- 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.
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.