I get up early, and have the quiet pool to myself. After a morning swim, I walk to breakfast. Rich and Luke, the Aussies, are already there. I greet them with my best lazy Australian. They cheer and toast to my improvement, as I pull up a chair. After general trash-talking and joking is completed, I point to Luke. He counts carefully to 5 in Indonesian. He asks me for the next 5 numbers — gnom, tujour, delapan, semilan, sepuloo — roll of my tongue so easily now as I watch him struggle. We work on greetings, Indonesian has two words for goodbye. Salamat Jalan is said by those staying to those leaving while Salamat Tinngal is said to those staying by those leaving.
I’m proud of Luke. He’s taken a new interest in Indonesian and admits he should have done this much earlier. Rich wraps muscular arms around his chest and rolls his eyes. He confides they’ve been so focused on surfing they’ve not been out at night properly. To him the trip is a disaster, without a row of conquests to recount later. I laugh openly at his frustration – is that really all this is to you? I ask, unembarrassed.
I’m guy. He shrugs.
I don’t think that’s the problem. I think you’re a bit shallow. (smile) Maybe if you took a little more of a personal interest, in Indonesia it’d take more personal interest in YOU!
Luke laughs. Rich stares at me. I stare back at him and laugh. Unmoved by his surfer-model physique and smoldering brown eyes that tell me he’s used to having his way. It’s like looking into a sandbox, I think. No depth. All walled off and unwilling. Then comes a shift.
It was cool to hear you speak Indonesian with the girls the other night….You say you picked that up in one trip? I’ve been here 8 times already. Had no idea what you were talking to them about.
I love it! No better time that to start here and now. Say satu. That’s one in Indonesian. I’m getting the coffee, you guys want satu or dua. Rich, dua is two?
I walk over to the bartender and start chatting him up in comical Indonesian/Balinese multi-lingual mix while waiting on my cafe lattes, the best I’ve had since leaving Seattle one latte-free month ago…The bartender puts down the palm strip he’s been bending into decorations for the big ceremony that night (the whole town is getting ready for it — like Indonesian Christmas they smile at me). When he see me inspecting the palm leaf, he leaves my coffee to show me how to fold the slices of palm into a series of winged strips. We laugh as I get the hang of it and offer to take over production while he finishes his work for the morning. I toss the finished leaves to the man whose hanging them, in rows across the restaurant. When Rich and Luke pause in their counting practice, they look back and bust out laughing.
What the hell are you doing now, mate?! Rich roars.
Luke pays me the biggest compliment: Joya, you travel like no other American, like no one else I’ve met here! Like no one else, really…
It’s funny to me because they have no idea I’m only now just figuring it out, making it all up as I go along, watching one thing, word, smile lead to the next. But I feel like this is the kind of travel I’ve always wanted to do but just was never sure enough of myself to know how to do it. But here it is. And it’s working out beautifully! I bring the pile of palms to our table and I finish the decorations as we sip lattes, the guys chuckle and sit amazed at my stories of the last month (shopping, ceremonies, tooth filings, dinosaurs, scooters, small villages, snorkeling…). They tell me stories about rude Aussie tourists. Last night they’d had a close encounter with a brash friend of Rich’s who put them to shame. Rich tells me how he ordered around the staff, demanded they run out and fetch him bug spray, rudely called out his sweet wife…
He smirks and counts slowly to three, in Indonesian, it’s a start we agree.
You have to start somewhere.
Staff members stop by to say hello and goodbye (word has somehow spread that I’m leaving), they admire my palm weaving, ask when I’m coming back, and ask repeatedly if I require a Balinese boyfriend. Maybe I come back and to get married, ya?
Nanti, nanti. I sing back happily as we trade words. Rich, Luke and I talk of Costa Rica surf, Mexican food and the language. Luke promises me he actually will keep practicing Indonesian though Rich still rolls his eyes, yawns, and tells me a comical (but dirty) little fable about a Porshe driving mouse and a hippo, with a moral I cannot repeat (though I thought about it…).
I grab the last of my rupiah and head to the streets. I talk to a teen, Excel, and his sister in their tiny music store with one wall full of CDs. I tell them to pick out music I should listen to–traditional, modern, reggae, all things Indonesian–as they pick them out and play songs for me, we talk of politics, drugs, Obama and dentistry. I buy 14 (likely illegally) ripped CD’s for $10. I buy silk scarves and seashell necklaces for friends and family. I take some last photos of the tougher-Kuta street crowds and hoards of 80’s dressed Aussies (with their mullets and neon). I pack my bags and pay the bill. Bowing and nodding goodbyes to staff and pool-side Aussies on my way out.
I drive through the hot streets of Kuta in a cool air-conditioned taxi. Incredibly exhausted beyond belief, but walking through the airport now — 4 weeks later — I can’t believe how at east I feel. I now hear numbers and words in the Indonesian broadcasts. I confidently smile and communicate with stunned staff, while familiar gamelon trickles and crashes from glossy souvenir stores — reminding me of burning incense and kneeling for hours on rough cement in the hot Bali sun. Matahari...
I see the palm bag I’ve been looking for the entire trip as I’m just steps from the gate home. It’s big enough for my lap top and things, sturdy and $10. The saleslady, a woman, my mother’s age dressed in sarong and kabayah, and I chat in Indonesian. She laughs as I hastily dump my valuable possessions into the new bag, check the pockets of the black messenger bag I’d been carrying around for one last time — straighten up to slowly hand it to her.
Can you use this? I ask quietly. I don’t want to insult her by assuming some discarded trinket of mine would have value to her, but I also don’t want to throw this away, maybe if she can’t I can suggest she give it to a child.
I point to my new bag when she looks at me curiously. In Indonesian I piece somethign together: I go home with this one bag to always remind me of Bali. I already have one bag, this I can’t use.
I smile and nod. I thank her for taking it. I pick up my new little $10 palm bag.
Instead of being insulted, when she understands I really am giving it to her, she clutches it to her heart, with both arms. She smiles and bubbles like a child at Christmas. I’m overcome with the beauty and honest joy she takes in receiving my gift. This too is an art to practice: to be genuine, thankful. Her appreciative smile gives me more than I thought possible. She reaches for my hand and softly holds it to her heart as she blesses me, quietly. She tells me she is so happy, in Indonesian. She wishes me happiness, love, life.
Sama Sama. Sama Sama.(It’s Balinese for “The same to you” but it rolls from the mouth of Balinese like syrup–quiet syllables smoothed into the other, sounding like the sweetest melody mixed with something intangible, something almost holy, some greater, peaceful feeling I know only from visiting the remote temples of Bali…) It’s all I can say, over and over. I am so overwhelmed, so warmed with her profuse, intense, sincere gratitude.
Salamat Jalan, she says.
Then I whisper the Balinese special goodbye to her, which means and feels like something much more beautiful and soothing when spoken softly, with familiarity. A familiarity I’ve finally gained as it slips from my lips: Ohm santi santi santi ohm…
As I walk to my flight, I catch her reflection in a mirror, running and laughing as she tell her friend. I clutch my new palm Bali bag and smile.
I’m not sure what’s next. I know some of it will be immensely good, I know some of it will seem insurmountable and difficult. But I’m not afraid. I’ll just do the best I can when I get there. Try to embrace both the turquoise shallows and the murky depths. Both have such value. I will try to make it up–more often–as I go along, figuring it out as I round the corner to the next word, the next smile, the next tear, the next fall, the next climb, the next view, the next phase. I think as long as I see it this way, as long as I live life in this way, as long as I give this way — give more than I take– as long as I can receive the warmth of others this way, as long as I always push myself to connect with those in my life — really connect, in new, fascinating, vulnerable, exciting ways –the good and the bad and the utterly chaotic that will surely come, over and over in my life, will never have to stop being this amazing. Wherever I go, whoever I’m with, whatever I do.
It’s exciting. I’m starting to see new ways I can keep going this way: growing, evolving, changing, traveling, learning, helping, struggling, loving, smiling, laughing, being…