Note: This post is part of a series on Bali. To start at the beginning, see The Bali Diary: Day 1.]
This morning I awoke to the smell of burning trash. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the head-splitting scent of melting plastic is part of the morning ritual, along with the vexing crow of our neighbor’s rooster—ra, ra, RAA, raaaaaarrghrgh—well before sunrise.
Outside the sleeping hut is the perfect perch, a big round chair on an elevated platform where I can write in relative peace until breakfast is ready. Here the Indian Ocean spreads out before me like a salty sea blanket, and along the water’s edge someone’s grandmother collects black rocks. With her elbow resting on her thigh, she turns the specimens in the sand. Sometimes she picks one up and puts it in her pail. Then, when the pail is full, she hoists it onto her head and carries it to a mound safely stacked away from the tide’s reach. She keeps a collection of driftwood there, too. As I watch her, I wonder if I’ll ever come across her treasures transformed into something else, perhaps a carving of Ganesh in a market stall in Ubud, or maybe even building material all the way back in Montana. Those smooth dark pebbles look suspiciously like the tile we’ve chosen for the master shower in the new cabin.
“Bagus,” I answer in Indonesian, hoping I’ve said something along the lines of “very well.”
She smiles and leads me to a table brimming with banana pancakes, hot-pink dragon fruit smoothies, bowls of fresh fruit from our yard, toast and jam, and an American-sized omelet for Chris. The coffee here is strong, ground to a fine powder that collects like mud at the bottom of the cup, but I agree to a second serving since someone has gone through the trouble of making it.
After we finished forcing down every last bite, Nyoman asked, “Did you feel last night?” Chris looked at him blankly and Nyoman repeated the question, but I knew what he was talking about right away. “I felt it! I felt it!” I said.
“What?” Chris said, looking like he’d been left out of a joke. With a lot of hand gestures and unintelligible English words, Nyoman and Made both explained that there had been an earthquake the night before. Ha! My suspicion was right. I felt vindicated, especially after having asked Nyoman the day before if the rumbling I’d heard that morning was from a volcanic explosion. Mount Kelud had erupted on nearby Java the day before we arrived, closing six airports and evacuating 100,000, but Nyoman had only laughed and said, “No, that’s the traffic. Trucks. Maybe the ocean too?” But I wasn’t buying it. I’ve noticed that the people here tend to skirt discomforting topics. Maybe they fear arousing the attention of the demon spirits. I don’t blame them, considering the devastation their island has suffered at the hands of Mother Nature.
As Made cleared our plates, I asked her about the wedding ceremony that was to begin in a few hours.
“Is this OK to wear?” I asked, pointing to my long-sleeved, but well above the knees, cotton dress from Anguilla. She looked me up and down and then raised her index finger and vanished into the guest hut. I looked at Chris and shrugged.
“Sarongs,” she said, reappearing with a stack of fabric between her palms. She handed us the handmade batik material and made a circular motion around her waist. Then she held up a sash, indicating that this would be tied at the top of the wrap. Chris and I took the outfits back to our hut to put them on, not realizing that we had our staff in tow to help us with the task.
Lucky for Chris, his sarong went on over his shorts. While Nyoman helped him tie his garments properly and put on a blangkon, the traditional headdress worn by Balinese men, Made pulled up my dress to wrap the long material around my waist and legs, making sure to cover my naughty knees. Had I known my body would be on display, I might have chosen underwear with more, shall we say, structure. Made spread her feet apart and signaled that I do the same so that she wouldn’t wrap me too tightly. I glanced at Chris, my face hot and red. “It’s OK,” he said. “They’re probably used to it.”
Chris looked handsome, in an ancient tribal kind of way. I just looked plain ridiculous. My blue-and-white tie-dyed dress was now stuffed into a tan-and-salmon sarong and sashed with my own electric pink-and-purple polyester bathing-suit sari. Well, whatever, I thought. I haven’t seen that color coordination is a big priority here on the island. Chris agreed and we set about solving our next problem: the wedding gift.
What do you give a person on her wedding day when you’ve only met her one time, in her father’s car? What nearly all young newlyweds need: money. Chris searched high and low for an envelope in which to store some cash and came up with nothing but a lined sheet of notebook paper. Since we had no scotch tape either, we folded it up like a fifth-grade note and put our names on it. “Oh well,” I said. “It’s the contents that count.”
As we headed for the front door, Made stopped me. She held up a small piece of champagne-colored lace and pointed at my chest. I could see the fabric wasn’t a doily or a handkerchief or more substantial underpants. So I thought maybe it was a little shawl, even though the temperature was pushing ninety. “Over my dress?” I asked. She shook her head then pointed at my chest again. I lifted the material out from her hand and surmised that it was a blouse. I looked at Chris, confused. “Am I supposed to take off my dress?” Chris shrugged. Made smiled and nodded, clearly excited about her find. Thankfully, Nyoman was busy elsewhere on the grounds, and I quickly lifted my dress over my head and slipped my arms through the other garment’s delicate arms. Made fastened the parade of tiny buttons then stood back for a look. “Cantik!” she declared with authority and took my former outfit from my hand.
Another shrug from Chris. “I think it looks nice.”
“But it’s see-through. It clearly says in the guidebook that one should dress modestly. This is not modest. You can see everything!”
“Cantik, no?” Made said to Chris, then to Nyoman who had reappeared mysteriously and was now grinning stupidly at me.
“Come on. I’m sure it’s fine. Now let’s go or we’ll be late,” Chris said.
To read more, see “The Bali Diary: Wedding Day, Part 2.”