Since I’ve Come to Bali, Take Two

In one of our final writing classes, I helped everyone record the sensory and emotional richness of their time here by leading them step-by-step in a writing exercise where I had them remember specific things that awakened each of their senses.

At the end of the class, I gave them the following homework: “Choose up to ten of your favorite lines from what you just wrote and send them to me in a private text message before you go to bed tonight. I’ll use what you send to create a collective poem that represents us all.”

And with a few nudges, the text messages started rolling in.

I got up early on the morning of our final day together, sat out on my porch overlooking the Bali Sea, as the sky began to show glimmers of light, to compile and massage their responses into a group poem to be read at our closing ritual.

Here’s what group #2 had to say about their 15 days in Bali:

“Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve seen rice fields in every stage of evolution: flooded, burned, fields made ready for planting by human-powered rototiller wading through mud. I’ve watched the careful placement of tender shoots in vivid green symmetrical rows. I’ve watched rice being harvested and bundled in giant, graceful, arcing gold bundles. I’ve scooped cooked rice on my plate at almost every meal: red rice, white rice, yellow rice, sweet black rice pudding.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve seen more people and goods carried on scooters than I could ever have imagined. I’ve thrilled to the chortle and trill of birds I’ve never heard before. Smelled the fragrance of flowers wherever we go. I’ve tasted watermelon juice and sweet passionfruit straight out of the rind. I’ve savored turmeric, mixed with ginger, mixed with lime. Always lime. I’ve smelled lemongrass everything.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve been reminded that people can be genuinely thoughtful and kind. I have used the prayer emoji more than all the collective years of my life.

Since I have come to Bali, I’ve met a diverse community of travelers. I have met healers, a high priest and priestess; I’ve witnessed village community ties that transported me back to my homeland decades ago. Since I have come to Bali, I have been welcomed with smiles, tea, and sweets made by hand, infused with love.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve met amazing women and felt blessed to have time with my Aunt Bonnie. I’ve savored the morning ritual of papaya smothered in lime juice. I’ve been reminded of how nice it feels to be free of work stress and responsibility. I’ve learned a heartfelt smile knows no boundaries. I’ve marveled at the loveliness of the Balinese and feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to dive so deep into their culture.

In the villages of Bali, I’ve learned to see both shadow and light.

Since I’ve come to Bali. I’ve heard rushing water everywhere. On the side of a trail, in a rice field furrow, inside the restaurant at Lotus Bungalows after that huge, remarkable rainstorm. Outside my bungalow, running water has serenaded me with its continual song outside as I fall asleep, rise to pee, or awaken encased in the white mesh net that surrounds my bed.

Since I have come to Bali, I’ve heard geckos sing for the first time, a chorus of roosters bringing in in a new day. I have heard the Indian Ocean and babbling brooks.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve heard metal and bamboo gamelan, writers opening their souls, laughter, so much laughter, and sometimes a voice trying to hold back tears. I’ve heard Selamat Pagi and Terima Kasi and Sama-sama. Stories of magical, mystical, mysterious occurrences in compounds, graveyards and rituals, things I might not believe at home, but love to believe while I’m here.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve felt the skilled hands of a dozen healers on my body. I’ve had my feet probed, my hips manipulated, my back deeply stroked with warm oil and hot rocks. I’ve had my feet bathed in cool water full of flowers and have submerged in a giant bathtub filled with a rainbow of blossoms. Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve felt my feet slide on mossy stone, mossy cement, mossy tile. I’ve felt my feet ground in sand, dirt, a mat of damp leaves, and on the smooth floors of temples and bales.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve savored the wide expanse of the deep blue Bali Sea while sitting in a comfy chair on the porch of my bungalow. I’ve met mask makers, spiritual and physical healers, a high priest and two Balinese yoga teachers, and an eclectic group of women who are caring, compassionate, and fun loving, too.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve learned how to tie a sarong and a temple scarf. I’ve learned about Balinese death rituals, that the Balinese consider every child an artist and the only question is what kind of artist they will be. I’ve learned that the Balinese will always be welcome at the family compound and that they will always be given rice to eat once they’re inside. Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve learned that the right side of the body and the left side of the body have different energy.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve felt and heard water bullets fired from a waterfall, cicadas so loud they drown out a talk at the Sunset Bar, dogs insistently barking protection, the chanting of priests and healers and Surya. I’ve heard rushing water before I stuck my head under it in so many places: the water palace, the high priest’s home as I waited to be blessed, in the temple filled with steep, mossy steps where we were cleansed in rushing spout after rushing spout, and in the roaring waterfall in Munduk as I backed up as close to it as I dared, raising my hands and shouting out my joy.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I have heard the voices of courageous women, opening their hearts to healing and vulnerability.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve been lifted by our leaders’ love for Bali and its people. Felt the warm, strong hands of guides and bodyworkers. Witnessed a deeply disciplined religious culture that does not question “why” but simply believes, accepting what is. Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve loved the verdant mountains all around us. They could shake themselves off like a tablecloth and all signs of human activity would disappear.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve tasted a dozen lime/lemongrass/ginger drinks through straws ranging from bamboo to lemongrass to very thick paper. I’ve tasted pomelo, peeled and handed to me by a guide at the end of long, satisfying hike, pomelo, a fruit I’ve always rejected, suddenly far sweeter than I’ve ever known it to be. I tasted nasi campur at a dive Surya took me to the day before the first group arrived, sweet welcome drinks each time we reached a new hotel, and tea and coffee whenever we arrived—anywhere. I’ve tasted Balinese deserts that have many different names, but always taste the same. Be they white or green, they taste like palm sugar, rice flower and coconut, over and over and over again. Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve definitely been jonesing for chocolate.

Since I‘ve come to Bali, I have tasted nasi goreng, mie goreng, lak lak, dried radishes, palm sugar, shrimp rice crackers, plantain, and a fruit called snake. I have felt the kindness of strangers, the emotion of gamelan, the bites of mosquitoes. I have been so dehydrated that I fainted. I have seen the sunset and even the sunrise a couple of days. Not a small feat for a night owl like me.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve been obsessed by the baskets on the Bali streets. Small rattan containers filled with bright colored flowers, fruits, and peels that were being eaten by dogs and birds, strewn like garbage, I thought “this city is not so clean.” I soon learned that these baskets, put with care, a stick of incense burning, on the pavement by the Balinese were offerings to the Gods and Goddesses. They feed the spirits and offer up a prayer.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve been fascinated by shrines and statues covered with yellow, white or black and white checkered aprons, offerings at their feet. Ganesha, Krishna, Shiva, Parvati, sets of shapes in concrete that rise on ledges, every few feet. A love of devotion towards gods and unknown spirits, in a culture that expresses that devotion through rituals, ceremonies and all kinds of art.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve navigated, and been grateful for, toilets where you squat on pink tiles and do your business in a hole, then scoop water from a bucket to clean yourself. I’ve dripped dry a hundred times, pulled out hand sanitizer in lieu of a sink.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve been reminded that it is still possible to live close to the heart and close to the ground and close to nature, close to a life that shaped by tradition, holiness, and community. Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve been reminded that I love this island and who this island invites me to be. Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve been reminded how good it feels to live out in weather, immersed in nature, and not in my head.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve been reminded just how much I love leaving my comfortable Western life, how much more I feel at home in the world when I experience new cultures, people and scenery. Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve been reminded how easy it is to get on an airplane and be transported to places and experiences I have only read about before.

Since I came to Bali, I’ve felt alive, awake, the wipers of my eyes finally working again. I have tasted the salt of my tears of healing, the release of my grief and trauma. Since I came to Bali, I’ve felt grateful, restless, relaxed, overwhelmed, rushed, peaceful, calm, serene, curious, contagious, silly, and intrigued. I’ve learned to quiet my mind, my steps, my judgment of others, and especially of myself. Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve met myself again. I sure missed me so.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve tasted more than many here can afford, and I’ve tasted life as well. I’ve savored the smells, the flavors, the sites, the people, the conversations, and what the locals call Kapu Chino.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve seen the barong come out of the archway shaking his head and tail. I’ve smelled the scent of holy water poured over my head. I’ve run my hands over moss-covered bricks and held flower petals and leaves. I’ve felt open and expansive to the spirit of this land. I’m aware of a shift in my awareness of my place in the universe.

Since I’ve come to Bali, the dark cloud of depression hasn’t covered me even once. I’ve been reminded that I’m strong and capable and whole.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve met challenges to overcome: a huge staircase winding up a hillside, rocks and uneven stairs. I’ve learned to that good and bad, left and right, logical and illogical parts of my humanity can live together in balance, can reside in me harmoniously.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I have learned that as much as I like to go, go and see what is next, I want and need to stay.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve been reminded how my family is the heart of my life. I have savored the daily unfolding of a changing itinerary, many choices, and the encouragement to listen to myself for what I need in each day.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I have felt eager, openhearted, encouraged, reflective, surprised, and very grateful.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve felt like a kite floating over the beach and at the same time deeply rooted to the earth, my feet planted firmly.

Since I’ve come to Bali, I’ve felt touched by a completely different idea for being in the world.”

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