Letter from Bali – XXI – The End (part one)
A considerate website recently sent me an e-mail reminding me I fly out in fifteen days time. We’re leaving Bali, likely never to return, as if I was going to forget it. Yesterday I took our passports in to obtain our exit visas (Casablanca anyone?), for which the government charges $20 and for which I pay $250 more in ‘administrative fluidity’ – optional insurance. Whoever manufactures those little brown envelopes is a happy man, I tell you. If you’ve read any of the letters up till now, you won’t even bat an eyelid at this nonsense; pay and smile and nod your head and go about your business. School is finished in less than two weeks, our year here is nearly over.
I wasn’t sure how I’d finish off this diary of misadventures. The amusing horrors of first contact had long ago started to fade- in impact anyway, if not in frequency. I went to the breakfast table this morning and found THIS licking its lips and looking at me. I have to wait now for the children to get up to see who’s taking care of it.
The oddities of expat life and the curious Balinese ways will continue unabated even though we’re far removed from it. There was much amusement last week at the expense of an unfortunate boolay, who accidentally hit and killed a dog in a village with his scooter. This place you may recall from earlier letters, is overrun with surplus dogs but this dog, you see, was special – this dog was earmarked for animal sacrifice at the local Hindu temple.
I thought it a great racket – he was detained and had to pay through his ears for his liberty – but then I was assured that NO, this was genuine, and the whole thing was a big hairy deal. As it was explained to me, there is various animal sacrifice, the most common goes to satiate a demon by the name of Bhuta Kala; that’s Mr. Kala to you, little boolay, and don’t be disrespecting him! The sacrifice is called Caru and keeps the negative ions in the universe in check. Everything can go under the chop – chickens are the lowest, ducks are in there, pigs, dogs, cattle and even water buffalo. Their colour is most important – Kala is picky on mixing and matching – hair must match the handbag – dogs I was told, need black snouts and a white duck’s days are numbered. Chickens have their heads torn off, anything bigger has its throat cut. It is good for building karma so the animals must love it…
Not to be outdone by any old smelly demon, the water deities and spirits all require their own appeasing. This happens in a same same but different ceremony called Makelem where the sacrifice is drowned to death and saves a lot in cleaning.
The granddaddy of them all is a once a century event! A ceremony called Eka Dasa Rudra and I’m told it’s a hum dinger; a clearing house to reset the spiritual clock, an enema for the soul. This exorcism is a special type of Taur, itself a special type of Caru ceremony (good old Bhuta Kala again). At Eka Dasa Rudra one of every type of Balinese animal goes under on the block: Insects, eagles, monkey, turtles – whatever you can lay your hands upon and get them in your net!
The Balinese don’t advertise this much and it’s not hard to see just why. It might sell a few special interest tickets but tourists don’t spend when they cry. Outsiders are known for their delicate stomachs and peculiar sensibilities.
“What about red hair?” I ask my man Putu who is sharpening a scythe. We have a red haired dog up the street who has a black snout, but it’s not him I’m thinking about. “Does Mr. Kala like red heads?”
“Oh no. Everyone knows red head taste no good.” He smiles. Funny bastard. Fifteen days to go.
The ‘Letter’ was started to provide news to suspenseful friends and family, and appease those who were rightly sick of spam from people they barely saw, a blog was a perfect answer and hence the Letter was born. Here I could post any old rubbish and say I’d done my duty, and there was no intrusive spamming and nobody had to listen! It was a perfect plan, the consummate solution, but soon the plan fell off the rails. And why? What went and happened? Well…, unwittingly and unintentionally I started slowly to care… about events and about the place and about the changes I was witnessing; and I suppose these rambling letters became my way of documenting these things – a scrapbook for my head if you like, and I found it therapeutic. It also was an antidote of sorts to the writing of the book. The book was evolving also as the year skipped on by – an idea, to an outline, to a draft, to an edit, to a manuscript tied up in a ribbon. And now (like us), one year later, it too looks for a home. (Anyone know an agent? Ha ha, no I’m not kidding!)
And the blog itself (they’re easy – I recommend trying it to anyone), the blog itself was telling me there were ‘hits’ arriving daily. To date the individual ‘views’ just went over 5,000, a number that is baffling to me since there’s barely an indecent picture. I’m reassured that so many people are happy we’re still away.
If you’re getting on a plane (fifteen days, who’s counting?) then you should have a destination. Ours is sunny Vancouver but only for a few days. Then we’re getting hold of a car (or van – another ‘help’ here!) and we’re driving across Canada and seeing more of that country. If you live in Canada I think you are obliged to drive across it once in your lifetime, or if you don’t it’s only because you perished in the trying. But where are we going? What are we doing? Where is our destination? We’re going to live in Toronto, for the next few years at least.
You see Bali was a pile of good laughs but not as much fun as snow, and if I keep repeating this it might become almost half true.
There won’t be a Letter from Toronto. Who the hell cares about that? But for us it will be home. Different and new, a whole lot of changes and a great deal of interesting fun. The boys will walk to school which they’ve never done before, and for me who has done the same job for twenty years, it’s time for a new career.
There will hopefully be one more letter – The End, I’ll call it, (part two). I’ll tally the year up, costs and benefits with some tips if you plan it yourself. (I’ll also do a budget if the ambulance stands ready.)
Now excuse me while I fetch the axe, we drew straws on who’d sort out that spider. If you don’t hear from me ever again I just want you to know it was worth it.