The 2020 Chronicles: Part One
The global pandemic has affected most souls on the planet; we have collectively encountered so much change and uncertainty in such a short time frame.
When the world has normalised after these times, we will all have our tales to tell. This little section of my blog is a reflection of my experiences, and what I have learned about my place in the world.
January: Nongkrong, fireworks and a warning
As we celebrated New Year’s Eve 2020, setting off fireworks on Sanur Beach on the east coast of Bali, our lives were buzzing with travel plans, meeting up with friends, and enjoying the good life. Nongkrong is an Indonesian word that means ‘hanging out with friends, with no plan in mind.’ We were enjoying the Nongkrong life, the gorgeous balmy evening and the sand between our toes.
A warning, though: a cracker was let off too close to a little girl playing at the beachside café and sparked in her eye. After some screaming and tears, it was discovered her eye was fine. For those few frantic moments, we were, as the group setting off the crackers, facing the responsibility of damaging this little girl’s eye. To lose any of one’s senses is a tragedy: life is best lived when we are aware of all there is to offer.
January 2020 gradually revealed itself. There was an eerie parade of assorted misery as the month dragged on: finding snakes in the kitchen, then my daughter fell ill and was eventually diagnosed with dengue fever. A scooter accident, friends moving on, agreements not being realised. The mood was shifting.
Also, our massive bale (pavilion) with its fancy alang alang (thatched) roof leaked terribly in the first big rain of the season just before Christmas and had to be completely replaced. One day I counted that 13 people were in my yard performing various tasks, and we were unable to use the pool for 3 weeks. We felt like we were suffocating: given how much we paid to rent this house for a year, and how relentlessly, unbearably hot it was- we were unable to enjoy our surroundings.
My neighbour Yvon and I got together and realised we were both having a run of bad luck since moving into our properties, located on the western side of the bypass in Sanur. Our houses were western styled with high concrete walls. All around us were small homes and vacant lots with shanty houses. And dogs. So many dogs. With so much to say. Loudly, at all hours. We asked around- it turns out our villas were built on a graveyard. That would explain why my pembantu’s (helper’s ) son and Yvon’s ten-year-old son could see spirits. An old lady sitting in the chair in the corner; a young woman passing by as Agus entered the kitchen. Just enough presence to tell us we were in their space. Yvon and I got the feeling that we did not belong there, and were not in harmony with our surroundings.
Yvon’s Balinese friend Ayu mentioned this to her family, and within a week her grandma and mum had organised a little cleansing ceremony to attract some positive forces into our recent homes.
A Melaspas ceremony
One hot afternoon at the end of January, a phalanx of beautifully dressed women in white lacy tunics and brightly patterned sarongs entered our compound with offerings of fruits, vegetables, incense, flowers and a small brown chicken, recently deceased.
For the Hindu Balinese, there is a constant battle between good and evil. Prayers, rituals and ceremonies therefore not only aim to invite or thank positive forces, but also aim to placate negative forces. Ceremonies are a part of everyday life on this beautiful part of the Indonesian archipelago.
I sat on a chair and performed the ritual as guided by Ayu’s nenek (grandma). She flicked coconut water on my head, then I had to accept some to sip. Then she pressed uncooked rice on my throat and forehead, then motioned for me to eat a little pinch of rice and I politely declined the piece of chicken leg as I wasn’t sure how long it had been sitting in the basket.
A Melaspas Ceremony is done to cleanse a new building before it is used; the name comes from two words: mela meaning bad or negative; and pas, meaning to purify or cleanse.
Usually, a priest would perform melaspas. The priest, along with his or her helper, will present many offerings (banten), often near the building’s shrine.
As we don’t have a shrine on our property we used a table to display all the offerings. Bamboo baskets of woven decorations, morsels of rice, cookies and fruit, flowers and incense were displayed on the table and on a cloth on the lawn.
The little brown chicken was also sacrificed for this ceremony.
They asked me if it was ok with my religion to perform a Hindu ceremony. I am no theologian but explained that there is always room for being grateful to a higher power and the bounty that nature gives us. I found the ritual very calming and Ayu’s nenek was a wise, patient and kind lady who left me feeling as if I had a sense of place in this fancy home in this foreign land.
The offerings can only be used once, so they gave me the fruit to eat and threw the decorations and the sacrificial chicken in a big garbage bag and disposed of it.
Yvon told me how much to offer them in terms of money. I would have had no idea what a ceremony like this costs to arrange. My pembantu Nengah told me the going rate for performing the ceremony for a small house is around 3 million ($AU300) and runs into the thousands for bigger buildings.
We reached out to the Balinese and their higher power to make sense of all of this misfortune, and for a week or so we tried to settle into our peace.
The relentless heat continued. Miss E gradually regained her strength and my legs and wrist were slowly healing from the scooter accident. The sounds of the outdoor life of the shantytown- dangdut music and barking dogs- still disturbed my sleep.
We were restless. Too many elements of our surroundings and ourselves did not feel as they should. Thinking back to this time, perhaps we could have realised that all of these events and disconnection pointed toward something being terribly, terribly wrong.