending more than nine hours among the clouds, flying from Dubai to Denpasar, we finally touched down at Ngurah Rai Airport in Bali. And everything was magical from the very beginning. The endless queues at the check in, waiting for the luggage...nothing was hard to handle.
I was mesmerised looking at the array of travelers from all over the globe, heading to yoga retreats, honeymoons, and holidays. Hippie moms with kids – all carrying huge backpacks – students from Australia, unusually dressed flight attendants from various Asian airlines, local police officers with udengs, traditional headbands...and so many surf boards in one place.
Our first contact with Bali was smiling Made, our driver: a man with a dear face holding a big card with my name on it who was so kind, as if he hadn’t been waiting for us for almost two hours more than was planned, and in the middle of the night. I tried to listen to what he was saying, doing my best to be polite, but my attention was distracted by the stunning details of the airport entrance area, designed as a huge Hindu Temple gate. It all looked unreal.
By the time we reached our villa in Sanur, we were so exhausted that we fell asleep instantly.
I remember listening to the unusual sounds of unfamiliar insects and animals I had never heard before. Later on, some of them would become our regular domestic visitors, gecko lizards in particular.
When you rent a villa in Bali, breakfast service is usually included. In this case, we were lucky to have our dear Komang. She was the first person who greeted us after we woke up the next morning. Komang was there to make breakfast and clean, but we never saw her as a member of the service staff, she was more like a friend. Whatever they do, the Balinese people do it with joy, attentiveness, and calm. Komang was quiet and kind, talking to us only if and when we had some questions. And we were more than curious, so she had little to no chance to make breakfast in peace. Still, our impression was that she enjoyed talking to us. Komang was from the village of Batubulan, and she came to the villa riding a scooter. One day, it was pouring rain, and she still arrived by scooter all drenched, wearing a raincoat. When we asked her why she hadn’t used public transport or a car, she explained to us, smiling, it was all fine because everyone in Bali rode scooters no matter what the weather was like. Later on, we got to see some extreme examples of this practise, observing an entire family of four on one small vehicle, or a mother steering a scooter with one hand while holding a baby in another one, sometimes not even wearing a helmet. All fine, Komang said.
She was away for two days because she attended a funeral – her father had passed away. When she told us, it had been six months since he had died, and we were shocked. That was when we found out about the very unusual tradition poor people, sometimes even middle class families, observe in Bali when their dear ones are gone. The Balinese cremate the deceased, and the whole process includes a very expensive ceremony followed by many rituals. The process itself is called Ngaben. The whole community is involved in the funeral. After a family member dies, the family buries the body, but not too deep in the ground, because it will need to be disinterred for the process of purification and cremation. Sometimes the body stays buried for months, sometimes it takes more than a year, until the family raises enough money for the cremation ceremony. The length of the period between the funeral and Ngaben depends solely on the financial position of the family. Only the rich are cremated shortly after they have passed away. Nobody is sad or in mourning, because they believe the deceased has just reached the next dimension in the circle of life and will be back on Earth through reincarnation. It took Komang more than six months to prepare what is required for the funeral. After talking to more people, we realised that these ceremonies cost as much as the average yearly income of a European. Can you imagine spending about 12.000 € for a funeral?
Komang taught me how to wrap a sarong and how to make the local black coffee.
Sometimes I watched her preparing breakfast. Whether it was cutting slices of papaya, or putting banana pieces in the pancake dough, she always looked as if she were doing the most sacred and most important mission ever. I came to the following conclusion: a calm mind can achieve so much. Learning how to make it calm, now that is another story.
What we will rememeber her for, are also her banana pancakes. Once she served us the first one, we couldn’t survive the rest of the day without a double portion.
Am I in the Movie?
Bali smells like incense sticks.
Just after we stepped into the vibrant streets of Sanur, I realised how far away from home I was. We were stunned by every little scene we witnessed, turning around looking, soaking up the atmosphere of local life. The emotions we felt were a mixure of joy, excitement, curiosity, and euphoria. It was all so beautifully different from anything we had ever seen before. The first day, we randomly sat down in a cosy little restaurant by the road, to have lunch. While waiting for the food, I perceived an unusual scent, and there it was – our first encounter with offerings. A petite woman was burning an incense stick after putting it into a little basket made of banana leaves. She then waved the smoke into the air with the movement of her hand, while chanting. Her eyes were closed. She was oblivious to the world around her, enjoying the moment between herself and the words of her silent prayer. I felt priviledged to witness such a scene and tried to observe it without daring to ask or talk. Just moments before burning the stick, she neatly laid different sorts of flowers in the basket with a bit of rice and some candies. All that was part of the offerings that people in Bali do three times a day as part of their devotion to the gods.
Later on, we found out that she was the owner of a restaurant. I wanted to ask her a few questions about it, but my partner talked me out if it. And it was a good idea. Observing without asking made more sense. I strongly believe that was the first time in my life that I saw what it really meant, to be „living in the present moment“.
To be continued...
Photos: Jelena Zoric