Musings by Chris and photos by Jim
We’re so close to the end of our time here in Bali that we’re aching to share all that we don’t know. As visitors to Bali, and not particularly seasoned ones at that, we realize there is so much we don’t know about the Balinese culture. We also appreciate that regardless how many visits we make to this sumptuous and reverential land, we never will fully know what it means to be Balinese.
We read Fragrant Rice by Janet De Neefe, prior to coming here in 2013. It definitely is a good introduction to understanding the many cultural ceremonies, learning an abundance of recipes (meat and fish based), and developing an appreciation of the spiritual nature of the Balinese. We’re realizing it is a book that warrants a read every year before we embark on our vacation in Bali – a primer for paradise.
For now, we simply want to share what is speaking to our hearts during our last moments here. We want you to relish the scent of incense wafting up from the twice-daily offerings placed outside residences and businesses. Showing gratitude and appreciation figure heavily into the Balinese culture. It reminds each one of us of the spiritual connection we have to ourselves, the environment, and to our community.
We want you to imagine the Full Moon. It is a time when the moon is at its most powerful and its influence is most potent. Purnama (or full moon) is always a special day for ceremonies and festivities. Hundreds of temples all over the island celebrate their anniversary on a specific full moon each year. Since full moon is also considered an auspicious day for Balinese ceremonial culture, hundreds of ceremonies are held in all corners of the island on this sacred day. People believe that Purnama is the best time for making good deeds or doing religious activities, since the reward of them will be multiplied by one hundred. This is the ideal time for healing, guidance, and completion.
We want you to appreciate the simplicity of food and the necessity of rice as a basic and foundational part of one’s diet in Bali. It is the fabric of commerce, the stability of home life, and the cultivation of the Balinese culture.
The rituals of the cycle of planting, maintaining, irrigating, and harvesting rice enrich the cultural life of Bali. At the beginning of planting time, ceremonies are held to carry the young stems of rice that have been nurtured in a special nursery. On each section of the rice fields, the corner nearest to Mount Agung will receive the honor to be the first place to receive the young stems of rice. The water level in each section is perfect; little streams of water effortlessly flow from the highest section up on top of the hill to the very bottom section.
Before planting, throughout growing time, at harvesting, ceremonies are held and offerings are presented to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice. In the middle of rice fields far from the village, you often find little shrines with neatly presented flowers, fruit, and offerings for Dewi Sri.
We want you to understand our concern that Ubud, in particular, is over-building for the tourism sector. There is a seductive quality when inviting tourists into their community, being exposed to a westernized economy and lifestyle, and building bigger and better villas and homestays and large resorts. Huge complexes are taking over rice fields with often the only way to access these commercialized resorts is via pot-holed dirt roads and/or narrow rice paddy paths. There is no infrastructure being developed to accommodate the increased traffic that will result when ‘they build it and the tourists come.’
At the same time, we want you to be grateful for the existence of traditional Balinese homes and lifestyles, despite this burgeoning growth. They are a collection of individual, largely open structures (including separate structures for the kitchen, sleeping areas, bathing areas and shrine) within a high-walled garden compound. Extended family members all live together with daughters living on their husband’s family compound and adopting their customs and family ways. Land is blessed prior to building a new structure and ceremonial procedures are passed along through the generations.
We want you to marvel at the work of the visionary few who are hoping to improve the life of birthing women and those individuals who enter the world with complex needs.
Death during childbirth is still one of the highest areas of mortality for women in Bali. Birthing practices in the public hospitals is viewed as non-gentle and often quite punitive. The Bumi Sehat Birthing Centre in Ubud uses gentle midwifery practices, acupuncture, nutrition, prenatal education, and support post labour for up to 6 weeks. It also includes a walk in clinic for anyone in the community based on donation.
This centre has a mentorship program with young teen women encouraging them to volunteer at the centre and eventually to be supported to go on and get further education to become midwives, who will hopefully do their internship at the centre and over time volunteer and help out. The centre operates via donations and volunteers. Read more about this wonderful endeavour and our friend, Brenda Hinton’s involvement.)
The Yasasan Widya Guna Orphanage was started by a Balinese husband and wife. The husband, Ketut felt he was making good money working three jobs and rather than buy things he wanted to give back to the community. He saw children who were parentless (mostly because of mothers dying during childbirth and/or fathers dying and leaving mothers with children and no place to live). So his aim has been to support the children, keep them as connected as possible to extended family, educate them, feed them, teach them life skills, and personal planning for the future.
The orphanage initially took place on his family compound. Now it has expanded to another piece of land that he fundraises for as well as leases out parcels of it to support the orphanage. Also people can support a child for $30/month (if they do not have a disability) or $60/month if they have a disability. Quite a few of the children have Downs Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Obviously, the children with disabilities come with more challenges, equipment and therapeutic needs.
Each child has their own bank account with the aim that by the time they will hopefully be ready to leave, they will have the equivalent of $500 to either start a business, get further education, and create a life plan for the future. The reality is that some of the children will never live independently and Ketut is prepared for them to live out their life in the complex. But those that are older than 14 are expected to help with personal care of the younger ones. They are all so lovely, clean, polite, and engaging. Some go home daily or weekly, and some have their mothers actually working on the premises and helping. Those youth who do not have disabilities have been supported to go onto further education to actually become physical therapists to eventually volunteer at the orphanage. An amazing program, which like the birthing centre, does not receive any government funding.
We want you to be amazed and inspired to come visit this magical land. We will be hosting a Japanese only tour as well as a Canadian tour next February. We will be posting more details in our next post. We feel confident that our tours will open up your hearts to a place, to a people, and a culture that will forever alter your perception of the developing world. We know the smiles of the Balinese will never leave you when you find yourself in this spiritual land.
We are filled with gratitude that you joined Rawsome on the Road, for this leg of our journey in Bali. Stay tuned for more information to come about our upcoming tours for next year. And in the months to come – more stories to share from Europe, in April and May.
The journey continues . . . Chris and Jim