- Should I Pack Up My Bali Life?
- Covid-19 Vs. Culture
- A Final Call Goes Out
- Ambulance. Flashing Lights. Medical Team In Full Protective Gear. My Plan To Quietly Slip Out To Hospital Is A Fail.
- Turmeric And Ginger To The Rescue
- Lockdown Dilemmas. Food Struggles Are Real. Kindness Steps In.
- Getting My Mask On
- Reimagine. My New Favourite Word.
- Mangosteens. The New Covid-19 Currency.
- Daily Life As Normal. Too Normal!
- Communication Cull. Sorting Fact From Fiction.
- Feeling "The Lucky Country" Pressure
- Cantik.... Pomeranian in Paradise Has His Say
- My First Trip Out Of the Village In A Month….
- Disinfectant Dudes Put A Smile On My Face
- Sad News. An Alarming Spike In Local Transmissions.
- Aussies To The Rescue
- Spiralling Down Out Of The Blue
- Desperate Deeds…… I’m Buying Bintang From The Back Of A Van.
- ‘A Little Bit For You, A Little Bit For Me’ Ethos Has Me Rethinking My Plans.
- Chocolate Cake Takes A Collective Effort.
- How To Mask Up And Be NICE About It
- Jak. The Pandemic Pup Moves In.
- 'Maskless Partygoers' vs 'Cautious Compliants'. The Expats Are Divided.
- Aussies To The Rescue. A Good News Story You Can Be Part Of.
- Covid. A Lesson In Patience. Some Days I Fail.
- Perfect ‘Flat Backs’ In The Rice Fields Give Me A Kick In The A To ‘Keep Moving’.
- Stress Vs. Spicy Sambal? Recipe Included.
- Wonder And Awe. On Tap.
- A Table For One
- School From Home. Village Style. Roosters For A Zoom Background.
- Complicated. Messy. “Etc.” Is At Work.
- Nyepi Day. Next Level Lockdown Without The Angst.
- Pizza Power. A $50 ‘Start Up’ Happening In My Kitchen. Right Now.
- Success In A Peanut Shell.
- Tick. Tock. The Ricefield Clock Puts Me In A Panic.
- Covid Induced Confessions
- Alarming Headlines
- Covid Sneaked Into Our Village…...
- Steaming Hot Thermal Pools. So Close But So Far. Damn You Covid.
- House Party Plan B. Hits And Misses On A 'No-Rice' Menu.
- Body Chills. Thumping Headaches. The Village Gets Vaccinated.
- On The Edge Of Catastrophe, Three Words Set Me Straight.
- Roasting Pumpkin Seeds. A Delicious Distraction.
- There’s No Good News.
- Social Media Vs. The Coconut Telegraph.
- “Yes, dinner with pleasure. I’ll wear my new dress and eat like a pig.”
- Good News And Posh Pans.
- Fake News Frenzy…. “Bali Is Open!!!!!!!!”
- Home alone with Covid? I know what that’s like. A few personal tips…
- I take to the skies. #stillalive
NB!!!! This is my personal diary of life in my Bali village during Covid-19. I’m not an expert on Covid-19, Bali culture or the Indonesian politics that relate to Covid-19. Nor do my views represent any other foreigner living in Bali. But I do believe all of our stories count for something as we go through this global pandemic together. Feel free to comment, but please put the judgement aside, every village, every neighbourhood, every country has its own way of dealing with life right now. K.
Should I Pack Up My Bali Life?
Australians travelling overseas have been urged to flee home before borders become impossible to navigate and airlines completely shut down.
Not for me. I have a pretty good ‘self-isolate’ scenario right here.
Airports, germ ridden planes and taxis seems riskier than riding it out here in my house in a remote village.
I’m too much of a realist to think that the virus can’t find its way here. All it takes is one outside contact to put everyone in danger. I’m very conscious of the number of elderly people in our village. Whilst mostly they are strong enough to participate in daily life, albeit at a slow pace, the fact is much of their life they’ve been poor, undernourished, with minimal medical care. In my mind that makes them extremely vulnerable to this nasty virus.
So there’s plenty of good advice being streamed 24/7 to each and every one of us. Like everyone else around the world, I need to act on it…..
#1: Wash your hands.
My kitchen sink is on the outside terrace at the back of the kitchen, right by the gate. It’s kinda like ‘do not pass go’…… ‘do not pass the sink without washing your hands’. I buy cleaning liquids in bulk, 5 litres at a time, as I can’t stand the plastic waste of small bottles. Got it covered.
I have no immediate neighbours. With food in the ground, no need for transport it’s not difficult. I’m going to skip temple ceremonies, the upcoming Nyepi New Year Parade, any community get together.
There’s loads of chat about the mental stress of self-isolating. The thought of being confined to a small space with no human contact is overwhelming for some. Honestly, I can’t wait for the builders to be gone and be left alone.
#3: Do not travel
I’ve abandoned my travel plans for the year. If they happen, they happen, but I’m letting them go in my mind. No point spending time stressing over the ‘what if’ factor.
#4 No hoarding
Resigned to further financial wipeout I’ve shifted back into ‘going without mode’. Reading about the greedy panic buying going on in the world makes me mad. I live amongst people who have no choice but to shop daily. No one has the money to load up their kitchens. Borrowing and trading is the norm when money is scarce.
These actions are not that hard to put into place.
On the plus side I have endless time consuming projects that can only be done by hand. Sewing. Gardening. Painting. Recycling furniture.
And so much cleaning up after the builders. That could go on forever. (I”m in the midst of building a new house)
And really there is no excuse not to be writing the much promised book.
I think I’ve got this for now.
Covid-19 Vs. Culture
The Balinese live in close quarters. There’s no sense of personal space that us westerners crave/demand. In fact, taking up lots of space, is seen as a little weird, a little unfriendly. Five Balinese could sit in a space taken up by two westerners.
In my village everyone lives in family compounds, sharing kitchens, common spaces. Kids sleep in beds with their parents. It’s rare that anyone would have a room let alone a bedroom to themselves.
Life revolves around ceremonies. Not a day goes past without a ceremony of some sort taking place. From a small family ceremony to a full scale village ceremony at one of the large temples. Every ceremony brings crowds of people together. Very close together. I don’t think I’ve ever sat in a temple ceremony without
How the hell is the new ‘social distancing’ going to work?
I’m surprised and relieved how quickly changes are happening.
The upcoming Nyepi (Balinese New Year) Ceremony is typically a huge street parade. Big groups of men and kids carry the towering “Ogoh Ogoh’ monsters on large bamboo platforms through the village to scare the bad spirits away. Everyone is shoulder to shoulder, women and kids follow the procession. A social distancing disaster.
I‘ve already decided to skip all ceremonies. But I know that’s not such an easy decision for a Balinese.
Thankfully the government are starting making decisions to control crowds. Initially the rule was only 25 people allowed to gather for a ceremony.
A couple of days later, as Covid-19 became more real, Nyepi Ceremonies were cancelled. Every village leader was told to shut down the building of the Ogoh Ogoh statues immediately and to ban the parades. It happened. Instantly. I was so relieved.
Later that week, a woman died in our village (nothing to do with the virus). Typically streams of people would visit the family house all day and night to pay their respects, make donations of food and offerings and help prepare for a burial or cremation. Covid-19 changed that. Visitors were limited and they stayed only a short time. It was a small burial procession, everyone wore masks.
Cultural life is changing daily. Local government have now asked for all major ceremonies such as tooth filings, weddings etc to be delayed, allowing only small family ceremonies with minimal number of people to go ahead.
Traditional culture is strong in my village. I can feel the heartache that Covid-19 is causing, but thankfully, so far, it’s not getting in the way of the changes needed to keep everyone as safe as possible from the virus.
A Final Call Goes Out
The Australian government puts out a ‘final call’ to Australians living abroad, especially those in Indonesia, to return home.
There’s a threat that comes with it…. ‘don’t expect us to bail you out when you find yourself in trouble in a country with a poor health system’. Fair enough.
A compulsory 14 day quarantine on arrival is mandated. In my view that’s a much safer scenario for travellers, knowing you won’t be let out into the community without control. Who knows if you’re sitting next to a carrier on a plane?
I choose to stay. I know the risks. But at the moment, I can isolate, I can live a frugal life, I have good food to keep me healthy. And I can do all of this with no stress.
Caution, not fear rules my days right now.
If I was living in Jakarta or any other built up area I would be on the first plane out. The predicted consequences of Covid-19 are looking pretty dire for Indonesia. A combination of over population, poverty and a poor health system is a recipe for disaster.
I decide to ramp up my isolation.
Typically I have a small daily stream of visitors. Nearby farmers asking for fresh drinking water for their day working in the hot tropical sun. Arni to help me cook and clean. Workers helping me with garden projects. Farmers dropping in with coconuts or vegetables in exchange for coffee and a chat or a place to shelter during the afternoon rain.
Now we pass water, coffee, vegetables etc over the kitchen gate.
I’ve had the company of builders or workers in some form over the last couple of months. The main house was built by an outside crew but everything else – bathroom, kitchen, garden, power, water etc was built by a local village crew. A crew that seemed to get bigger every day as people dropped by asking for any kind of work. A few hours, a day or a few days. Some days it stretched my budget, but I couldn’t say no. But it was money well spent, everyone happily gave 150% effort, we all came out grateful winners.
I now cook, clean and garden by myself. Yes, I know you’re thinking ‘oh poor you’ but the deal with living in a Bali village as a foreigner is about providing employment, in fact it’s a law. One that I very much agree with.
Right now my micro-economy is destroyed.
Damn you Covid-19.
Ambulance. Flashing Lights. Medical Team In Full Protective Gear. My Plan To Quietly Slip Out To Hospital Is A Fail.
Horrible fevers. Diarrhoea. Complete exhaustion. Headaches. Inflamed throat.
But no cough.
Googling “Corona Virus Symptoms” a thousand times tells me the same thing every hit….. ‘if you have mild symptoms stay home’. So I tough it out for a few days, resting, hydrating, knocking back Panadol.
Any other time, I would have self-diagnosed with a tummy bug and dropped into the local doctor for the usual antibiotics. But as we all now view life through the Covid-19 lens, any fever seems scary.
Every day is a struggle physically, but what I’m most worried about is being ‘the foreigner who brought the virus to our village’. So far, all positive cases in Bali have been brought in by overseas travellers. Local transmission hasn’t happened yet.
As much as I feel I have a well-established place in the village, fear changes behaviour. My newsfeed is filled with reports from around the globe of ugly prejudicial episodes directed at ‘outsiders’ . I’m probably the most risk averse person in the village, but I’m hyper sensitive about the situation.
I decide to take action. Eliminate risk for everyone, eliminate the fear of not knowing.
I need a plan. I have to do this solo and quietly. Limit the potential for drama.
I write down all of my symptoms in logical order. In English and Indonesian. Three words in and I’m struggling. My Indonesian medical vocabulary is hopeless.
Google translate. I love you. Forever.
Armed with my bilingual list I call the local hospital.
I’m transferred to a doctor. Between us we have enough English and Indonesian to get through essential details and my list of symptoms. The doctor suggests I should get to the hospital, but she wants to control my exposure to the hospital once I arrive. I don’t have my own transport so that complicates things. Our conversation starts to get difficult with our language issues so she asks for my number and promises to call me back once she has had time to discuss my situation with her team.
5 mins later my phone rings. ‘My team has come up with a plan. If you agree, we’ll send transport to pick you up. We’ll do screening tests first. If necessary, we can help process you on to a hospital set up for Covid-19’.
She speaks calmly, but I can feel the underlying concern. So far there are no reported cases of Covid-19 in this district. I imagine it’s every doctor or nurses’ worst fear to have a Corona case wander into their clinics. Her team are so grateful I called ahead instead of lobbing up to emergency.
I quickly agree to the plan. Just before she hangs up, I realise I’ve skipped the big questions…. ‘how much will this cost, how do I pay?’ I’m dreading the reply. I don’t have much cash on me nor do I have quick access to buckets of money. Private transport to hospital? No time to contact my insurance. Yikes! ‘It depends on the number of tests we need to do, but if you have maybe rp1,000,000 ($100) I think you’ll be ok. There’s an ATM outside the hospital.’ A scramble through my bag reveals I have enough cash.
She gives me her personal WhatsApp number so I can send directions. ‘Ok. We’ll see you soon, I’ll send a message when we’re close’ she says.
The signal keeps failing so we have to jump between WhatsApp messages and phone calls.
Numerous interrupted calls and messages later I’m horrified to see an ambulance, complete with flashing lights, heading down my road. My worst nightmare. I thought they would send a car.
So much for quietly slipping off to the hospital without causing any alarm to the village.
I wave them down. A doctor, nurse and driver jump out. All garbed head to toe in protective gear. Face shields, masks, gloves, gowns. They’re not taking any risks. I’m equal parts comforted, impressed and alarmed.
I look around, praying no one will drive by to witness the scene. Sure enough one guy on a motorbike drives by from the next village. Busted.
The driver slides open the back door for me, pointing to a seat, ‘don’t touch anything!’ he says as he slams the door shut.
We chat most of the way about how I came to live in the village, the doctor asks me about my house and the garden, she likes the look of it. As far as an ambulance ride goes, (my first one ever, in fact this is the first time I’ve needed a hospital in my 20+ years in Bali), its pretty relaxed.
The hospital is newly built. But like all good Bali buildings there’s always a section that’s not quite finished. We pull up alongside an large unfinished opening in a wall. ‘We’re going in here’ the doctor says. ‘Follow me, don’t touch anything.’
I’m shuffled straight into what seems to be a small private room, complete with bathroom. ‘This is a new room, you are the first person to use it’ says the doctor.
The various tests and x-rays reveal I have a nasty bacterial infection. Nothing that drugs, hydration and loads of rest should fix in a few days. However, the doctor is taking no risks, asking me to continue my isolation and giving me a yellow form showing I’ve been registered on the Covid-19 watch list.
I will be forever grateful for their care. They had a well thought out plan right down to the entry I used.
There were no doors I could touch, we avoided the emergency zone, even the bill was delivered to my room via the doctor. I didn’t come into direct contact with anyone except for my three fully protected medics.
But what I will remember the most is the ‘coconut telegraph’ aspect to the whole event.
In between tests the Doctor came into my room with a sense of urgency. ‘Karen, people are calling from your village to find out about you and asking if you need help to get back home’.
Of course there’s someone working at the hospital with family connections to my village. I’m probably the only ‘tamu’ in the hospital. News of the ambulance has spread. It doesn’t take long for them all to connect up. My phone is intentionally off, and as no one is allowed in my room, the poor doctor has to be the messenger gal.
This is what I most admire about village life…the power of a small community. It puts my fears of being the outsider back in perspective. But at the same time it makes me laugh reminding me that ‘privacy’ is not a concept. No chance of having secrets!
PS…. Its been a slow recovery but I’m getting stronger every day. It definitely knocked the wind out of my sails. I’m embracing the concept of deep rest to the max!
Turmeric And Ginger To The Rescue
That’s all I need right now. And I’m not fighting it.
One bonus of my hospital trip was aside from the infection, the tests show great results. The doctor patiently went through every line on my tests, explaining each element. ‘You obviously lead a healthy life, you’ll get over this as long as you rest’ she says. ‘Go home, read books, sleep, eat. Exercise can wait for a while.’
Conscious of the weight I’d lost and the effect of dehydration on my body I planned to amp up immune boosting goodies.
I called on my friends ginger and turmeric.
In the early days of Covid-19 the government sent out a message that everyone should drink ‘jamu’ to strengthen immunity. Jamu is a traditional tonic, typically with turmeric and gingers as the main ingredients.
Jamu sellers can be found in every marketplace, but with this callout home-made jamus boiling on the stove became commonplace. (The other outcome was the price of fresh ginger soared nationwide!)
I need jamu.
But even just thinking about grating turmeric and ginger was exhausting in my present state.
Thankfully Arni came to the rescue with this super easy recipe that apparently everyone in the village is using right now.
- Cut up a handful of turmeric and ginger into chunky slices.
- Toss into a pot of water.
- Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or so.
- Serve hot.
*I add a squeeze of lime to my glass. (If you have a sweet tooth drop in a little honey).
So easy. I make a big pot and keep it by the stove. It gets stronger and spicier each time I heat it up. One brew lasts a few days.
I shared the recipe via video on my Facebook page. I love that a simple village recipe is being cooked up in ‘iso’ kitchens around the world.
*The traditional jamu we used to serve up to our Sharing Bali retreat guests really is good. It became known as ‘liquid gold’. It is a little messy grating the turmeric and ginger, but so worth it. The recipe is here.
Lockdown Dilemmas. Food Struggles Are Real. Kindness Steps In.
There’s talk of a 3 day lockdown along the lines of a Nyepi Ritual. Bali wide. It created a political, cultural and financial debate that I could only get the gist of via badly translated news reports.
It didn’t go ahead.
When I asked around it seems that one of the biggest hurdles was funds and logistics to provide food for at risk people over the three days. So many people are dependent on working for a meagre daily income so they can buy their food daily. These are not the people who can switch to ‘Working From Home’ overnight. Cutting off work for three days was a big deal.
‘It’s not like Australia, Karen’ they say to me. News of the phenomenal Australian government assistance programs is all over television and internet. I understand how many watch on with envy.
This is what ‘social assistance’ looks like for the first 13 day lockdown in Jakarta.
- 5kg of rice
- 2 small cans of sardines
- 2 packs of biscuits
- 0.9 litre cooking oil
- 2 bars of soap
- 2 cloth masks
- 1 letter from the governor
They plan to give out 1.2 million of these packs to underprivileged families.
Heart breaking reality.
But for every bad bit of news, I can find good news.
No different to so many countries struggling with the socio economic fallout, there are many businesses, organisations and individuals setting up food donation programs throughout Indonesia.
Kindness vs. Covid-19. Way to go.
###Bali on Line have set up a care package system ideal for Australians with Balinese friends who may be in need. (Info below is copied from their FB page).
This gift can really help a local family of 4 for about 2 weeks. It’s not perfect but really will make a huge impact for a struggling family in these tough times.
For approx $52AUD (plus delivery approx $2 depending on location) our local friends will drop off your gift directly to your friends home and send you a photo to reassure you. The added bonus is you can pay into our Australian business bank account without the worry of international transfers etc.
All products will be purchased from small family owned warungs. All proceeds will assist Indonesian families, Bali on Line is offering support with our bank account, safe means of international transferring and communication only.
Rice 10kg – 120,000rp
30 eggs – 45,000rp
Vegitable oil 1litre – 18,000rp
Mie noodles 40packs – 120,000rp
Tea – 6,500rp
Sugar 1kg – 20,000rp
Sunlight – 17,000rp
Black coffee 10 – 6,000rp
White coffee 10 – 12,000rp
Cotton masks 6 – 48,000rp
Shampoo – 16,000rp
Soap 4 – 14,000rp
Toothpaste – 10,000rp
Total – 452,500rp
Staff, petrol etc – 47,500rp
Total – 500,000rp
This is not as simple as calling up a Gojek and sending them on their way. This is what they’re dealing with…
Money transfers, ordering the goods, packing them, finding the impossible addresses, co-coordinating locations and making sure your friends are home, calling them all, giving directions to drivers that sometimes have to park far and walk to houses. Calling banjars and getting permission to enter some.
Getting My Mask On
To mask up or not?
There’s so many conflicting views on this, but after listening to interviews with the medical leaders from Korea and Singapore, I’ve shifted to the ‘better than nothing’ camp.
I’m all for medical masks being reserved purely for the medical profession so I’m opting for the home made version.
I read up on all the recommendations on the ideal fabrics to use. I don’t happen to have a supply of the non-woven material that is most recommended. I can only work with what I’ve got in the house. Going out to shop for bits and pieces is not an option.
Punching ‘how to sew a mask no elastic’ into Google Search brings up pages and pages of YouTubes and blogs offering solutions.
There’s some very funky masks being whipped up all around the world. Creativity vs Covid-19. Way to go.
The step-by-step tutorials make it so easy. I put the best of two ideas together and go in search of fabric.
I pick a couple of cotton sarongs and some left over scraps of fabric. A t-shirt dress and cardigan that have seen better days get sacrificed for the ties.
It’s a really satisfying little project. I get a rolling system into place over a couple of days – cutting out, sewing, washing in boiling hot water, hanging to dry in the sunshine.
By the time I’m done, the Indonesian government has mandated that everyone must wear masks in public. My stash of 24 masks soon get given out to friends in the village.
I absolutely get the risks around the general public wearing masks. When I give out the masks I feel compelled to issue instructions – how to take them on and off, wash in hot water, don’t touch your mask or face and choose one side to be the inside (such a good tip to make the masks in two different fabrics) etc. etc.
Everybody politely nods at me. I can see them thinking “we’ve got this, we too have been told this a thousand times”.
Maybe that’s one thing Covid-19 has taught us…… just follow the damn instructions.
Reimagine. My New Favourite Word.
“Are you ok?” check ins are happening. We’re looking out for each other. Family, friends, neighbours, frontline workers. Covid-19 has brought us together. Showing our humanity.
There are those struggling to keep it together as the Covid-19 hurricane rips through their existence, others are cruising, barely changing their pace of life.
On a recent “how are you going?” call with a good friend we both reported that life was ok. But honestly, it felt like a confession.
We’re not struggling with isolation, don’t feel lonely, and whilst we have the ups and downs of daily life we’re not going through a significant life drama. We’re healthy, surrounded by nature and on the whole find ways to make every day really quite pleasant.
In fact we’re so ok we feel a little guilt.
Aside from my ambulance adventure a couple of weeks ago, if I’m honest, I’m quietly cruising. My daily life is really ok.
I get to pick frangipanis flowers in my garden every morning. I put some in the bathroom, some on my writing table. The sweet smell is wafting over my laptop as I write. How spoilt is that?
Neither of us are living a carefree life of luxury. Plans have been ditched. Income has dried up. In fact I’m living a very frugal life. We’re cautious. Cleaning and distancing to the max. We’re informed but not addicted to the 24/7 Covid newsfeeds. And we’re no lockdown heroes, dreaming of a chance to celebrate over Moet somewhere in the future.
It’s nothing more than timing. I got lucky.
I took my hurricane hit not so long ago. No different to the Covid-19 effect it forced me to reimagine my life. And as painful as it was at times, it was a good thing.
And even at the lowest moments I had my health, friends and family. That’s what counts.
I can now look back and say how lucky was I that I got to reimagine my life? I’m laughing at myself as I type these words. It wasn’t pretty at times.
All that upheaval left me in a better place to get through the changes that Covid-19 has imposed, being forced to ‘let go’ in so many ways, to go without, to live life differently.
I feel for the people in the midst of their personal hurricanes right now.
We both have a very optimistic view that life will be better in so many ways ‘on the other side’. We’re up for it but not overthinking the future at the moment. There’s still too many unknowns to make solid plans.
We finished our call. Laughing at ourselves as only friends can do. Feeling ok to be ok. Ok to be low maintenance players quietly getting through life right now. Who knows how long it will last. Anything could happen.
This seems to be a good place to drop in these wonderful words written by Arundhati Roy. (best known for her novel “God Of Small Things’).
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful for my simple village life than right now. Its giving me the space to reimagine without the guilt.
Mangosteens. The New Covid-19 Currency.
4 masks exchanged for a freshly picked bunch of bananas and a couple of mangosteens.
The “trade” took place at my kitchen gate with a farmer from across the road.
I don’t expect anything for my home sewn masks but if there has to be “payment”, this beats money any day.
Covid-19 Commerce. Village style. Works for me.
Daily Life As Normal. Too Normal!
I walk up to the village once a week or so to buy a few supplies. I try to go at a quiet time when everyone’s out working on their farms.
Aside from seeing more people wearing masks, (not all) nothing seems to change from one visit to the next. Groups of younger ones are huddled around their motorbikes talking. Social distancing is not happening.
The warungs are tiny, making it nearly impossible to stay at a distance. I’m masked up, and as I only need a few things, I can limit my time inside the warung.
I can feel a sense of denial going on.
Local media reporting puts the emphasis on positive cases being contributed by ‘returning migrants’, mainly cruise ship workers. Thankfully now there is a strict system of rapid testing and quarantine in place at the airport and ports. But it fuels the ‘it only happens to outsiders’ thinking.
Compared to the disaster unfolding in the Covid epicentre Jakarta, Bali’s situation doesn’t seem to be dire. Local transmission has just begun, the numbers are small, with 3 reported deaths.
Once testing steps up, there’s no doubt the numbers will increase.
I worry about people who are travelling out of the village to work increasing the chance of local transmission. But I’m told that anyone who works in villas, shops etc. have lost their job. That’s good and bad news.
We have two cruise ship workers in isolation in their house. So far, apparently they’re playing by the rules.
I’ve only recently understood the level of impact the cruise ship industry has in Bali villages. Parents sell land to raise money for their kids to get into the training agencies. It’s not only single guys, married men also sign up. They go away for months at a time, leaving their families back in the village. Earning foreign currency to send home.
It’s a sacrifice. Most people I’ve met work in the kitchens or in housekeeping roles. Better paid positions need language skills. They tell me they do long exhausting shifts. They tire of the strict rules that seem to get stricter each posting. I guess village life doesn’t prepare them for that level of compliance! But they seem to stick it out for a few years, knowing the money will change the lives of their families.
Local government leaders describe them as “foreign exchange heroes” in various articles I’ve read recently. They now present a dilemma. A big group of unemployed people needing quarantine and medical care.
Government leaders are pleading with local villages to show their humanity to these workers. Some villages have lead protests to prevent quarantine facilities being set up in their area.
I’m really curious to know what the cruise ship industry will look like in the future. Right now it’s a curse. Germ infested boats of trouble. A serious amount of “reimagining” is needed. What about converting them to floating hospitals, serving impoverished nations as a priority? Docked, no need for fuel, their travel days over unless needed at an epicentre of the next pandemic. I can only dream.
Once I’m out of the village, back on my small road, the stress of Covid-19 disappears. I soak up the rice fields glistening below the big blue sky. The occasional motorbike passes by, I wave to farmers working on their land in the distance. It get why this ‘normal’ feels so safe.
Going through my gate I slip into my Covid-19 arrival routine….
Drop mask into a pre-prepared bowl filled with water and laundry detergent at the kitchen sink. Its right by my gate. Wash hands. Empty the shopping. Wash the shopping bag. Take a shower. Rinse mask. Hang mask out to dry in the sunshine.
I’m back in my safe zone.
I look forward to the day when my gate is opened freely by anyone who wants to drop by, but for now I know I’m so lucky to have this safe zone.
Communication Cull. Sorting Fact From Fiction.
I’ve had my days of slipping into mindlessly scrolling social media and getting sucked into the Covid-19 information vortex.
I let it go whilst I was sick. But it has to stop. I don’t want Covid to be the centre of my world.
I could easily lose myself in the bubble I’ve created for myself. I’m so happy in my space. Lockdown doesn’t freak me out at all. But getting through this virus depends on each of us being armed with facts and looking out for each other. I need the bigger picture, local and global.
I scout around the Facebook expat pages for local news. Typically I’m not much of a fan. They’re not that relevant to my village life and I don’t love the ‘us vs. them’ tone that sometimes creeps in.
Jackie Pomeroy, who describes herself as “an economist, data nerd, long-time resident with years of experience working with Indonesian government” has started a Bali Covid-19 Update public group
As a follower of Jackie’s Mt Agung Daily Report since 2017, (everything one needs to know about the volcano eruptions we live with), I know Jackie is a master of translating data into everyday speak with no BS or hype.
Jackie’s links to insightful articles that give a broader perspective are great reading. Posts by Rio Helmi, ‘visual storyteller’, give me local political insights with a humane tone. Rio’s stunning photos fill my soul, reminding me why I love to call this island home.
Bali facts are covered. I can quit googling.
For the rest of the world I skim the ABC Australia site and my daily Guardian Newsletter for interesting articles. I’ve placed a personal reading ban on anything to do with Trump. As much as I’m devastated by what’s happening in the USA, and I do worry for my friends there, I can’t justify Trump sucking up my precious online bandwidth or my headspace.
I feel informed, tuned into the bigger picture. But really all that counts is what I do everyday to stop myself or anyone in my community becoming a statistic on the Covid-19 daily update.
Feeling “The Lucky Country” Pressure
“Australia sudah aman, sudah bebas. Indonesia belum. Berbahaya sekarang, Ibu”.
That loosely translates to “Australia is already safe, already free. Indonesia not yet. Dangerous now.” Said in an envious tone.
I’ve stopped for a chat with two friends taking a break from working in the heat, sitting under a tree, on my walk to the village. I can’t help but think how bizarre it is that we’re all wearing masks.
Australia’s success in controlling the pandemic to date is all over the news. Having a ‘flattening the curve’ status is impressive when compared to the escalating daily stats for Indonesia.
There’s no denying in comparison to Indonesia, Australia has an enviable healthcare and welfare system, especially in a crisis.
Predictions are the worst is yet to come here. The local transmission rate in Bali jumped to 21% today, an unwelcome shift from the stats to date indicating the majority of positive cases originated from ‘outsiders’.
Indonesia has a population of around 270 million with 25 million or so people living below the poverty line. I’m no economist or sociologist, but it’s not hard to work out it’s a different ball game to the one we play in Australia, population 25 million.
I understand the envy.
Over the 10 years of running Sharing Bali retreats, hosting many Australians willing to experience our Bali village life, I did my best to handle any signs of envy that would occasionally arise amongst our staff or onlookers from the village. I could see through their eyes how abundant the suitcases weighing 20kgs or more appeared to them. And this was ‘travelling light’ for some!
I tried to get across that our guests’ lives were not necessarily ‘better’ explaining that all that money also comes with loads of stress, huge bills, long work hours, multi-tasking calendar driven schedules. And that’s why they were staying with us. To have a taste of Balinese village life, to get back to nature, to enjoy ‘simple luxury’ in life, surrounded by significantly less ‘stuff’, less stress, more fun’.
Equally I tried to explain to our guests that they shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that their lives were automatically aspirational. Pointing out that the local people they were meeting can’t believe we don’t live with our families, find it strange that we travel by ourselves and are shocked by what Australians pay for electricity, fuel, rents, food etc was an awakening for some. The price of a takeaway coffee took their breath away.
Monetarily poor? Rich in life?
Not better. Simply different.
Getting fitter, maybe dropping a kilo or two, having fun, making friends, getting out of comfort zones, learning something new happened on our retreats.
But my only wish was that our guests would go home more grateful for what they had, enriched by seeing how others live, and ultimately ‘more in love with life’. Their own life.
It took me years to work out that this was the true ‘purpose’ behind the retreats. It was my biggest single professional and personal lesson in life.
I’m now getting that maybe the combination of being a Ten Pound Pom in “the lucky country” and a ‘tamu’ in a Balinese village were the influences behind this big life lesson.
All this goes through my mind as I’m talking with my friends.
In their eyes I’m from “the lucky country”.
I can’t explain away the differences in health systems. All I can do is talk about how Australia got it in control. I can see they’re staggered by the examples of social distancing, which is not really happening here in the village on a daily basis.
‘Stay in the village, wear your mask, wash your mask, wash your hands’ I say as I leave.
They’re listening. Smiling.
The enforced lockdown conditions has got us all thinking about how ‘lucky’ we are. About what we really need. About what really matters.
Note to self……. ‘be in love with life’. Right here. Right now.
Cantik…. Pomeranian in Paradise Has His Say
My First Trip Out Of the Village In A Month….
Last time I went out of the village it was in the back of an ambulance. Thankfully I had no need for such a dramatic departure this time.
I’m on the back of the bike, Cantik on my lap, masked up, breeze in my face. I confess the unrestrained freedom feels good.
I’m out of cash. Cards are of no use in the village at the local warungs. My daily living costs are low as most of my food comes from the garden or neighbouring farms. I like to have an small stash on hand as I’ve learnt that access to money is essential in any kind of emergency in Bali.
There’s a bank/phone agent a couple of villages away. For a fee of around 50c per transaction I can access my account with their mobile card machine. But due to lack on business he’s out on the road selling and delivering bottled water. He has the card machine. The workers tell me to ‘try tomorrow’.
I well know that concept of ‘tomorrow’, it could go on for a week.
The closest ATM is in Payangan, opposite the hospital, a twenty minute ride away.
I relax on the back of the bike, taking in my surroundings. The rice fields look so lush, there’s not a cloud around Mt Agung, durians are loaded up on the side of the road ready to be taken to market. It seems so ‘normal’ making it hard to believe we’re in the grip of a pandemic.
But when I look beyond I can see how life has changed in just a month.
There’s very few people on the road.
Everyone is wearing a mask.
Handwashing stations have been rigged up with various levels of ingenuity at shops and warungs.
We’re doused with disinfectant at every village check point.
All good small steps to respond to the crisis.
As we ride home I allow myself to think just for a moment that ‘we’ve got this’.
Disinfectant Dudes Put A Smile On My Face
Thanks to Trump and his ‘sarcastic’ suggestion that ingesting disinfectant could help solve our Covid-19 woes, disinfectant has been a hot topic in the news.
The government have provided barrel loads of disinfectant to every village to set up a station at the village entrance. Every vehicle, motorbike or pushbike is stopped so that handle bars and hands can be sprayed with disinfectant. The application system seems to vary, I guess depending on who’s manning the spray gun.
More exuberant spraying of wheels, seat and foot pedals randomly happens.
Even though there is no ‘official’ lockdown in place these stations also seem to be serving as a checkpoint, allowing only village residents through.
Its a group effort as always.
There’s only one spray gun so one could assume one person would be enough per shift. We’re not talking about the need for crowd control in small villages. Two motorbikes passing through at one time is unusual. But there seems to be at least three or four people per station if not more, only occasionally have I seen a minimum of two.
And everyone is dressed for the occasion.
The guys wearing black and white ‘poleng’ sarongs, the official outfits for ‘pecalang’ (village security). The girls dressed in sarongs, scarves tied at their waist, hair neatly pulled back. A sign of our times, they all wear masks.
A couple of hundred metres further down my road from my house is the entrance to the next village. Manned by young guys, this disinfectant station has attitude. Speakers are in place, music plays nearly all day, and I can see friends dropping in, hanging out. I believe there are a lot of young guys in the village who work in tourism. They’ve obviously lost their jobs and have time on their hands.
Gathering at the station totally destroys the concept of social distancing, so I’m hoping the fact they’re masked up and surrounded by a cloud of disinfectant all day will protect them.
I wave to them, from a distance every day, on my walks in the morning and afternoons with Cantik. They return the wave with big smiles. They will forever stay in my memory as ‘the disinfectant dudes’.
Sad News. An Alarming Spike In Local Transmissions.
How quickly things change.
Just a few days after my ‘we’ve got this’ moment there’s news of a big spike in local transmissions. Two villages are the main source of the transmissions.
Once the clusters were identified, mass rapid testing was quickly actioned. The results are alarming. Hundreds are showing positive results.
More testing is done and confusion arises when the next level of tests reveal negative results, reducing the numbers from hundreds to tens. Testing is not yet complete.
It turns out that a couple of returning workers from overseas have been less than diligent about self-quarantine. The authorities are reportedly furious. I can only imagine how stressful the mass testing and confusing results must be for everyone in the village.
A task force is set up to enforce lockdowns on both villages. No one allowed out or in. Funding is arranged to set up kitchens to provide meals. Action was impressively swift.
This is sad and bad news.
Until now, Bali has not lived up to the much touted prediction of becoming a “Covid-19 Hotspot”.
There’s all sorts of theories around this, from some sort of magical ‘immunity’ to a lack of testing and under reporting.
I’m guessing that returning migrant workers will continue to be rejected from some banjars after this incident, forcing the government to add and manage more and more isolated quarantine locations.
Social distancing and disciplined self-isolation is the challenge. I really hope the outbreak is quickly controlled and at the same time sends out a strong message that the virus is no longer limited to ‘outsiders’.
Aussies To The Rescue
There’s a huge network of Aussie business owners in Bali with a ‘now that tourism has stopped it’s time to give back’ attitude.
Restaurants are cooking up a storm providing free meals, online organisations are harnessing their logistic strengths to source, pack and deliver care packages of essentials. Individuals are rallying in their own neighbourhoods with donations to families in need.
Most are crowd funded by putting the word out to friends, family and customers from around the world.
Its reported that more than 50,000 hospitality workers have been laid off. There’s little social welfare available.
But it’s not just the Aussies at work. Indonesians are also looking out for their own.
There’s plenty of reporting about the poor handling of the pandemic in Indonesia, but little about the good work happening in a society that’s had more than its fair share of challenges.
My words can’t do this justice so I‘ve pasted in sections of an excellent article shared in the Covid-19 Update public group…..
Indonesia and COVID-19: What the World Is Missing
Yes, the Indonesian government has stumbled. But civil society has been rising to the occasion.
While the country clearly faces momentous challenges, Indonesians have overcome many great ordeals before: devastating natural disasters, centuries of colonial rule, a struggle for independence, civil conflict, and the chaos that ensued from the 1998 Asian financial crisis, which led to the downfall of a dictatorship and the reformation of the country’s political and economic systems.
Through all this, evidence suggests that Indonesians have learned to band together when times are tough, both feeling a responsibility and taking great joy in helping each other when needed.
In the 2019 Legatum Prosperity Index, Indonesia ranked fifth in the world for social capital and first for civic and social participation, with the highest levels of volunteering of any country. In the 2018 Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) World Giving Index Indonesia also topped the list for frequency of donating and volunteering.
It therefore comes as no surprise to see the many crowdfunding campaigns that have been launched on local platforms like kitabisa.com to help those in need. This includes raising funds to support informal sector workers, such as street food sellers, scavengers, and motorcycle taxi drivers, and to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers. By late March, 15,000 medical students from 158 universities had also signed up to volunteer.
I’ve been in and out of Bali for 20 plus years, observing, and experiencing to some degree the continual challenges. I’ve had many humbling lessons on ‘resilience’. Covid-19 will no doubt serve up another.
Life is always lean for farmers in our village. So the drop in income is not as dramatic. I do see more people gathering firewood every day for their kitchens. The $2.50 for a gas bottle refill has become an extravagance. There’s more foraging for ‘paku’ an edible jungle fern that grows wild. The warungs start to have empty shelves, no money to buy stock.
But unlike those who have moved to the bigger towns, no one is paying rent. Gardens and farms are providing food and a small income. Kids are home schooling eliminating school costs. Those who don’t have a phone or the money to buy data for online classes have paper workbooks. Everyone is surrounded by family and friends.
Returning home to the village is considered a safe place in times of crisis. I know myself it’s easier to live a frugal life, to settle for less and to surrender to the waiting game until the crisis passes. Life is ok right now.
Spiralling Down Out Of The Blue
“You Have No Events Scheduled In Your Calendar Today”
Google sends me this reminder. Every day.
I really should figure out how to turn it off, but normally, I kinda like the feeling it gives me.
I speak right back at Google…. “The day is mine and right now I’ve got time for what counts in life. I have no desire to fill in your hourly time slots.”
I’ve no shortage of invitations to zoom catch ups, online classes, daily challenges, virtual drinks, or globally synced meditations. Isolation has driven a frenzy of online connectivity.
But I’m resisting the temptation to satisfy the Google Calendar Master.
And not just because my internet speed has gone from reasonable to horrible making online connectivity absolutely not fun.
I’m resisting because I may never have this time again. This time to ditch the busyness. This time for me.
Or so I thought.
Knowing the day or the date is actually not that important in my daily life at the moment. In fact I’ve succumbed to ‘village time’. But for some reason seeing the date May 7 pop up sparked a ‘holy cow, the year is slipping away, what am I doing with my life’ moment.
Which led me to thinking about my age, my lack of plans, no goals, what I’ve failed at, what I’ve screwed up and the general downward spiral into … ‘how did I end up in this mess’.
The daily reminder of ‘You Have No Events Scheduled In Your Calendar Today’ seemed to mock me, like a bully, taunting me with ‘you’ve got nothing going on in your life’.
I had no defence. ‘Ok Google. It’s true. I admit it. I’ve got nothing going on right now except living from day to day.’
I’ve nothing to complain about. I’m pretty much recovered from the knockout blow delivered by a bacterial infection. I’m certainly not gasping for breath in an ICU ward as many are. I’m living in a pretty nice safe little bubble right now if I’m honest with myself.
So what’s my problem?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I came to this brilliant conclusion after a few hours of making myself unnecessarily miserable.
Just because I don’t have diarised plans in place, doesn’t mean I’m not thinking, creating, reading, being worthwhile. (Note to self… this is what ‘living in the moment’ looks like.) No different to anyone else in the world going through ‘iso’, I’m missing those ‘live’ moments with friends. That’s all.
I get over myself. The moment passes. I put the Google Calendar bully back in its place.
I actually have a lot going on, life is full. Of the things that count.
Take that Google Calendar.
Desperate Deeds…… I’m Buying Bintang From The Back Of A Van.
10pm. I’m googling Bintang supermarket in Ubud.
Free deliveries within 5kms. Damn. That’s not me.
I really screwed up on organising a stash of treats. I haven’t been to Ubud, the source of ‘tamu treats’, in two months and it doesn’t look like I’ll get there any time soon. Could be another two months of isolation.
One bottle of the cheapest local wine on the shelf plus delivery could add up to close to $80. That’s more than a bottle of Moet. For a very average bottle of wine.
I calculate further. Order in bulk. Same delivery price. 3 bottles could work out to $42 per bottle. Bargain, I’ve cut the price nearly in half.
Sigh. What was I even thinking?
Not ready to give up I do a search on Facebook Marketplace. Maybe some enterprising person has figured out there’s a business delivering wine to desperate foreigners during this pandemic. Yep. The good folks in Seminyak, Kuta, Canggu etc are taken care of.
I shut down the search. This doesn’t vaguely fit with my need to live a frugal life right now. Back to beer.
Which is not so bad, except beer often runs out in my village. For days at a time.
On my one and only trip out of the village in six weeks I found myself flagging down a delivery guy and buying beer from the back of his van. He only had a few bottles and there was a good chance he would run out before reaching our village. Desperate? Yes.
I face the reality I’m on a beer budget and my need for wine is nothing more than a ‘tamu problem’.
Worse things could happen. A glass of wine goes on my ‘post iso wish list’. Sigh.
Small acts of kindness puts my ‘tamu problem’ right back in perspective. Surabaya women, worried their neighbours may be hungry are hanging groceries outside their house for anyone to take.
‘A Little Bit For You, A Little Bit For Me’ Ethos Has Me Rethinking My Plans.
The weeks are clicking past.
The rainy season is over. Rice fields are changing from green to yellow. All day long I hear the distant clanging of cans, the rustling of plastic flags, along with human yelling to scare away the flocks of birds swooping in to eat the ripening grain.
Thankfully the village hasn’t been impacted directly by the virus. So far no one has shown signs of being unwell, negating the need to get tested. But who knows if we have asymptomatic cases amongst us? Local transmission is starting to spike throughout Bali. I’m not surprised.
As the weeks roll on I can see life really hasn’t changed aside from pretty much locking the village to outsiders and as anyone who worked outside the village has lost their jobs, there’s not many people going out and about. Vendors drop by the warungs with supplies.
I get a sense of Covid fatigue.
Social distancing is not happening. It’s so counter cultural and then there’s the simple fact that there is no space in the kampungs (a cluster of family houses) for individual space. There’s shared kitchens, it’s rare for individuals to have a private bedroom, and washing of dishes and clothes is mostly done in the public water channels.
But the indirect impact is felt every day. With the tourism industry shut down there’s less demand for produce. Even the meagre income from selling banana leaves has dried up.
There’s usually a steady flow of building jobs. Extra rooms get added to existing houses, temples need work or walls need replacing.
I didn’t really think too much about why there were at least eight men, some days more, building a brick wall outside a house in the village last week. I guessed that maybe there was some urgency as typically there would only be two or three workers on such a small job.
Kabal was part of the crew and as I was curious I asked why there were so many workers. I should have known the reason.
The head builder thought it only fair that instead of his usual crew of three having all the work he should share the work as far as possible. So everyone got paid less but they all had ‘enough for food’.
This took me back to my early days in Bali. I was astounded by the fact that the Balinese were never upset when their neighbour starting copying and selling their art or craft objects. There would be a whole row of stalls selling pretty much the same thing.
It was explained to me the same way… ‘a little bit for me, a little bit for you, we can all eat’.
I’ve seen that change over the years, with owners being a little more protective of their designs, most likely under the influence of western business owners.
So it was heartening to see it at work in the village in these tough times. It was just the reminder I needed as I had plans to build a garden shed. I was thinking it could be done slowly with just a couple of guys and I would pitch in as much as possible.
Rolling with the ‘little bit for me, a little bit for you’ way I now have four guys building and Arni has a job in the kitchen keeping the coffee and snacks flowing. I’ve hung up my labourer’s gloves.
I can already see I’m getting more than I asked for. I have a bonus path, four new garden beds dug in ready to plant, and an instant border of lemongrass.
It will cost me more than planned but everyone wins and dignity remains intact. That’s my village lesson for this week.
There’s lots of talk about Bali opening up in the next month or so to tourism in a limited way. It’s all over the media and its certainly getting everyone’s hopes up. As much as I would love that to happen in a controlled way, my inner ‘Captain Sensible’ is putting me in the ‘wait and see’ camp. Anything could happen.
Chocolate Cake Takes A Collective Effort.
All the years of going without home-made cake in Bali have come to an end.
With time on their hands some of the women in Arni’s family have been experimenting in the kitchen. With a downloaded recipe there was a group effort to cook a chocolate cake in a rice steamer.
The cake was a hit.
The only dilemma was the cooking time. 20 minutes on the stove is a long time in terms of fuel for a ‘treat food’. Cooking with gas was too extravagant. Cooking over fire was the only affordable way. Doable, just needed more time to gather firewood.
Arni was keen to try it in my kitchen as I have an oven. I was thrilled. A quick stocking up on ingredients and we were good to go. The oven attempt was a fail. We didn’t have the right size tin for my minuscule size oven, so it was back to my gas stove and rice steamer.
Success. Delicious moist chocolate cake served warm. In heaven. The cake was devoured in minutes by the perfectly timed arrival of a few farmers and their kids. I have a quiet little stash of leftovers hidden away in my kitchen. I’m eking it out.
I let it be known I’m happy to open up my kitchen anytime. I’m living so frugally I can find the extra $2.50 to refill the gas cylinder if it means a supply of chocolate cake.
I had no idea a chocolate cake could be cooked in a rice steamer. This is one positive outcome of Covid-19 lockdown I’m loving.
How To Mask Up And Be NICE About It
Masks have been mandatory for a while here in Indonesia so I’ve had some time to adapt to the habit of wearing one. I’m not going into the debate about personal freedom, or the whole virus thing is a hoax, personally I’m in the ‘it’s better than nothing and it causes no harm’ camp. I confess to having a ‘lose the attitude’ approach. So here’s my tips for anyone new to ‘masking up’ with a few ‘mask manners’ thrown in.
*Spoiler alert, you need at least 7 washable masks.
Mask making for beginners….
There’s hundreds of YouTubes showing you how to make masks, anything from basic to fashionably fabulous. Hit search or for a simple sensible solution hit this link:
Can’t sew? We all have a friend who can sew and given the lockdown way of life they have time to whip out the sewing machine. Do a deal, pool your fabrics, or do the cutting out, they do the sewing.
There’s no need for a trip to the shops. I used old sarongs and cut up old t-shirts for ties. Go to your wardrobe, make a sacrifice. You’ll get a tick from Marie Kondo for eliminating clutter.
How many do you need?
ONE mask is not going to cut it. You need at least 7. Trust me. There’s a few reasons:
I think of my mask as a germ collector, not just of the Covid type, so why would I shove that germ ridden thing in my bag or pocket when I’m done with it? UGH!
I have a ‘one trip, one mask’ theory. So if I’m going to the village to buy supplies it’s a new mask. If I go out again it’s a fresh mask. I don’t go too far so life is simple, but if I were to venture further I would change my mask every four hours or so depending on location or as soon as it became a little damp.
I NEVER reuse a mask that hasn’t been washed.
Germs to go.
The germs have to be dealt with or else it’s all a waste of time.
I’m not one for routine but for this I set RULES that I have to follow. Once I’m in my gate this is how it goes…
#1. Straight to the sink, wash hands.
#2. Take out bowl from under sink, fill with water and detergent.
#3. Undo ties, remembering thou shalt not touch the front of mask, drop mask in water.
#BIG TIP. The trick is not to be tempted to unpack shopping, put the kettle on or heaven forbid hug someone before you’ve dealt with the mask. Go straight to the laundry or kitchen, drop that mask into hot soapy water.)
#4. Wash, rinse, hang out to dry in sunlight. (personally I like to iron my masks putting them right up there with the joy of fresh clean sheets)
I have a constant mask cycle and that’s why I have no less than 7…. 1 on, 2 soaking, 2 drying, 2 ready to wear. Nothing worse than having to dash out only to find your masks are all in the laundry stage.
Going out for more than a couple of hours? Organise two resealable bags to go with you everywhere. One for a stash of clean masks, one for used masks.
General advice is that we can be mask free once we’re in a ‘safe’ place. For me that’s my home. I guess if I had a car (cleaned and unshared), that counts as a safe place. I would drop my mask into the ‘used masks bag’ for a commute home.
Masking up for your mood.
Life’s not easy right now, so any little way to lift one’s mood counts. You may be happy with one mask for all occasions and that’s ok, but masking up for your mood may just help make your day.
Minimalist No Fuss: Has to be black and let’s face it goes with everything. Who doesn’t have black in their wardrobes?
Sporty: Think activewear inspo.
Design Driven: Funky or classic patterns. Up to you. My fave mask has polka dots.
Escape: Pretend you’re on a tropical holiday. Go loud tropical floral.
The choices are endless. Pick your mood.
#Tip Using two different fabrics in one mask gives you more choices. But please don’t flip them around for a new look without washing in between!
Fear can bring out bad behaviour and we’re all guilty of it in some way right now. So before you snap at anyone about their mask status here’s my tips on how to be NICE about this masked up life we’ve found ourselves in…
#1. When I see someone wearing their mask under their chin (it’s easy to forget to put in back in place after eating) I’ve found quietly saying ‘your mask has slipped’ is usually enough to get the mask back into place without causing offence.
#2. Taking your mask off and putting it on the table whilst you eat in a public place is not nice.
#3. Remember how long it took us to get used to taking reusable bags to the shops? It’s easy to forget your mask at first. If someone in your crowd has left their mask at home, offer them one from your bag of fresh masks. Be the nice one with extras.
#4. Some people may not have the resources for masks or simply may not have got the memo for whatever reason. If you have spares, give them out when the situation calls for it. If masks are not mandatory in your world you may get a nasty response from the non-conformers. If you do, toughen up, that’s their choice of behaviour. There’ll always be the grateful ones to balance out the nasty.
#5. If you love a sewing project like I do, make a stack of masks to give to friends, neighbours, workmates or maybe your favourite café so customers can help themselves.
*NICE as defined by my thesaurus tool: polite considerate friendly courteous charming kind sympathetic warm-hearted.
PS. If you think its tough at least you don’t have Balinese Pecalang (village security) imposing push ups on anyone without a mask. (It was done with good heart, not brute force, in the early days of Covid control. Since then we’ve moved to mandatory laws which need to be taken more seriously)
If we have to ‘Mask Up’… lets be nice.
Jak. The Pandemic Pup Moves In.
Second wave lockdowns are getting more serious around the world.
What to do?
Turns out many of us have let a four legged friend into our lives to fill the human contact gap in our Covid-19 world. Fostering or buying a dog has become a thing.
So this is the story of Jak. A Pandemic Pup born in the era of Covid-19. She’s adopted us.
Cantik, my Pomeranian has been by my side for over 8 years. We are unashamedly obsessed with each other. For such a little guy he takes up a big part of my heart…. some may say he rules my life. Guilty as charged.
Now retired from his role of CEO of Sharing Bali, Cantik has more time on his paws. With no one to boss around he’s taken on Jak as his protégé.
Cantik’s taken over the blog. It’s a silly tale to lighten dark days.
Here’s how the training is going…
Cantik: Rule No. 1. We have to ‘duduk’ (that’s ‘sit’ for my English speaking friends) before we get food or treats. Get back here and follow me.
Cantik: You’ll have to work on your technique Jak. She likes you to sit up straight. Seriously get on to it, you’re holding up the treats.
Cantik: Our job is to protect. I’ve got the east, you take the west.
Jak: I’m scared. Do I need to chase them off?
Cantik: It’s ok. Most are friends. All we need is short sharp barks to let her know we have incoming. We’re in a lockdown situation. Toughen up. We’ve got this.
Jak: Why don’t you have other friends come and play? The humans all stop at the gate?
Cantik: Life wasn’t always like this. You don’t know anything different as you’re a Pandemic Pup, born in the era of Covid-19. In my CEO days I had friends from all over the world visit me most weeks. And I was allowed to hang out in the local warung. It was so much fun. But it’s just us for now, I can’t wait for you to meet our friends. Apparently it’s not happening for a while. Lucky I have photos. Check these out.
Jak: What a life. I wanna be like you.
Cantik: Oh my dog, I’ve forgotten how much fun puppy playing is. I haven’t chased around in a circle for years. My heart rate is taking a thumping. Just what I need. The house has been too quiet.
Jak: I love to play but what’s with this running up and down the same hill?
Cantik: It’s called interval training. She runs further each lap, taking it easy on the way down. It’s a human thing. It took me a while to work out I could just wait at the bottom of the hill. You can share one of your treats with me for that tip.
Jak: Oh my dog… she’s dug up all this dirt for me to play in. I love it.
Cantik: You’re making a puppy mistake here. Get too dirty and before you know it you’ll be having a “mandi” (a shower in English speak). Lucky for you I’ve trained Karen with my ‘warm water only rule’ so you get to skip the agony of cold showers. Your coat is so low maintenance. I’m so jealous. I take hours to dry and don’t start me on how long the daily brushing takes.
Cantik: Garden days are long, up to 6 hours. It’s a lockdown thing. I recommend you find a shady spot to hang out, and get up every now and again to stretch.
Cantik: They call this ‘self care’. Pre pandemic there was never enough time for me, I had a full calendar. I deserve this after years of service as CEO. Please don’t disturb.
Jak: Boring. But you’re the boss.
Jak: I’m not so scared at night when I sleep with you.
Cantik: It must have been tough those first few weeks of life out in the cold. I’ll hang with you for a while but then I’m heading back to Karen’s bed. Don’t even think you can join me. It took me years to earn the privilege. I am ‘top dog’ you know.
Jak: I was abandoned. Every morning I’d wake up and think where am I going to find food? I’d heard about how good your place was, but the word on the street was you had exclusive rights. So I sneaked in every night to a warm spot in the bathroom, trying to win her over when she found me in the morning. She tried to chase me back to where I came from but I had nowhere to go. I’m really sorry I chewed her new bathroom curtains but I was so scared.
Cantik: You’re a lucky dog. In fact you’ve won the equivalent of dog lotto. Food is good here, if you get sick she’ll wrap you in a favourite sarong, give you medicine and stay up all night with you if you’re sad. If it gets serious the nasty man comes and jabs you with a needle. It hurts. I don’t like him. Stick with our neighbourhood. Everyone knows us. There’s some tough dogs up in the village, I can’t protect you as they’re too big for me. Stick with me, Pandemic Pup. Lets play…. !
Jak: OK. I will try not to be so naughty.
‘Maskless Partygoers’ vs ‘Cautious Compliants’. The Expats Are Divided.
So I took a break from writing about life in the village through a Covid lens. I needed to.
With so much reporting, so much polarisation, and a fair share of spite and ugliness I didn’t want to add to the ‘noise’ or let it be the centre of my daily life.
So I did what everyone else in the village was doing… just getting on with life as best they can.
The timing was perfect, giving me space to help my brother Andy on his book, The Carpe Diem Way.
Zoom meetings brought a whole lot of new people, scattered around the world, into my life. As a rookie I learnt so much from the pro team made up of editor/adviser, copywriter, book designer, proof reader and Andy at the heart of it all. It’s done now, handed over to Arthur Luke and his incredible design finesse. From first draft to last draft has been an epic journey, breathing new energy into my village life.
And I absolutely love the cover…
And not that I’m biased… but it’s a damn good read and so relevant that it was written during the pandemic. Andy’s real life story is woven in amongst the ‘how to’ of working from anywhere, but more importantly it’s about ‘making time for life’.
If there’s anything that Covid has taught us is that work is no longer a place, and time for ourselves and with those that count in our lives has never had more meaning.
I’m so excited to see it in print. (preview here for you)
Meanwhile….. like so many countries around the world the pandemic escalated to the levels we hoped it wouldn’t in Indonesia. Bali has gone from enviable small numbers of positive cases brought in ‘from outside’ to ever rising numbers of locally transmitted cases.
For the first time Indonesia has banned all foreign arrivals with the exception of holders of a couple of types of visas. And they’ve implemented controlled quarantine protocols. Travellers are in an uproar as it all happened with little notice.
It’s complicated and messy. Laws are changing every day.
I feel for the people who are trying to reunite with family or return to their homes. But there are many who are flaunting the visa rules so they can hang out in Bali as if Covid doesn’t exist.
I tap into a couple of brilliantly administered Facebook groups to get the Bali Covid facts without the bs and to stay up to date with the ever changing laws and regulations, especially around visas and covid protocols.
Scrolling through the comments it’s clear the Bali expat population has been polarised into the ‘Canggu enclave of maskless partying bules’ and the compliant ‘we are guests here in this country, respect the rules, take care of your community’ crowd.
The commentary can get fierce and snarky.
For whatever reason Covid positive foreigners are not included in the official statistics so there’s no facts to support arguments about behaviour. But the ‘unofficial chat’ is there are plenty of foreigners with obvious symptoms or a positive test result living life at large. It makes people mad, myself included.
There’s a new law that empowers Immigration Officials to deport foreigners for non-compliance with Covid protocols. Instantly. It hasn’t happened yet, but when it does I expect the Facebook feeds will go into a frenzy.
I’m incredibly grateful for the fact based advice and news shared by these groups, but at the same time I’m so happy to be tucked away in my village, not living amongst the expat angst.
We have no Covid in our village and I don’t want to be ‘the outsider’ bringing it in. I feel that pressure, responsibility.
In fact I’m probably the most cautious, compliant person in the village in contrast to the Covid fatigue that has crept into daily life here. Interestingly I have both positive and negative reactions to my stance. Most respect my self-imposed standards, some I feel are still suspicious that Covid comes from foreigners, but for many they are somewhat upset or personally offended because I no longer join temple ceremonies, my visits to the warungs are fleeting, no longer sitting down for a chat over coffee.
“Masih aman di sini Ibu” they say to me. (It’s safe here) I find this hard to deal with, it would be so easy to succumb to their sense of safety and revert back to pre-covid life. But I don’t and I won’t.
I make promises of inviting everyone to my house ‘post-covid’ for a celebration. I so look forward to that day. It will be a helluva party.
There is no easy path out. All hopes rest on vaccines which in a country of 270 million people is a phenomenal challenge.
Until that starts to unfold, I will follow the village way and just get on with life….. masked up of course.
Aussies To The Rescue. A Good News Story You Can Be Part Of.
It’s easy to get disheartened by rising daily Covid numbers and stories of hardship in Bali. After taking a brief ‘essential’ trip to Ubud for the first time in six months yesterday, the reality of empty stores, restaurants and a marketplace sadly lacking the usual vibrant buzz hit home.
But all it takes is one good news story and my belief in the power of good people is back in full force.
This story particularly gets at my heart as it’s a story about village kitchens, and a solution that addresses the poverty hidden beyond the glitzy scenes of Bali.
I’ve edited and copied in text from the source so I get the story straight…
Dean Keddel, whose two popular restaurants, Ginger Moon Canteen and Jackson Lily’s, have long been favourite hotspots for international, and in particular Australian, visitors.
While Dean normally employs 130 staff over his two venues, he says he has now had to cut back to a core of 50 – even then Dean has found it difficult to keep up the well-being and morale of his staff and their families.
“Then the idea of a community cookbook came up. It started with asking my staff what recipes they would suggest. I went to their homes, ate with them and heard their stories.”
At that point, Dean says something magical happened.
“I realised it’s the emotion behind the food [that’s important],” he says. “You start out asking someone for their favourite dish and then you ask them where it came from and a chef says when he tastes the food he feels his mother’s warmth. That really hit me.”
“I wanted to dig deeper and go behind the scenes to find out how people, some of them quite poor and with few resources, make their favourite dishes.”
The result is Our Bali — Your Bali, a cookbook that Dean says will delight cooks but gives the reader something much more than a book of recipes.
“As we put it together I realised it’s more about people than the food, it’s the stories behind the food and the dishes they make”.
Like every author, Dean says he learned a lot as he researched and helped put the book together.
As he researched one chapter he met the chefs from 14 warungs — the small and simple, usually open air and family run, cafes that are found everywhere in Bali — to ask about their kitchen secrets.
“I was met with hospitality. They wanted me to eat their food,” Dean says. “They didn’t want me to pay for it. They showed me warmth and sincerity that is the same as a five star restaurant. They watch you eat every bite to see if you enjoy it as much as they love cooking it”.
Dean says he learned something else too as he wrote the book: “It’s expensive, it’s a big investment to make this happen.”
How can we help?
The book’s main objective is to raise funds for five key charities on the island.
- Bali Children’s Foundation – helping thousands of local children to complete school and to find employment.
- Scholars of Sustenance – combatting the effects of COVID-19 by providing nutrition to those in need.
- Friends of the National Parks Foundation– working to protect wildlife and their habitats, at the same time supporting local communities.
- East Bali Poverty Project– helping people to help themselves
- Bali Wise by R.O.L.E Foundation – empowering marginalised women through skills education, as a means to develop sustainable communities.
I know many of you reading this blog have spent time at the Sharing Bali dining table in the past, enjoying the village style food prepared by staff who learnt to cook over a wood fire. I’m lucky to have Arni cooking for me in Sharing Bali style in my new house, but every week I eat food from the local warung. Pre Covid, I would hang out for coffee and chats, but now its ‘nasi bunkus” (takeaway) that I eat at home.
I’m a big fan of local warungs, there is heart and soul in village food.
Post Covid I hope anyone that travellers to Bali not only return to their favourite restaurants and cafes, but also take a seat at the local warung.
Until then… this book will bring the flavours and stories of Bali to you and help so many in dire need right now.
Covid. A Lesson In Patience. Some Days I Fail.
As predicted, the number of positive Covid cases in Bali are spiking. Alarmingly.
Vaccination strategies fill the news feeds, taking over conversations everywhere.
For the first time in a while, my mood takes a dip. It feels like the Covid situation is going to get worse before it gets better in Indonesia.
Selfishly, I just want a day of not wearing a mask. But that’s not going to happen.
And I’m yearning for a ‘normal’ village life. I miss the communal times preparing for ceremonies in the banjar, getting swept up in a parade to temple, the contrast of chaos and calm that engulfs every ceremony.
Covid put a stop to large gatherings. The government issued strict instructions to all village leaders. The vibrant dance and theatre performances were forbidden, cremations and weddings put on hold. Only small family ceremonies allowed.
But as Covid fatigue sets in, the discipline is disappearing, village wide ceremonies are edging their way back into daily life.
I have been very disciplined, staying away from all ceremonies no matter the scale. But I too nearly succumbed this week.
The village chat was all about the upcoming ceremony at the temple by the river at the back of the village. Every day someone would say to me “ikut Ibu?”, a polite way of asking if I was joining the ceremony.
It’s a walk through the jungle on a steep path to the river below to get to the temple. It’s simple, under a tree, nothing grand. Women dressed in tight sarongs and lacy kebayas carry towering offerings on their heads. Men carry gongs, drums and kids. I always feel like I’m taking a step back in time.
I will never forget my first time at this ceremony, quite a few years ago. My descent down the jungle path was not pretty, displaying not an ounce of grace. I arrived hot, muddy, dishevelled. Every moment was awkward, I felt like the clumsy tamu. I couldn’t sit for hours without squirming, muscles cramping. My mind was all over the place, wondering how I was ever going to fit into village life.
Today, it really is my most favourite ceremony. I can get up and down that jungle path and barely raise a sweat. I feel at one with the world, sitting for hours shoulder to shoulder, jammed into a small clearing in front of the temple. Time has no meaning.
So I nearly said yes. There is no covid in our village, but really, who knows?
There could be any number of asymptomatic cases amongst us. And given the stigma around being diagnosed as Covid positive, there’s always a chance someone has symptoms but doesn’t want to go through the drama of being diagnosed positive. And the chance of social distancing happening amongst an entire village gathered in a clearing in the jungle? Zero.
Instead I said “belum pasti” to every invitation, which loosely translates to “not sure”, the polite way to say no.
A couple of days later I read a report of 30 family members from one village being diagnosed Covid positive. The entire village is now in lockdown with further testing revealing additional cases. Given the number of elderly and vulnerable people in our village, I can only hope we dodge a similar situation. It could happen so easily.
This ceremony happens every year, I have many more to look forward to. I just have to dig deep to find my inner Captain Sensible and resist the peer pressure, ignore the disappointment in response (it’s getting hard) and stick to my self-imposed ‘stay home’ order.
Covid is delivering me a lesson in patience. Some days I fail.
Perfect ‘Flat Backs’ In The Rice Fields Give Me A Kick In The A To ‘Keep Moving’.
7.30am. Cantik and Jak are going nuts barking, letting me know someone is at the gate. Over the chaos I can hear someone calling out ‘Ibu, Ibu’.
I head out to find my farmer friend from across the road, holding a package wrapped in a banana leaf. I love these surprises, they are always treats from her kitchen. Sure enough there’s a handful of steamed rice cakes covered in palm sugar and coconut, the traditional fare for rice field workers on planting day.
Rice planting has been going on all week around the village. I can’t believe another 6 months has passed since the last planting.
I can feel the buzz of busyness in the air. Extended family and neighbours are called on to help. Groups are formed, some people move from family to family, planting for several days in a row. The rice field owner supplies the coffee and food. There’s a reward system for the co-operation – sharing rice at harvest time. Rice is life here. It’s not just food, it’s cultural comfort. A successful rice season brings a lot of joy.
The planting is done quickly. Many hands make light work. Clumps of seedlings are tossed into the mud, ready to be grabbed by the workers as they follow lines etched out by a rake, planting the seedlings one by one.
Everyone is barefoot, up to their calves in mud, walking backwards, bent over.
Their perfect ‘flat backs’ would impress any Pilates or Ballet instructor.
No rounded shoulders or arched spines. A glass of water would not topple over on any one of those flat backs.
Young and old are at work, I see people who I guess are in their 70’s working alongside their children and quite possibly their grandchildren. It takes balance, strength and mobility.
There’s always banter going on. On my morning walks with the dogs, I take in their efforts and their energy.
Whilst it all looks effortless, I know it takes a toll. It’s the wet season now bringing cloudy days, damp air and a chill to the mud. Calves can cramp and for some, hamstrings bring on quiet hell the next day.
It’s a stark lesson about aging, fitness, and attitude right in front of my face.
The message is loud and clear.
You can either sit and settle, letting age eat you up, or keep moving.
Some days I feel like the Covid Clock is ticking, keeping me in place with one hand, stealing away time with the other. In charge of my age game.
Most days, taming my garden along with never ending house jobs involves my fair share of lifting, hauling, digging and constantly moving from squatting to standing. It leaves me feeling good about being active, not really ‘gym fit’, but ‘fit for for life’.
But that Covid Clock has its way with me sometimes, putting me in a funk, opening the door to bad habits. It’s easy to succumb to ‘later’ or ‘when this is over’ excuses.
Watching those green rice shoots, sparkling like diamonds, being put into their muddy home, is the kick in the A I needed.
So I’m back to some interval hill sessions and on the mat more often, planking away, working on ‘my flat back’. I won’t cut it in the rice fields at planting time, but I’m damn determined to ‘keep moving’.
Covid Clock…. I’ve got you.
Stress Vs. Spicy Sambal? Recipe Included.
No one from my immediate circle wants to talk about ‘it’.
“I don’t want to be stressed about the Covid news. Its better I just do my farming” is a typical reply to my need to chat about ‘it’. I think I’m being rational, raising awareness, they think I’m causing unnecessary anxiety.
With Indonesia now hitting the 1 million positive cases mark the international press is zooming in. Expat group chat is at Facebook frenzy level. My head is full of Bali centric Covid stats and strategies, on full alert.
Bali has also been in the news for deporting foreigners openly flouting the law. The culturally insensitivity has outraged many, bringing an unwelcome focus on bad behaviour amongst travellers, igniting more social media snarkiness. Immigration now has a ‘two strikes and you’re out” policy for foreigners who break Covid protocols. Given my behaviour the chances of that happening to me is absolutely zero, but it does bring in a little stress, serving up a harsh reminder that I’m a guest in this country and not to lose sight of my privilege.
Despite the alarming rise of Covid numbers I personally have faith in the organisational power at village level needed to administer the vaccine program.
I’ve previously witnessed Payangan Public Hospital setting up a health check station in the Banjar (village meeting place) in the midst of ceremony preparations.
The ground was hastily swept, making way for two long fold up tables and a handful of chairs. Tape measure taped to a pole, scales set up on the steps, blood pressure cuff and blood sugar machine on the table, a few nurses and one doctor armed with a stethoscope and a plastic tub of medication…. clinic is good to go.
Vitals were checked. As needed, advice, medication or a referral for a hospital check-up handed out. Meanwhile the ceremony preparations continued on, albeit with everyone openly discussing their results as they offerings.
We are a tiny speck of a village on the map of Indonesia. This is what public health looks like. It’s an enlightening adjustment for anyone used to the Australian health system.
I’m writing this story at my outdoor kitchen table. The dogs are napping after our morning walk. My neighbour has dropped off a parcel of yellow rice and spicy chicken sambal from the ceremony preparations going on in her house. With the light streaming in through the jungle and only the sound of roosters and farmers cutting grass for their cows in the background, it’s hard to believe the world is being held hostage by a nasty pandemic.
My situation could change any day, such is the devious way of Covid.
For now I’m taking on some local advice putting ‘it’ out of my mind a little more often.
Food is always a good distraction. Pretty sure I have eaten my body weight in tropical fruit this year.
In fact I think I could plot my covid diary by ‘what I ate’. With no travel, it has been a year of 100% local food. In the early days I found myself googling ‘any issues from over dosing on mangosteens?’ Luckily there were none as I was eating no less than five a day. As the wet season approached mangos and rambutans took over. In between I gorged on soursop, papaya, jackfruit and bananas and was excited when the avocados finally started to ripen.
The latest addition to my mostly edible garden is a crop of peanuts.
So far they are thriving in the wet conditions and I’m excited for the harvest in a few months time. Peanut Sambal, a spicy peanut sauce, is one of my favourite dishes.
When I was bouncing between Bali and Brisbane for a few years it was the one I would whip up in my Brisbane kitchen. Its perfect as a dipping sauce, for sate, cooked with greens, or mixed through a fresh salad. (recipe and pics below)
The trick is to start with fresh peanuts in their shell. The perfect excuse to spend a Sunday afternoon on the balcony with a glass of wine shelling peanuts. Guaranteed to slow the day right down, almost to village time.
There are two parts to the recipe, start with preparing the fried sambal.
fried sambal ingredients
5 small onions finely sliced
4 garlic sections finely sliced
3 small chillies finely sliced
toss onions, garlic and chilli in pre-heated oil in a wok over a high flame until golden brown
add pinch salt during cooking
remove from wok, drain excess oil and put aside to cool
peanut mix ingredients
1 cup fresh, unsalted peanuts
¼ teaspoon palm sugar (may be substituted with brown sugar)
½ kaffir lime
toss peanuts in pre-heated oil in a wok over a high flame for 2-3 minutes, only until golden
remove and drain excess oil
crush cooked peanuts using mortar and pestle until a dry paste
add cooled sambal to mortar and continue crushing with pestle
gradually add 1-2 tablespoons cold water to make textured, creamy consistency
add sugar and pinch of salt and continue grinding
finally add squeeze lime and mix in
(nb: if using blender instead of mortar and pestle do not overblend to a smooth paste. A slightly crunchy texture is much nicer)
Wonder And Awe. On Tap.
So this is a bit of a self-centred introspective story brought on by Covid life….
The furthest I’ve been in the last 12 months is Denpasar (twice) and Ubud maybe three or four times. All were trips that qualified as ‘essential’ by Covid rules. In fact I’ve barely stepped inside a house other than mine, maybe one or two steps into a family compound for a brief moment. The number of people who have been inside my house I can count on one hand. It’s been 12 months of politely sidestepping numerous invites for coffee, food or to join a family ceremony. Thankfully I have a very outdoor style kitchen that allows for conversations over the gate and with passersby on the road. Coffee and chat happens in the garden, everyone scattered around at a safe distance.
For someone who has probably spent more time away from wherever home happened to be, this is a huge shift. I’ve lived a life of business travel, short hops and long hauls. At one stage I was ‘commuting’ from Bali to Australia, ‘sleeping’ on the overnight flight, grabbing a shower at the office or the airport and usually at my desk the same time as those who did the commute by car. Packing a bag most weeks was the norm.
In between the business travel I’ve been lucky enough to explore the world from Africa to Asia, mostly slightly off the beaten track, my preferred way to travel.
The lines between work and life blurred, creating a very mobile way of life. I’ve filled a few passports, checking the number of empty pages became second nature.
Right now my passport is packed away in a waterproof bag in an airtight container. It has more chance of wearing out from the tropical damp air than the rigours of international travel.
So I know I’m not the only one. I’m not thinking ‘poor me’. It’s the same the world over.
It’s a reality check when I consider many people in my village young and old, have not travelled very far from the village. Their furthest travels would possibly be to Besakih Temple, the most sacred temple in Bali, for a ceremony. Travel typically is local style at its best with everyone jammed into the back of an open truck forming a village convoy. Everyone’s home by nightfall. It’s travel with purpose.
By contrast there are families who have sold cows and land, used their life savings to send one of their kids off to study so they can get a job on a cruise ship. Whilst they see a little of the world, the 12 hour shifts and occasional days off don’t allow for too much wandering, they do it for a few years to bring home foreign currency to set up their family, including their parents, for a better life back in the village. Travel for the sake of personal exploration is not really a notion, rarely an aspiration.
Consequently travel doesn’t come into my daily conversation. It’s so irrelevant especially when you throw in the Covid factor.
Even so I’ve found myself questioning why I’m not missing the thrills, the highs and the lows, the discoveries, the personal expansion that comes with travel. Every one of my travels has opened the door to new people, new places, new food, new adventures and more. Even when things go pear shaped it provides unforgettable moments that stay in my stash of treasured memories for a long time.
There’s no doubt that travel provides a hefty dose of wonder and awe. Why am I not missing that?
I have moments of panic thinking I’ve settled for a Covid defined life, any sense of wanderlust long gone. The truth is most days I’m deliriously happy going no further than I can walk or run, FB memories put a smile on my face, but it doesn’t bring on the ‘I wish I was there’ thinking.
A book and a few articles I’ve been reading this week helped me work out that I have wonder and awe right in front of me, all I have to do is look out, look up. Literally. I live in one room, with one step out the front or back door I am in nature…. instant wonder and awe right there, silencing messy thoughts, some days taking my breath away. But it’s not only the nature factor.
Reading this made so much sense for me…
‘We spend a lot of time in life trying to make ourselves feel bigger — to project ourselves, occupy space, command attention, demand respect — so much so that we seem to have forgotten how comforting it can be to feel small and experience the awe that comes from being silenced by something greater than ourselves, something unfathomable, unconquerable and mysterious.’
I realised I’m happy not to be part of anything ‘bigger’ than daily life right now.
And then this reality check…..
‘Today, wonder tends to be on the wane, we tend to wonder more about ourselves, instead of allowing wonder to lift us up out of our own self-interest.’
‘We can be blinkered or blind to the wonder in front of us.’
And I love this piece of advice sent to me in an email newsletter….
Start your day with wonder. Most people wait for the world to stimulate wonder within them. But perhaps that’s the wrong way to begin. Instead, ask yourself, “How can I bring an attitude of wonder to life, rather than waiting for life to amaze me?”
Albert Einstein nails it…..
“he…who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”
I will travel again one day. I have a seed of an idea about not only where, but how I’d like to travel…..
One bag. Free to roam, exploring the archipelago on my doorstep. 2- 3 week jaunts. More village than villa. Open to awe and wonder. No passport required.
Until then I’ll be loving the wonder and awe right in front of me, checking on the health of my passport, and continuing to convert my Qantas points to wine for my parents. Covid… thanks for the kick in the A.
*Book references: Phosphorescence by Julia Baird.
A Table For One
I’ve never spent so much time in a kitchen.
Covid has kept me at a ‘table for one’ for nearly a year.
That table is in my house.
Aside from picking up some nasi bunkus from the local warung (‘takeaway’ rice and whatever vegetables, chicken and sambal is cooked on the day, wrapped up in brown paper), every single meal has been at home, cooked in my kitchen. Searching online menus and dialling up GoJek is not an option in my part of the world.
I’m not complaining. I have food. Good fresh food from my garden or the surrounding farms and local warungs and I love my new kitchen. But I do miss sharing food at home, with friends, on my travels.
Who doesn’t travel for the food memories?
Pre covid I ate my body weight in freshly baked bread and chunks of provincial style cheese washed down with a chilled glass of rose with The French Alps for a backdrop.
On an island in Timor-Leste I was deliriously happy at a food stall, sitting on a ramshackle bench sinking my feet into sand with a view into the ‘kitchen’ watching fish being cooked over a homemade ‘grill’. Fish, rice, spicy sambal, all for $2. Perfect.
Fiji was Indian flavoured heaven on a plate looking out over sparkling turquoise water, a scene straight out of the Conde Naste ‘Postcard of the Day’ series. New Zealand knocked me out with the most perfect chowder and chilled white wine, served up with sunshine and mountain air.
Nothing beats a ‘cheese toastie’ dripping in wicked amounts of butter with a glass of chilled white wine, poolside at the home of my bestie in Australia. In Bali I dropped into Ubud for restaurant fare, a break from my usual local style eating.
I confess I was excited for every plane trip for one big reason… cheese, crackers and wine. I’m the impatient one, gripping my credit card, silently wishing everyone would just put their bags away and fasten their seatbelt so the plane can take off on time. I’m ready to order. Seriously. Cheese and crackers is a big treat in my dairy free Bali life.
Food is such wonderful way to get to know local life, to dive deeper into a destination. Nothing beats getting to know the person who cooked your food, or sharing stories around a table. I love travel for that reason.Some of my best memories are from picnics or food stalls. Simple food served with little fuss.
That world seems a lifetime ago. I wonder if it will ever be the same? I doubt it. But I’m up for the reimagination, whenever it happens.
So I was excited to find my copy of “Our Bali Your Bali” cookbook had dropped into my inbox. Chef Dean Keddell has written this book as a fundraising effort for financially-strapped charities in Bali during COVID-19. It’s a keeper.
I read it from cover to cover in one go. It’s 400 pages of deliciousness wrapped around heart-warming stories about food, family, culture and kindness.
It’s beautifully polished, as you would expect from a professional chef yet there’s so much beyond the gloss. The photos are stunning, the recipes easy to read, but it’s the stories behind the food that had me glued to the screen.
The book opens up with traditional family recipes gathered from the home kitchens of twelve of Dean’s restaurant staff. Every recipe has a story, a fond memory, reminding us how emotionally charged food can be.
Dean has generously shared his own family story and recipes from his two restaurants Ginger Moon Canteen and Jackson Lily’s. I’ve bookmarked the Bali Curry, my favourite dish to try on any Bali menu. The Gado Gado and Pumpkin Salad recipes will be fun to make with Arni (ex-Sharing Bali kitchen goddess who cooks for me a couple of days every week). Let’s see if we can ‘plate up’ Ginger Moon style in my village kitchen!
My favourite section features recipes and stories from local warungs around Denpasar. Dean gets behind the scenes, shining a light on a way of life that most travellers to Bali don’t get to see. I’m a huge fan of local warungs, they really are the heart of local life. I love Dean’s promise….
“They were delighted to be a part of this amazing book and what it stands for and, for them, that was reward enough. Once this Covid-19 nightmare is all over, I have a surprise for all these warung cooks and owners. I am going to invite them to my restaurant where I will prepare and serve their dishes to them, my way. It’s going to blow their minds and this thought is my little ray of sunshine and will get me to the end of this really rough road.”
The chosen charities are all extraordinary projects run by people working tirelessly to help those most in need. Reading the stories about how they started and their long term visions for the future left me in awe.
If you’re missing your Bali vibes the book will not only spirit you back here, it will help out many people facing a desperate situation right now in Bali. Buy the e-book or hardcopy here.
Meanwhile… I may only have a ‘table for one’ but the sharing of food will continue over my garden gate. My kitchen will always cook extras to share ‘bunkus’ style wrapped up in banana leaves.
For those of you allowed to gather people together at the table, to share food, to share stories…… enjoy every mouthful, every moment.
The gorgeous photos are all from the Our Bali Your Bali cookbook.
School From Home. Village Style. Roosters For A Zoom Background.
It’s not unusual for a group of girls to turn up at my gate, phones in hands asking for help with their English lessons. Schools have been closed for a year now, and thanks to Covid there’s all sorts of ‘school from home’ efforts going on. Same for the rest of the world, parents find themselves in the role of ‘teacher’.
Quite often the English used in the lessons is how can I say it…. ‘less than correct’, so I find myself in a dilemma trying to pick an answer from the multiple choices that is the ‘least incorrect’. I only have to participate randomly and I feel the pressure! I suggest they sign up to Duolingo if there’s serious about learning English.
I get a view into this new world from my good friend and driver Komang, who now lives in the next village.
Like so many in the tourism industry Komang’s income went to zero overnight.
With not one rupiah, not one sack of rice in the form of government support as his wife has a monthly salary from her job in the police force in Denpasar, he had no choice but to return to the family compound in his village.
Aside from putting food on the table, there was schooling for his two kids to consider. They have a long term education plan, schools already chosen. Which is a big deal as entry to a school is determined by where your identity card is registered or having family in the related banjar. You’re not free to send your kids to any school of your choice.
Whilst his wife continues to work in Denpasar Komang has reinvented himself, farming, building, truck driving, selling a few things in the family warung, at the same time determined to be able to keep up the education program. They catch up as a family on weekends.
Wasting no time he renovated a very old, broken down room into a space that now doubles up as a school/family room and kids bedroom. It was built in what I call ‘Bali Village Blitz’ style.
I’m always staggered at the pace. Planning time is virtually zero. One day it’s “I need to build a new room” the next day bricks, sand, cement, roof tiles, and paint are unloaded, work begins. It seems everyone knows how to build. Electricity gets installed in a day. It’s a beautiful nook for his family, bringing a little of their city life to the compound.
His daughter is at elementary level and quite self-sufficient, tuning into her daily zoom classes, using Google for problem solving but occasionally Komang can be knee deep in the rice fields and the phone goes. Stuck on a lesson she asks him to come home and help. It’s not like a quick dash from the kitchen to the study in a family home. He has to clean up, jump on the motorbike and dash home.
His son is at Kindergarten level and I have to say, this school is full on.
Every week the parents have to show up for a zoom meeting to get the lowdown on the homework for the week. There’s back up info in WhatsApp if you miss the zoom meeting.
The weekly activity has to be videoed and uploaded to the teacher. Sounds easy enough except in the village you have chickens running through the compound, people coming and going, dogs barking, roosters crowing. Komang has me in fits of laughter describing some of his videoing, putting his daughter ‘on guard’ for all passing traffic whilst he does the recording for his son.
I love these weekly activities, I can’t wait to see Komang or get a message with an update. These are some of my faves….
How cool is this? Making an ‘outfit’ from whatever materials you have. They drew an outline around a pair of shorts and a shirt and filled in with what we have in abundance in the village – banana leaves. Pure art.
‘Everyone is a farmer’ is a common phrase in Bali these days. Even the city families are growing essentials in pots, the more adventurous installing hydroponic gardens. So I’m not surprised that learning how to plant and grow corn is on the kindergarten agenda.
The lesson was about water, where it comes from etc. finishing up with a fun exercise. I’m ready to go back to kindergarten.
Whilst I look forward to the weekly ‘homework’ updates via Whatsapp from Komang, I know the same is not going on in every household in the village. It all depends on priorities and of course money. There are some subsidies to buy data, but for the families who can do nothing more than keep food on the table, or have no clue about navigating online lessons, online classes doesn’t always happen. Many of the kids have formed small study groups, taking the learning into their own hands.
Many families have done the same as Komang, moving back in with extended family, living as part of the larger village community.
Village life is very different to city life. In Denpasar his kids are used to a wifi signal that doesn’t cut out randomly, ordering in dinner from the food stall via gojek, and play time that’s more likely to be on screen than in the outdoors and chickens don’t run amok.
Komang and I talk about how lucky they are to have a village family with land and farming. Food is ‘easier’ to come by, daily living is cheaper. I admire his tenacity and his commitment to his kids’ education.
Those that have no choice but to keep paying rent in the city with no or limited income do it really tough.
Personally, the amount of resilience I observe as many reinvent their lives from zero I find incredible.
The good news is that tourism workers are priority for vaccination. The data is being gathered, it looks like there’s more workers than available vaccines at the moment, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Schemes to create international travel bubbles seem ambitious right now, so I’m relieved to hear plans to invigorate domestic tourism and to attract business events to Bali are a priority.
I’m looking forward to the day our village school is filled with the noise of kids playing, a sign of some sort of ‘normality’ whatever that looks like in the future. I can only imagine that parents feel the same, ready to relinquish their teacher roles!
Complicated. Messy. “Etc.” Is At Work.
I’m re-reading my most favourite book about Indonesia right now. Indonesia Etc. by Elizabeth Pisani. The timing is perfect.
With Covid shifting into vaccination execution stage, I now really understand the “Etc.” reference.
“When the country’s founding fathers declared independence from Dutch colonists in 1945, the declaration read, in its entirety:
‘We, the people of Indonesia, hereby declare the independence of Indonesia. Matters relating to the transfer of power etc. will be executed carefully and as soon as possible.’
Indonesia has been working on that ‘etc.’ ever since.”
*Pisani, Elizabeth. Indonesia Etc. (p. 2). Granta Publications. Kindle Edition.
My newsfeed is filled with government vaccine updates and talk of “Covid-19 free green zones” and “travel bubbles” to restart tourism. My FB feed is filled with a frenzy of questions. How many? Who’s the priority? Can I choose my vaccine? When will it be complete?
It’s not a straight path.
With more than 270 million people scattered over a string of more than seventeen thousand islands, that as Elizabeth points out, covers the distance from London to Tehran, the task of reaching everyone is complex. Locations range from jam packed cities such as Jakarta to the remote highlands of Papua, along with tiny villages similar to where I live, no more than dots on the map. Sending the vaccines with the necessary safety standards in place will be an intrepid adventure in itself.
I’m no expert but it would seem that it’s not so easy to ask 270 million people to hit an app for an appointment and neatly assemble at their designated clinic. Complicated. Could get messy.
There are national rules on vaccine priorities, healthworkers etc. first and then its handed over to each regency to decide on their own priorities. Seniors are a priority in some but not others, journalists get on the list in one regency (information is important), tourism workers and market traders on another.
Communication ranges from ‘you must register at this app’ to ‘just show up with your ID card at your local health centre/hospital, if not enough, come back tomorrow’.
There’s a scheme for private businesses to buy vaccine supplies for their employees, but it’s not quite clear yet how and from who they can make those purchases.
It feels like the ‘etc’ is at work.
I hear that staff from my closest hospital in Payangan are done and that data on the over 60’s has been submitted from my village. Ketut, the local policeman dropped by yesterday, always masked up, tells me everyone in his station has had jab 1. Next week for jab 2. “Tidak ada masalah Ibu”. (No problems).
In a quest to open up Bali tourism asap, there are designated areas for priority. Ubud, my extended neighbourhood so to speak, is one. 100,000 vaccines for the inner Ubud area will hit soon, leading to a bold statement that it will take 1.5 years to vaccinate the entire regency compared to the national estimate of 3.5 years. Farmers and those in outlying areas will be lower down the list.
I wonder what this travel in a ‘Covid-19 free zone’ will look like? Confined to walled off resorts, escorted to selected places of interest with strict Covid protocols in place? No free interaction with locals? The plans albeit without any promised dates, seem ambitious to me.
It’s too early to say.
But I will admit that kicking back reading Indonesia Etc. has triggered a little wanderlust.
There’s much talk about what travel will look like in the future. Less over-tourism, more cultural sensitivity, more inclusive of the local community. I hope so.
Being forced by Covid to pack my passport away, to put life on hold, has been the biggest lesson in learning to wait. Patiently. To not make plans. I can easily see another year of living quietly in my village, living one day at a time.
When I do go it will be with one small bag, travelling solo, heading east to wander amongst the outer islands of Indonesia, and if all the planets line up, maybe I can slip across the border to Timor-Leste.
My priority will be those places last on the vaccination list.
To let the ‘Etc.’ factor kick in.
Indonesia Etc. is cited as one of the best books about Indonesia. I can highly recommend it. Here’s a little insight for anyone tempted.
Elizabeth is clearly a smart woman but I love how she describes herself…
“Foreign correspondent turned epidemiologist, I can flirt at a bar in several languages.”
More seriously… After working as a journalist for many years, Pisani changed professional course, taking an MSc in Medical Demography and later a PhD in Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
My publishers describe me as an adventurer and a writer as well as an epidemiologist, but really I’m just incuriably curious. In late 2011, I granted myself a sabbatical from the day job and set off to rediscover Indonesia, a country I have wandered, loved and been baffled by for decades. I planned to spend four or five months on the road. Over a year later, having covered over 20,000 kilometres by land and sea (and the same again on some fairly shonky planes) I decided it was time to start organising my observations into a book. It took me another year plus to pin Indonesia to the page as best I could.
I travelled alone, mostly, by whatever means were available. As I explain in the prologue to the book:
I only had one rule: ‘Just say yes’. Because Indonesians are among the most hospitable people on earth, this made for a lot of yesses. Tea with the Sultan? Lovely! Join a wedding procession? Yes please! Visit a leper colony? Of course! Sleep under a tree with a family of nomads? Why not? Dog for dinner? Uuuuh, sure.
This policy took me to islands I had never heard of. I was welcomed into the homes of farmers and priests, policemen and fishermen, teachers, bus drivers, soldiers, nurses. I travelled mostly on boats and rickety-but-lurid buses that blared Indo-pop and had sickbags swinging from the ceiling. Sometimes, though, I lucked into a chartered plane or rode cocooned in a leather car-seat behind tinted glass.
I can count on one hand the number of times I was treated with anything but kindness. I can also count on one hand the number of days that I did not have a conversation about corruption, incompetence, injustice and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Nyepi Day. Next Level Lockdown Without The Angst.
Balinese New Year is a day of silence.
It’s like next level lockdown, without the angst, for 24 hours starting at 6am. Known as NYEPI, it’s an island-wide ceremony that brings life to a pleasant halt. Even the dogs are quiet.
Nyepi has four basic restrictions :
No fire … translates to no cooking.
No working…. that includes housework.
No travelling…. the roads are empty, ports and airport shut down.
No leisure activity…. no running around, it’s a day for quiet meditative thought, naps.
It’s forbidden to use electricity. No lights is the most strict rule as the idea is that the village looks deserted so any bad spirits lurking around won’t bother dropping by.
ATMs are shut down. Aside from essential services it’s a blanket closure, no zones, same rules for everyone including tourists. Sneaking out of your hotel for a quick surf/walk/swim is not on. You’ll be turned around by village security, the guys dressed in black and white sarongs known as Pecalang. They may even slap you with a fine.
Typically the night before Nyepi there are ‘Ogoh Ogoh’ parades, towering scary monsters built from paper mache are paraded through the streets on bamboo platforms held up by teams of men. Crowds follow with flaming torches and offerings. Village drums add their primal sound to the night. The ceremony is to drive the evil spirits out of the village. It’s a spectacular event in the bigger towns, with towering effigies and enormous crowds.
That was life pre-Covid. For the second year Ogoh Ogoh parades have been forbidden. With crushing crowds and loads of cheering and yelling it’s the perfect scene for a virus. A cluster waiting to happen.
Restrictions were tight in my village this year. Simply a meeting in the banjar in the evening followed by everyone returning home to put offerings around their house ready for the 24 hours of Nyepi. Kabal and his wife arrived at my house in darkness, putting out offerings by lamplight. As they left, the quietness rolled in.
Nyepi is a calm, peaceful day that brings everyone back to their village. Personally I love it. It’s the perfect cure for busyness. We’re so used to a constant hum of machines, air conditioners, kitchens, phones pinging, aircraft roaring through the air that the quietness is hard to describe. Imagine Bali without the sound of motorbikes!
Most of all I love that the entire island comes to a halt for a cultural reason. There’s no debates. No angst. It just is.
But judging by the number of ‘Nyepi packages’ offering escapes to resorts or nearby islands, I’m guessing foreigners aren’t so in love with being confined. And now that ‘lockdown’ is part of our vocabulary very quickly Nyepi was being spoken about in the same way. I really hope it doesn’t stick because Nyepi in its true sense does not deserve the harsh tones that comes with ‘lockdown a la Covid’.
But like everything in life, Nyepi is changing.
In theory the ban on using power means no phone charging, no devices, no TV, no internet. However those rules seem to be easing. This year mobile networks were shut down but fixed wifi remained available. (I learn from FB feeds that expats are relieved they have Netflix for the day!) Indonesia is the fourth-largest smartphone market worldwide after China, India and the United States. Screens/internet are an addiction here, same as anywhere in the world.
Ironically, just a couple of days before Nyepi, initial plans for ‘green zones’ and ‘travel bubbles’ within Bali were announced. Plans that will rely on 24/7 connectivity. Screening, pre-booking, checking in, tracking, controlling every move, is on the agenda.
As expected there’s lots of opinions, criticisms and ‘this will never work’ comments floating around. With three stages planned out over a year, and with so much unknown, my guess is when the reality rolls out it may be very different to the plan. Who knows?
I know there has to be a ‘new normal’ for travel and I’m genuinely excited about the possibilities in the big picture, believing there will be a better outcome, but for someone who thrives in a sensory, tactile world, visions of a touchscreen-led life cast a momentary shadow of sadness into my day.
Right now I’m going to stick to my belief that no amount of technology will replace the ancient rituals of Nyepi.
PS. I can highly recommend trying a version of Nyepi for 24 hours for yourself.
Switch everything off, except maybe the fridge. Prepare food the day before. In Bali its tradition to cook ‘sumping’, delicious sweet pumpkin parcels to snack on. (recipe below). Make no plans, have no goals (imagine that!) Let the day unfold to chat if you have company, deeply relax, sleep with no guilt whenever you feel like it, reflect, think, read. Remember, no power. Let daylight and darkness happen. Don’t treat it as deprivation or punishment as we have come to think of lockdown thanks to Covid, that will lead to crankiness and boredom. Its not about what we don’t have. It’s just one day free of ‘busyness’. Personally I find it quickly shines the light on so much that I take for granted. Let me know how you go if you try it!
Pizza Power. A ‘Start Up’ Happening In My Kitchen. Right Now.
As I write this update the aroma of freshly baked pizza is wafting my way, making me hungry. A trio of pizza makers are at work in my kitchen whipping up a storm.
It’s a familiar scene in many villages as out of work chefs and cooks put their skills to work in the family kitchen, selling whatever they’ve cooked up within the village. It doesn’t vaguely replace their salary but it does put food on the table for many.
I love a good pizza, but it’s not usually my go to food for a treat. But after a few months of Covid life I will confess to googling ‘pizza no cheese no oven recipes’ to bring a little of the outside world to my table. I found a good recipe, made everything from scratch and it was delicious. Even better, it took just one lesson for Arni to master the recipe. It became the ‘treat food’ solution and before long we had a friends and family hooked from sharing the extras.
I was quietly thinking it would be a good little business for someone in the village but I kept it to myself. Then one morning Arni arrives and announced in a flurry…
“Karen, someone is selling pizza, made to order, for rp20,000!!! (converts to $2, an tidy sum for a snack food).
My reply…. “so why don’t you do the same? Be the first one to sell pizza in your village.” (The $2 pizza seller is a couple of villages down the road, so no clash).
I knew straight away what the challenges were. A shared village kitchen, cooking over a wood fire, no fridge, no spare cash. So I jumped in with an offer. “You can use my kitchen, fridge, gas, and I’ll buy the first lot of ingredients for you. Then it’s up to you to make it work”.
It took about five minutes to work out a plan. Friends were brought into the circle. Testing recipes, giving away a few freebies to friends was the next step.
First hurdle was getting an oven. My tiny electric oven, really nothing more than a grown up toaster, wasn’t going to cut it.
After much negotiating with sellers on Facebook Marketplace, for an extra $3 we convinced someone to deliver an oven to our out of the way village. Within 24 hours the pizza plan had kicked into action, everyone was excited, myself included.
Now they needed baking trays and ingredients of which many were not available in our village. The next day with shopping list in hand, they took off on their motorbike for Payangan, our nearest market town. Meanwhile my day was taking me to the Tax Office in Gianyar, not something I was looking forward to.
A few hours later I came home to a kitchen operating at full steam. So much for the plan of making a few pizzas to test amongst friends, they’d already notched up their first sales and WApp was dinging away with new order alerts.
I have so much admiration for the ingenuity that Covid has generated here in Bali.
The oven is no more than a simple thin metal box with shelves, a door and a hole cut into the floor to let the heat in.It sits on top of the gas stove, you turn on the gas flame and you have an instant oven. So there’s no temperature gauge, and the latch is nothing more than a bit of twisted wire, but the price more than makes up for the lack of finesse. They’re affordable.
I went for the the slightly posh version with a glass section in the door. Rp165,000 (around $16.50) The more basic models go for rp140,000 ($14). It’s a winner. So damn simple. So effective.
At the end of day one we chatted about their day, I asked about reactions. Overall they were thrilled but when I dug a little deeper I found they were disheartened by one comment that “they are too expensive”. They nearly lost their nerve, and it took some convincing that selling them for rp2,000 (20cents) wasn’t a good idea, explaining that pizza is a treat so not everyone can afford a treat every day. And that’s ok.
In my experience, cash flow projections are not really a part of life in the village, so I set up a small notebook to help track their expenses and sales. Nothing fancy. Handwritten in in simple language. One section for shopping (outgoings), one for sales (income) and a running total to show the negative/positive outcome. They fill it in by hand every day. Cash goes into a tin. Nothing is made without an order.
It’s a reality check, working hard to sell pizzas priced at 50 cents – $1. And that includes delivery! But there’s smiles all round.
Cantik the Pomeranian is loving the action, he’s back in CEO mode making his presence felt. Jak, as a ‘pandemic pup’ has only known lock down conditions, so is a little overwhelmed with the extra human traffic. Me? I’m loving being hands off, watching from the sidelines. (To be super compliant with my retirement visa rules I’m not even allowed to volunteer in any capacity). Most of all I’m loving seeing my kitchen filled with the ‘village warung vibe’ I had in mind when I built it.
I’m amazed by what a “start up fund” of $50 can do. I’ve approved a further investment of $6 (yes really) for two additional baking trays. Woo hoo!
End of day 3…. they’re celebrating hitting positive territory and orders are looking good. Let’s hope it keeps going that way so they can pay themselves sooner rather than later.
My reward for dutifully going to the Gianyar Tax office? I got to drop into the Bintang Supermarket in Ubud. My first visit for over a year, bedazzled by the choices, I was in the mood for a treat. A bottle of local Rose wine, a small slab of mozzarella, a loaf of bread and a bag of basil leaves made their way into my trolley.
Sitting on my terrace with a freshly baked tomato, avocado, mozzarella, basil pizza and a glass of Rose….. selfishly I’m loving this silver lining to Covid life.
PS. As I have loads of ripe bananas we put the oven to the cake test. Another winner!
I’m counting the days until we all have our vaccine passports, or whatever it takes for us to travel again, so we can meet on my terrace. Bring a bottle of wine and 50c or a $1 for the pizza gals. Cake is on me.
Success In A Peanut Shell.
Served at my ‘table for one’.
As I slowly devoured the plateful of deliciousness, a whole bunch of thoughts about my reality hit…..
The last time I ate at a table with friends or family was 15 months ago.
I never imagined that growing a crop of peanuts would bring such a sense of ‘success’.
The kitchen and the garden have become the centre of my world.
I now spend my days more dirty than clean, and can wield a machete in my garden like a local.
For the first time in my life I have no real ‘plans’, nor is there any point in making plans, especially those that involve my passport.
Life brought me here… even just two years ago I would never have imagined life would look like this.
Spicy peanut sambal makes me so incredibly happy.
I really wish I had a glass of wine…….
I managed to put a stop to the thoughts before I headed into serious overthinking mode. (I will confess it took a conscious effort). With nothing else to do but savour every morsel, I was in a happy place. My simple wooden table outside my village style kitchen felt like the Ritz.
Later in the day I posted our efforts on Facebook, with an invitation to join me at my table sometime in the future. I can’t wait for that day. There were lots of requests for the recipe so here goes…
For those who bought the “Our Bali Your Bali” book, the recipe is on page 139. (It’s a sensational book that will bring a taste of Bali into your life and most importantly the proceeds support incredibly needy poverty projects here in Bali. Covid has pushed the resources of these charities to their limit. Scroll back to story No.30 in this blog to find out more).
This was our inspiration. Our effort was not quite as fabulous but hey, we were happy.
It’s pretty simple. You need peanut sauce (our recipe at end of post), a variety of steamed vegetables, fried tempeh and tofu, quail eggs, a handful of roasted peanuts, and some crackers.
Starting with a layer of peanut sauce, you build up the pyramid, adding in more sauce along the way.
Arni dashed off with a couple of plates to our farmer friends across the road returning with a big smile of thanks and a request… when can we do this again?
I will never take for granted eating a handful of peanuts ever again.
I laugh when I think back to finally harvesting my first crop a few months after planting. I was so excited as we pulled a handful at a time out of the ground, shaking off the excess dirt and picking each shell off. One by one. I was already anticipating spicy peanut spicy sambal, but I had to calm down. Arni, my adviser tells me they need to dry in the sun for a few days. Patience.
Finally the day to cook and eat arrives. Arni picks out a few handfuls to keep for the next crop, before we start shelling. One by one. This is therapy in a nut shell. More patience.
Now that I have an oven thanks to the Pizza Project, we decide to roast rather than the typical method of cooking in masses of oil in a frypan. We coat them in a mix of coconut oil with finely chopped turmeric, garlic and a dash of salt. 30 minutes in the oven and we finally have delicious roasted peanuts.
Success. Redefined. In a peanut shell. Life, you are serving me up some lessons.
Our Peanut Sambal Recipe
There are two parts to the recipe, start with preparing the fried sambal.
5 small onions finely sliced
4 garlic sections finely sliced
3 small chillis finely sliced
toss onions, garlic and chilli in pre-heated oil in a wok over a high flame until golden brown
add pinch salt during cooking
remove from wok, drain excess oil and put aside to cool
1 cup fresh, unsalted peanuts
¼ teaspoon palm sugar (may be substituted with brown sugar)
½ kaffir lime
toss peanuts in pre-heated oil in a wok over a high flame for 2-3 minutes
remove and drain excess oil
crush cooked peanuts using mortar and pestle until a dry paste
add cooled sambal to mortar and continue crushing with pestle
gradually add 1-2 tablespoons cold water to make textured, creamy consistency
add sugar and pinch of salt and continue grinding
finally add squeeze lime and mix in
(nb: if using blender instead of mortar and pestle do not overblend to a smooth paste. A slightly crunchy texture is much nicer)
Tick. Tock. The Ricefield Clock Puts Me In A Panic.
And just like that….. the rice has turned to yellow, the air is filled with the sounds of clanging cans, bamboo clacking, yelling and clapping from farmers on ‘jaga burung’ watch, their job to scare off the flocks of birds that love to invade just as the crops are ripening. Left alone these small birds can decimate a rice field in a few hours, destroying the much needed rice supply.
Passing by my favourite scarecrows on my daily dog walks has turned into a mood check. Some days I’m at one with the world, happily nodding to farmers. Other days I descend into a panic, overthinking sneaks in. Another 3 months gone? What have I done? What have I got planned? How did I end up here?
Covid life does that to you. Sends you in a spin about ‘waiting’ and ‘time’.
Earlier today I read this lovely perspective in a book. The conversation is taking place between a movie star and an Italian pensione owner in an obscure tiny village near Cinque Terra, Italy. Era 1962. I’m there….
“It was as if I was a character in a movie and the real action was about to start any minute. But I think some people wait forever, and only at the end of their lives do they realize their life has happened whilst they were waiting for it to start. Do you know what I mean Pasquale?”
He did know what she meant! Like someone sitting in the cinema waiting for the action to start. “Yes!” he said.
So I push the panic aside and realise how lucky I am to be living life by the eternal ticking of the rice field clock.
The movie has started. Life is happening. Now. And it ain’t bad.
*Book reference: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. I was beyond excited to find a ‘real book’ hidden away that I hadn’t read at least three times. I’m desperately missing exchanging books with friends. And those hours I spent every few months in an airport bookstore seem like one of the greatest privileges ever! Reading online just isn’t the same. I’m half way through it. Its ten years old, so far, it’s a good read. A beautifully written story.
Covid Induced Confessions
Confession #1… I didn’t really get the whole ‘lets bake sourdough’ movement that happened when Covid lockdowns first hit around the world. The mystery around how to successfully feed a sourdough ‘starter’ put it straight into the ‘too complicated’ basket for me. Lockdown was hard enough, why strive for lofty baking goals? I could only see loads of angst with nothing but a lumpy loaf of bread to show for it.
Confession #2… I’m the daughter of a baker who had never baked a loaf of bread until now.
Confession #3… In the 10+ years I owned my last house in Australia I never once turned on the oven. I don’t think I owned a baking tray. It wasn’t until a friend, who happened to be a wonderful cook, moved in a for a couple of months that it got fired up. I worked long hours, travelled so much, my kitchen was a place I visited occasionally. Spending time baking was something I read about.
Confession #4. Only thanks to the Pizza Gals moving into my kitchen I now have a well-used oven, albeit one that doesn’t have a temperature gauge. (scroll up to “Pizza Power. A $50 ‘Start Up’ Happening In My Kitchen. Right Now.” for the story). Without their influence another ten years could have easily passed, oven free.
I doubt I’ll ever get to ‘Sourdough Level’, but I have mastered an ‘Artisanal Bread’ recipe.
And it’s changed my world.
I prepare the bread surrounded by the darkness of night in my open kitchen. It doesn’t feel like a chore. In fact its quite magical. Not long after sunrise I fire up the oven. By the time I’ve walked the dogs I have freshly baked bread. Topped with homemade papaya jam, I’m the queen of breakfast. Baking bread is pure simple luxury. I now ‘get’ it.
So I’m late to the game… but here’s the recipe. It’s a keeper.
(Perfect for the beginners amongst us, there’s no science required to activate the yeast or fancy kneading techniques involved).
Makes one loaf.
This is what you need:
2 cups flour
1 tspn instant yeast
1 tspn salt
Mix flour salt and yeast in a bowl. I use a whisk.
Make a well in centre of mix.
Gradually pour in water, stirring the flour into the centre. I use a fork. This only take a few minutes.
Dust your fingers with flour and shape into a ball in the bowl. (it’s quite sticky)
Cover. Leave to rise at room temp for 2 hours.
Light dust bench with flour. Take out the dough from your bowl. Gently knead the by hand for a couple of minutes. Shape into a loaf.
Drop into a well-oiled loaf tin. I sprinkle sesame seeds on top at this stage.
It now needs to rise for the second time. I have tried two options. Both work depending on how much time you have.
- Heat the oven for 2 minutes. Turn off. Put the loaf in. Leave to rise for 30 minutes.
- Cover the loaf tin with plastic or a plate. Place in fridge overnight or up to 24 hours. This method slows down the proving time but allows more air bubbles to develop for a chunkier crustier loaf.
Bake the loaf for 25mins at 180C.
This is my favourite tip I discovered from serious amounts of googling “easy bread recipes”…..
Preheat oven with a baking tray on the lowest shelf. Put the loaf on the middle shelf. Pour in some boiling water to the lower baking tray. It will steam up instantly. Quickly shut the oven door. The steam helps create a crunchier top to your loaf of bread.
My newsfeed is filled with versions of this headline.
There’s no avoiding the heartbreaking humanitarian Covid crisis going on in India right now. The situation is desperately sad. Covid is spreading like wildfire, the health system is overwhelmed, the death toll is terrifying.
There’s an expectation of a Covid surge in Indonesia as a result of the current ‘mudik’, an event that sees people travel enmasse back to their hometown or village for religious holidays. Pre Covid, typically 80 million people are on the move each holiday. A staggering number that I find hard to comprehend.
Travel restrictions are in place now, with the government predicting the numbers travelling should get down to 18 million.
That seems like an impressive effort until I realise that it’s the equivalent of the entire populations of NSW, Victoria and Queensland back in Australia hitting the road/air/seas at the same time.
Previous holidays have created Covid spikes, but off a lower base. Bali has strict entry/exit protocols in place, but it feels like we’re all holding our breath, hoping that the predictions aren’t fulfilled to the max.
It’s not a rosy scene. On a positive note….
Bali has been prioritised for vaccine supply and in my opinion the rollout so far seems to have been drama free, with impressive organisation at a micro level.
More on this later. I’m not getting ahead of myself.
Covid Sneaked Into Our Village……
Life was humming along ‘normally’ so how did this happen?
Sneakily. One of the warung owners was in hospital for what we thought would be an overnight stay with diabetes related problems. Overnight turned into 3 days then came with a Covid positive diagnosis.
The Covid Taskforce were quick to respond, sending a crew to the village to test all the family members in the compound, confirming another two with positive results.
One had symptoms and was taken to hospital quarantine, the other asymptomatic given instruction to isolate at home.
Word quickly spread through the village. The team of pecalang (village security) moved through the community with a ‘mask on’ message. Temple Ceremony preparation was brought to a halt whilst a decision was made to reduce the ceremony from three full days and nights to one night with a rolling schedule to avoid crowds.
I was at home whilst all this was happening, unaware of the buzz of urgency until Arni dropped in late afternoon with an update. I have known Ibu (no need for names), the warung owner for many years. I was worried for her about her diabetes issues as she seemed to have dropped so much weight in the last couple of months. Covid and diabetes is not a good combination. My worry quickly escalated.
We agreed I would go into ‘lockdown’. Arni breathed a sigh of relief once she realised she would still be paid as normal for only doing essential food drops at my gate.
I’m well aware that lockdown is an easy decision for me. A privilege when I really let it sink in.
In fact life doesn’t change much as ‘stay home’ has been the norm for the last 15 months or so.
Unlike nearly everyone in the village who relies on daily income for food and essentials. Cows need to be fed, farms worked, and to really bring reality home a little harder Covid struck the village at rice harvest time.
The rice harvest can’t wait for Covid to get the hell out of here. Not even by a couple of days.
Harvesting rice takes many hands and lots of co-operation between families and neighbours to get it done. The Covid affected family have rice fields. I wondered who would do the harvest. It all got worked out with extended family stepping in.
Each harvest provides several months of rice supply, and even though its hard work its usually a happy time. I sensed a different mood as I passed by on my morning walks. Normally I would stop for a chat, taking up the offer of coffee and the wickedly sweet treats that are a rice harvest tradition. Not this time. With a masked up wave, I head home.
I think it caught us all by surprise. As much as Covid has changed life in so many ways here in Bali, we’d got used to thinking of our village as ‘Covid-free’.
Truthfully, my mind was on the ‘bigger picture’, the threat of the Indian variant and the inevitable spike in Covid numbers expected from the recent national holiday. Absorbed by daily stats and vaccine news, Covid barging into my village was not on my immediate radar.
Such a reminder that life can change in an instant.
For the first couple of days I felt unexplainably sad.
Not for me. I don’t feel alone, I don’t get lonely. Maybe it was about the vulnerability of the community I live amongst. Maybe it was the ‘when will this end?’ thoughts that sneaking in.
But life goes on… I picked myself up.
I miss the buzz and energy from Arni and co. operating their pizza biz from my kitchen. Cantik and Jak race to the gate every food drop, wagging their tails so hard they get into a spin, desperate for pats and attention.
I’ve planted the next crop of peanuts. Every time I walk past the shoots pushing through the soil I congratulate myself on securing my next supply of ‘gado gado’. My new found bread baking skills are kicking in. If only I could make my own wine. Sigh. Vaccinations are rolling out and so far there’s no post-holiday Covid spike in Bali. Nor do we have a growing Covid cluster in our village. The family are out of hospital and recovering.
There’s no point in being sad.
Note to self. I really don’t need much to be happy. This too will pass.
Steaming Hot Thermal Pools. So Close But So Far. Damn You Covid.
2am: Sitting on the floor, head under a towel with Cantik. Holding him upright over a bowl of steaming hot water to help him breathe. Trying not to sob as I listen to his honking cough and wheezing lungs.
3am: Cantik asleep. Maybe for 15 minutes. Refill bowl of hot water. Drop in a handful of salt. Soak my ‘claws’ (hands). Relief.
4am: Back under the home made ‘steam tent’ with Cantik.
4.30am: Googgling ‘hot tubs’.
5am: Delirious. Dreaming of hot steaming baths and thermal mineral springs that are just a one hour drive from my house but might as well be on the moon thanks to Covid.
It seems the family arthritis gene has arrived. My hands are the first to go. Niggling pains are starting elsewhere.
Cantik has a collapsing trachea, typical for his breed. The flare ups are heartbreaking. Lots of visits from the vet, lots of nights under the ‘steam tent’.
I’ve done the ‘let’s bake bread” thing and I now completely understand why the home décor & garden sector have thrived during lockdowns and travel bans.
So I’m joining the Covid Lockdown home project movement.
Reality is a I can’t do the instant ‘hot tub’ installation, but I can build my own ‘recycled bathtub in the garden’ project. Hopefully with some sort of ‘steam tent’ for Cantik.
As I scroll through Pinterest getting ridiculously inspired (design talks to me) and the DIY YouTubes (the practical in me) I can hear an inner voice….. “Karen you promised yourself at least a year off from any job that involves sanding, painting, or cleaning paintbrushes. You’re gonna regret this.”
Cantik has requested his own personal ‘steam tent’.
Let’s see how this goes…
House Party Plan B. Hits And Misses On A ‘No-Rice’ Menu.
I had plans for a party to celebrate moving into the new house. So many kind people had helped me create this new base for my next life chapter I wanted to invite them all down to celebrate.
But by the time the last nail was hammered in, Covid had announced itself as a player in our lives.
Covid knocked my party plans out of play.
At the time I had no idea how long it would go on for. Little did I know we would be plunged into a world of so many unknowns, so much uncertainty.
So for the last 16 months or so I’ve been promising a party ‘after Covid’. It was wearing a little thin as the reality is Covid is not going anywhere for a long time in our lives.
I’d given in, resigned to my ‘table for one’ status. Then Covid gave me the kick in the A I needed.
The first person in our village to be confirmed Covid Positive also had diabetes. It’s a nasty combination. (scroll up to story 39)
I knew diabetes was a growing concern in Indonesia, but after a few Google searches to get myself up to speed, I was confronted with alarming stats. Its becoming part of daily life, I hear of many confirmed cases. Sadly I know of two recent deaths in our area due to the complications of diabetes.
Rice is a contributing culprit along with the abundance of snack food.
I eat rice maybe once a week, mainly because I like to support the local warung by buying ‘nasi bunkus’ (rice, chicken, spices, greens wrapped in brown paper).
I know my rice eating habits are a topic of gossip in the ‘nice but she’s weird’ way, and I’m always asked ‘why aren’t you hungry?!’
So ‘Party Plan B’ started to evolve. A weekly get together over food for a group of 6 or so. With a vegetable laden rice free menu. Was I mad?
We nailed together some rough tables and chairs under the choko vine, giving us an outdoor kinda socially distanced eating space away from the house and kitchen. A nod to Covid.
I let everyone know in advance it was a rice-free menu. I played it safe by inviting close friends who are more like extended family for the first ‘party’. They turned up but I was a little nervous. Would they laugh or just grimace politely?
How did I go?
Lemon cinnamon water was a HIT.
Creamy pumpkin soup. A big MISS. Probably the same reaction some have to a plate of brussel sprouts. Vegetable overload.
Gado Gado with layers of vegetables, tofu, tempeh and extra spicy peanut sauce. HIT. No one seemed to notice the lack of rice.
Corn cobs on a stick. Steamed. No oil. BIG HIT. Whew!
Watermelon and pineapple served on ice-cream sticks. WINNERS. Brought out the kid in everyone.
I’m not kidding myself. The chances of anyone skipping rice in a meal is close to zero. I get it, rice is cultural comfort.
And not being able to afford rice equals poverty. This hit home when I heard the news that the subak (irrigation controller, there’s one in every village) issued instructions for everyone to plant rice straight after the recent harvest. (Typically there is an alternative crop in between rice growing cycles).
Why the change of plan? Because of the hardship of Covid life, nobody can afford to buy rice, they need a constant supply from their land.
So I bravely asked the question….. ‘will you go home and eat rice now, are you still hungry?’
Everyone assured me they were full and would resist the rice cooker until at least the evening.
I know that for many dinner is a plate piled with rice with a small spoonful of sambal on the side. (Sambal is fried onion, chilli, garlic, salt and shrimp paste). I’m no nutrition expert so I’m careful and keep it simple when asked for advice. “Take away a small handful of rice, add in a big handful of vegetables. Change the balance. That’s all. Oh, and cut down the packaged snacks!”
So I’m claiming more hits than misses and we had fun. Lesson learnt. Pumpkin soup has been relegated back to my ‘table for one’ life, it will never make the local table again. Meanwhile I’m loving that Arni and I get to test lots of new recipes in search of rice free deliciousness. Oven baked spring rolls and a veggie burger already have the green light. The weekly gatherings will continue. Selamat Makan!
Body Chills. Thumping Headaches. The Village Gets Vaccinated.
I’ve spent the last 36 hours in bed shivering, chilled to the bone. Wearing thermals and a puffer vest with layers of bedding, sarongs, throws, towels, whatever I could find to throw on, and one fluffy dog keeping my feet warm, it’s hard to believe I’m living in the tropics.
Panadol kept the thumping headache under control. Cantik and Jak watched over me, sensing the need to be quiet whilst my Covid vaccine worked its way through my system.
A Mobile Vaccine Clinic came to the village on Friday.
With less than 24 hours notice the head village and his team spread the word, the next day they arrived and it all happened with little fuss.
Vaccinations have been happening at a fast and furious pace here. With an economy decimated by the lack of tourism, Bali has been prioritised for vaccine supply.
This was my second experience of public health at work at a village level and I was once again impressed. No ‘facilities’ but the job got done.
What always knock me out is not just the convenience factor, (talk about door to door service) it’s the community support that kicks in. Elderly who may be frail and frightened are never alone during the process. What to do with the kids? Not a problem they can run around and play. I’m sure the ‘post vaccine 15 minute wait’ (in case of immediate nasty reactions to the vaccine) is less stressful when spent chatting amongst friends and family.
As a chronic overthinker I could whip myself up into a fantastic state of stress in those 15 minutes, thinking the worse.
Instead I was completely distracted by conversations and people watching. I left only when Arni tapped me on the shoulder with an offer to take me home on the bike.
The ‘drop in’ system fits with village life as time for most people revolves around farm life, not the clock, let alone an online booking system.
The reality is no one needs, let alone expects, more than 24 hours notice. No one has a Google Calendar set with alerts.
The location being familiar and friendly plays a role. My guess is that if we all had to book online for an appointment at the Payangan Hospital (30mins away), less than 30% would turn up.
I appreciate this works for a small community. Online booking systems are in place at bigger clinics and hospitals. It’s hard for expats living outside Bali community life. FB posts express their frustration at the lack of an online central resource giving advance notice on vaccination locations.
Decisions are made fast, communication is via community ‘banjar’ level. Everyone tells someone. Everyone is expected to spread the word. That’s how it works. And it does.
In some villages the internet is so poor uploading details into the national database blows out schedules. Our village was finished by 3pm, but if needed, the medical team were prepared to come back the following day. Nobody knows how many doses will be used until the end of the day. It’s a moving feast. I imagine schedules go out the door every day.
(By the way, I can only imagine if that online ‘where can I get vaccinated’ resource did exist it would always be wrong. I don’t think you could pay anyone enough money to keep it updated. What a nightmare job).
Once again, Covid punches away at our ability to make plans. Like it or not.
My bestie sent me a message this week that put this in perspective…. “We all book and plan holidays but when we come home all we can really talk about is the planned itinerary. But when things come up, or don’t go to plan, that’s when we have new experiences and grow. Same goes for life.”
I’m coming to terms with that. I cannot make plans beyond 24 hours, maybe 48 at the most. It’s probably been the best thing that happened to me. Thank you Covid.
It may seem like random organisation on the surface but within five mins of having my vaccine I had an SMS with the link to my details on the National Data Base. Ten minutes later I had a printed report including the date for the second vaccine. The fact that I was sitting on a concrete step under a broken roof rather than a chair in a sterilised clinic made no difference.
As a foreigner, albeit one with a legit ID number, I was overwhelmed with gratefulness for being included equally. No politics. No money involved. No bias. No stress.
Another entry for my ‘I’m glad I stayed’ list.
On The Edge Of Catastrophe, Three Words Set Me Straight.
I took this photo early this morning on my walk with the dogs. The air was crisp, the sky blissfully blue, the reflections in the newly planted rice fields winking at me as I passed by. Another day in paradise one would think.
The predicted Covid surge has hit, today’s news reports that The Red Cross has warned that Indonesia is “on the edge of catastrophe”.
Central government have ordered emergency state lockdowns, with threats of dismissal or punishment by law if any governor or mayor should choose not to fully implement the rules in their regency. Road blocks are in place, police are raiding restaurants defying the ‘no dining in’ rule and enforcing new laws for foreigners disobeying Covid Health protocols. No mask? No more fines or warnings, it’s a trip to immigration detention followed by instant deportation.
Proof of vaccination is needed to travel by air, land and sea sending the expat FB groups into a frenzy of communication, stress and anxiety in every post. It’s not easy to get a vaccine unless you’re on a residential type visa so the temporary travellers are wondering how the hell they’re going to get to Jakarta to fly home, anti-vaxxers are up in arms over the invasion of personal liberty whilst others are aghast that their island-hopping beach adventures are temporarily over. The new emergency laws are about reducing mobility and increasing vaccinations amongst the population of 270 million or so. I don’t think they’re overly concerned about foreigners micro issues.
Reading the news I feel sad, helpless, knowing the worst is yet to come. What can I do?
Just stay home. Really, just stay home.
“Sehat dan aman saja, Ibu. Sehat dan aman” my friends tell me.
Which loosely translates to “healthy and safe only”. In their world it means having enough food, being well enough to farm to get food. The emphasis is on ‘enough’.
It’s a short conversation. There’s no angst about the lack of freedom or abandoned plans. It is what it is. Be patient, stay in the village.
It makes perfect sense.
Sehat (healthy) is not about me, it’s about not becoming a burden on the already stretched-to-the-limit health system.
Aman (safe) No risks. Nothing that can result in a fall or a broken limb. I feel like their unspoken words are ‘don’t cause a drama’. Fair enough.
I try hard not to get caught up in the snarky comments on my Bali FB feeds but this one was a doozy…. ‘I can’t get to the supermarket to buy European food, what am I supposed to do?’.
Not sure whether to laugh or cry.
So anyone reading this in lockdown going round in circles overthinking, try this out on your brain….. ‘sehat dan aman’. It worked for me.
Roasting Pumpkin Seeds. A Delicious Distraction.
If you need something to slow you down, or to absorb some lockdown hours with a dose of therapy thrown in, this is it….
Roasting pumpkin seeds from scratch.
The therapy starts with extracting the seeds from a pumpkin. It’s kinda messy. Next up is removing the squishy flesh stuck to the seeds. One by one. There’s no quick way. There’s no gadget that can help.
Then they need to be washed and dried. In Bali village style we put ours out in the sun for a day or so. No rush.
They’re now ready for roasting. I found an easy to follow recipe on Minimalist Baker and swapped a few ingredients around to work with what I have in the kitchen. I used coconut oil, fresh turmeric, garlic and salt.
You have to keep an eye on them in the oven, they can go from golden to black in an instant, the voice of experience speaking here.
One last bit of patience is required. They need to really cool down before you put them in an airtight jar. If they are even slightly warm you’ll end up with soggy soft seeds.
I devour a handful straight out of the oven. Can’t help myself. After that I sprinkle them in salads, drop a few into my bowl of pumpkin soup, grab a few for a quick snack and I will confess they are perfect with a cold Bintang beer.
There’s also the side dish of satisfaction from using something that typically I throw away.
But there’s more therapy to be had once you make it to this stage….
Apparently a handful of pumpkin seeds kicks goals in the happiness stakes.
Ok, so I may be stretching it a little, but a quick Google search to check on their nutritional value (always worth knowing if I’m about to inadvertently skyrocket my cholesterol levels) revealed this question…..
“Do pumpkin seeds make you happy?”
The (edited) response…..
“Blah blah blah…… it’s called tryptophan, and pumpkin seeds are loaded with it. Tryptophan also produces serotonin, the awesome neurotransmitter that helps us do awesome things.”
Further searches assure me they’re “jam packed with powerful antioxidants, and are loaded with magnesium, iron, zinc and copper, all good for brain health”.
Luckily my neighbour drops off a pumpkin randomly. It kicks off a pumpkin marathon in the kitchen producing bread, pancakes (both are a hit with the farmers), my favourite pumpkin and coconut soup and now we have the new kid… roasted pumpkin seeds.
I’m not sure eating pumpkin seeds has brought on any serotonin hits, but I do find the whole process quietly calming. The perfect way to switch off from the information world, as there’s no good news right now with Covid surging its way through Indonesia, the worst yet to come.
It’s a welcome distraction.
‘Pre-Covid’, the thought of roasting pumpkin seeds probably fell into our ‘too busy’ basket.
But as lockdowns emptied our calendars and deprived of us personal connections I wonder if ‘Post Covid’ we’ll be any more likely to organise our catch ups in the kitchen rather than the café? Village style.
Village kitchens are shared. Preparation spills over onto any available space. Sitting on the floor, equal amounts of peeling, chopping, exchanging of news and gossiping going on, the work gets done by many.
I have a village kitchen. Post Covid I’m looking forward to more drop-ins, more helpers, more stories, more laughs. Pumpkin seeds on the house.
PS. I don’t claim to be a nutritionist or even a good cook. Nor do I have any clue about allergies, intolerances etc. Just saying.
PSS. Things are grim. Emergency restrictions are hitting the people who live on daily income hard. If you’d like to help out consider buying Our Bali Your Bali Cookbook (For my story on the book go the contents list at the start of this blog. Hit story 25 and 30). Every sales helps out many people facing a desperate situation right now in Bali.
There’s No Good News.
“Indonesia has vaulted to the front of a race no one wants to win. This week it surpassed India as the Asian nation with the most daily infections of COVID-19.”
That’s a typical headline right now.
There’s no good news. Hospitals are overflowing. Oxygen supplies are depleted. The daily stats on positive cases and deaths are horrible.
Yesterday I had a dose of that reality.
Despite my quest to stay home, stay healthy and to stay away from hospitals I found myself on a dash to the local hospital. I had no choice. I needed blood tests, advice and medication for a reaction to an insect bite that could have long term consequences if left untreated.
On my way there I noticed the ambulance and SatGas (Covid medical crew) at work just a couple of villages away. It’s a sure sign that someone has been declared Covid positive and the crew are testing extended family. It’s inevitable that they will confirm more cases. I felt immensely sad. I hope they can contain it.
I made it to the hospital to see a tent equipped with beds in the car park ready for patients. I breathed a sigh of relief as it was thankfully empty.
But it sent a message, loud and clear, the worst is yet to come.
As I climbed the steps to the front desk I could see a couple of people tucked away laying on the floor with oxygen masks. The waiting area was filled with beds instead of chairs. A young baby and an old man on oxygen. An A4 piece of paper taped to the wall announcing the hospital is 118% full, oxygen supplies depleted, said it all.
I’m hit by a whirlwind of emotions. Instantly overwhelmed with sadness. Guilt rushed in next. Why am I here using precious resources? Then a moment of panic. Will my double masks protect me?
A nurse came out from behind a screened area to ask what I needed. After a quick discussion she led me towards the emergency area to have a chat with a doctor. We literally did most of the consult in an open corridor space before parking me on a bed in the waiting area to get blood taken.
I think I got very lucky. There were no crowds. No chaos.
In fact after 10 minutes or so I was in the waiting area by myself. It’s a brand new hospital, everything still shiny and sparkling. I noticed that external doors and windows were open, I guess trying to get as much air and ventilation as possible. Not once did I feel like I was in an enclosed space, the most risky scenario for Covid transmission.
The doctors were professional, calm and kind.
I definitely got lucky. Daily I hear stories of people being turned away from chaotic, full hospitals and critically ill people waiting for a space to open up in ICU.
It’s so easy to spiral down into a sense of helplessness.
An humanitarian crisis is unfolding. The next few weeks are going to be cruel. The numbers of hungry people are climbing. Numerous organisations are delivering food parcels, individuals are hanging extra parcels of food outside their home or business to be taken freely by anyone in need.
‘What can I do to help?’ I ask myself every day. The problem is so big, hard to grasp. I go round in circles, ending up in the same place. I can’t influence oxygen supply so stick to my plan. Think local. Watch out for my community. Isolate. Mask up.
So far, to the best of my knowledge, no one in my village is hungry. That could change any day. I’m on alert.
Protests are emerging as the economic toll hits hard.
I think back to the early days of Covid when the Australian government demanded that Australians overseas should return home as they could not promise us medical care if needed. I got that reality yesterday. But at the time my bigger concern was personal safety. Hungry people can get angry. Society can break down. As a foreigner, would I be safe if it spiralled down into wild protests or efforts to destabilise the government? I had to weigh it up.
I figured that travelling back to Australia and going into quarantine was riskier than staying in my isolated patch in the world. I chose to stay. Protests are breaking out all over the world. Safe? Where is that in the world?
Amongst all the doom there is one piece of good news.
70% of the total Bali population have had their first vaccination. Only another 2 million to go for the second dose. As much as vaccine supply helped (Bali was hit so hard economically that it became a national priority), I think a whole lot of community spirit and micro level organisation made it happen. Impressive.
I’m in for a couple of weeks of recovery. I have to bunker down, rest, eat good food and stay hydrated whilst the medication gets to work.
As I lay out on my terrace I think about those kind doctors and nurses. They front up every day knowing there are few wins and a whole lot of personal risk.
The biggest help I can offer is to not take up a hospital bed, or their precious time.
Social Media Vs. The Coconut Telegraph.
So the truth is life hasn’t been much fun for the last couple of weeks. The weird bacterial infection that sneaked into my body is causing havoc. It comes with a fickle personality that changes daily. Some days it’s a little wicked, other days it leaves me in peace. It’s pushing the ‘take it one day at a time’ advice to the limit.
I spend a lot of time on the terrace with Cantik for ‘therapy’. But I’m not gasping for oxygen. Many are. That’s the real truth.
A few days ago I was back in the hospital. In the emergency room waiting for the doctor, my messenger pinged. Normally my phone is off, tucked away in my bag, safe from germs. For whatever reason I took it as a sign I should check the message. A good friend had sent me an article to read. The title got my attention…. “How COVID Exposed New Age Narcissism.”
Written in an honest manner by someone who lived and led in the wellness world, it casts a spotlight on the ‘self that is celebrated above all else’ dilemma. It made for interesting reading from my hospital bed, especially considering my ‘previous life’ in the retreat world perched on the doorstep of Ubud, a mecca for those looking for ecstatic dance sessions and personal transformations. It’s a good read, a different opinion, one that hit a few nerves personally.
Surrounded by doctors and nurses taking care of me, doing their very best, restored my faith in humanity. Clutching more test results (all good), more medication, I made my exit.
I’d travelled on the back of the motorbike with Arni who kindly waits, following my strict instructions not to go anywhere near the hospital, not even into the carpark, or go shopping in the minimart (an enclosed space that I’m guessing has a stream of hospital visitors as customers, the perfect hangout for Covid).
In my early days in Bali I wouldn’t have dreamed of asking someone to wait for a couple of hours or more on the side of the road for me. How rude of me!
I would give them an exact time to come back so they could go and ‘do something’ instead of ‘wasting their time’ waiting for me. Today I know that waiting is a way of life in Bali. Everyone is very relaxed about it. Going off to ‘do something’ in the quest to fill every minute of the day is not how life is lived.
So true to Bali life, Arni has befriended the owner of a furniture store opposite the hospital. It’s a typical open fronted store with steps up from the street. The owner invited Arni to sit with her, putting the helmets in a safe place, settling in for a chat. She greets me warmly when I arrive, offers me a drink of water and a seat to join the chat.
They’re talking about how Covid is affecting village life. Arni catches me up telling me that every month, depending on her sales, this lovely lady donates around 2 million rupiah ($200) to a fund run by the local police to help buy rice and essentials for those in need in the local area.
“Does anyone in your village need help?” she asks. Arni lets her know there’s no crisis at the moment. “Please let me know if that changes, I can bring rice and supplies. I can bring a mattress if a family is desperate. I already donate to families in villages near you.”
I look around her store filled with locally made wardrobes, mattresses and various household furniture. She’s obviously well established, but I know that finding a spare 2 million rupiah every month in a Covid strapped economy, is a generous effort.
Covid numbers are escalating with predictions Bali has yet to hit the peak of the current wave. It’s hard to find any good news right now.
But a bunch of good doctors and nurses along with one quietly spoken, unassuming, lovely woman set me straight…..
There is good in the world.
Waiting is not wasted time.
No amount of social media will ever replace the ‘coconut telegraph’.
“Yes, dinner with pleasure. I’ll wear my new dress and eat like a pig.”
Last week, I found myself re-reading for the third time one of my most favourite books. It was just what I needed. In fact it kicked off a resurrection of a ‘best moment of the day’ habit.
Set in post WWII, the story is woven around how a bizarre literary group came together under ‘lockdown life’ on Guernsey (a little dot of an island on between France and England).
Strict curfews. Candles rationed to two per month. Food was scarce. The winning dish for a book meeting was a pie made from “potato peelings for crust, mashed potatoes for filling, strained beets for sweetness”. Mmm… no scrolling through menus for dinner delivered to the door.
Soap was limited to one tablet per person per month. “It was made of some sort of French Clay and lay like a dead thing in the washtub. It made no lather.” Ugh!
There was no stress over home schooling because the kids were bundled up on to a boat to England, taken in by strangers, sent back at the end of the war.
Communication was cut off. No letters, papers from England were allowed. Wireless sets were confiscated. There were hidden ones, listened to in secret but getting caught got you a trip to the camps. That’s just too hard to imagine in our 24/7 connected world.
I love that the tales are told through a series of personal hand written letters. Some made me laugh, others tore me apart with their heart rending stories of survival, ingenuity and friendship, and a little scandal and gossip thrown into the mix kept it interesting. Some were a few pages long, others just a sentence or two.
(Whilst the characters and their tales are fiction, the occupation of the island in WWII is factual).
So it was war time, not really comparable to ‘lockdown life’ right now, but it didn’t hurt me to reflect on how we humans get through tough times. So often, it was just a moment in the day that got them through.
This letter did it for me….
“Yes, dinner with pleasure. I’ll wear my new dress and eat like a pig.”
(There’s something so elegant about sending a one sentence letter to accept an invitation to dinner. Beats a ‘thx c u there’ instant reply!)
The war was over. One new dress and a table full of food was all that was needed to put pleasure back on the menu.
I have a dress, not new, but ready to go. With the Ministry of Tourism touting a November 2022 opening date for Bali I guess I’ll be pacing myself. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society made it through 5 years of lockdown.
Another year is not such a stretch. Maybe I’ll start writing some letters.
PS. Until then, inspired by the book, I’m resurrecting a ‘Best Moment Of The Day’ habit. So far so good. A couple of snippets here…
24 Aug 2021
Sinking into a wickedly luxurious leather chair in an isolated corner of the hospital, ‘Covid radar’ switched off, temporarily not giving a damn about test results, eating an icy cold dark chocolate cornetto ice cream.
25 Aug 2021
27 Aug 2021
Reading news about the Indonesian Navy deploying 60 boats and warships to scour thousands of kilometres of coastline in the hunt for unvaccinated fishermen made my day.
“Bad weather is usually the biggest barrier, but the real challenge now is actually finding (them) because we don’t exactly know where they are. We’re just combing the sea.”
Not everyone can book online for a vaccine.
Good News And Posh Pans.
At last… a week filled with good news.
The last few weeks have been tense, with nearly daily reports of Covid cases and deaths in our surrounding villages. It was impossible not to feel sad.
But then some good news started rolling in, reminding me to keep the bad stuff in perspective.
Good news #1… Covid stats are crashing. The current wave seems to have peaked and backed off. Vax numbers are climbing. It’s not over yet, but for now the crisis has loosened its grip on life.
Good news #2… The mobile vax team hit the village last week. Mission accomplished and very little side effects reported via the coconut telegraph. As I’ve been so unwell, I was a little nervous as I’d had three days of chills and headaches after vax number one. I skated through with nothing more than a mild headache. So happy.
Good news #3… I got an excellent progress report from one of my specialists. It’s been a rough couple of months, and I’m not out of the woods yet, but I punched the air when I heard the news. The doctor nearly fell out of her chair laughing at me. ‘I’m so happy for you too’ she said. It was the first time I’d heard her laugh. For one moment I forgot we were doctor and patient. She was my “best moment of the day” for so many reasons.
Good news #4… The marble coated pans I’d been promising myself were back in stock. I had one day to pick up or get them sent. (They’re hard to come by as they imported and sell out in a day). Pick up place was close to the hospital. The planets had lined up, saucepans and doctors could get done in one day. Winning. I’d put off buying for over six months, it was far from a huge indulgence, but a little guilt sneaked in. Having a Nigella moment in my kitchen this morning effortlessly flipping pancakes with my perfect non-stick pan wiped out the guilt. The ‘stay home’ way of life isn’t going anywhere, these pans will earn their keep. Who knew a set of posh pans could make me so happy? Would never have imagined.
Yet another lesson from this pandemic. A sniff of good news goes a long way. Grab every bit of it, big or small, with both hands. Thanks Covid.
Fake News Frenzy…. “Bali Is Open!!!!!!!!”
Bali is being blasted all over the media, the chat in Facebook groups is at frenzy level. A sniff of good news about Bali possibly reopening has set the rumour mills into high speed action.
I’m not buying into it. I read the small print. There’s a lot of ‘ifs’.
Whilst the go ahead to assign immigration staff to a full range of international airports throughout Indonesia is real, it doesn’t mean they will open or that flights are confirmed. They simply will be ‘ready’.
Hotels jumped on the bandwagon offering quarantine packages, visa agents excitedly offered their services. The truth is the list of government approved quarantine hotels is a work in progress. Vaccination targets have to be reached, the slide in Covid numbers maintained and the list of ‘ifs’ goes on.
But amongst all the hype there is some genuine good news.
Covid numbers have dropped dramatically since the peak in July. Hospitals can breathe again, restrictions have been eased, vaccination rates in Bali are impressive.
So I’m keeping a lid on my expectations, as much as I would be thrilled to see Bali open up even with some tough restrictions (who wants to quarantine on their holiday?).
But life has not been without excitement in my world. Not exactly headline material, but the ‘bathroom blitz’ that happened at my house has me damn happy.
Thanks to an amazing crew, in two and half days I’m the proud owner of a renovated bathroom, with a stunning bathtub. Instant bliss in my books.
The timing was perfect. A paying job was welcomed, the word spread, we had more workers than we really needed, but in true village style the work and the pay was shared rather than going to just a few. They installed an eco friendly septic tank, a new toilet, laid masses of pipes, retiled and built a new garden bed with all the dug up soil. It was quite the ‘blitz’ makeover.
After living an isolated life for such a long time, it was so uplifting to have a taste of ‘normal’.
Cantik slipped back into his role of boss, Arni whipped up a frenzy in the kitchen loving my new ‘posh pans’, banter between the workers never stopped and Jak the Pandemic Pup was over the moon rolling in the piles of freshly dug dirt.
For the first time I watched from the sidelines, my ‘in recovery’ status ruling the day. No hauling cement for me. It was kinda nice, I could probably get used to the sidelines every now and then. It left me free to observe, to take it all in the difference in our ‘new normal’… we’re all masked up with ‘fully vaccinated’ status.
I never imagined this life would look like this, but here we are, adjusted, getting on with life.
I’m not allowing myself to get excited about Bali opening up. No just yet. That day will come and I won’t hold back. Until then my fab new bathtub is all the excitement I need.
Home alone with Covid? I know what that’s like. A few personal tips…
Omicron is causing havoc in Australia. Thankfully so far it appears to be a milder strain but even so its pretty hard to dodge and many friends have succumbed.
Covid has served me a up a few lessons. I’ve had a complicated recovery. Thought I’d share my tips, especially for those who fly solo through life.
***Disclaimer*** I’m not a doctor or a Covid specialist. I’m simply sharing from my own personal experience. Nothing radical. Just sensible.
Don’t assume you can get everything delivered 24/7. Do a sensible stock up of essentials, especially medication.
Stock the freezer with daily meals, chopped up fruit for smoothies, soups, snack size dishes.
Have a buddy system in place for back up. Help each other out with a food drop, medication or someone to walk the dogs during isolation.
Stock up on pet food. If you’re having a rough day, the dog pawing you because they’re hungry will do you in.
Trust me, cooking will become a herculean task. But a diet of toast or instant noodles won’t cut it. Good healthy food is so essential. Prepare before you get to the feverish mess stage.
It’s not rocket science that staying hydrated is essential. You’ll get sick of drinking but don’t give in.
Have a jug or a water bottle next to you 24/7. Trips to kitchen are exhausting. You may get dry mouth (a Covid Bonus) for a period of time. You need to sip water constantly.
Ditch coffee. Find a tea or some sort of hot tonic that you like. Fill a thermos so you only have to make it once a day.
Doesn’t hurt to have a backup stash of electrolytes in powder form, or coconut water to power up the process if you’re vomiting and nauseous.
Control fever, don’t put up with it. Panadol worked for me.
For those who get infected gums/mouth (another Covid bonus) I found rinsing with warm salty water 5 times a day really helped.
Unless you have a state of the art ac/ventilation system I suggest sleeping with windows open.
Get some sleep or rest outdoors during the day if possible.
Keep hand sanitizer by your bed. Too exhausting to go the bathroom to wash your hands every time you cough or sneeze.
Covid is the unknown first time around. Lots of thoughts go on such as ‘will I get through with mild symptoms or will I deteriorate?’
Googling your symptoms every hour will not change anything. If you’re slightly worried call a doctor or hospital. Talk to someone. Don’t be alone in your head.
Keep your phone on, fully charged, by your bed. Don’t be fumbling around rebooting your phone in an emergency.
Stay focused on getting better. Let the social media dramas go.
What you and I might consider to be rest is NOT Covid rest. The fatigue can be ridiculous, debilitating. Even the fittest amongst us can get wiped out. You have to give in to it.
Simple daily tasks that you take for granted become impossible. EG. Housework – just don’t do it. Sounds crazy but even lifting a full basket of wet laundry is too much. Don’t vacuum or mop. Just let it go for a few days.
It helps your lungs to lay on your front instead of always on your back.
Think you’re getting better? Take another day or so because getting back up too soon is the fastest path to my next point…..
Recovery is different for every individual. Could be days or months.
Thinking of getting straight back into your pre-Covid fitness? DON’T. DO. IT.
I learnt the hard way. Exercise induced relapses are huge setbacks and not fun. Park your ego. Don’t be disappointed in yourself. Ease into it, five minutes at a time.
Be kind to yourself. Reach out for help if you need it. Pay it back when you’re up and a friend is down.
I take to the skies. #stillalive
That’s me sailing through the air a few days ago. I still can’t quite believe I did it.
It took an eight-month dose of Long Covid to get me there.
And for so many reasons I’m so glad I left my scaredy-cat self at home.
Whilst I was floating around on the parasail I rolled through the highlights and the lowlights of the last eight months. There’s nothing like having a whole big blue sky to yourself to get some clarity.
So I thought I’d put those highs and lows into words, not only for myself but for anyone else that may be going through the same ordeal. Warning… it’s a long post.
If you’re not really interested in Long Covid you might want to scroll on by or if you’re just looking for some facts, skip my story and go straight to some links to articles on Long Covid that I personally found very useful.
For those keen to do parasailing in Bali but like me have an inner scaredy-cat holding you back, my tips are at the very end.
This post is kinda like a performance review of myself dealing with Long Covid!
The smartest thing I did…
Started a diary for symptoms, tests, medications and my own observations and feelings. Bouncing around between a series of specialists I soon realised that the only person who had the complete picture was me.
When I read “there are up to 200 symptoms that can affect up to 10 organs” I realise how complicated it is. So every one of us has a unique set of symptoms. No chance of a simple repeatable treatment. And every day there are new learnings in the medical world.
I got smarter, going from a scrappy bit of a paper to a small book that I could carry from appointment to appointment. Thankfully most of my test results were sent to me via WApp making it easy to organise online.
Having a logical list on the days I felt like a hypochondriac helped, assuring me it wasn’t all in my mind. I was lucky to have only one specialist give me the “just get some rest, eat good food, there’s nothing really wrong with you, you’ll be fine” spiel. Every other doctor had empathy whilst also acknowledging that Long Covid was new to them. Hopefully Long Covid Clinics supported by an array of doctors working collaboratively will soon become the norm.
The stupidest thing I kept doing…
Giving myself exertion-induced relapses.
As someone used to living an active life I just couldn’t get my head around it. At the slightest sniff of feeling better I thought I could start moving a little more. I did everything wrong. Took huge deep breaths when I should have been taking small breaths and only in a supported position. Thought I could exercise my whole body not understanding how weak my upper body was. I completely underestimated the incidental exercise that happens from everyday living. The stuff I take for granted.
It took me too long to work out the only muscles I really needed to worry about were the ones that supported my heart and lungs. The rest would come later. I could have saved myself a couple of trips to the emergency room.
The funniest thing I did…
Nearly gave my cardiologist a heart attack. Well not quite. I’d just finished another echo cardiogram and thought I should demonstrate the type of exercise that might possibly have landed me back in her care. She was walking around the machine at the time, so only caught me mid-way through my full body extension/sit-up.
“STOP THAT!” she yelled at me. “Are you kidding?”
“But I was feeling better and I used to do 50, now I only do 5” was my feeble reply.
“I don’t care. You can go for a LIGHT walk for 10 minutes. That’s all!”
The kindest things others did for me.
Jo, aka bestie and Pilates specialist sent me the RIGHT exercises for my lungs. Lifesaver.
Neighbours and friends kept up a never ending supply of fruit, vegetables and coconut water. Fresh pickings from their farms, every piece jam packed with all the good stuff I needed.
First appointment specialist #7. As I rolled off my weird history he listened to every single word and then shared the story of his father with me. “He has long Covid for over a year and I‘ve had to watch as he became ‘old’ so quickly. I understand what you’re going through. But believe me, he’s finally had a breakthrough and he’s getting back to the person he used to be. So we can’t be sure if these symptoms you have come to me today with is caused by Covid, because as Doctors’ there’s so much we don’t know, but let’s just deal with it regardless. Like my father you will get through this.” I had to hold back the tears.
The kindest things I did for myself.
After yet another relapse I got extra help in the kitchen and garden for one whole month. It eliminated so much incidental exertion. When mashing bananas for muffins felt like running a marathon, lifting a full kettle gave me chest pain, I knew I had to do something. I’ve never been so lazy in my whole life. But it was so worth it. I broke the recurring relapse cycle.
Once I was a little stronger I took myself off to the Hot Springs by Lake Batur every couple of weeks. It felt good to get out of the house, the mineral waters blasted away the aches and pains and exercising was a little kinder in the water. I always went early, so typically I had the whole pool to myself. In fact I felt like a princess. Just what I needed.
The thing that caught me out…
In my own defence when I was at my worst, it was the height of worldwide lockdowns, vax confusion and opinions that went from ‘it’s just a cold’ to all sorts of conspiracy theories. We all had something to say and the level of snarkiness on social media was at the max.
I’m an avid reader and like to think I kept myself well informed and open to a wide range of views. I tend to verge on the optimistic side with a ‘we can get through this’ mantra. But on the days I could barely walk to the kitchen, the snarkiness got to me. Because I was one of those “healthy, no underlying problems” people. So why wasn’t I knocking this thing over in a weekend?
The ‘get over it’ and ‘all you need is rest and a good immune system’ rants got to me. After a while (too long) I came to my senses realising I was letting myself be bullied. And it was doing me no good. For the first time, I tapped ‘unfriend’ and politely asked some contacts to refrain from looping me into their private anti-this/anti-that messaging groups without my permission. I didn’t have the energy to be part of the anger.
Don’t get me wrong, all those that sailed through Covid like it was an annoying cold…. I am deliriously happy for them. My actual dose of Covid wasn’t so bad. I soldiered my way through having no clue it would morph into Long Covid. #@#! happens.
What did I lose/win?
My legs turned into logs, arms started sagging at a remarkable rate and curves appeared in new places. Any muscle or core strength I might have had, checked out.
Long Covid: 10 Karen: 0
I had wicked fatigue but was lucky enough not to have the brain fog that is common for my fellow Covid Long Haulers. But I did start to lose my mind with so many hours in the day on my hands.
Long Covid: 5 Karen: 5
I gave myself a kick and got some projects happening that didn’t require physical exertion. After years of procrastination I finished writing a family memoir.
Thanks to help from my brother Andy playing Santa Claus, they were printed, wrapped and delivered on time for an unforgettable family Christmas Day video call.
I collaborated on a fun project with Jo. Long story short, Jo started painting, I started writing and putting it all together in an idea I’ve had for a while for a travel journal. I doubt it will ever get published but it got me inspired and with no deadline, or any real need, it was total creative indulgence.
Some days I spent hours on the books, other days minutes. After months of feeling useless they were perfect projects to satisfy my inner ‘for heaven’s sake, get something done’ voice.
Long Covid: 0 Karen: 10
The good stuff that came from bad stuff….
Two years of Covid pandemic conditions had already delivered up a lesson on living ‘one day at a time’. Making future plans was impossible. So it was good training for my newly acquired and very necessary ‘one symptom at a time’ approach to life. Once I’d clambered over the lung and heart hurdles I foolishly thought I was on the home stretch. Wrong. It seemed like I would just get over something and a new symptom would pop up in a different part of my body. Niggling pains, horrendous mouth ulcers, raging tinnitus, painful myalgia, nerve damage. For anyone going through this…. yes, you will feel like an irritating pest every time you make a doctor’s appointment or turn up in emergency, but get over it. If not treated the not so serious stuff starts to wear you and your body down, especially if it messes with your sleep. It got me down until I enforced the ‘one symptom at a time’ rule. ‘Everything is treatable’ became my mantra. I learned to not put the small things off.
Every one of my Doctors was cautious, exploring every possibility not related to Covid. Consequently I’ve had a soooooo many tests. Not fun, but the good stuff? So far I have no underlying nasties lurking around, in fact aside from Long Covid, the tests confirmed I was in pretty good shape.
I ate a lot of ice cream. And loved it. No guilt whatsoever. It was my way of getting through the numerous hospital visits (6 different hospitals, 11 doctors). Most were a two hour drive away so every trip was a 6 hour expedition. No matter the hour, we’d stop for ice cream on the way home. Usually at a roadside minimart. We’d sit on the kerb and laugh about our childhood memories when ice-cream was such a treat, so exciting, so special. By the time we were done with our ice-creams I’d forgotten about hospitals, doctors, tests. Those ice-creams kick-started my #stillalive campaign.
So that’s how I came to be flying through the air on a parasail. I took my personal #stillalive campaign up a notch. After 8+ months I felt like the Long Covid fog was lifting. I released my iron grip on the harness and relaxed into the perfect silence. With nothing but blue sky and blue waters for company it was time to get back into life.
So much is unknown. I try to read something new every day. Here’s a few articles I’ve found useful.
The best breathing exercises from Johns Hopkins Medical.
Article from Scientific American. Even mild Covid can increase heart risk.
Excellent series from Your Local Epidemiologist. Episode 1. What is Long Covid. Episode 2. Long term impact on specific organs. Episode 3. The burden on kids. Episode 4. Patterns are surfacing. Don’t lose hope.
Impact on the brain by Your Local Epidemiologist.
Views on Long Covid looking a lot like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Makes for good reading. I’m choosing denial at this stage.
By infection control today. Long Covid shouldn’t have taken us by surprise.
By Hopkins Medicine. For many Long Covid is looking like chronic fatigue.
Parasailing tips from a scaredey-cat…..
I’m no thrill seeker. The only reason I could do it was because I was winched in and out by the crew from the safety of a platform on the back of the boat. If I had to jump, or let go of something or be in charge of my own landing I would never have done it. The crew were careful, focused. I felt like I was in good hands.
However, I did have just a quiet moment of panic seconds before I harnessed up. The conversation with myself went like this…
“What if this sends my heart rate through the roof?
#@#! I’m not used to worrying about my heart.
This could bring on an almighty relapse. What am I doing????
Too late now, you’ve got no choice but to be calm and keep your heart rate in control. Stop being such a drama queen and take a breath gal.”
So I did. I took some quiet shallow breaths in and out (deep breaths are still on my banned list). I knew I needed to do this to be able to let go of stuff and kick myself back into enjoying life.
I’m not great with heights, I could only look down briefly before my stomach wanted to perform somersaults so I kept my gaze outwards. There was a lesson in that alone… forget about looking down or backwards, now is the time to look up, look out. #stillalive
If you want to give it a try next time you’re in Bali contact my friend Komang and he will sort it all out for you. It happens in Nusa Dua. My tip is to go early. I was the first one out. I had a brilliant time.
To be continued……