Location: Singaraja, Indonesia
From Pemuteran, we pulled into Narayan Seva Childrens Home the day after Johns birthday. The children ran to the gate and the sight that met our eyes was a sea of smiling faces. They herded us into the outdoor kitchen and immediately brought out a gorgeous little cake, blazing with candles. Happy Bird-day to you
Happy bird-day to you
It was like coming home, halfway around the world.
Sunday is the only day of the week with no school so the kids were free. We taught songs and played games and practiced English until the sound of the frogs signaled time for bed. As the days passed, we settled into the routine. Meals of rice and noodles with vegetables, classes with each grade level, field trips walking kids the two miles to the local beach in the late afternoon, showers twice a day to cool off, and board games every night for hours after dinner.
In a week of highs, perhaps day three goes down in history as a low point; we call it a three roach day. We knew they were in our room after an early spotting. The size of healthy plum tomatoes and with a disarming habit of hissing, they were large enough to consider as pets. Just before turning in, John spotted two mating on the bed between Jenny and Emily and a third hiding inside a pair of shorts. John bravely gathered them up, amidst much hand waving and screeching from his cheerleaders, carried them out to the street, and hucked them as far as his arm would allow. We prayed they would become disoriented and wander off in the opposite direction.
As the end of our time drew near, we decided to host a pizza party as a special treat. It is the childrens favorite food. We went all over the place finding the ingredients vegetables at the night market, vegetarian sausage and flour for dough in Singaraja, tomato ketchup for sauce, mozzarella cheese from the only store in a town of 1.3 million people stocking the stuff. The childrens home has one oven that is rolled into the outdoor kitchen and hooked up to the propane tank when its needed. Only a couple of pies can cook at a time so it took seven hours to make pizza for 84 children. They ate mounds and mounds of it and saved the rest to eat the next day for breakfast. By 10:30, wed played every game at least five times and the children needed sleep. It was hard to say goodbye to them. We hugged and hugged and promised to return. Even now, in the departure lounge at the airport, its as if theyre here. Six year old Madu trying to sneak by me with the Jenga pieces hidden under his shirt, Asa asking to play game, sister?, Mahadev with his hands held in the prayer position over his heart and a nod of greeting.
Each time we go to an orphanage, people ask if we are tempted to take any of the children home. In this case, the answer is no. These children are so happy and so healthy and so a part of a big happy family with 83 brothers and sisters. In their environment, they are encouraged and reinforced for making the important things important - being helpful, focusing on learning, using their gifts for good.
Looking at their faces, the future is bright indeed.
Location: Pemuteran, Indonesia
Moving on out of necessity rather than desire, we returned to a favorite spot from last year Pemuteran. A fishing village on the relatively unexplored north coast, the pace is slow with mountains reaching down toward the sea, the sound of the call to prayer from the local mosque five times a day, and world-class snorkeling. Our second day, we found ourselves flying across the sea in the company of Indonesian pirates. OK, not real pirates they were the pirates that dive. Jenny is terribly afraid of living creatures in the water. Death by anglerfish, electric eel or lionfish are all inevitable, as far as shes concerned. We coaxed her into the water, clutching an orange life jacket in one hand and squeezing her fellow swimmers in desperation. We saw an amazing array of tropical wonders pufferfish, purple and green parrotfish, rays and sea turtles. Along for the ride were Harald and Claudia from Hamburg who we met here last year and who got married in a traditional ceremony to which we were invited. The staff prepared all day hearts of strewn hibiscus on the grass, offerings stacked high, gamelan players in a group near the sea.
Location: Sarinbuana, Indonesia
Our next destination was high up in the mountains at an eco lodge only accessible over deeply rutted, boulder-strewn roads. Four separate taxi drivers had, in fact, refused to bring us there. The fifth time is the charm. Close your eyes and imagine what the Swiss Family treehouse must look like and youll have an idea of the floorplan of our little bungalow. We hiked into the rainforest passing chocolate ripening in the sun, candleflower, snakefruit trees and delicate batik butterflies. We took a language lesson and the girls learned how to give massages. Get in line now theyre quite good, relentlessly enthusiastic and happy to do it for the thrill of making you happy. For swimming, there was a natural pool under a waterfall in the middle of the forest. Jenny flailed non-stop, terrified of the leeches she imagined there.
Location: Ubud, Indonesia
From Bingin, we headed north to Ubud to see our artist friend Deking. We met him last year when he taught us batik painting and after staying in touch and helping him with his website, he now calls us family. His invitation email read,
Dear My family John,Susan,Jenny and Emely.
We glad that my family from Amerika would come to see me.
I am not teaching on that day and for me You all family come to see my family, we are pleased.
I will pik up all my family to my house ,and what time you will come?
We traveled out of Ubud, away from the souvenir shoppers and massage peddlers, and into the rice fields. At Dekings compound, his family was waiting his wife Wayan, (who adores Emily) his two sons, daughter in law and tiny granddaughter. We sat under the trees and drank from fresh young coconuts. The only other time theyve harvested from their one tree is for a family wedding. Wayan fried up succulent banana fritters and we sat and talked until the shadows crept in.
Location: Bingin, Indonesia
You would love it here. After 32 hours of travel and 12 time zones, we needed a place to get our bearings. A hurried search for off-the-beaten-path-with-surf brought up tiny Bingin on the south coast. We found and booked Temple Lodge from the Singapore airport just before boarding the plane. Its perches on the clifftop with sweeping views to Dreamland and around the corner to Padang Padang. The waves are enormous and rake the surfers over the reef as they crash.
Monkeys like to steal what you leave lying around, a two foot black monitor lizard lives at the poolside and sharing the dinner table is a tiny kitten saved from a glue trap three days before we arrived. The owners are Italian and people you wish were your family gentle, quiet Cris who teaches yoga and Mario, who continues to live life like the Grande Prix racecar driver he once was. The first day he loaded us into his Land Rover and took us with him on his daily surfing expedition. He stopped once or twice at hidden beaches, checking for the perfect wave and ended at Geger Beach to swim in the cove off Nusa Gede. Hes on the cusp of 70. The day after the beach run I bumped into him as he was getting ready to bike to the post office, strapping on a helmet woven of reeds.
Nice helmet, Mario.
Is for elephant polo.
The meals are communal so weve met and spent hours talking with a parade of fellow travelers. Mark and Jim sold everything in their Cambridge home and are one year into traveling the world until we become infirm. Tamara Lee, who shares the name of a 1970s porn star, is from Brooklyn and came here by way of Africa. Bob and his two grown daughters live in the northern territories of Australia. Dont swim if you come visit, said Bob, crocs everywhere. He taught us to find Betelgeuse in the southern sky. Sebastian is a neuroscientist trying to finish writing two books on the existence of a holographic universe. Our conversations touched on NLP, quantum physics, and the fact that you can indeed create any reality you wish. A young couple from Holland on a two-month trip taught us how to make coffee with a pineapple can and why a student decides to become a doctor. Its not because I want to help people, Jenny, anyone can help people in their job. Its because Im fascinated with the human body and what it can do.
The whole place was made by hand from driftwood, stones, and old wood from Java. The floors are volcanic rock or cement stained the color of lapis lazuli. Everywhere you look its old Balinese doors, thatch roofs, hanging orchids.
In Search of the Real Bali
Wondering how to meaningfully spend our last two days was difficult. We didnt have much time or opportunity to research, we didnt want to go south again to beaches where tourists start drinking Bintang at 10 am and count the number of bottles at the end of the evening. We wanted a real connection and appreciation for the real Bali.
We took a chance on a town that had great snorkeling and was reputedly super quiet
Pemuteran. Hours from the airport over steep mountain passes, its quite far off the beaten path. We found a room easily at one of a small handful of hotels and quickly fell in love with the beauty of the place. We had stepped back in time to a modest fishing village. Spider shaped bamboo boats pulled up along a semi-circular coastline of black sand beaches. Brown -skinned fishermen sat on the sand repairing their nets. Susan and I walked down an almost deserted beach and saw only one modest shop in a shack on the sand. There were no touts and most of the Balinese simply ignored us except for a friendly hello in Bahasa Indonesian. Was this Shangri-la? Susan and I took an open-hearted, warm, and very relaxing walk alone.
It happened there was a Hindu celebration in town that day, but we decided to just let the cultural research go for a change and spend time doing nothing. I realized that zealous research for Planet Rangers was one of the things keeping me from my own natural curiosity about things other than Balinese culture and Hindu life!
We grabbed the girls and invited them for a little snorkeling and a visit to a turtle hatchery we had discovered. As we walked, hints of the parade music came wafting to us intermittently. Never mind, we were looking for turtles and eels! We strolled for five minutes and laughed at the unlikely place Susan tripped over the mooring lines and broke her toe earlier in the day, a toe now sporting a rich shade of purple. Jenny and Emily helped her gingerly over and under the ropes. The sounds of the parade grew louder with clanging gongs and raspy metallic gamelins playing a haunting kind of music.
In that moment, the parade, our family and a warm cleansing rain converged at the same place. The lead flag-bearers emerged from a trail to our left wearing bright white tunics and white headpieces. The second they ritualistically dipped their bamboo staffs into the water, they cheered and the rain started. Walkers carrying mini temples, yellow decorative umbrellas, more flags, drums, and gamelins arrived. The music was everywhere. The whole parade was right in front of us as we stood in the pounding rain in our towels and bathing suits. Women in resplendent dress carried offerings to the gods to the edge of the water. Trays of banana leaves filled with flowers, rice, and burning incense were floated out to the sea gods. So this, then, was the real Bali.
The Childrens Home
So the thing is, were not in Kansas anymore. 84 kids live here at Narayan Seva Childrens Home, half because their parents are dead and half because they have a single parent who cannot afford to feed them. They are as young as two and as old as nineteen; boys and girls who want to grow up to be pilots and doctors and artists and most of all, teachers.
In class, we discover many are from the same two villages, Pakisan and Unggahan, both set high in the surrounding mountainside and wracked with poverty. Suman, a student in our class 5 group, came to the childrens home from Pakisan where his father encouraged him to sit for the better part of the day with the local men drinking arak, a fermented wine made from rice or palms. Suman is only 12. His future prospects have improved now that hes living at Narayan Seva. John asks him, What do you want to be when you grow up, Suman? You can call me President, Papa John!
As volunteers, we live down the road in one room roughly the size of a suburban walk-in closet. All four of us sleep in one sheet less bed. There is a sink in the corner and an open-air bathroom with a cold-water shower. The whole arrangement is better than we expected. It is hot here in Sawan, on Balis infrequently traveled north coast. It is so hot that thick beads of sweat line our upper lip when sitting still in the shade.
We teach each morning and afternoon and eat what the children eat, a vegetarian diet of rice or noodles, vegetables, and sometimes tofu or tempeh. Two cooks prepare the food for the entire home over wood fires in an open-air kitchen while we eat on benches nearby. They earn 90 dollars a month for full time work and are paid by a German donor. In the afternoons and evenings, after perhaps our third cold shower of the day, we teach the children card games, schoolyard chants and songs. The pace of life has suddenly become slow and simple and peaceful and in this space, small things become great sources of gratitude a fresh rambutan plucked from the tree, a fan pushing thick air at bedtime, a small childs voice, Play again, please?
The Didis find it hard to turn anyone away so there are too many children for the sleeping spaces. The boys sleep six per twin bunk, three children up and three down. They have started construction on a boys dormitory but halt each time money runs out and start again when donations come in. While we are there, they are creating a driveway, mostly to stop the erosion of the land during the almost daily deluge of rain. Someone donates materials and the skills of one mason but the bulk of the work is done by one of the Didis and the older children mixing by hand, laying out blocks, pouring concrete from an old wheelbarrow, and then using rusted re-bar to carve drawings into each square of wet material before it dries. When they are done, we see a sun, a rocket, a volcano and a word spelled out in small shards of broken tile. Mama Sue-san, Mama Sue-san! How do you spell WELCOME?
As I write this, I am sitting on the floor as the class 10 and 11 students work on a book project we gave them. A small boy has been playing at my feet for hours with only a plastic tube and the crayon and scrap of paper I gave him. He grins at me from time to time, his front four baby teeth brown and rotted away. Outside motorbikes pass by and I see an ancient woman shuffle slowly along the street, collecting plastic to recycle for money. When she smiles at me, I count two betel stained teeth.
It is easier here to live in the moment and to focus only on the next small segment of time, in this case a lunch of rice and vegetables and the inevitable sight of Emily with a deck of cards in her hand, children flocking to her like geese, Play again, Sister?