Monday, February 16, 2015

Bali: First Impressions

As I begin this first post in Bali, I am sitting next to the window of my loft bedroom listening to the rain fall and the roosters crow.  It's 5 am, and they are starting their song late this morning. The dogs, geckos and other birds haven't joined in yet, but they will soon add their harmony to the chorus as well. Perhaps all of them are rousing late due to the gentle rain this morning. Those are the only sounds I hear - it's extremely peaceful and quiet most of the time here, but there are exceptions too.

Every day at 6 am, noon and 6 pm, local people, most of whom are Balinese Hindu, are called via a priest chanting and music playing over loudspeakers of some sort, to place offerings at the temples. Each offering is in a small flat basket made for that purpose and filled with flowers and incense, then placed at various places around the family compound, including the family temple. This is done by the women of the family, and they dress in sarongs and lace shirts, with sashes tied around their waists, each time they place the offerings. Once they place the offerings, they are back to wearing capri's and t-shirts. Everyone wears flip flops no matter what the occasion, and you don't wear shoes into buildings. From what I have seen in my few short days here, life revolves around the practice of their faith, as well the demands of the climate.

Bali is near the equator, and the heat and humidity are fairly extreme.  I have not checked the temperatures as my internet access is very limited and slow most of the time, but I would guess the temperatures reach 95 degrees each day, with very high humidity.  It's generally sweltering, and there is no air conditioning, nor even fans, in most places, so the pace of life is forced to be much slower. Especially for those of us here from places without the constant extreme heat. I learned after my tour of the village from our local teacher who is studying to be a teacher at the university in Denpasar, that because Balinese people ride their motorbikes everywhere, they are also not used to walking in the heat and tire easily, just as we do.

View of the family compound
from the breakfast table
What I see when I wake
up in the morning.
The family compound where I am experiencing my homestay has several small buildings within a walled area. Most life takes place in the open air here, which is understandable with the heat.  Unlike at home, all of the rooms a family needs to live are not under one roof as our homes are.  The small buildings serve individual purposes, and multiple family units.  Outside of sleeping areas, which are built of brick and very small - housing only a bed or two for the parents and all of their children, and the kitchen, which is also very small and in the back attached to the back of one of the bedroom buildings, everything takes place in small buildings I can best compare to picnic shelters at home.  A roof, a floor and open sides.

So delicious.  The yellow fruit is jackfruit.  Love it!
A small gazebo like structure has a table with two long benches where the volunteers gather to eat breakfast each morning.  We have two choices for breakfast - a banana pancake or an omelette with toast.  We are also served fresh juices of our choice - watermelon is already a favorite of mine - and after we eat the main entree we are each presented with a beautiful bowl of fresh fruit.  All of this is included in our fee to the volunteer agency, and while it is not broken out from the program fee, I would guess it costs about $15/day for room and board.

View from my windows.

My room is simple, yet comfortable.  For now, I am staying in a loft room with a soaring thatched ceiling and two twin beds, as it was the only one open when I arrived.  Since most volunteers are younger, and the hosts prefer to house them with others their age, I will be moving to a single room downstairs this weekend after more volunteers arrive.  My floor is made of gleaming white tile, and I have built-in cupboards and drawers with intricately carved wooden detail around the windows and glass cupboard doors.  My windows have no glass or screens, but only wooden shutters.  I have left them open all the time to capture any breeze there is, but do need to close them in the afternoon to block the sun. I also have a ceiling fan and an electrical outlet, as well as 2 small overhead lights. I use the lights as little as possible, because at least in my mind it helps keep the bugs out. I sleep under a mosquito net mostly to help protect me from contracting diseases like Dengue fever, which you can't be immunized against.  My only furniture besides the bed is a wooden chair and a reclaimed dresser. The electrical outlet is European and requires an adapter, so I can only plug in one thing at a time to charge since I brought one adapter. I really love the space and the view up here, and I will miss it when I move downstairs to a single room.
The beautiful home of Juan Carlos.

I was startled on my first afternoon here to find some animal poo in on the floor of my room.  I knew it was too big to be a mouse, but had no idea what type of critter had deposited it.  After talking with my volunteer friends at breakfast, I learned it was gecko poo.  Apparently a large gecko lives in my ceiling munching away on mosquitos.  So I've named him Juan Carlos and choose to believe he prefers the ceiling to my bed. 

I have a "modern" bathroom downstairs, which means a toilet like we have at home, and a shower. They are together in a small tiled room, and the shower is a wand on the wall near a drain in the corner.  There is no enclosure of any sort, so you just shut the bathroom door and shower away. There is also no hot water.  At first, I did the shower version of the Hokey Pokey - just put one body part under the water at a time due to how cold it was, but now I plunk my whole body under the spout at least twice a day. And I caught myself yesterday wishing the water was colder.  In fact, my fellow volunteer and friend Sabine, a Ph.D. chemist and patent attorney from Germany in her life outside of volunteering in Bali, told me that she discovered from a conversation with our hosts yesterday that the people we see wrapped in towels when we walk down the road to have dinner at a small cafe do have water at home, but choose to bathe at a public bathhouse near the river because the water is even colder there.

Gado gado from the Pulu cafe.
 Dinner out in pj pants.
Even the small cafes where we have dinner are unique to the area.  I can best compare it to having dinner on a friend's patio at home.  Typically there are just 2 or 3 tables under a roof, no walls, and the family who lives there are all going on about their lives around you.

Fresh pineapple juice
and vital water.
The food everywhere I've eaten here is amazing.  So fresh and generally healthy too. Gado Gado is a popular vegetarian dish, and while it varies with ingredients based on who makes it, it generally includes bits of fried tofu and tempeh, string beans, carrots, bean sprouts, cooked greens similar to spinach and steamed rice.  It is served with delicious peanut sauce I'm used to eating with spring rolls at the home. The neighborhood Pulu cafe is a favorite of the volunteers here, as it is just a short walk down the road.  They offer several main dishes, a few desserts and a list of fresh juices:  pineapple, mandarin, mango, papaya, banana and mixed fruit.  Last night for dinner I had gado gado, a pandan paste (local herb) crepe filled with banana and topped with coconut and molasses syrup, fresh pineapple juice and a bottle of water. Total cost was 83,000 rupiah, about $6.50 US.

Traffic here is best described as an intricate dance where each person knows their part.  Roads are narrow and often crowded with parked motorbikes and vans along the side. If there are sidewalks, they are narrow and often have large holes into the infrastructure below so it's critical to carry a "torch" as my European friends call a flashlight, and always pay close attention to where you are going. Motorbike (part motorcycle, part scooter) seems to be the preferred mode of transportation, and I often see multiple people riding on one bike - a toddler standing between his parents on the seat, 3 people on the seat with a young child standing where you would place your feet on a scooter. Sabine has learned to drive one here, and I am in awe of her courage.  Komang, our delightful 20-year-old local teacher who is actually studying education at the university in Denpasar, about an hour and a half away from here, lives nearby and gave me a ride home after our volunteer orientation in Ubud on Sunday morning. As I looked across the top of her helmet (yep, I am a giant here too) and gripped her tiny waist, I just prayed that I would not have a brain injury if we crashed. I shouldn't have worried as she is a master dancer on the motorbike.  

To reassure all of you concerned about my safety so far from home, rest assured there seems to be no better place I could be.  Balinese Hindus believe in karma, and that everything they do reflects on their families and friends, so they are genuinely good people.  There is little crime, and people are exceptionally kind.  Always. We need to be much more concerned with falling into a hole in the sidewalk than experiencing any crime. No one locks anything, and feels secure that it will be there when they return. Reminds me of the Auburn I grew up in. Rest assured, I am watching carefully where I walk and am careful when crossing the street.

Thanks for your patience in waiting for my first blog post from Bali.  On my first morning here, Melanie, a beautiful, smart young woman from Canada who reminds me so much of Olivia and has been here for several weeks volunteering already, wisely told me, "Bali teaches you patience." And that's a lesson we can all continue to learn.


  1. I'm enraptured. I love this! I feel like we are there with you! So proud of your my friend! I know that courage it took for you to do this -- and to STAY!! Looking forward to the next post! Much love to you!!

  2. Lynn...beautiful description of what sounds like a lovely, surreal location. I wish you peace as you continue to unfold all that Bali has to offer. Keep the stories coming!

  3. Lynn, beautiful, descriptive and entertaining article. Stay away from the holes in the sidewalk. So glad you are enjoying cold showers.

  4. Thank you for allowing me to experience Bali through you! I can't wait to learn more!!!

  5. Thanks for sharing your surroundings...the sights, the sounds, the colors, the food. You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers. Continue to be brave my friend and know that you are surrounded by support and love from afar.

  6. I feel like there is a song or a poem or something in this whole Juan Carlos story, Lynne...


  7. So very happy for the opportunity to enjoy this experience and love and appreciate your sharing it with us. God Bless!

  8. I so enjoyed reading about your first experiences in Bali. Love the way you write as your descriptions paint pictures in my mind--even without the photos you add. So glad you are enjoying your visit so far and thanks for sharing with the rest of us!

  9. Wonderful to read your first impressions! Know you're in my thoughts and prayers. Asking God to give you peace and joy in your new experiences.

  10. Lynne, you are the embodiment of a Maya Angelou quote that I love: "A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing." You write with such skill and grace that I feel like I'm in Bali with you. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  11. Lynne - Great to know that you are okay! I'm excited to follow your journey with you. Sounds like a wonderful peaceful experience and one where you will learn as much as you teach!

  12. Thanks for sharing your experiences with all of us! Anxiously awaiting your next post! :)

  13. Very descriptive. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Wow! I feel like I am there with you. You did a wonderful job of describing your surroundings. I am glad to hear you are doing well! Take care:)

  15. I had to practice patience as work kept interrupting my reading of your post. Most eloquent, as usual!

  16. Your words sound so peaceful, and I cannot wait to hear more about your volunteering experience! The food looks delectable.