Saya Mao Pulang (Heading Home…)

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…

I smile at Rich. There it is. That’s your wall coming down just a tad. It’s good to hear this kind of talk from you.

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 hold my black bag to her. She takes it carefully.

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.

We bow, hands together. No longer strangers.

Salamat Jalan, she says.

Salamat Tinngal. I reply.

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…

Aku Cinta Kamu, Sampai jumpa Nanti (I Love You…See You Later)

By 2pm in the afternoon on Tuesday, I’m on my own again, quietly counting down my final 24 hours before I also fly home (Karmarin tamon pulong. Satu hari, saya mau pulong d’America.) and put my increasing Indonesian fluency to rest. I wrap up errands, I write last thoughts, I think of how I want to remember this trip. I miss Jo and Christine’s conversations, laughter and joking. I miss sharing the days “adventures” with someone else…And I LOVE that I’m missing that. I love that I can be alone now, if only to fully appreciate the warmth and wonderfulness of their company from a new perspective. In acknowledging their absence, I know I’ve connected with them, and that makes me feel happily human.

I lay on my hotel bed, in air conditioned silence, flipping through the days of one month of Indonesian memories, experiences, adventures, tastes, good times, frustrations, challenges, and smiles of lessons learned. I just want to stop today and remember this, understand it, dive deep into what it is I want to incorporate into my day-to-day life d’America, after this trip.

I want to always remember my openess, my quiet strength to just accept what is and take what comes — as it comes — savoring both the good and the bad and learning fully from each experience. I want to always remember to be open to the people around me and not be afraid to chart new paths to unknown things. I want to make mistakes, learn, grow, and start over. I want to give those in my life the same freedom…and encouragement. I want to pursue new things that make my heart pound wildly, I want to put more good into the world. A domino effect of good things; started with a single smile, a kind word, an unguarded mistake.

I’m sincerely blown away by the people I have met on this trip. Their honesty, kindness, openess and willingness to connect with me, my camera, my life. Even now as I write, I can’t sit outside, alone, because suddenly — literally — overnight, I find myself friends with all its occupants: the Hawaiians, the Aussie surfers and their families, the Balinese staff who eagerly test my Indonesian on every occasion. Within five minutes of sitting on the deck of my room, I draw a crowd of 10 Balinese hotel staff, then look up to see the construction workers next door have stopped hammering to listen to my faulty banter. Tossing out laughs and corrections and encouragement. When I ask, they tell me it is very rare to hear a tourist speak Indonesian, a few have never even seen it done. It makes me a little sad, ashamed of my tourist roots. This is how we, the majority, experience the world — expecting others to do the work for us, to learn our language, to observe our customs and culture so we can feel at home in their country. It’s not just Bali, it repeats in Mexico, Costa Rica…I wonder if it’s not just tourism, but how our society lives. I wonder if it’s how I live? Expecting others in my life to understand me, before I understand where they are coming from first. I promise myself to go home and practice this more.

How amazing to see this from the inside.

The phone rings. It’s Mark, the Chicago transplant turned Hawaiian. I think about my plans to rent a scooter and solo it out to Uluwatu for a last quiet night of reflection…but have a feeling the phone ringing now is a sign I shouldn’t. I pick it up. They’re watching the sunset from their top floor room balcony, drinking Bintang, do I want to join?

I laugh. I’ve not even tried Bintang (the local $2 beer) since arrival. Keeping my promise to myself to not drink while traveling alone in the third world. My homage to the travel gods to keep me safe. It’s worked so far. Tsunamis, earthquakes, bombings, flooding, fires, car crashes, rabis deaths, attacks, murder of a single Japanese tourist girl are all things I hear but never touch me on my travels.

30 minutes later I’m sitting on the tiled balcony railing, in the least-dirty shirt I own, chlorine-sundried curly hair looped back in a bandana, mountain bike scared knees, sun-burnt cheeks and chapstick-smile.

They’re tanned, muscled, goofy and full of stories. They’ve been friends since they were kids. Mike talks about now teaching school in Hawaii. His jokes about being a hard-ass give way to sensitive insights and a teacher’s passion to see all children succeed even as they face increasing number of ice-addicted parents, populations ravaged by poverty, tug of war between resentment and adoration from locals of their white Hawaiian counterparts. I feel a tug to take my camera there, someday. I’ve always loved Hawaii. It was where I learned to surf.

Under the surfer-brah act, they’re older than me and see things I don’t. They’re unilaterally, unabashedly impressed that I came here for the first time, alone. Have since made friends and speak the language. Another round of ice-cold Bintangs are ordered up and I revel in their adoration, encouragement and cold beer. We talk of bikes, snowboards, Baker (always Baker…;), and surfing. I can’t get enough of surfing. I love when they start talking of spots and I actually know some of them from my Hawaii wanderings, years before. I’m invited to stay and surf Bali with them, they leave for the other islands on a charted boat in the morning.

For 20 glorious minutes I contemplate what it would take to extend my trip and head to Nusa Perdida, Lombok and beyond. It’s where I’ve been dying to go since I took up the trip. Mike says he knows enough people in Bali to work out the visa paperwork (smile). But I know it’s not the right time for me. There’s something tugging me homeward. Something I need to do there before setting sail on the next trip. I just have no idea what it is. I don’t say no, I say Belum. Not yet. I know I’ll be coming back to surf the endless, turquoise waves. This has just been the beginning.

Another round of Bintang as we listen to reggae. Mark’s a music producer and owns a recording studio on the island when he’s not working at his parent’s vacation home…the home he offers to me to stay for free if I make it to Hawaii. They like how I travel and live these days — they all promise to take me out surfing Hawaii style, show me the ropes from the inside out as we practice our pigeon. (Dakine.) It’s like finding out you have three older brothers, I laugh, as I promise to take them up on the offer.

The other Mark is a fishing captain, smart as hell, muscled arms as big as my head and an easy-going attitude reminds me instantly of big Steve B in both look and demeanor. By the end of the night, as we talk about traveling alone as a woman, the fisherman two times bigger than me teaches me basic self-defense tactics and divulges vulnerabilities for my future travels.

Between smokes, Mike tells amazing-hilarious-scary stories of his first travels to remove Philipines islands to visit his diplomat father….but mostly to surf. Stomach turning stories of eating dog, turn to his travels to Indonesia, his latest quest to find the woman who got away three years prior. He’s realized some things, he says as he inhales and smiles. I curious what they are but don’t ask him what things. It seems like those things you have to come to on your own, over time. Instead he tells me her name, Lilius.

It’s beautiful, I tell him.

They dated off and on and then lost touch last year. He went to her house two days ago only to learn she’d taken a job on another island, her family had moved too, no one knew how to reach her now. He’d tried talking to everyone. No luck.

Then when he’d given up. She called him. The word of his search had spread across islands. His smile is huge when the guys tease him. He tells the story how he took her out to dinner once. She was starving and wolfs down a ceasar salad. She’s Muslim and doesn’t eat pork. He watch her curiously to see if she’d realize there were bacon bits all over her salad. Instead she loves it. He laughs and doesn’t have the heart to tell her as she orders another on their every visit.

The cigarette in his mouth burns intensely in the black night. Then an exhale. It’s one of those things I’ll tell her when we’re 60 or something.

I love the simple, beautiful way he talks about the two of them together at 60. He talks of taking her back to Hawaii when her contract with her new job is finished. We’ll figure it out. It’s a good thing. Life, love and travel — it’s not a real adventure until something goes wrong.

I smile. At some point, life – and its struggles — do seem to become too beautiful not to share. It’s not that they’re perfect or that they’ve finally figured it all out. I’m realizing, at least for me, it is what it is and the beauty is figuring it out as you go along. It’s the chorus to the travel hymn, I’ve been humming to myself on this trip. I drink my Bintang as bats circle the pool and deserted beach chairs and Aussies stumble to bed.

I teach him how to say “Aku cinta camu, Lilius.” (I love you!).

They’ll be gone sailing by the time I get up in the morning. It’s hard to leave. They each hug me and kiss my cheek. They tell me to keep going, keep doing what I’m doing. I tell Mike to find Lilius and give her a big hug. I tell them to catch some waves for me and I know I’ll see them soon.

As I close their door and walk to my room, I know I will. It’s funny when you let yourself be lost, let yourself drift, let yourself live in the moment and stop trying…how you’re suddenly drawn to new, beautiful places.

Capek deh & Kuta… (Indonesian slang & Kuta)

It’s hard to leave sleepy, small Amed…and my fabulous-fun-time scooter rides. Bags are packed up once more. We say our goodbyes (and at their request, take final pictures to make our pretend “husbands” at home jealous…;) to our exceptionally flirty Balinese hosts, who – even in their tireless quest for female attentions — are just as devout in their religious duties; visiting the temples until late in the day, dropping off breakfast with jokes and fanfare only to return later to say quiet prayers as they seriously pile fresh offerings on our room’s shrine…much to my genuine surprise.

We pile into the van of friend of one of the Bali boys. He apologizes as he quickly stops 30 minutes later, to swing by a friend’s house on our way. Tidak apa apa! (It’s no problem) we laugh and sit back for a long drive south. Despite surviving Bali driving as a passenger and a driver for the last three weeks, this guy puts all our nerves to the test.

We race between scooters and truck caravans. Careening through stop lights and passing on corners, uphill, and repeatedly coming within inches of destruction, all while he laughs and signs off-key to Indonesian punk-rock.When we both spot the “Rancid” sweatshirt, we laugh. We practice Indonesian — he teaches us slang. He teaches us to say “Capek deh” (sounds like chop-it deh) to taxi requests and just general frustration in general but it’s difficult to get an exact translation on what it means exactly. When traffic slows to a halt, he shouts, Capek deh!

In the increasing hot day and I start to doze in the front seat. We lazily start a “from the moving car” bad-photos-for-the-heck-of-it shoot of streetside randomness of driving three hours across the island. We leave the parched, desert-like east and head through lush, rice fields and mountains again. Cars, trucks piled high, moto-bikes speeding by, and people working, carrying massive loads stream by. Driving is a colorful collage, constantly changing. I can feel the trip winding down in my aching head and muscles. I’m tired, honestly, thoroughly tired. I’ve learned a new language, made new friends, I’ve traveled, worked, written, photographed. I’ve celebrated, eaten, laughed, cried. I’ve swam, driven, walked, dived. In every instance of every moment, I have tried my best to push myself a little further to new levels. The last few weeks have been infinitely beautiful, challenging and I’ve learned some unforgettable things about myself, others, and this lovely world. I laugh at myself. Maybe it’s ok to just be tired now. Maybe it’s ok to not push for a little while. I close my eyes and free my body to sway in time with the crazy, speeding van. Indonesian punk rock changes, surprisingly, to a worn Cold Play tape?! I guiltily force myself to admit as cheezy as I think they are, I like the words to the song, in fact it somewhat fits the dramatic scenery, the vibrant people flying by, the thoughts in my head, the day’s journey:

Give me time, give me space
Give me real, don’t give me fake
Give me strength, reserve, control
Give me heart and give me soul
Open up your eyes
But give me love over this

Kuta was the last minute, we-just-need-somewhere-easy-to-stay-close-to-the-airport-before-flying-out-because-we’re-too-tired-to-think-or-make-any-other-decisions kind of decision. Despite numerous warnings to not stay in Kuta, whatever you do, don’t stay in Kuta…we do it anyway. It’s just easy. But when we arrive to a polluted beach town, streets and walkways choked with noisy traffic and hoards of pale tourists sporting bad tans and worse silicon enhancements with equally bad manners — after the peaceful, beach days in Amed we are all shocked and a little sad. The only redeeming factor here is our air conditioned hotel room and the swimming pool. At the pool, after I’ve had enough of the kids splashing, I run and cannonball into the deep end (that’ll show them!). When I come up for air, I get a “Good on ya” from Rich, the tanned, buff Aussie surfer lounging in the corner. We chat about surfing and Indonesia. He’s been to Indonesia 8 times. I’m impressed. I ask where he’s been, in between gu
lps of water that I immaturely spit out, impersonating a fountain.

He waves his hand around the pool, Kuta. Oh and I’ve been up to Semiyak. He adds.

I choke on a gulp of water as I laugh and have to dive underwater to save face.

Oh….Really?! (Semiyak is a few miles north of drunken, flashy Kuta. The guide book condescends to describe it as even MORE fake and MORE plastic than the parade of tanned, silicon, made-up throngs of Kuta party-goers). When I recount the story to Christine and Jo later, we get a good laugh. I’m a little relieved it’s not just Americans who live sheltered travel lives.

Later we run into Rich and his friend Luke, surfboards in tow. I hang on their every word about the surf, but after watching a few power close-outs on the beach I’m so desperately tired (in every possible dimension) already that I make no effort to surf myself despite the huge desire. The guys think I’m crazy. But it’s just not been that kind of trip…and I’ve had plenty of gorgeous surf trips to gloat over in my past. So I keep telling myself, I’ll come back to Indonesia later, check out the other islands and surf, Christine and Jo and I have this idea of renting real motorcycles and touring the other islands next time.

As Rich and Luke talk, they’re joined by two young looking girls, beautiful smiles but shy Indonesians who speak halting English. It gives me sick little stomach chills. Seeing these two everyday guys sporting what seems like an obvious third-world booty call. The girls are seem super sweet and kind. Ugh. I’m intensely intrigued by the whole interaction. Rich’s self-absorbed and utter lack of personal interest in the girls–aside from the sexual–when he asks me for some of the slang I’d jokingly used to flip him off, earlier. I won’t tell him. Instead, I greet them with Salamat Malam and we’re off, making small talk in Indonesian. After growing comfortable with the really basic phrases and words in the past weeks, it’s funny to think how foreign it sounds to the unfamiliar. But I think I see this register on Luke’s face as his jaw drops lower and lower when both guys are forced into uncomprehending, awed silence.

Over dinner at a crowded, loud bar that plays comically tragic American hip hop (some refrain about “she was a white girl with a booooooty!”) to drunk and smoking Australians–Christine, Jo and I laugh at the Aussies, the perpetual night-life parade that is Kuta lives up to every bad review we’d heard before arriving. Then we try to make the best of it. I realize I forgot my Indonesian dictionary and run back, through the chaotic Kuta night, to get it.As I watch the dizzying display of Aussie’s gone wild against the backdrop of assimilated Indonesians — I realize this too is part of the adventure. This too is part of what I need to experience, for some reason. I think about what it might be, what I want it to be.(This is the bad to balance out all the amazing good I’ve been handed this last month. Time to pay your dues, Hoya! I laugh even as I’m repulsed by the whole scene.) I realize that all of this is making me appreciate Amed and Ubud, my Indonesian lessons, midnight ceremonies, walks with Anni and Oka, silk sarongs, far off temples, smiles from strangers, spicy fish, front porch afternoons, joking with children, sharing new food and words with adults. I realize that I’ve been able to experience something many of these people will never know or see…maybe even never want to know or see. It’s a little sad, but also makes it that much more special to me.

Over dinner we decide to make the most of it. At my request, Jo starts teaching me “Australian” as I work on my accent for the next day — to the utter amusement of everyone listening, including our next door Aussie neighbor who tells me I sound a bit “pommy” (ie. British, which is bad…) when I ask him to “Git me a glass of watah, mate”. By the end of the day–in between practicing Indonesian with increasingly impressed hotel staff–we have the pool-side Aussies stopping by to give us more slang, tips and words to practice. Christine and Jo’s last 24 hours in Bali tick down to a stop as we swim, talk and drink the final mango juice cocktails of our trip together. I watch them leave and feel little pangs of sadness. But we all feel like we’ll be traveling together again, it’s just a matter of when. Not if.

I try to distract myself with work or writing. But I’m too tired to do either. So I walk through the sweaty-hot streets of Kuta, snapping shots and thinking a bit on things, life, and such.

Hadidah, Anak & Dinosaurs (Gifts, kids & dinosaurs…)

Our two night stay in Amed has slowly rolled into four nights and it’s time to start the journey south back to the airport. Our last night the power blows out over dinner, we monitor typhoon warnings from battery-powered laptops before going to bed, but wake, safe and sound, to another sunny day. I can hardly believe a month is almost over…

We start bright and early the next day, layering tank tops over sunscreen and bug spray. I want pictures of the little towns we’ve known and have yet to explore, Christine and Jo are both game. We head out of Amed, inland, pulling aside at a little market. It’s a ruckus, chaotic mess of baskets, produce, goods and people–food of all sort, shapes and colors moved on the backs of sweating adults as children run in and out of corners. It becomes clear this is not a tourist attraction but a regular “real”, much used Indonesian town market. Over my time here, I’ve made a habit of buying little things (more often than not, for no reason or necessity at all) from strangers. Instead, a $1 bottle of water or $.50 in noodles gives me an opening to talk to them, practice my faulty Indonesian, build a little trust and inevitably lead to some new experience and, hopefully, if I’m lucky, a photo or two later to remember the moment shared.

As we enter the market to curious looks and stares, I buy a handful snake-skinned salak from the woman surrounded by fruit after she peels and hands one to me to try. She tells me the Indonesian name, “Salak” but I laugh, and tell her “Saya sudha engat!” (I already know!). To the amusement of those in earshot, I name the fruits: pisang (banana), chabae (chilis),< buwon puti (garlic) buwon mera (red onion), oranges (jerop), rumbutan (…rumbutan), tomat (tomato), durian (ick–durian)…

I hand a couple colored pencils to the young girls standing, watching us. They laugh and giggle at my clumsy words and animated reactions as we chit chat about where we are from, how long we’ve been in Indonesia and so on. Christine and Jo are instant converts, and join in the small purchases & conversations. For the 1000th time, I appreciate my fabulous, good-natured travel company. We move to coffee and peanuts, incense and water. Buying a little here and there, I’m always careful to ignite a conversation, spark a smile, bow my head and wish the elders Salamat Pagi(good morning) to which they respond by looking at their clock and correcting me with a laugh: Salamat Cian(good late morning).

Saya lupa! (I forget!) We share a laugh, a photo. Each time I pull out a colored pencil, I’m floored by their genuine appreciation and the way the simple gesture opens up all kinds of interactions: from three year old girls, groups of young boys to an elderly lady with stained teeth, weaving palm baskets. By the time we leave the market, there’s a chorus of goodbyes and well wishes.

We scooter on! I pull over for a shot of freshly harvested peanuts, drying in the sun, on blue tarps along the road. I look across the street at the group assembled in front of a tiny store and outdoor bbq and decide I need to buy water here.

Christine and Jo in tow, I head over and with them good late morning (Salamat Cian!)! The serious man in military garb (and holstered gun) looks at his watch and laughs, Salamat Pagi! He corrects me.

Saya lupa! (I forget!) We share a laugh and as Indonesian spills from my mouth, as we chat and talk about where I’ve come from, how I’ve come to speak Indonesian, and so on. I ask the woman cooking over a make-shift bbq what’s roasting in the banana leaves — Ikan. Fish. She invites me to try one.

I’ve been curious what the banana wrapped fish will taste like but haven’t worked up to it during my time in Amed. But here I am! I nod excitedly. She points to it, Pedas Secali(Very Spicy!) 10:00 in the morning and I mentally prepare my stomach for spicy, hot fish…for an Indonesian to call something “very spicy” means this is probably going to be disasterously hot. I can tell they’re excited for me to try this and I hate to disappoint. (Plus, as I look up, Christine has her camera quietly shooting the scene.) The men then motion for me to sit and join them. The military man and the one next to him make moves to offer me their seat on the bench. But I wave them off, I’m already sitting on the concrete step like the other two women in the group. In my attempt to put people at ease in front of me and my camera, I do everything I can to observe what’s taking place and mimic it, to make as few touristy ripples, so I can (hopefully) pull my camera out with ease later.

The woman picks a charred banana packet from the line up (I smile nervously at Christine and Jo–who decline a fish bite) as another woman wraps and folds fresh green packets to take it’s place. They unwrap it and place a bite of fish piled HIGH with the same green spices (I recognize from babi guling) and bits of chili peppers. Just the heat (penas!) of the meat off the bbq sears my hand — they laugh as I blow on it to cool and then take a bite. My first bite I taste only a bit of fire and a bit of bone that the fish meat sits on. I take a second brave bite, avoiding the bone, and I yelp with the heat! PEDAS!!!! PEDAS SECALI!!! AY!!!!

I fan my mouth and they laugh, AIR! AIR! (Water! Water!) I shout! More laughter and I’m presented with Indonesian bottled iced tea. When I can breath again, I say it is delicious, I finish the spicy, spicy hot meat and smile. We chat, we laugh, and watch fish bbq. The wind blows. I point, Siwa! (God of wind) They then teach us the symbols for each three gods: Brahma (fire), Wisnu (water) and Siwa (wind). A man stops by to order 5 packets to go, I warn him, “Ini pedas secali, hati hati, ya?” (These are very spicy! Careful, yes?) They all laugh. We grab our helmets and scooter on across town and up and around increasingly rough roads, through remote hills to a tiny village/dead end. Tiny houses perch on stilts, into the mountainside. Electric wires are strung from bamboo poles. Laundry hangs as chickens scratch the ground.

Our arrival stops just about everyone. We buy cokes and strike up a conversation, there’s really no English to be had, just Indonesian. We walk through the tiny town, children, men, women stand outside their homes and cross the street to look at us, greet us, and sometimes just stare. We sing out Salamat Cian (good late morning!) only be corrected yet again: Salamot Pagi (good morning!) We shrug and laugh — apparently the distinction between morning and late morning is village specific as it changes back and forth as the morning hours tick by. I practice colors and with a man who offers to take us to the Holy Springs, but sadly we don’t have time. We keep walking up hill. A group of rag-tag boys stare at us. I’m desperately tired and weary from all the intense social interactions — but get fired up seeing these boys. However, despite every ridiculous effort and goofy smile I can manage, they remain cold. I take a photo. I give up.

We make a move to go home. Then I remember! Bronto! (I’d packed a deflated plastic dinosaur toy, the mascot for the like named email delivery service we’d been evaluating for a client before leaving. They sent Bronto over for Seattle photos, when I volunteered to show Bronto my Seattle backyard and downtown before heading to Indonesia.) I pull Bronto from my pocket now and kneel down as they gather around me, with curious looks. As Bronto inflates, their smiles grow, skeptical little eyes sparkle. Jo, Christine and I smile at each other. I pretend to play with Bronto, then hand it to the ringleader who takes it carefully. I point to the dinosaur and say hijou (green!).

We laugh and play. I make my best imitation of a Indonesian clown for their amusement.Then we head back to our scooters. I turn around and see them laughing, playing with Bronto. The sun shines on the rough volcanic mountainside. I bite my lip. It’s simple. It’s beautiful. Why have I waited so long to do these simple things. It’s not hard. It just takes a little effort on my part — and look at the reward. Huge toothy grins, laughter, smiles. In the golden, hot sunshine of that small town, I promise to do more simple things, like this, more often, when I return home and on my subsequent travels. I’m so tired from the busy days, and this beautiful morning, so beat down from playing the perpetual, outgoing clown — repeatedly putting my heart and happiness way out there, in the chance I’ll be able to slowly warm the smiles of the reserved. But for some insignificant aches and pains on my part — and cheeks tired from smiling & laughing on demand — I know this is more than worth it.

The boys spot me watching them then, and I give them a huge, exaggerated wave (positive they’ll still be too shy to respond). But they all wave back, I wave, they wave back more excited with each wave, they hold up Bronto. I shout victoriously: “Hijou!” (green!). A happy chorus of little voices shout back “Hijou!” (green!). I shout “Biroo!” (blue!). An increasingly animated chorus of little voices shout back “Biroo!” (blue!). So it goes – me happily shouting colors in Indonesian to children 20 feet away, shouting the same colors back, with greater enthusiasm and energ

y than my own – as we walk down the hill to our scooters and out of site as I feel little tears sneak into my eyes. I’m going to miss this place, these experiences, these people. I’ve missed interacting with kids and start thinking of ways to do more when I get home. I know I’m always going to wonder who these boys will become. A silent prayer that in my putting a little more good out in the world, it will eventually pay dividends for these ones and I hope they live good lives. I don’t want to go.

Helmets on and engines revved. We look down the road, and it’s surreal, hundreds of Indonesians, dressed in white, carrying flags, offerings pack the narrow road. I move to sit on a rock to watch the unexpected procession stream by, but instead they pause and pool around me. I’m drenched with questions, laughter, beautiful colors. As they sit on the ground and listen (and laugh) at our stumbling answers after they shout out questions. We’re invited to stay but we have a day of travel yet to attempt. We have to go. We say our good-byes, the crowd parts as we carefully pedal our way through the surreal crowd until we hit the open road and gun it back to Amed.

Berenang… (or Swimming, Into the Wreck)

We race past parched fields, withered palm trees and dusty concrete and palm houses of eastern Bali. The hot sun above me, the turquoise ocean beside me. My scooter is a laugh-riot. After surviving enough close calls with oncoming traffic and tight, decreasing radius corners taken too quickly — almost immediately after Christine warned us about the hazard — my scooter and I are like old friends. Flitting along the narrow roads, speeding past slower traffic, all on the left side of the road. We turn off the main road, onto a rough path, downhill. We pull up in front of a dive shack. When they see we already have flippers and masks, they leave us alone.

We walk past a handful of beach-restaurants and tiny hotels, resplendent with pale tourists.

The beach is composed of smoothed black and blood-red rocks that cook under the afternoon sun, and scald toes on the touch. I wait until the last possible minute to discard my flipflops and trot to the water. Typhoons off the Phillipines and the weather has shifted slightly in the last day, still stifling hot, but the tranquil water is now rough to the touch. It heaves upwards in massive piles and mounds. Yet schools of snorkelers flutter on its surface, like dead men discarded from a ship while armies of black, gear-laden divers walk to the water and slowly, slowly, slowly disappear from site.

I flop on flippers and tighten my mask. Sit back and set sail. I love the feeling of flippered feet, moving so swiftly through the water. We’re not sure where it is. The wreck. But like everything else on this trip, we have no doubts we’ll find it. We face down and stare for it.

Then I see the divers. They walk on the ground 10, then 15 feet below me. I float tens of feet above them; weightless and curious. Then its there. In front of me. Massive walls and a gaping blue-black hole that is at least three times my height. Metal now blanketed in swaying, colorful coral. It’s the wreck. USS Liberty, a WWII cargo ship torpedoed by the Japanese and pulled to Tulamben, where it sat until 1963 when Mount Agung erupted and the resulting earthquakes pushed her to deeper water, where she lies today as I circle around her. I motion to the girls to join me. Hardly believing that just 30 or 40 feet from the shore, below my toes, is this mammoth structure.

Schools of fish swim around me. I hold my breath as long as I can and dive down as deep as I am able, until my head starts to ache. I trace the lines of the once magnificent ship, something once unliving from my world, now part of something else entirely, at the bottom of the ocean, alive in a completely new way.

Bands of golden sunshine flitter through the clear water. I want to go deeper, I want to see what the divers are seeing, but I know I can’t know this, I can’t go there, at least not yet. I just circle the wreck, the words of a poem I’d loved from an almost forgotten summer quarter in college, now finds me in Bali. I can’t remember the exact words then, but I remember the sentiment. Of diving into the wreck, alone, to know the thing itself; and not the story or myth that others tell each other of the wreck. I think sometimes that is what this trip is, a journey to explore, to observe, to understand those things that I only knew of from stories, but had yet to experience and see for myself.

I inspect its sides, the massive proportions–now softened with coral fans and bright blue starfish. I watch the fish that keep it company, dart in and out, of dark corners. I swim with schools of colorful, beautiful, agile creatures. They are not afraid and stare curiously at me. I dive down again and again, deeper and deeper into the quiet blue — slowly making out the angle it rests on the ocean floor. You have to hit the bottom before you can come back up. Against her massive, solid hull, I feel my overwhelming smallness and human-ness, in comparison. I feel the ages that passed for this wreck to grow so alive and beautiful again. I want to know it, all of it. I want to remember this always: swimming quietly around disaster.

I look up the passage I remember when I get online that night. Sitting in the bamboo chair on the bungalow porch, I read it to myself in the dark as soft waves lap a tired, rocky shore and somewhere, softly in the pitch-black distance, the Balinese hotel boys and their friends laugh and play Bob Marley’s “Don’t worry about a thing, cuz every little is gonna be alright…” on their four-stringed guitar.

Adrienne Rich’s Diving Into The Wreck

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty

(Underwater pics compliments of the fabulous Christine Estrada.)

Seribu Tangga di Malam (1,000 Steps in the Night)

Over dinner after my afternoon search for (and failure to find) internet, we laugh and talk, we all agree that the laki-laki flashing is a sign that work isn’t supposed to happen this day. Christine and Jo are still on a high from cruising the island all day on scooters. When I hop the back of one to dinner, I realize why…they’re f’ing fun!!! I rent a scooter for $4/day, the next morning. Giving up on work for the day, flying down narrow roads and up curving hills, zipping past slower vehicles and groups of locals lounging outside open buildings with the rest of Bali, feeling the hot wind on my shoulders as I take in enormous gold-mountains and turquoise seas…it’s like nothing else. It’s silly, ridiculous, fast and fun. It’s like the first time I tried mountain biking — I know within seconds I’m hooked. (Christine and Jo laugh about me getting a real moto-bike when I get home…I laugh too. I know now it’s just a matter of time. A totally fun, environmentally friendly solution to my in-city driving vs. winter biking vs. slow bus conundrum). On the first drive out we stumble across the elusive Amed Dive Shop internet signal source! (I laugh — having let go, my largest problem yet resolves itself and I resolve myself to remember to let go more often…Maybe I just need a day of fun!)

So I tell Jo and Christine about the temple with 1,000 steps that the man on the road had told me about. It’s difficult to find in the official tour books I’ve brought with me and makes us want to find it that much more! We ask around and get rough directions to Lempuyang Lehur (head out of town, turn left, keep going…turn left or right depending on who you ask, remembering it’s probably 50% accurate as it’s good in Bali to never say no).

We’re not totally clear on where to turn or what to do. But decide getting lost in Bali on scooters isn’t a bad thing in the least. After a morning snorkel outside the bungalow, a few hours of offline work, we pack up the bikes, and fly out of Amed in hopes of making the mystic temple for sunset. We head back to beautiful, lush mountains. We stop once at one of the many roadside “gas” shacks to fill up on binson (ie. Indonesian for “gas”). A man in a black sweater (because it’s a chilly 75 degrees on the mountains…) pours a liter of gas from re-purposed plastic water bottles for each of us, which will last for a day, at $.50/liter. We chat with the other locals stopped to purchase gas and durian, get specifics on the next couple turns head, then off we go.

The road grows simultaneously narrower, steeper and curvier. Houses, perched on mountainsides, grow more rustic and smaller. People stare with increased curiosity and intensity. A gentle fog sets in as we climb and the view is blanketed in a soft white. We reach the ridge of what feels like the mountain top, park our scooters in line with the others and are instantly surrounded by curious Indonesians. All men. They push up to the three of us. Each asking questions, mostly all Indonesian, a word or two in English. They laugh and joke as we stand there a little overwhelmed. In my weeks in Bali, it’s always been the women to descend on me in groups. This is the first time I’ve known the 1 or 2 women to sit back in the palm huts as 20 or 30 men clamor for our attentions. It’s my only moment in Bali where I feel myself grow slightly tense, ready to jump back on my scooter and race out or ready to fight if any of them touch Christine or Jo. I have my eyes fixed tracking the movements of the two tallest.

As we talk it becomes increasingly clear, they’re just intensely curious. It seems pretty rare that white-tourists make it up to the high, remote mountain temple (one of four on this mountain), let alone three Indonesian-speaking girls on scoots. But Christine, Jo and I are all grateful we’re together on this one to keep the experience enjoyable.

We turn down offers to guide us. And set off, up 1000 steps, in the foggy, overcast, humid afternoon. We never see another tourist. Instead, we are warmly greeted by Indonesians (all coming down) balancing offering baskets and toting children or elders by the hand. We pass a woman in jeans and a pink-striped shirt, balancing long, large heavy poles of bamboo on her head. She slowly sways left and right, as she simultaneously balances and lifts her awkward burden up the 1,000 steps. Even in the hardest, manual labor, she is both strong and graceful and uncomplaining. She greets us with a smile as we wish her good afternoon.

As we ascend to the heavens, the fog thickens and large tropic rain spits at us through giant fern-trees. We continue the climbing, past abandoned palm huts and shrines, as the trail grows dark and slippery. On both sides of the stairs the mountain drops off into steep nothing and fog. Mountain gusts flit the silk sarong around my sweating legs. Hiking up a steep mountain side to a temple in Bali, in beautiful silk. Soaked with warm rain and sweat, perfectly happy and content to be here now.

When we reach the top, it’s quiet and deserted. Safe from the eyes of locals, we prance and pose and joke like the tourists we are. Christine holds her famous trans-continental “crow pose” as I shoot. Just as we’re ready to leave, he calls to us. (There is someone here!) Zan-Zan has the kindest demeanor and most peaceful eyes that we’ll talk about days later. He speaks perfect, flowery English after traveling the S
tes, New York, Los Angeles, even Seattle! He and invites us to join him and the priest for a blessing. He tells us the story of the temple, it’s the birthplace of the Balinese people and therefore one of the most important temples on the island….which we happened upon by utter chance, after hearing about it from a lounging Balinese man while on my quest for Internet. Amazing!

Zan-Zan works for the same cultural museum Jo was intending to look up in Ubud, another amazing Bali coincidence. He’s halfway through a two month, 24 hour meditation on the mountain temple. After we sit on the temple grounds, are splashed with holy water and squish white rice to our temples and foreheads, he’ll stay to weather another 20 nights of silence before returning to Ubud.

We leave quietly, escorted by the priest who speaks a few words of English. We mime the actions to learn the Indonesian words to tell eachother “hati-hati, lechin tangga, saya mau jatuh” (careful, slippery steps, i’m going to fall!). In return, we teach him English words for pig, duck, and frog. In no time, we’ve descended to the parking lot, the sprinkling rain at our backs. A hurried goodbye to the mountain men, still assembled around our bikes, we’re anxious to get back before dark and rain set in…considering we really made up the route to get here as we went along, and none of us are clear how to get back, but we all smile. We’ll figure it out!

It’s a mad dash down the mountain. All the way down the steep road, elderly, young, and adults in temple white clothes (that match the increasing white fog) wave and wish us good evening, good travels, we call back in Balinese and Indonesian. It feels like we talk our entire way down the mountain. It’s the friendliest descent I’ve ever know. When we get turned around, in the increasing dark, we stop and chat in Indonesian, get directions and go on our way with smiles and warm wishes. I’m more and more thankful for my 3 weeks in Ubud and the great practice I’ve had to prepare me for this night. As I drive I breathe in incense and sounds of a quiet Balinese life in the mountains, where three tourists is a rarity.

Soon we’re driving the curving, steep roads in pitch black–just a scooter light and that of wildly swerving oncoming traffic to guide the way. We pick through accidents, slow traffic, bug-in-the-face attacks, and sleepy towns. We pause at intersections an look to the sidelines at the group of lounging teens (always collected at street corners of small towns, it seems…).

We call out: Amed?

They hoot and holler, they excitedly yell for attention, they simultaneously laugh and ALL point the way ahead — tens of arms waving and pointing as we wave and laugh! Wishing them well as we speed ahead until the next junction, where the hand waving and excitement repeats itself over and over. Until finally we’re within familiar roads to Amed again.

Curious to see what this little machine can do, Christine and I tuck in and gun it on the flats. Sans street lights, we race through midnight fields, speeds pushing 50, then 60 then 80 KMs as a warm wind whips my face and shoulders as my heart pounds. Its beautiful, daring, wild fun. I’ve missed my mountain bike, I admit to myself. I needed this rush. Faster and the bike starts to shake, and wobbles, I see I’ve reached it’s limits. I have a strange vision of hitting a dog or falling — the very thing I don’t need as it would ruin this night and this feeling. This has been enough fun, it’s ok to let go of this feeling too for right now. I slow down, and down. Just then a dog meanders directly into my path. Brakes. A gasp. I veer within inches of the pup.

I instantly call out — in Indonesian — in the midnight-black village streets: “ANJING! Hati Hati ya?!” (DOG! Careful careful, yes?!)

Laki-Laki and Amed (Boys and Amed)

A whirlwind of activity, bags are packed, last minute errands, we watch a man shimmy up a tall coconut tree trunk outside the villa to cut down coconuts — only rough ropes tied around his feed to keep tension for the climb — and we leave the villa. It’s bittersweet. I’m craving freedom and look forward to new travel and adventure with my girls. But after three weeks, it’s sad to say goodbye to Anni and Oka — they’ve shown me so much.

At my request, Christine smuggled in an REI travel clock (for Anni) and a headlamp (for Oka). I give Anni and Oka final payment and a tip. I give Oka a pile of colorful pencils I’d brought over from the states, just in case, for his kids (anak) if they could use them? He grins and imitates their excitement. I also give Anni a pile of “small money” (anything under 10,000 rupiah, I’d been saving for two weeks after seeing Anni give her spare change to those she deemed worthy) and tell her it’s for her to give away to the good people of Ubud, because I want her to save her tip for herself.

It’s a three hour drive north-east to Amed, a tiny beach town, where we have no reservations. Instead Christine and I join Jo and thinking positive thoughts about finding a really great, cheap, beach room, next to the sea. We head over mountains, and tiny towns, along the turquoise coastlines. The scenery changes from lush and tropical to dry and deserty. Only two brief showers in the last 6 months, giant palms become sparse and withered. Dark volcanic mountainsides are terranced with dried rice fields and feels something like a cemetery. Tiny shacks made from palm fronds and corrugated metal line the streets. Brown cows stand idle. People bathe from street gutters as scooters stream by.

We step out of the car to oppressive heat. We check with three hotels. Tired, we settle on the cheapest run by three mid-twenties, T-shirtless Balinese boys (the word for boy is laki-laki and is right up there on my growing list of double-words I like: hati-hati, cupu-cupu, cudong-cudong, jalan-jalan, pulong-pulong…) who are quite obvious flirts used to getting female attention. We use it to our advantage and get a private bungalow ten steps to the beach for $10 each/night for the next two nights. I hug Anni and Oka, thanking them over and over and wishing them well…

That night I taste my first fresh barracuda sauted in garlic. We trade piles of fresh mango for glasses of fresh mango juice (an amazing $.80 each). We practice Indonesian with pleased locals. We walk on the beach and watch the sunset over the enormous, surreal volcano. It’s too beautiful for words.

The only downside is the lack of internet. My internet solution doesn’t get a signal like I was told it would (Frustration!). Christine and Jo head out on scooters for the day. I am determined to work. Until I get fed up with paying by the minute at the hotel next door. It’s time for “Plan B”, walk around asking for the location of the only wireless signal and offer them money to use it.

I set out with my camera and start asking, in Indonesian, for the Amed Dive Shop (the name on the wireless signal I found). I’m told it’s maybe 2KM west, so I head west down a remote road through dusty fields and sea-salt production plants (ie. coconut trunks cut in half and left baking in the Amed sun until only crystals remain), talking to locals who curiously peek heads out of doors and windows. When they realize the tall white girl speaks Indonesian, I draw tiny crowds. They eagerly point west to the dive shop and as I walk the distance grows steadily less. Until one man, scratches his head and points back in the direction I’d come from: 2KM.

The Indonesian art of never really saying no gets me. An afternoon lost as the sun starts to set and I stand in the nearly deserted road ready to laugh because I finally give up. There will be no internet and there will be very little work. I don’t know what else to do but let go.

I turn around and start the walk back. Strangers on my walk out, most now greet me like old friends on my walk in. I’m invited to ceremonies and dinners. I’m invited to sit and drink iced tea. I’m invited by a man on a scooter to check out the temple with a 1,000 steps. It’s on the top of the giant mountain, not far (on a scooter from here): Lempuyang Lehur. Amazing view. I thank him and remember to tell the girls when I get back. I turn down his advances to get a ride with him and keep walking.

There are three of them, about 20 or so, a concrete wall in the middle of a field hides their naked bodies from chest down. One boy tosses buckets of cold water to the other two, laughing and showering, boys. As I pass by, a murmur spreads through the ramshackle huts and the boys spot me. I laugh and wave and greet them in Indonesian. I keep the Indonesian tradition of never saying no and instead say “Nanti! Nanti!” as I keep walking

But they call back and wave at me. They want me to join them. They don’t stop. The chorus rises from the houses around the shower — as locals watch and cheer from front porches. I laugh it off. But they keep at it. The boys wave wildly and call “Hayyy Babbay!” in English.

What else is there to do – I reach for the tourist girl’s only line of defense. I point the camera at them just as their ringleader thrusts himself up on the shower wall, over the fence. The houses, the boys, I erupt with laughter. I hear applause. I hear shrieks.

I lower my camera and he falls back behind the wall. It settles and I call out in Indonesian, to more neighborhood cheers:
“Tidak teri mi kasi!” (No thank you!)

Practicing the Art of Being Real (No Translation Available…)

The next few days fly by faster than ever. Christine and I trade off using my wireless internet modem to work, in between jaunts into town to explore, we accompany Jo to a raw foods cafe and enjoy wholesome (and surprisingly delicious) raw tacos, ravioli and even a chocolate cheesecake. We all embrace the theme of just experiencing the moment, trying new things…anything and revel in the good, bad, ups and downs. Our days end with delicious dinners and animated/hilarious late-night conversations around the villa table, about life, dreams, travel. Every day starts and ends with plate fulls of fresh, juicy, perfectly sweet wild mango that sell for less than a $1 USD at the market. Already the three of us know we’ll be traveling again in the future. It’s been that kind of connection.

There’s been little time to read or write. When I finally sit down to get caught up, I’m finding — for days on end — that I can’t do either. The easy flow of words from my head to hands is suddenly uncomfortable and awkward. It feels forced. I’ve stalled on the post about staring into the eyes of an elder priestess at the wedding ceremony…and quietly breaking apart in an intense moment. Do I post this? Do I put these words in front of friends and strangers? Will they understand, will they relate? Or will they laugh or just brush it aside as Joya being melodramatic and emotional. Will it even make sense? Will anyone be honest with me and admit that sometimes life, even the best days, also have their downside. Or will they just ask for more goofy stories of the best times traveling around Bali.

Jo and I talk on the topic a great deal. It’s these discussions I love the most. We talk about chasing happiness, only, in our early years (for her that’s like last year…;), and slowly realizing now that it’s facing the honest sadness, the difficult times that will test you and strengthen you. Pushing past comfort levels and into uncharted and sometimes confusing water that will help you grow. That it’s being kind and honest with yourself and those around you that get you through these times. That understanding and trust start building in those moments when you let yourself break, fall to the bottom, and slowly, carefully, intentionally crawl back up until you’re walking, running, laughing again. Never holding too tightly to either emotion, as life is a process of change. How those lessons are the ones we need most, how love and forgiveness is what we need to practice most. But when I put the words in writing, when I think of posting the thoughts anywhere else but my journal — it feels like standing naked and exposed in front of a crowd. But at the same time, if I don’t post, am I letting myself off the hook? I started this journey, I started this blog in an effort to practice being more open, more honest and more real. As I think, Indonesia continues to be amazing, each moment precious and rich with new experiences and realizations. But I feel numb and tired, worn. So I do other things, hoping this too will pass. It’s another 90 degree day, when I forget to drink water regularly. I walk home my entire body nauseous and aching, I’m sad and disappointed and crave quiet time to think and be alone.

In the dark, listening to the tune of rabid frogs and electric chorus of bats chirping, I scribble out my hopes and dreams, my fears and doubts about the next few years of my life, in the journal I’ve carried with me for years. Good and bad, it all comes out. My birthday is tomorrow, and I’m eager to hit 31. I’m curious what the next years will hold — as the last few, good and bad, have been more amazing than I could believe. When I turned 28, I spent a week alone, giving my life and who I wanted to be serious, new thought. I wasn’t sure then on the specifics of how I would get where I wanted to be, but I realized I wanted to stretch to become much more than I was that day. I wanted to start building an intentionally different, new life. I called it the 5 year plan. At the end of 5 years, I hoped to be divested of corporate life, doing something on my own that provided sufficient income for a more “alive” life where I did more than just work. I dreamed of buying a little shack, anything with a pretty ocean view that I could fix up over time. There I could escape from time to time and enjoy a life not ruled by possessions, accomplishments, 60 hour work weeks, and indifferent disconnected personal interactions. Maybe someday there would be someone in my life who would understand where I was coming from, who could share the ocean view and this life with me. But I wasn’t going to wait anymore. I decided to start building a new life at that moment. One I would consciously define and challenge myself to forge each day. I’m not sure how to get there, or if I can, but figure I should try and see what happens with this dream of mine. I paddle out to the surf the stormy day of my 28th birthday and she paddles over to me. The only other woman on the gray Oregon surf break, Leslie. Brown-black hair, athletic body wrapped in neophrene, graceful surfer, mountain biker, amazing smile, engaging energy. She lives in Bend with a husband she is crazy about, they spend weekends at their beach house overlooking this (my favorite) break. When I ask her what she does, she tells me she owns her own furniture store. It’s like meeting the person you want to become someday. I see the life she’s created off in the distance and it continually inspired me to walk bravely in new directions. It still does.

When I get home I hammer out a vacation rental business plan – positive this was the most attainable goal of mine while putting off finding another revenue source/job as the last thing on my 5 year list. Funny how life has other ideas sometimes. Two years later, I helped see my vacation rental plan work on a boyfriend’s property and then put off a rental of my own to quit my corporate job to try out freelance marketing work using the savings I’d put aside (for the beach house down payment) as my safety net. There were terrifying moments when I honestly didn’t know if it would work, if I had the strength to see through falling crazy in love, a log cabin remodel, a new business, a new life. But one day at a time, it all somehow works itself out. And I’m stunned how it just requires the simple action
putting one foot in front of the other. It’s not always what I would have chosen, but I know I’m learning and growing and living — and I wouldn’t change any of this.

Getting this far now, seeing things I never thought would work become successes beyond my dreams, owning a little house with a garden, working for myself during the worst economic times, climbing mountains, racing bikes, traveling halfway around the world – alone – getting into writing, photography, and just doing these things now, feel like a surreal dream that I can’t believe is coming true — whereas, when I’m honest with myself, other areas of my life feel like failures. I’m still learning the art of relationships, and the art of being real and honest. I realize more than ever that this is an ongoing process. Not one that is presented, wholesome and complete — but one that is molded, shaped, formed and weathered over days and months of good and bad. I hope that the people in my life understand this when I’m less than perfect, less than 100%. More than that, I hope that I am able to be that person who understands this in others. And then lately, discovering that a prescription I’d taken for the last two years was causing a gradual, chemical depression. One that, over time, strained relationships and suffocated my spirit. Like being slowly lowered into a deep well, the radius of light so gradually decreasing until suddenly there was nothing but unavoidable darkness surrounding me, with no idea how I got so low. It wasn’t until things completely fell apart, it wasn’t until I grew so physically ill after getting off the prescription, shaking with withdrawal and fever and severe nausea, day after day in a 200 year old bedroom in New Orleans that I knew something was just wrong. Winter turned to spring and slowly the medication drained from my bloodstream. Months pass and I hear myself saying to myself that I feel like “me” again. Energy, light, enthusiasm, happiness, kindness, wildness. I line up the symptoms with journal entries. The start and end of cycles with wildly varying physical side effects. Such a huge relief to find out I’m ok and safe from this forever more — such huge confusion to wonder at the last two years of my life and love, lived in such a numbed, shadow. When summer arrives, I start one by one, mending strained relationships. Asking friends and family to see past what I was for these years, and look to what I’m becoming. I’m relieved to find love, forgiveness and acceptance. I work on trying to find the same for myself. Now I find myself in Bali. If not for these things, I would not be here now, realizing, learning, growing as I am.

I look at my hopeful smile, my bike scarred knees in the bedroom mirror. I take a breath and send a few emails to friends who will support me. I send one email to someone I’m not sure will — but whose support I realize I honestly want anyway. I feel a huge wave of relief just putting out my honest request for support, insights and advice. I’m perfectly fine if none come back to me, here. I just know how the freedom, the strength in asking for what you need. Confident that either way, I’ll find what I need I just have to take the first step to ask, instead of bottling fears down inside, as I have the tendency to do.

Within the afternoon, words of love, encouragement (even astounding praise of my words and pics) and a reoccurring reminder to just let go and experience what is, are sent my way. I apologize to Jo and Christine for being tired and sick the last day. For holing up while I write and think some things out. They both laugh and wave their hands at me — after a few days here, with friends, they’re sweetly impressed that I’m having one bad day in my weeks alone, after learning a new language, culture, people along with showing them the ins and outs of working in a strange place. You’re only human, everyone has those days, and you’re doing what you need to do to feel better.

I feel a huge wave of relief.

It feels good to be free to just be, to be human, and still be loved for that. In breaking down, I discover the beauty in simply, honestly asking for the things I need most. It doesn’t make me weak or needy, just more honest and real. It gives the people around me the opportunity to give back some of the joy and compassion and kindness I hope I’ve shared with them. I feel like, more and more as I start to better understand the give and take of life, these people in my life get that. I stop questioning the last couple years, the inadvertent depression and resulting troubles. I feel confident these are all things that needed to happen to help me come to the conclusions I’m finding now. I feel like I’m diving into life and relationships with new understanding, I feel like I’m starting to chart a new course for my personal life. My words find me again, I post one moment after another, and the journey continues.