It was only after about one week that the novelty began to, statistically, seem less like coincidence and more like a bizarre ritual or national joke invented to make fun with the tourists. Presumably at some future date, when judged worthy, the Balinese would let me into the secret. What was going on? Well, as one carts around a family in the jungle you find yourself using a lot of taxis. These fine fellows take pride in pushing a business card into your hand with the hope of repeat trade and you begin to amass a fair pile. “Ketut – Good Drive and speak ok inglish” “Putu – Tour and taxi for you!” – “Made – Driver you choose” etc.. The point, though, is there was no “etc.”. Yes the cards kept coming, ten, twenty, and the resume had its variations but the name at the top?, the driver’s name? “Putu” (Pronounced Poo Two, to much amusement), “Made” (Mad Eh?), “Ketut” (Kay Toot – yes very funny too boys, settle down). And then the school; it wasn’t just the drivers. Head of admissions – Putue, a lady this time, and back at the ranch we had the staff – “Hello Made”, and and and and… I exaggerate a little , there were three or four more, but you get the point, and here is the reason:
Children in Bali are named by position, first born, second born etc. and it does not matter the sex. So if you are first born you are Putu or Wayan. That’s it baby! Number two comes along and it is Made or Nyoman. Three is Kadek and something? Four is Ketut, I know that for a fact because we’ve got one, plus another. Come to number five and guess what? We’re all out of names! So we repeat them again. Fifth born is Putu or Wayan, six is Made and bla bla bla away we go, they start to repeat! So a first born boy marries a first born girl and have a kid. There are now three Putu’s in the family. No problem, the fifth born will be Putu too.
There is more! That was your first name. But what of your last? Easy – you don’t get one! Surnames are not carried by maternal or paternal tradition. No no. There are no surnames! Brilliant, no family name. I’m sure this is a relief to anyone who was worried about having to look for a Putu Smith or Ketut Jones in the phonebook. All the Putus are under P! Good grief. What is going on? Well apparently the Balinese collect, or more accurately are given names as they go through life. I’m still trying to figure out the mechanics of this but so far have only determined that a), all that officially matters is you are listed on a “Kitas” card that dad keeps. If you run off and get married then the boy gets a card of his own and starts jotting down the names that are the product of his loins (sorry girls, you don’t get a card of your own). If you are not on one of these cards then you don’t exist with the attendant problems for your reincarnation. b), the odds of a Balinese accidentally landing him or herself on a ‘no fly’ list following zealous enthusiasm by an intelligence agency are astonishingly high! Putu the farmer starts surfing the net and bidding on fertilizer through eBay and the next day border security has to order a million rubber gloves! Is there no justice? The key learning from it all – Don’t queue behind Balinese at airports.
Those of you who were concerned by a report in the last letter regarding the inflated price of spirits will be pleased to learn that diligent and dogged investigation has uncovered a solution of sorts (no pun intended). While tax gouging puts a bottle of scotch (750ml) at the fifty or sixty dollar mark (blend, not malt), and Beefeater goes for the same, there is an exemption for local hootch that shamelessly parodies the brands. “Bali cardi” white rum or, let me check my bottle, “Mansion House” dry gin. “Best foundation for cocktails!” on a label that is Gordons unless you are wearing your glasses. There is picture of a bloke out shooting birds that Jane Austen may have swooned for (after a glass full perhaps). Seven dollars will scoop you a 350ml ‘half’ while for some reason the 750ml ‘full’ is just shy of twenty buckeroos. A cunning marketing ploy perhaps? Oh well, good things come in small packages. The verdict? No one is blind yet! Roll out the tonic!
You can’t get away from rice. Not that you’d want to. Tasty; feeds half the world; adds charm to the landscape – actually it quite defines the landscape here. It is everywhere. Our row of three houses sits like a promontory in a rolling terraced sea. Little squares, thirty feet to a side or fifty feet. When the terrain gets flatter the fields get bigger but the work that goes into these little terraced industries is quite remarkable. I’m trying to dig into the irrigation secrets that I hear gave the Dutch the same fascination and that slice of this social and economic Bali cornerstone may enjoy its own paragraph at a future date. The last few weeks, though, it is the harvest you couldn’t escape – the crop was brought in. We’ve been reading a bit about ‘god’ cultures lately, with the kids. Percy bloody Jackson and Clash of the Titans and then there has been Tame your Dragon or some read of that name (they made a movie) and so we had the Norse gods too. Bali is chockers with them so the subject comes up here and at school. (As an aside, our chicken dinner last night was alive at lunch time and then slaughtered in sacrifice to an ‘evil’ god. That type want a blood sacrifice so that they’ll leave you alone – it’s good to know some things never change – and the kebabs it provided were fresh fresh fresh!) You notice in northern cultures that you have gods for seasons; poor young Persephone having to do the commute twice a year and all that. No such thing in Bali! It’s the tropics darling! Sun comes up, right overhead, twelve hours later, sun goes down. Again and again and again. Three harvests a year they do here on the rice; same weather everyday. Now the field grows and look like wheat. How do you tell it is ready? No problem. The rice is ready when thirty folk in funny hats show up at dawn! Maybe five or six are men and they cut the stalks a foot from the ground with one handed sickles, grim reaper style, miniaturized. They stand, these farmers, with bent backs and grab a handful near the root. They cut it with the curvy knife and drop their efforts in a wee pile at their feet. They move six inches to the right and repeat, and repeat, and repeat. The whole frickin’ island is covered in the stuff and this is what they do and do and do and the sun is coming up and yes, it’s sunny again so now it’s hot hot hot. The thing is, the men have got the good job! The ladies pick up these handfuls until they’ve got a bunch, say bouquet size. Then they walk to a big basket, like a garbage can with a tarp hanging inside it, and they whack the bloody thing like they are beating a carpet! They are threshing the rice and the abuse they give the stalks dislodge the grain into the bin then what is left in their rough hands is dumped in a pile to one side. The ladies then wander back to Mr. Cutter and grab another bunch, and another bunch and another bunch. You’ll have about ten cutters. All the men cut and a few women too (the lucky ones!). The other twenty (it is roughly a 2:1 ratio) are threshing. Got yourself a whole bunch o’ rice? Now the next bit. Gradually the women start to peel off and will ‘clean’ the rice. Men don’t do this. It is like panning for gold. Get yourself a big tray and then dig in girl!; whirl it round and the seed settles and the shit bits rise to the top. Chuck the crap away and dump the clean seed in a new new pile (on the tarp mind) and give it a wave with the bamboo weave pan so the shrapnel flies away and then back at it, again and again and again. Children do not do this. All the workers are adults. I don’t know why. They put in a ten hour day under a beating sun and they’ll get up tomorrow and do it again. Thirty of them. And as today’s sun goes down? Well we have a few bags of rice to show for it all! And that is how civilization has got to this point. Countless millennia of toil under a hot sun by a lot of women and a few blokes. For this no one will go hungry tonight. I spy all this from my balcony on the second floor where the view clears the compound wall to the wilds beyond. I’m thinking of upgrading from the Indo tonic to Schwepps to help kill the taste of the gin. I used bottled water for my ice cubes and have half a lime dipped in the thing and when I’m done I think I’ll go for a swim in my salt water pool. I raise my glass to them. Liberté, égalité, fraternité. What a fucking place.