The moment things really changed…


I could tell that Lele was a bit distressed.

Together we had come up with an attack plan for seeing the island…but it was in serious jeopardy of being dismantled by the upcoming Balinese New Year. Lele was wrestling with his obligations to spend time with his family and uphold his religious duties, while attempting to keep our scheduled island invasion intact. He almost seemed upset at having to break the news to me. His solution: scrap the original plan and take me along with him to his village and be a part of the celebration. How could I resist?

The ride through the coastal img_3502hills towards his village near Tutaganga is literally breathtaking. Each corner gives way to a sight that could easily grace the front of any postcard, but it isn’t the scenery that is so moving on this day. Lele has discarded his normal taxista uniform in lieu of shorts and a tshirt. His 11 year old son is with us as well, also dressed the same. Today, Lele is not my driver. He is Lele the father, the devout Hindu, and the friend to seemingly everyone as we get closer and closer to his real home. At each roadside temple, he leaves a small wreathlike offering and blesses it with a toss of water to thank Vishnu. At the root of Balinese Hinduism there is the underlying philosophy that we give offerings back to nature… To me, it seems more of a philosophy of respecting the beauty and destructive forces of our surroundings, in much the same way that an astronomer, with each new star or nebula discovered, relishes in the beauty and awesomeness of the universe, and the will that it imposes on us.

img_3504…and today, there are lots of respects to be made. So many, in fact, that we have to stop at a roadside vendor to purchase more wreaths! The vendor greets Lele and smiles. It is a smile bourne out of the recognition of an old friend. I have seen it countless times today as each seemingly random acquaintance reconnects with a shared past.

“I am famous in my village. You’ll see!” Lele beams proudly, and then tells me how with his elementrary school level education, he still intends to run for office, detailing to me the platform planks for his political career. “This road we are driving on, I asked my government to build it. The government remembers only the tourists sometimes. I will change that,” he tells me proudly and devoid of any hostility.

I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable as we get out of the car at his family’s compound. This is a special day, and I feel like I’m intruding. It’s not from the looks I’m receiving from his brothers, nieces am nephews, chickens, or the sow and her ten two-day-old piglets. Instead, I feel like I don’t deserve to be instantly accepted into such warmth. It’s overwhelming, and I’m on the verge of breaking down without being able to put my finger on the why of it all.


I watch as Lele makes his offerings at his own shrines, both of which are humble and simple in their beauty. One is for the traditional Hindu gods, andimg_3513 the other is a shrine to his recently passed parents and ancestors…giving us both a moment to remember and thank the people who shaped us…and how important our families, his of the remaining twelve brothers and sisters, are to our continual growth. It also reminds me that I am, as the song goes, one generation’s length away from finding life out on my own.

Food has already been prepared for us all. We gather around a simple plastic table that is crowded with towering plates and black stone bowls. Lele pops open a few big bottles of Bintang with a spoon, and pours a few drops on the ground in front of each shrine before finally filling the empty glasses on the img_3509table. The skewered pork satay is delicious. However, the mixture of pork and coconut (eaten with handfulls of rice) has a slight rotten smell/flavor, which as brave as I’d like to sound, did trigger a slight gag reflex. I think it was more of a psychological thing as we in the West are conditioned to be afraid of pork and it’s handling. Later, I was told that the rotting flavor actually is more from the oxidation of the fresh coconut, which apparently “ages” quite quickly.

After the initial feeding silence, lively conversation resumes. I first think that they are talking about me, before realizing that catching up and bullshitting, the way men do when together in every society, is far more important a subject than the bule who has joined them for lunch. As the table talk dies down and the family members slip into a celebratory food coma, I take one unnecessary photo of the group. I say “unnecessary” because it is an image that will forever be ingrained in my mind.


But Lele still has still has more to show me. We walk through the rest of the village and watch as people prepare for the next morning’s ceremony. img_3524People of all ages are decorating long bamboo poles with strips of grass and ornaments…basically creating the Balinese version of Christmas trees. Many have already finished theirs and have erected them by the road, allowing the pole to lazily bend over the street, just above car height.

We leave the village for a bit to climb a nearby hill. Looking down, the landscape is covered by a tapestry of rice paddies. The flatness is punctuated here and there with green hills much like the one I’m standing atop. The island’s volcanoes can be made out in the distance. I’m an hour’s drive from the chaos of Kuta beach, but this is the real heart of everyday Bali. It’s a heart who’s beat can only be felt by being inside it, and pictures are only taken as a formality.


After our hike, Lele takes me fifteen minutes away by car to a nearby homestay. We check out the room and agree to a price. Lele says he’ll be coming to get me early the next morning but he sees that I’m hesitant to check into the homestay for the night. “You don’t like my village? You want to go back to Seminyak tonight?” he asks, as if deeply hurt.

In all honesty, I just couldn’t do it. In a small way, I didn’t want to intrude any more on Lele’s personally significant holiday. But there was a bigger reason that I couldn’t spend a third night alone in the countryside. I had seen too much and felt too strongly about the things I had experienced over the last few days. There was no way I’d be able to sit alone in a quiet room and try to process everything I was feeling. I needed to get back to Seminyak to be around other travelers and expats…to be able to express the way this place has changed me and to be reassured that I wasn’t the only one…

I explained this to Lele. I reassured him that I loved his village and the life it breathes into those that live there. “It’s no problem, Ryan. It’s very different to you, isn’t it?” He smiles genuinely in the way that shows me that he understands and that he has seen this reaction from my type before.

As it happened, one of his cousins was driving back to Denpasar to pick up his own wife and kids, and Lele arranged for me to ride with him. We rode through miles of small villages, each adorned with their recently erected roadside New Year’s day poles. It was like being in an ornate artificial tree tunnel; each adorned branch welcoming a truly changed person back into the world.



~ by parlatorepazzo on March 21, 2009.

2 Responses to “The moment things really changed…”

  1. Ryan, thought I was reading Steinbeck only in a different Country. You write a mean piece. Love, gma bj

  2. As the Aussie travelers will say..”Good on ya, matey!”

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