- Intro: ‘More Village Than Villa’
- January 2, 2020. Committed.
- Checking In With The Spirits
- Cows, Chickens And A Naughty Dog Rule The Day.
- Happy Birthday To Me.
- Pinterest Is Not A Thing.
- The Pretty Bits…. My Indigo Obsession
- Precision Vs. Ingenuity.
- Everything Hurts.
- White Paint. It’s Like Chocolate. Fixes Everything.
- What Have I Done? Doubts Come Crashing In.
- I Really Need To Get Over Myself
- Mixing Cement In A French Straw Hat. What Was I Thinking?
- Water. Electricity. No one to call.
- A Truck Load Of ‘Lego’ Arrives.
- The ‘Wabi Sabi’ Way. Finding The Beauty In Imperfection.
- 180 Degrees Wrong! Classic ‘Tamu’ Blunder #1
- Roof Crew Arrives. Island Vibe Moves In.
- 3000 Tiles Painted By Hand….. Turns Into The Ultimate Squat Workout.
- Shifting Soil. Farmers At Work.
- A Cultural Clash Sends Me Home In Tears
- Feeling Unstoppable.
- Gone Glamping.
- House Blessing…. More Chaos Than Calm.
- A Garden Full Of Gifts
- Bathroom Bliss. Mood Indigo
- Wet Season Tears.
- No Hard Hats. Compliance? What’s That?
- Roof Take Two
- Kitchen Meets Warung. Getting The “Yell Factor” Right.
- Caught out. No Choice But To ‘Camp’ In My Own House. Covid-19 Factor Meets Minimalism.
- The Neighbourhood Thug Shows Up. I’m Scared.
- Village Jokes. This One's On Me.
- Life Reimagined. The Next Chapter. It’s Here. Cheers!
Intro: ‘More Village Than Villa’
This is a series of tales about my time as a ‘tamu’ (foreigner) building a house in a small Balinese village.
But building a house is only part of the story. It’s also about new chapters ‘later’ in life. Digging in (sometimes literally) to one’s creativity, curiousity, tolerance, and the resilience to pick oneself up out of the mud.
So I’m writing to remind myself that creating these new chapters comes with angst, excitement, fears, laughs, exhaustion, tears, failure, success, magic moments and the power of friends and family.
And that’s what makes life interesting.
This is the first house I’ve built from the ground up. Which I made all the more interesting by choosing to build it on a piece of farmland on the outskirts of a small Balinese village.
I had a clean sheet of paper. In more ways than one. Trust me, that’s quite an intimidating place to be in. This is my first time in that space.
I had lofty plans to fastidiously journal every day. That didn’t happen. I’m not one for routine. In fact I’m hopeless so I don’t know why I even thought it was possible. Most nights I was so exhausted I could barely string two words together. I chose to take a break from social media during most of the building. I’m so glad I did. It gave me time and space to write, to think, slowly. I hand wrote most of these stories in my diary randomly. Anywhere anytime. No order.
Sometimes I’m writing as if I’m talking to myself, other times I’m talking to a friend over a glass of wine. Or I’m just rambling on about what happened.
During this episode in my life I’ve been re-reading Shantaram. Not that my life is anywhere near as as dramatic, but there is something about his realisation after living for six months in a rural village that speaks to me…
“They nailed their stakes into the earth of my life, those farmers. I was given a chance to reinvent myself, to follow that river within, and become the man I’d always wanted to be.”
As I wrote these stories it became so clear that I’m a ‘more village than villa’ type of gal. (Not that I don’t love a touch of simple luxe!) And like Shantaram I’ve been given the chance to reimagine myself.
As always as it gets close to hitting the ‘publish’ button I’m thinking ‘who the hell would want to read this?’
Anyone looking for a definitive ‘how to build a house in Bali’ download, this is not what you’re looking for! There are experts out there. I’m not one of them.
But anyone wondering about diving into a new chapter in life this is for you. NB: I’m no lifestyle guru, do it your way!
Otherwise this is just a chat about village life, Pinterest, design, active living…. a long chat!
Reading time: 1 glass of wine. If anyone gets to the end drop me a line!
Pour the wine.
January 2, 2020. Committed.
My new life chapter starts with an invoice scribbled by hand in a cheap carbon copy invoice book.
Placing my ‘order’ for my lumbung was like ordering a pair of shoes.
*Lumbung is a traditional barn on stilts used for storing rice in Bali. They have a unique roof shape that has now been interpreted into cabins or villas for travellers to Bali. A bathroom is added on the back, a terrace to the front to make them practical. Staying in one feels tropical, exotic.
I’m in the wooden cabin ‘office’ on the worksite in Denpasar. The owner’s wife grabs the book, borrows my pen and asks me what price her husband quoted me on my previous visit. She didn’t feel the need to check with her husband. Then asks me for the specifications. I rattle off the details for her….
- 8m x 6m
- 2m terrace
- whitewashed teak timber
- lined with bamboo gedeg, painted white
- roof tiles painted chocolate
We talk deposit. 50% she says at first, but then says 30% is okay. Not too concerned. We go with 30%. Ripping the invoice out of the book, she hands it over. I check it and point out that there’s a zero missing on the balance amount! A quick scribble fixes it.
Next up how to pay? I ask for bank details. She flips over the invoice and copies down bank account numbers from a whiteboard propped up by the back door.
“Just let me know when you’ve transferred the money. Send a message on WhatsApp.”
As I get back into the car I’m torn between wanting to either punch the air or burst into tears. I felt like doing both. But I pulled it together remembering that outbursts of emotion in public places is a bit of a cultural faux pas.
A couple of days later the money was transferred. I got an immediate reply on WhatsApp letting me know they’ll be sending materials and builders within the next ten days. With an emoji hands in prayer as thanks.
Checking In With The Spirits
Balinese culture is the very essence of life. And nothing happens without checking in with the spirits.
When building a house, religious considerations and ancient rules to ensure harmony and balance are important for all people involved, especially the property owner. Traditional Balinese architecture is complex and layered in mystique.
Priests and paranormals are called in to cleanse the land and satisfy any past spirits, ultimately deciding where my house, kitchen and bathroom are to be located and quite specifically in which direction they face.
Boundaries are set to enclose the space and most importantly the entrance gate is determined. Entrances are the place where demons may try to enter.
It all happens behind the scenes. I know everyone’s deliberately skirting around me, letting me know it’s been taken care of, but not revealing when exactly it will happen. They’re dreading I’ll ask to be included. Balinese do anything to avoid confrontation. I know we’d end up in conversation with the outcome of ‘up to you’ when I really know they want to say ‘no’.
I think I have the gist of how the house, kitchen and bathroom will be laid out. We’ve already talked about positioning in accordance to the four main directions. Sleep with your head towards the Mountains (Kaja) and feet towards the sea (Kelod), which generally interprets to sleeping with your head to the North or East. Bathrooms and waste water are considered dirty and are placed in the south, in the opposite corner to the temple.
I have my heart set on one aspect. I fell in love with the view over the jungle the first day I set foot on the land.
Since then I’ve dreamed about waking up to that view, spending hours on the terrace reading, writing, having a wine or a Bintang at sunset, inviting friends to hang with me on wickedly relaxing deck chairs. I’d built it up in my mind to be an enchanting space, a quiet little patch of paradise.
Positioning the terrace to overlook the view makes sense according to the Balinese customs, but I know if it was deemed to disturb the spirits, I would have to get over it.
I squash my fears down, determined not to overthink it unnecessarily.
I needn’t have worried. My dream came true. I could have my terrace pretty much as imagined. Everything shifted a few metres north from where we originally planned, which was no big deal in the scheme of things.
I was hoping to extend the garden in front of the terrace, down the ravine a little, giving me a place to wander. The land is steep so it would have to be terraced. But it was not to be.
The spirits had sent a very specific message about the setting a boundary line for the front of the house. I sensed there were ‘spirits from the past’ lower down in the ravine.
I didn’t ask the dreaded ‘why?’ question. My helpers don’t know how, nor do they want to, explain in words that make some sort of sense to a “tamu”. It’s a belief. A trust in a higher power. I roll with it.
I’m a guest on this island, in this village. I must switch off my logic, and put my trust in those who make me so welcome. It’s their way. I don’t need to believe or not believe. I need to respect.
After 20 plus years I have learnt to have no angst over this. I don’t question it.
Spirits are appeased. “Tamu blunder” avoided.
Cows, Chickens And A Naughty Dog Rule The Day.
Day 1 ‘onsite’. I’m nervous. This is where it gets real.
Me plus a crew of 6 standing on a patch of muddy farmland/jungle ready to build the house foundation. I’m determined to take this one day at a time….. anything could happen!
It’s decided the first job is to relocate two cows along with their feed shed. Their current location is slap bang where the lumbung needs to go.
It’s a good move for the cows. They get excellent views, shaded by lush foliage.
Cows are happy. Let the work begin.
The sand truck arrives and is slowly shovelled out by two people. No tip trucks here. Kabel assures me the sand is good quality, from Karangasem in East Bali, better than the sand from the Batur volcano area. Good to know. Looks like black sand to me, but apparently the fineness is important.
The 8m x 6m foundation is marked out with string lines. Kabel can see I’m concerned. I woke up in the middle of the night in a panic over the nearby durian tree. Is it too close? Will the roots grown into the foundation? I’m assured by the crew that it’s far enough away and won’t have an invasive root system.
I know the potential for me to drive the crew crazy with my overthinking is high. But I’m not going to hold back. The only stupid question is the one that isn’t asked.
I cause the first drama of the day.
Well actually Sockies, a gorgeous black Bali dog who’s adopted me is the culprit. He followed me down to the land. I thought he was being cute and chatted to him the whole way. Turns out the temptation of the chickens running around was too much. He has the naughty puppy habit of chasing them. One less chicken and Sockies is in disgrace.
Work goes on. Sand is shovelled. Wheel barrows are moving at a fast pace. This is not typical of a Balinese work site. I really appreciate the efforts to get the foundation done in time for the lumbung team to start work.
Happy Birthday To Me.
Who knew that a 8m x 6m building foundation would be the best present I’ve ever given myself?
That happened today.
On my way to the warung this morning (to buy chicken for Cantik, that priority in my life never changes, he’s my soulmate), I notice a flow of people, dressed in traditional sarongs heading to various houses in the village. The women carrying offerings, the men with a knife for making sate. It looks like two or three families have ceremonies happening. Helping out neighbours or family for ceremonies takes priority over work. The culture in our village is strong.
I’m prepared mentally for not much to happen on site today. Village building sites are not about punching in and out on a time clock. The time clock of life dictates.
I arrive to find no workers but I can see much progress has been made since I left yesterday. So happy. I can see the space the lumbung will take. This is feeling real.
It was kinda nice to have the space to myself for a while. I wandered around imagining the future, my monkey mind going to small details. A place to roll out my yoga mat? A garden for Cantik? Where to plant the hibiscus?
Gradually workers start arriving. Turns out they were only needed at the ceremonies for a short time today.
There’s a huge pile of cut down trees and branches that need moving to make way for the bathroom foundation. I put my gloves on and join in with the crew. I know this makes them uncomfortable at first, but we soon move past that. I’m no longer the boss at Sharing Bali, I’m here as one of the crew.
I never imagined this would be how I would spend my 58th birthday. Wearing rubber boots. Grubby. No water or electricity. Building new foundations in my life, literally.
But as I wipe the sweat from my face, I realise I’m lucky.
Whilst I get to rebuild, back in Australia many have lost or are facing the trauma and devastation of losing their homes to ferocious bushfires. My brothers Roy and Andy and their homes are in the line of fire.
Pinterest Is Not A Thing.
A pile of ‘kayu kopi” (coffee wood) creates the first conversation of the day.
500 pieces arrived last night once the crew had gone home. I unloaded the truck with Ibu Kabel. Each piece is 2-3 metres in length, 3 – 5 centimetres in diameter, with the bark peeled off.
The crew wonder why I’ve ordered a truck load of wood they would typically use for firewood.
I try to explain my plans to use the wood for the bathroom and kitchen walls. They give me bemused looks. I flick through my ‘inspo’ pics on my phone and pass them around. Now it makes sense. Discussion turns to how to build with the kayu kopi. Ideas are tossed around.
The consensus is that it’s a ‘rapih’ idea. A quick check on Google Translate and I get that ‘rapih’ means neat. (I add a new word to my clumsy Bahasa Indonesia vocabulary).
The Pinterest moment over, work resumes. I leave them to it.
5pm. Job done. Foundation complete.
The Pretty Bits…. My Indigo Obsession
Kicking off my muddy boots, taking a shower, diving into my pile of indigo fabrics is the perfect therapy after my grimy sweaty days as a labourer.
I’ve been intuitively collecting bits and pieces of ideas, thoughts and inspiration for a couple of years around deep dark indigo blue for interiors. The new house is a good excuse to bring it to life.
I need a starting point. My years in the fashion and homewares industry kick in.
Every collection, every design project started with a concept board. Images, fabrics, colours, collectibles were artfully arranged on a board. They were a common source of inspiration and a reference point to keep us on track with the concept. When things weren’t working out, we would always return to the concept board to see where we had strayed.
I start a concept board and update it most days as I discover new ideas or discard old. It’s a lovely energising project. My training kicks in, keeping me disciplined. Nothing is more dangerous than too many ideas. I really want this to work.
I’m drawn to clashing patterns. Spots. Stripes. Checks. Abstract. Traditional Japanese Shibori dye patterns mashed up with modern. With just enough white thrown in to keep it clean.
I’m desperately ready for something fresh and clean. Living in the tropics is a never ending fight against mould and damp so I have my practical hat on at the same time.
I’m not kidding myself. I know I’m limited by the mighty dollar or lack thereof. I’ll be recycling, reimagining, reinterpreting.
I love that this is an excuse to indulge in my textile addiction. I’ve spent hours poring over the handwoven indigo collections at Threads Of Life and Ikat Batik Indigo House in Ubud. Out of reach right now, they’re on my future ‘treat list’. Just recently I was so excited to discover that Kupang is a hub for hand-dyed, handwoven indigo textiles. Perfect excuse to drop by on my next trip to Timor-Leste. (Sadly Covid-19 happened and that trip cancelled. It’s on my wish list.)
My reality is a range of local quality fabrics (dodgy weaves and dyes) picked up in Jalan Sulawesi, the fabric market in Denpasar. With some hard bargaining I managed to add in some nice quality authentic batik sarongs to my mix.
I start with bed covers, cushions, curtains, recycling old towels into bathroom mats. Cantik gets his own custom designed indigo cushion.
Old furniture gets new life with a coat of white paint.
This is my home, not an instant Instagram moment. It may take years to create. And I look forward to the creating and collecting, every piece with a story to tell.
Piece by piece… I’ll get there.
Precision Vs. Ingenuity.
I can talk the language of architects and builders. I know my way around a set of plans and am quite at home on a construction site.
But I have no experience in foundations and roofs. I’m relying on local knowledge with a handful of my logic thrown in. No engineers to call on.
My 20+years’ experience designing and building retail stores in Australia is not something I can explain in my basic Bahasa Indonesia. I certainly can’t explain the pages and pages of computer generated architect plans, complex project management processes, let alone the budget control mechanisms that formed my world.
If I have to put one word to that world it would be…. PRECISION.
No surprise, I have no clue what that translates to in Bahasa Indonesia. A quick hit on Google Translate gives me the word ‘presisi’. I file it away as a word don’t think I’ll ever need.
The one word for the world I now live in would have to be….. KIRA-KIRA. It loosely translates to ‘about’ or ‘approx’.
The lumbung is being built to specification by a separate group of builders, so no surprises there, but everything else is a moving feast.
For the bathroom and kitchen we’re working off my hand drawn scratchy plans combined with a few inspo photos on my phone. No one is fussed. A bit of a drawing in the dirt works for them.
As each day progresses I let go of precision, the bucket loads of ingenuity and resourcefulness works for me.
I’m not sure which part of my body hurts the most.
Possibly my butt after spending hours perched on logs, knife in hand, peeling off bark followed by sanding down by hand. My hands and shoulders are a close second on the ‘what hurts most’ scale.
All those years of Bootcamp Bali Style….. they’re nothing compared to the daily workout this project is serving up.
Pain aside, I’m in love with the pared back logs. All different shapes and sizes, different timber species. Most are off big trees cut back to make way for food gardens or when they became too big and dangerous in our tropical rainstorms. I love how imperfect they are. They’ll become the uprights in the bathroom and kitchen.
Nothing glamourous about life right now.
White Paint. It’s Like Chocolate. Fixes Everything.
I’m dirty all day every day. Mud seems to seep into my rubber boots.
The house is being built on farmland, I’m surrounded by the ultimate edible garden.
The soil is rich and fertile, perfect for the vegetables, fruits and trees, but once the afternoon tropical downpour dumps down on us, the paths turn to mud.
My job today is ‘whitewashing’ the logs. Just what I needed.
A tin of white paint is right up there with a fresh white shirt in my world right now.
What Have I Done? Doubts Come Crashing In.
My first ‘bad day’. It had to happen.
I chose a hot humid day for running around Denpasar in search of the stuff I can’t buy in the village, and despite the GoJek invasion, can’t be delivered. Sinks, water heater, shower head, taps, gas stove etc etc etc. I have a long list.
The first stop was a hit.
I was in search of a ceramic washbasin for the bathroom. I’d set my heart on a piece in old Dutch style I’d spotted a few months ago in my favourite antique store. It was exquisite, but at 1 million rupiah or so (100 bucks) it was a budget buster.
I had vague directions from a friend along the lines of ‘look for an “Antiques” sign painted in red on the right side of the road in Singapadu, you’ll have to slow down to see it.’ I got lucky, spotting the sign jammed in amongst a street full of traders in stone statues, antiques, building materials and the usual local warungs.
I was hoping for decorative glazed ceramic bowls, old oriental style, classic dark blue patterns.
Washbasin. $9. Winning.
Something pretty to start the day. Just what I needed.
I not only found the perfect bowl, I discovered beautiful lamps that I quickly mentally noted on my ‘future treat list’.
The pretty moment over, the day took a more practical vibe as I looked down at my list of plumbing, electrical and building supplies. There are now flashy hardware/homemaker stores in Denpasar. The kind that have glossy ceramic floors, clean shelves, lots of lighting and impressive branded displays to show off shiny bathrooms and kitchens.
Whipping round the glossy floors in air conditioned comfort was not for me today. My budget sent me to the local hole in the wall stores, the gloss replaced by street dirt blowing in the open shopfronts. My Indonesian ‘construction vocabulary’ expands every hour.
I arrived home, hot and bothered to find no one at the land. When I left in the morning we’d agreed that the project for the day was to build the kitchen foundation.
Stumbling along the the muddy paths, rain pouring down, I couldn’t see any sign of a new foundation.
What I did see was uprights and a roof installed for the bathroom. But it was not looking good, in fact horrible. Bad painting. The roof not exactly as planned. I panic a little, filled with doubt over what I’ve designed now that I see it in real life. The hardest thing to build is something simple, pared back. It doesn’t need to be perfect but it takes restraint and an eye. Simple rustic design can so easily cross the line into clumsy, ugly! What have I done?
Lesson learnt. I need to be here to guide the jobs that are open to interpretation.
Hot, dirty, I walk home in the rain. My muddy boots feel a little heavier.
I Really Need To Get Over Myself
A walk at 5am with Cantik puts me back in a good place. Cantik thinks every walk is the best walk in his life. It’s impossible to not to get caught up in his tail wagging happiness.
By 6am I’m back on the land, my mind in a good place. It’s a new day. I embark on a cleaning frenzy, clearing up timber, tools, general construction mess. Now I can think clearly.
Once the crew roll in I find out the reason for the major change of project yesterday. It turns out the blocks for the kitchen foundation didn’t get delivered on time so they decided to launch into the bathroom.
I can hardly be upset. I can see they worked their butts off. So we agree that painting doesn’t happen without me and to let the bathroom go for a while (giving me time to rethink.) We set about laying the foundation for the kitchen.
This was the first of many lessons in adjusting my expectations.
I’m having to walk the talk on my belief that “life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful”.
(A few weeks later, when I have a bathroom that is so imperfectly lovely, I ruefully ask myself.….. ‘what the hell was I going on about? Followed up by a little advice to self….. I really need to get over myself).
Mixing Cement In A French Straw Hat. What Was I Thinking?
Its seems I’m the only one who doesn’t know how to mix up a batch of cement.
I clearly skipped that lesson in life and am feeling quite inadequate. Everyone dips in and out of the various stages of mixing, hauling, hand pouring cement with ease.
Arni whips up cement with the same ease as whipping up the famous Sharing Bali banana pancakes. All those years Arni worked in the Sharing Bali kitchen and I had no idea of her multi talents.
I join in the sifting of the sand process. By the time we’re done I’ve mastered the final flick of the mesh to toss out the big stones and proved myself as a carrier of buckets of wet cement.
My beautiful straw hat, bought in the Le Bourg D’Oisan market on my last trip to The French Alps, becomes the victim of the fine black sand flying through the air. It will never be the same.
Covered in black sand, sweat and general grime, I find it hard to believe I’m the same person who can waft around a French marketplace.
Water. Electricity. No one to call.
Turning on a tap to get clean running water is not something you take for granted when building on remote farmland in Bali. Same goes for flicking a switch to turn a light on.
There’s no one to call. No system to be connected into. No one to do it for you.
I had to face up to the costs and complications of water and electricity upfront. Before I committed to the house.
I’d allowed funds for a bore, and in the scheme of things it was a big expense. And no guarantee there would be water in a convenient spot for a tank. Getting electricity could mean laying hundreds of metres of cable. At my cost.
Weighing up the options was loaded with stress. I went round and round in circles, secretly wishing someone else could work it out.
My wish came true, lucky gal that I am. The solution was being worked out behind the scenes, without my involvement.
Long story short, it was agreed I could access water and electricity from the family across the road. They put in high voltage power and a big bore and water tank set up to run their chicken shed not that long ago. It was a big expense.
I’m not really sure who suggested it to who. I’m sure it turned into one of those typical village negotiations that take place over several days before they put the proposal to me. Even though I’ve known them for years, they preferred to have the conversations without me.
I get that and as bizarre as it sounds I was really grateful it happened that way. I know my ‘tamu’ negotiating skills are too black and white, too direct for Balinese.
It was the perfect solution for everyone. They needed money. I needed power and water. The terms were fair and reasonable.
The deal was I had to organise and pay for connecting to their sources.
The water was across the road and up a hill. I envisioned a series of complicated overhead pipes. Everyone laughed at my suggestion.
‘No, it’s easy enough, we’ll put a pipe in under the road’ they said. ‘How?’ I asked. ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll take care of it’ they replied. I shut down my overthinking.
Sure enough half a day later, using nothing but a long piece of metal pipe to tunnel their way in, it was done. They took it in turns to ram the pole through the earth under the road. It was such hard work. I thought it would take days. Hard part done, pipes got dug in, taps attached, tank stand built.
Running water! Thank You!!
A Truck Load Of ‘Lego’ Arrives.
The “tukang kayu” (literally translates to wood workers aka carpenters) arrive along with a truck load of whitewashed teak timber.
I’m relieved and excited to see the power tools and compressor. We’ve been working by hand with rudimentary tools. The game has just gone up a level.
I’m so glad I decided to buy the lumbung and the workers as a package. They’ve done this before. They’re in charge.
They give the foundation the thumbs up. I breathe out. We’re good to go. They expect to take about ten days to complete it to the stage to hand over to a roof crew. I’m excited.
I take a break with the local crew whilst they unload the truck. There’s large sections of framework, semi built, as well as piles of timber pre-cut to size.
My local crew are quiet. I know they’re looking on with envy. Quality timber. Machined in a workshop in Denpasar. Tagged and labelled.
‘It’s like lego’ one of them whispers to me.
It breaks my heart a little. Having worked alongside them using basic tools, doing everything the hard way, which is their daily norm, I understand the envy. If only they knew how incredibly ingenious they are.
The “tukang kayu” get to work, no messing around. They’ve worked for this business for more than 10 years. They know what they’re doing.
I’m staggered that a crew of two is all it takes to build the lumbung.
They have a lovely easy manner, and over the next ten days we get to know them, they are good souls. I love how Indonesians become so familiar so quickly.
Family details, religion, food preferences, work conditions, what they get paid, the price of land in their village, and any other personal details are exchanged over coffee. No question is considered prying.
Nothing is discussed one to one. Everyone joins in. I love listening in.
The guys are originally from Java. They work in Bali whilst their wives and kids stay home in Java. They go home regularly, with money from their hard work for their families.
I know they all discuss my personal situation amongst themselves. They get that westerners don’t enjoy the same level of questioning. I’m ok with that chat going on. I let go of personal privacy in Bali a long time ago.
They’re impressed that I can talk reasonable sense about construction and even more impressed that I clean up the worksite every night once every one has left.
It doesn’t take long for the skeleton of the lumbung to take shape.
The structural frames soar into the big blue sky. OMG! They are over five metres high! I hadn’t really thought through the vertical space.
I only got to see a much smaller example of a lumbung, that was kinda half built, before I decided on my final dimensions.
The typical lumbung on offer is 4m x 6m. The internal space is only 4m x 4.5m. Which is perfectly fine for the tourist villas for guests staying a night or two. I wanted a house, not a villa room.
My lumbung is 8m x 6m. Internal space is 6m x 6m. That gives me a generous 2m wide terrace.
The 5m height?! It’s a bonus. I’m so in love with the lofty space looming above me.
They finish their work on schedule as promised.
We send them off with piles of their favourite vegetables from the farms of the local crew. They’ll be back in couple of weeks once the roof is on to install doors and windows.
We’re sad to see them go.
The ‘Wabi Sabi’ Way. Finding The Beauty In Imperfection.
“Wabi-sabi is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”
The traditional Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi has always appealed to me. I’m drawn to simplicity that has a rawness rather than a polish.
But it’s so easy to get seduced by ‘perfection’.
So easy to tap into a feed of glossy, perfectly styled, masterfully edited imagery. My masses of ‘inspo’ photos seem to go from refined to rustic and raw.
Working with raw, imperfect materials brings a slow pace to the day. The hours and hours of work, by hand, has brought me huge amounts of simple joy. I have endless patience going through the tangled pile of coffee wood until I have a selection suitable for each ‘wall section’ of the bathroom and kitchen. Each of the 500 pieces is different in size, with knots, forks, each one wanting to go in its own direction. The crew can’t believe how slow and patient I am. (I’m well known for my quick pace and constant productivity).
Some days ‘inspo’ and ‘reality’ get further and further apart.
I do find myself adjusting expectations as I realise the limitations of local skills, available tools and materials, and of course money. The lumbung is being built to specification by a separate group of builders, so no surprises there, but everything else is a moving feast.
I have to think quickly to come up with alternative solutions on the spot or just dig in with my own hands and knowledge to show how it can be done. Wabi-sabi isn’t an excuse for poor craftsmanship.
Often all that is needed is restraint, taking the time to find the best way to use the raw materials rather than blindly following a plan.
Then there are times when I just have to listen to the crew subtly telling me I have a ridiculous idea that won’t work or will take huge amounts of money and time. ‘Inspo’ gets ditched unceremoniously.
Wandering around a few weeks later, I can see the wabi-sabi way, reminding me to find the beauty in the imperfect more often. Every small idea has turned into something better than I ever imagined.
Inspired, I do some further reading on Wabi Sabi. It seems to be the right time. This gets my attention….
“Wabi-sabi represents a precious cache of wisdom that values tranquillity, harmony, beauty and imperfection, and can strengthen your resilience in the face of materialism.
It gently motions you to relax, slow down, step back from the hectic modern world and find enjoyment and gratitude in everything you do.
Put simply, wabi-sabi gives you permission to be yourself.
Embrace the perfection of being imperfectly you.”
So here I am… wrinkles, frizzy hair, content with my fave well loved, imperfect wicker chair.
180 Degrees Wrong! Classic ‘Tamu’ Blunder #1
Mistakes are inevitable. They have to happen and I know they will come about either from me wearing rose coloured glasses, a gap in my building knowledge or simply cultural collisions based on my ‘tamu’ status.
My ‘tamu’ blunder #1 could have been a total disaster!
It happened at a very early stage of the lumbung construction.
I didn’t even think for a moment that I would have to discuss the orientation of the house.
With such a beautiful view, where else would you put the front terrace?
Half way through unloading the wooden frameworks on to the foundation, one of the builders casually asked, as if he already knew the answer and was really just checking in, ‘which end is for the front of the house?’
‘Oh!’ he replied, when I pointed out what I thought was so damn obvious. He had a laugh to himself, no doubt thinking ‘strange tamu’.
Facing my house to the jungle gets the village chatter going. Bemused, they check in with me when I’m in the warung, chuckling when I confirm the rumour that my front door will not be facing the road.
What I think of as quietness and solitude, they think of as lonely and way too quiet, in fact frightening. Balinese compounds are ‘busy’ places, shared spaces, always someone coming or going. The only time a Balinese compound is quiet in our village is when everyone has gone out to work on their farms.
The lumbung terrace will be my place to take in the stillness, the quiet, to breathe in the lush jungle before the sun rises. I’m planning hours and hours of reading and writing, lost in my own small world.
I love the jungle. I live for my jungle treks. Nothing makes me happier.
I share my blunder with a friend. I can hear her laugh in the reply email… “imagine you, with your back to the jungle? No way!”
Disaster averted. What’s next?
Roof Crew Arrives. Island Vibe Moves In.
New day. New crew.
I’m told the roof crew will arrive today. I’m keen for them to get here and keep the progress going.
When 12 noon hits and there’s no sign of a crew, I start to wonder if I got my dates mixed up. The boss assures me via WhatsApp they’re “on their way”. Sure enough, around 1.30pm they roll in.
The boss is from Kupang, West Timor, his crew of five from the island of Sumba.
Within minutes a small speaker emerges from one of their backpacks, is strung up in a tree, phones are connected, music playing. An island vibe is here.
They only have a few backpacks between them. I spot a rice cooker and a couple of traditional woven cloths typically used as sleeping blankets. Looks like they plan to sleep here. I soon find out that’s the norm for this crew, sleeping under a tarpaulin onsite. Not spending hard earned money on motorbike fuel. They live a good two hours away from my place.
As I’m wandering around as they unpack, I’m thinking… is that it? I can’t see many tools and no sign of ladders. Maybe they’ll arrive with the supplies of tiles and timber?
They’ve got the ladder issue covered. They obviously knew there would be left over timber, and are quick to dig through the pile to find the bits and pieces needed to build ladders.
It wasn’t until I one of my hardware shopping expeditions in Denpasar that I understood why everyone has home-made ladders in the village, made from bamboo or timber. Aluminium ladders are incredibly expensive. I considered buying a small set of steps for myself, thinking it would be handy for changing light bulbs etc later on. I declined once I realised the price. I’ll be hanging on to one of the home-made wooden ladders for future use.
I can’t help but notice that they are all lean, so lean, not a spare ounce an any one of them.
Once they start shimmying up the narrow uprights with a huge roll of bedeg (woven bamboo matting) on their back, I realise being lean, agile and strong is a necessity. They mainly work barefoot, using their feet like hands, gripping on to the timber framework.
Backgrounds are exchanged over coffee once again. The Balinese are keen to know about their home, Sumba. Culturally they are so different. Food, money, religion, village life, age, marital status are all discussed.
They have the same story as our ‘tukang kayu’, leaving their villages for work in Bali so they can send money home to their families.
Talking about their life in Sumba ignites my wanderlust and reminds me Indonesia is such an interesting and diverse archipelago.
I’ve been drawn to the outer eastern islands for a while now. Spending time in Timor-Leste, just across the border from Indonesia, over the last three years has opened up a new world of travel. I love the rawness of their lives, the small islands, small communities, and of course the turquoise waters and the surprisingly rugged inland terrain. I feel very at home there.
This island vibe is inspiring me to get through this year of change, work out some sort of plan for the future, and set myself free to travel to the outer eastern islands of the archipelago.
I now have enough of a grasp on the Indonesian language to feel comfortable travelling as a solo female. I find it easy enough to make local connections, which is what travel is all about for me. Sumba has been on my wish list for a while and I’m so keen to get to Kupang to explore the indigo textiles. One must have dreams.
We settle in to a rhythm, working out how everyone likes their coffee, organising food for their cooking. They ask for papaya leaves, which the Balinese find intriguing as it’s the one leaf they don’t eat. The leaves are pretty tough, so they have to be boiled first and then added to the wok. The Balinese turn up their nose, finding the leaves too bitter.
The boss drives home to Denpasar every night so he can pick up supplies on his way the next morning. The young guys set up camp, rigging up a tarpaulin inside the lumbung, cooking on my makeshift kitchen, playing their music.
Island vibe in place.
3000 Tiles Painted By Hand….. Turns Into The Ultimate Squat Workout.
There’s some confusion about the paint colour for the tiles. I’d asked for a dark grey, which they call chocolate, that I had seen on a small gazebo in the Denpasar workshop. Somewhere, that got lost in translation. They painted a sample for me in what they thought was the correct ‘chocolate’.
I was horrified. It was nothing like the original. A few calls to the boss and we sorted it out. I really had my heart set on a dark grey roof to give a modern edge to a traditional house.
I assumed they would spray paint the tiles. Nope. Every tile would be painted by hand using a piece of sponge as an applicator. ‘How many tiles?’ I ask. ‘3,000’ came the reply, with a smile.
It seemed I was the only one overwhelmed by the prospect of hand painting 3000 tiles.
By now I’d worked out that a couple of the young guys were new to roof work. They’d worked various jobs in construction, but this was their first roof project. Painting was not one of their skills. I had to jump in, showing them how to apply the paint evenly. I don’t love painting, and I’m not that good at it, I don’t have that natural ability to get an even finish and fiddly bits drive me nuts. But I was good enough for this job. There’s nothing worse than a bad paint job. I suggested Arni and I joined in. The young guys gratefully accepted our help.
Arni was excited to learn a new skill. Her husband and father often work on house building jobs in the village in between farming. She was excited to think she could possibly get some work with her new tile painting skill.
If nothing else, I got to work on my squats with weights.
No seats or benches, we squatted on the ground to paint. It was quite a workout…. lifting a stack of tiles from a sitting squat position, carrying stack a few metres, squatting back down to put stack on the ground, apply paint, squat, lift and move the painted pile.
Repeat. All day. And the next day….. etc. etc.
Shifting Soil. Farmers At Work.
I can’t believe how quickly, naturally and effortlessly the land is being transformed into gardens, paths, fences, water channels. It happens seamlessly whilst building is going on.
One advantage of building in the wet season is it’s easy to see where water naturally flows during downpours. I’m on sloping, uneven land so it’s quite a consideration.
I’m paranoid about pools of stagnant water, the perfect home for mosquitos, and huge streams of water gushing down the ravine with the potential to cause landslides in the future terrify me.
Every day we see where we need to make a water channel using blocks or logs to break down the flow, putting in stepped paths, as well as coconut shells to stabilise the garden beds.
There’s a lot of shifting of soil. Everyone works as a team, literally shoulder to shoulder in a small space. One breaks down the land with a hoe, dumping the soil on to a flattened rice sack (the wheelbarrow blew a tyre earlier in the day), to be shifted away by two carriers. Meanwhile two are hauling in logs for the paths.
As farmers they swing the hoes easily, gracefully. I can’t do it. After five minutes I have blisters on my hands, my neck and back hurts.
I find it hard to fit into the workflow. They seem to be working intuitively, no discussion taking place on where the soil is to go, what direction the path should take, what to do next. I think they’re all relieved when I find a job elsewhere and get out of their way.
Its back breaking work that would have most of us reaching for the phone to call in the landscapers, ordering up backhoes, diggers, anything and everything mechanical.
This is the stuff that would cost thousands of dollars if I was building in Australia.
More than once I had to hold back tears of appreciation.
A Cultural Clash Sends Me Home In Tears
As soon as I arrived I sensed something was going on. The roof boys were up, making coffee, hanging in the kitchen. They jumped up, pointing to something on the kitchen terrace. I find their Indonesian more difficult to understand, but soon worked out they were talking about an ‘anjin’ (a dog). Through the open kitchen I could vaguely see a black tail wagging. My immediate thought… ‘oh, how nice, they’ve bought a young pup to take home to Denpasar as a pet.’ I’d brought Cantik along for the first time the day before and everyone fell in love with him, so it made sense to me that they thought my place was dog friendly.
I was eager to meet the pup.
As I turned the corner of the kitchen I could see he was tied to a post with string. But as I got closer I could see they had tied string around his mouth. The string was cutting in to him and he was distressed. In my poor Indonesian I asked “why? , why?”. They replied they were afraid he would bite them.
It took me a little while but I got the dog to trust me and snuggle into me whilst I tried to get rid of the string. But it was too tight. I couldn’t get it undone. As soon as the boys came near him, he got scared and whimpered and jumped all over the place.
I was furious. I started to panic because I couldn’t help. Amongst the chaos I was trying to explain why this was so wrong. I cursed myself for not having a better grasp of the language.
Maybe my constant exhausted, dirty and sweaty state working amongst messy muddy conditions caught up with me. This pushed me over the edge.
Tucking Cantik under my arm I walked home, tears streaming down my face.
I didn’t know what to do with myself once I got home. Intuitively I knew I had to rethink it, I knew there was more to the situation. And it was cultural.
I started digging in my veggie gardens. I think better when I’m moving.
As I slowly calmed down, I recalled a conversation with some Sharing Bali guests who’d spent time in Timor-Leste as aid workers a few years ago. It was at the height of the crisis, the UN had taken over. Poverty was very real. People were hungry. Sitting on the beach in Dili, winding down at the end of the day, the conversation turned to their horror that the locals were eating dog. No doubt similar to my reaction. Our pet culture just can’t come to grips with eating our beloved furry friends. Our dogs eat better than many humans. But a voice of reason spoke up in their group…. “for many, there is no food, who are we to judge?”
With not an ounce of excess fat between them, I have no doubt that every one of these young guys lived a lean life back in their villages in Sumba.
I saw a sweet puppy, they saw food.
Arni was sent to find me, assuring me the dog had been set free. As I scooted back to the house on the back of the bike I pulled myself together.
I wasn’t the only one in a mess. My tears had sent them into a panic, concerned for my distress, but more terrified they might lose their jobs. They called the boss to explain.
Now it was my turn to apologise. This is a group of young guys who chose to leave their villages in Sumba to find a better life. With no family in Bali for backup, life depends on each job. After so many years living a village life I get that scenario. I promised there would be no problems, I now understood.
Filled with guilt I shouted dinner for everyone.
Privileged western girl. That was me. I’m still learning.
It didn’t take long for a running joke about my abilities as a labourer to start up amongst the crew.
The women would load up at least two building blocks on their head, whilst I carried one, in my hands. My bucket of stones was only half filled.
They joked that my daily ‘gaji’ (wages) will be small considering my efforts. But I’d likely get a bonus for working the most hours as my work didn’t stop once every one went home.
We shifted truckloads of stones, building blocks, logs, tiles and timber in awkward spaces, navigating a path in between trees, stepping over plants and tree roots, on sloping land. Every footstep counted.
My balance, which can be dodgy if I’m not focused, was tested. I didn’t take risks, the last thing I needed was an injury. I knew my limits.
Over the last few years I’ve shifted to ‘active living’ letting myself off the hook from a regular fitness routine. I love to hike and with so many beautiful jungle walks on my doorstep I’m spoilt for choice. My morning walks include interval work on hills. Sitting on the floor Balinese style has improved my flexibility. Whenever I feel the need for a little more intensity I throw in some mat work, my own mash up of pilates/cardio/weights. So whilst I’m not the fittest or the fastest, active living really works for me.
This project took it up another level. Every day was a full body workout.
Whilst I would feel bodily exhausted at the end of most days, after food and sleep, I was up for doing it all over again, the next day. I felt stronger every day.
I wasn’t working at a punishing pace. I’d learnt to adopt the local steady pace with lots of short breaks when the work was heavy. Running around Denpasar or Gianyar, shopping for tiles, electrical supplies, paint and all the other bits and pieces were welcome ‘rest days’.
But what felt really good was realising I pretty much had full range of movement with no niggling pains. I felt more naturally mobile, more agile.
It felt more than physically empowering. A quiet confidence boost. I’m 58. Bloody hell I can do this.
Life has become very practical. I have 3 sets of paint and cement splattered clothes, one on, one soaking, one drying. Rubber boots. Gloves. I don’t go anywhere without my metal tape measure.
Relief was in site. The lucky gal that I am, had a ticket to New Zealand to help out on a retreat with my bestie Jo Sharp.
I’ve never been so excited to pack a bag of fresh clean clothes. A white shirt was the first piece in along with hiking gear for the cold.
Moet was on my mind as I headed to the airport.
A lot of work was planned to happen whilst I was away for 8 days. The roof completed, a ‘finishing crew’ take over to spray a final coat on the timber work, and the ‘tukang kayu’ returning to install doors and windows.
I had no problem walking away from it all. I trusted everyone to do what they do.
I was so ready to slip into my role of ‘assistant’ on retreat.
Knocking back my first glass of champagne at the airport felt so good.
The hiking filled my soul, kayaking was so much fun, the air was cold but so clean, and we were spoilt with good food and wine every day. Laughs were had, stories shared, friendships sealed.
I didn’t feel the need to check in. I didn’t ask for updates. But every couple of days a video sent via WhatsApp turned up on my phone.
I felt like a princess, clicking ‘play’ to see my home taking shape without me, whilst glamping it up in my posh yurt.
Aside from the lumbung progress I could see there was a serious “Back Yard Blitz Bali Style” going on. I felt like I was on a reality show where some lucky person gets sent on a holiday whilst the garden gets a makeover.
On our last afternoon Jo and I set ourselves up for a final “Moet Meeting” on a wool picnic blanket on the grass, surrounded by our yurts and a tepee, overlooking the view. It was peaceful, serene.
We laughed over our Thelma and Louisa moments navigating our way around in the van, but most of all we discussed how lucky we were to be here, and that we have the good health to live this ‘active travel’ life.
Our bodies haven’t given up on us yet. We joke about what life could look like later, meeting up somewhere around the world with our zimmer frames, painted with attitude of course, to ‘hike’ and celebrate life over a Moet.
I had an inward sigh as I looked around. Rolling green grounds, perfectly appointed yurts, a kitchen that would please any Masterchef and so many thoughtful touches that made our stay special. It all looked so ‘perfect’ but at the same time I could see the hard work and courage it had taken to get here.
The owners, a lovely couple with a young child, had brought their dreams and their beliefs to life from the ground up. This was no copycat concept. And there was more work to be done, their dream still slowly evolving, projects were going on behind the scenes.
‘How quickly we can forget what it takes to get here’, I thought to myself.
Later that night I packed my bag with wonderful memories and a renewed appreciation for the power of new beginnings.
House Blessing…. More Chaos Than Calm.
Preparation for the house blessing ceremony took place whilst I was glamping it up in New Zealand.
We discussed the details before I left, who was going to make the offerings, how much money was needed, the best date in the Balinese calendar. All organised. Or so I thought.
A series of frantic messages to my phone revealed that the priest had upped the ceremony level. The size of the house demanded a bigger ceremony. More offerings, more time, more help, more money needed. I could sense the panic in the messages, it had to get done before the upcoming Galungan ceremony. They booked in the priest for the day after I planned to arrive home from New Zealand.
I didn’t really understand how big it was until photos of the offerings in progress arrived on my phone.
I knew straight away that everyone was working into the late hours of the night, I felt bad for not being there.
I arrived home close to midnight after a long day of travel to the usual hysterical, heart-tugging squeals and cuddles from Cantik. So I wasn’t feeling at my best after only a hour of sleep as I dressed in my kebaya and sarong the next morning, but I really wanted to be as much help as possible with the ceremony preparation.
Walking down the path, I could see a blur of sarongs through the trees as women dashed around frantically placing piles of offerings in auspicious places. This was not the usual Bali pace.
The priest had brought forward the ceremony to the morning at the last minute. Total chaos.
No time to look at the house. The priest was on his mat, a hole was being hastily dug for offerings to go in the ground under the kitchen, and to add to the chaos, the kitchen door had to be relocated. We’d screwed up, kitchen doors cannot open to the west. I’ve quickly learnt that anyone in this village can relocate a door. Hammers, nails and saws were found. Job done.
To outsiders, Balinese ceremonies appear to be serene, peaceful events. The reality is a few moments of total peace but 99% of the time its organised (kinda) chaos.
Ceremony complete, we sit on the ground eating ‘nasi bunkus’ and drinking coffee. I could feel the relief in the group.
There’s a certain amount of stress attached to getting a ceremony ‘right’. The culture is strong in this village. Ancient rituals are revered.
They all agree the house is now safe. The spirits are happy.
A Garden Full Of Gifts
My gardens make my heart sing for so many reasons.
I think of them as a gift. One that keeps growing and giving.
As the land was already being farmed I had a head start with an array of trees and fruit and vegetable crops .
Everything else has been kindly given to me.
Masses of plants, not just small cuttings, well established trees, bushes and flowers have been transplanted from the gardens and farms of friends and neighbours.
The soil is incredibly fertile, combined with the wet season rain, a recipe for an instant garden. Pretty sure you could put a stick in the ground and it would grow.
I had a loose plan. I really wanted as much as possible to be edible. Without looking like a farm or a nursery plot. And flowers. Lots of fragrant flowers.
I have beds of sweet potato beneath frangipani trees, borders of lemongrass, gingers dotted everywhere, dragonfruit and vanilla along the fences. Passionfruit is waiting to grow into a shade covering vine. Pineapples in sunny corners. The vegetable patch, one step from the kitchen, is filled with a variety of green leafy vegetables. There’s black bean, tapioca, banana and papaya trees. Best of all, I have a well-established mangosteen tree feeding my three mangosteens a day habit right now.
I love that the gardens are somewhat ‘messy’ rather than manicured. More village less villa.
As I look out from the terrace I can see one random sunflower bursting out into the sunshine, towering over gentler flowers and greenery below. Shockingly pink flowers pop out from under the shade of leafy banana trees. Jackfruit and durian trees, are set against a backdrop jungle of bamboo and palm trees.
I’m a sucker for frangipanis. They take me back to my early days of travelling to Bali, walking out of the old airport and being hit with warm tropical air, the fragrance of frangipanis and incense. It felt exotic. Exciting. I miss that old airport.
Frangipanis remind me that less is more. Perfect simple elegance. Chanel has her camelia, Bali has the frangipani.
So when I came home from New Zealand I was thrilled to find frangipani trees in every part of the gardens. Wherever I stood I could see a frangipani. I felt incredibly spoilt.
I’ve kept one small area for grass, somewhere to roll out my yoga mat and eventually a place to invite local women to do some exercise with me. Right now I curse it every day, more mud than grass, its responsible for Cantik’s trail of muddy pawprints all over the place. It’s a work in progress.
I work in the garden most days. It feels like I’m taming a jungle and growing food is constant work, weeding, feeding, transplanting. It’s a never ending, yet satisfying source of food, creativity, and a workout that keeps me moving, stretching, lifting and squatting.
Any time I find myself wallowing in a low moment for whatever reason, I take myself for a wander in the garden. I can usually find whatever it is I need to get over myself.
Bathroom Bliss. Mood Indigo
I am so in love with my bathroom.
It may be a little shonky in parts, but I chalk those up as character bits.
Its more outdoors than in.
Pretty but not precious.
No surprise, it’s not as sophisticated and polished as my inspo board….
And this is reality…..
It may look simple, but it was a lot of work.
I will never take for granted, ever again, having hot water at the flick of a handle.
Wet Season Tears.
The roof is crying.
Turns out I have a few leaks. The Sumba crew haven’t done a good job. My plans to move in are shut down until the roof is fixed.
There are plenty of horror stories about construction crews disappearing once problems set in. Friends of mine found themselves with a half-finished job and seriously out of pocket after the crew boss disappeared with their significant pre-payment. Police were called in, but they’re yet to be found.
Thankfully I don’t have those problems. My guy is so polite, so honest. He promises to fix the problems asap. I request a new crew and just to be safe, I negotiate a two year guarantee on the roof. The thought of wet season tears in the future does me in.
Standing on the side of the road, he scribbles out a hand written ‘contract’ in his pink invoice book, made all the more official by stamping his company details on the page. I can’t believe he has a rubber stamp and inkpad in his bag.
The leaks damage my newly painted floor and the garden gets trashed as they throw down discarded roof tiles. It’s not pretty, but I don’t care.
All I want is a waterproof roof that holds up in tropical downpours. I don’t care how long it takes to fix.
No Hard Hats. Compliance? What’s That?
My inner Captain Sensible gnawed away at me each day.
What happens if we have an accident or an emergency of some sort?
Typically there’s no expectation of an instant response from an ambulance. That’s the reality of village life. When an accident happens the coconut telegraph kicks into action to round up help. Someone falls in the jungle or out of a tree, a crowd of helpers seem to appear from nowhere. The word spreads to find someone with a car or an open truck to transport to the doctor or hospital. The closest doctor is a minimum 10 minutes away at a breakneck speed. The hospital at least 25 minutes. It happens quickly. Everyone does their best.
Thankfully a new hospital has just opened in Payangan with services that equal the bigger regional hospitals. And they have an ambulance. Tapping the number into my phone set my mind at ease a little.
I’m used to working on sites with hard hats and comprehensively documented safety codes that leave nothing to chance. Compliance is non-negotiable.
Here I have workers climbing trees, hanging off roof structures barefoot, using rickety home-made ladders, lifting heavy and awkward objects, swinging machetes.
But I could see a whole lot of ‘common sense’ at work.
There’s a steady careful pace, no one rushes.
Multi-tasking is not a thing. No one juggles jobs, nor talks on the phone and works. They really have mastered doing one thing at a time…. note to self!
It’s rare for anyone to work alone. Everyone works on the same job at once, literally side by side, everyone is visible. No one is off by themselves on a job. Safety in numbers.
At the first sign of rain or an electrical storm, tools were disconnected, power shut down. No discussion took place, it clearly was a rule that needed no debate. Dodgy power is the norm, I unplug my phone and laptop every time we have a storm. It’s a way of life.
No one works until they’re drop dead exhausted. Breaks are taken when physically needed, not by the clock.
There’s numerous short breaks for water and snacks on the hotter days or when the work is heavy lifting. On longer breaks they eat, completely relax, switch off. No one’s watching the clock.
Every now and then I’d realise that aside from the chirping of the birds, or the cows mooing in the background, I was surrounded by quiet, dead quiet. Not a voice. Not a laugh. Not a sound from tapping of tools. Arni would do a lap to pick up coffee glasses and report back that the workers were asleep.
Never in all my working life have I been surrounded by workers taking lunchtime sleeps. Guilt free. When I think back the differences are stark. Our lunch breaks were filled with personal jobs or gulping down food at the desk. Busy filling in every moment of the day, “productivity” on our minds. Crazy.
In my early years travelling through South-East Asia I was so quick to jump to the conclusion that not much work gets done. What are these people doing sleeping on the job?
I see it differently now.
My years of running fitness retreats and leading jungle treks and mountain hikes taught me that multi-tasking, distraction, fatigue, dehydration, stress, hygiene lapses, straying from the safety of the group are real dangers. All common sense factors that so easily get swept away in the excitement of the day or the need to ‘do more, go faster’. I was on alert every day, watching out for risky behaviour. Getting everyone to really rest and recover was often the hardest task.
The Captain Sensible within me did everything possible to avoid an incident onsite. It became a never ending cycle of providing good clean drinking water on tap all day, organising fuelling food, cleaning plates, glasses, utensils in whatever stage of kitchen we had. Working on my theory ‘a clean site is a safe site’ I cleaned up tools, abandoned timber, anything that one could trip over all day every day. At the same time I had my fingers crossed, desperately hoping a little luck would come out to play.
Stretched out on my concrete floor, shaded from the heat, I envy the workers ability to sleep anywhere, any time. This is what sensible rest and recovery looks like. Not an ounce of stress amongst them.
My first aid kit only came out once to clean up a scratch. A bottle of Bokasih ointment dealt with minor bites and irritations.
One of the young guys fell from the roof, not the top thank goodness, more of a tumble than a serious fall. He bounced straight back up to the sound of everyone, including himself, laughing.
My heart was the only one that temporarily stopped.
The work got done. On time.
(Little did I know at the time that the only person to take a ride in an ambulance would be me! Nothing to do with building the house, a couple of weeks later I had a little Covid-19 incident.)
Roof Take Two
We’re so close… the sun is shining, if the rain holds off today roof number two will be done.
As I sit here writing, I can see buckets of wet cement being sent up to the roof via a long piece of wood with a nail to hook the bucket of cement on. One person is on the roof, one is below mixing the cement and filling the bucket.
A dash to the kitchen is a little hazardous. I have to poke my head around the door to check for incoming blobs of wet cement dropping from the rooftop and dodge the tiles being lobbed on to the roof.
My heart lurches as I watch the guys toss the tiles to the roof top.
The ‘tosser’ grabs a tile, does a double handed toss with a bit of a squat thrown in. The tile arcs into the air, towards the ‘catcher’ squatting on the spine of the roof 6 metres in the air.
I hold my breath terrified the tile ‘catcher’ will overreach and take a big tumble. The workers laugh at me. They make it look effortless, with not a care in the world.
Everyone is working at a pace, keen to get it finished. The new roof crew are determined to get it right for me. I’ve done everything possible to make it easy for them, giving them a bungalow at Ayung Sari Indah so they don’t have to travel 2 hours back and forth every day. Arni cooks up a storm in the kitchen every day. Fish, spicy sambal, rice, tofu, endless coffee and snacks and whenever possible a durian, their most fave fruit.
Arni, myself and Ibu Dolier formed a daily chain gang to unload the new tiles, clear away the old tiles and generally move the tiles to wherever the guys needed them to save them time.
Lifting and lugging 5,500 tiles around is not that much fun, but right now I would have shifted every one of them by myself if I had to. I just want this damn roof to be done.
As the light of the day starts to fade, the guys get it done. After seven long days they’re ready to take showers, pack their bags, and eat dinner for the last time before heading home to Denpasar on their motorbikes.
Me, I’m ready to dance on the terrace. I cross my fingers that this one works. No more ‘bocor” (leaks)! Please.
Kitchen Meets Warung. Getting The “Yell Factor” Right.
From Day One I knew exactly what I wanted the kitchen to be about.
Like a village ‘warung’ but a little less damp and a lot more clean. Surrounded by edible gardens.
I love the friendliness, the lack of formality of a local warung or a food stall at the market.
No one’s in a hurry.
There’s no barrier between ‘front and back of house’, one can see through to the tiny blackened kitchen in the back, a charcoal grill is smoking away next to the table.
The table and bench seat are shared by all, if needed, boxes are shifted to find a space to perch on.
Farmers straight from the rice fields, machetes tucked into the back of their sarongs, drop in. There’s no dress code.
With no delivery door out the back, supplies are dropped off out front, money changes hands over coffee. One may have to stumble over a piles of vegetables or a crate of Bintang to get to the table depending on the time of day.
More practical than polished, unlike the café scene that spoils us with a different plate, cup, cutlery for every dish, the warung keeps it simple and functional. Food is served on simple enamel plates or in a basket lined with brown paper. There’s not much need for cutlery as everyone eats with their hands. A small glass works for coffee, tea or water.
One stack of plates. One stack of baskets. One stack of glasses. Spoons. All the same.
Whilst they may be incredibly multi-functional, I find something charming in each one. The glasses have a floral pattern, the baskets are handwoven, the plates are slightly bowl like, the perfect shape to hold in one hand.
No menus. No price lists. No talk of food intolerances or dietary preferences. “Nasi Campur” (a mixed plate of rice, vegetables, chicken or pork and spicy sambals) is typically the only dish on offer and it varies from warung to warung and depends on the variety of vegetables picked that day.
Snacks are piled up on the table. Freshly cooked banana fritters, colourful wickedly sweet treats, rice crackers or unfortunately, the ever increasingly common packaged snacks bought from mobile vendors.
An honour system is in place. Help yourself. Pay when you leave.
I always find it a humbling experience to take a place at the table.
The owner of the warung is the cook, coffee maker, supplies controller, and most importantly, a critical player in the ‘coconut telegraph’ system.
If you need to find someone or get news on whatever the latest issue is, the warung is the go to place. Conversations happen in 360 degrees, everyone listens in, adds their bit. Privacy? Doesn’t exist.
What I love most is the tolerance for the ‘yelling out’ that goes on.
Its ok to yell out from the table with an order to ‘Ibu’ (warung owner) who might be at the stove, filling up a bike with petrol or squatting on the floor chopping up chillies
A yelp and a wave does the trick to stop passers-by on motorbikes. Messages are exchanged without anyone leaving their bike or their place at the stove.
The yelling isn’t aggressive or demanding. And it doesn’t go on unnecessarily. Nobody is offended. Politeness doesn’t get petty.
So much living gets jammed into a small space. Food, conversation, trading, coffee.
I’m obsessed by getting the essence of a warung into my kitchen. Every time I’m in a warung or food stall I save a detail in my mind that I love. I drive everyone nuts showing my photos of those small details.
At first they really don’t get why I want to build a warung in my house.
A typical family kitchen in the village is a tiny, smoky dark place, built solely for cooking, room for one or two people only. Meals are not communal occasions, instead everyone helps themselves to food at random times, squatting down nearby to eat. No talking. Once they’ve washed their plate and their hands they may sit around and talk over coffee. It’s more functional than social.
But there is one rule. All visitors, anyone who drops in, are invited to eat. At any time of the day. Its considered rude not to sit for a while, accept a plate of food, or at least tea or coffee with a snack and then talk. No matter how tough times are, food is always offered to be shared, with dignity.
I’ve just given myself permission to keep a supply of snacks on hand as I really want my kitchen to be a place for anyone to drop by.
To sort out my thoughts I made myself a concept board.
Traditional warung meets beach bar is where I started. Thanks to Pinterest I had a daily stream of ‘we found some fresh pins for you’ updates. I was spoilt for ideas.
I worked out the overall size of the kitchen, hand drawing the external and internal details to scale in my notebook. I created three sections defined by their function – an outside covered terrace with table and seat, an inside kitchen for cooking, serving and storing, a back terrace for the messy work – food prep, washing dishes, rubbish. I measured everything – gas bottle and cooktop, fridge, rubbish bin, benches, as there’s nothing more annoying to find the fridge doesn’t quite fit or the power point is in the wrong place.
We ripped the ‘plan’ pages out of my notebook, stuck them on a post and got to work.
Everyone thought I was nuts when I first talked about the kitchen design. Walls of ‘kopi kayu’ (coffee wood)… really?
At one stage I started to agree with them. Maybe I was nuts, building this whacky open kitchen with no real idea how it was going to work out.
I patiently hand picked every piece of ‘kopi kayu’ timber for the ‘walls’. As each piece was so wayward I soon realised I would need a way to string them together horizontally. For no other reason than thinking ‘that might be useful and I like the colour’, I’d bought a big roll of blue nylon rope on one of my trips to Denpasar. That roll of rope saved the day on more than one occasion.
I started lacing the uprights together. It was a good idea but my tying technique was amateur. The crew took over, with that naturally ingenious way of being able to make something out of nothing and get it looking good.
My space planning didn’t change, but nearly everything else did along the way. It was a very intuitive flexible building process.
We reworked left over timber from the lumbung into doors, shelves and a table. Offcuts from whitewashed logs were dug into the ground for seats. Leftover floor tiles became a benchtop for the ‘back of house’.
So my kitchen is nowhere near as ‘fabulous’ as I had originally imagined.
But if I’m honest I was kidding myself. To turn the concept board into reality I really needed a lot more money for better quality materials and many more hours of labour to get anywhere close to the inspo pics.
But I don’t care. There is so much I love about the kitchen.
I can now look past the timber framework for the roof, which if I’m honest is more ‘local shed like’ than my original ‘rustic meets minimal’ aspirations.
The ‘yell factor’ is in place.
With the ‘360 degrees views’ I can yell out to Ibu Kabel feeding the cows in the afternoon to invite her in for coffee. I can see through the trees to the road to yell out to people walking by or pulling up on their motorbikes.
Arni has her own special callout that reaches as far as Ibu Dolier and family farming their land on the other side of the road. We’re usually asking if they have a coconut or papaya, whatever we may be out of in the kitchen, or inviting them over to join us for coffee, snacks, and news.
My shelves are stacked with simple local style plates and glasses. I drink my wine, beer, tea, coffee or water from a classic “Bali Kopi” glass. Plates and serving trays are enamel which may sound very basic, but the traditional floral patterns are beautiful, masking the functional. I have a few enamel plates that I picked up in an antique store. I’m not precious, I use them every day.
Local warungs and foodstalls are not the cleanest places in Bali. Over the years I think I’ve built up my immunity, now I don’t really think twice about where I eat or drink. I certainly can’t be fussy when I’m invited to ceremonies or into homes.
But when it comes to my own kitchen, I become more villa than village. I love spotlessly clean. Every day.
The ceramic tile floors and stainless steel benches can all be wiped clean until sparkling. The ‘wet area’ out the back for the messy stage of food prep, washing dishes, unloading produce and storing cleaning paraphernalia works well. Kitchen scraps go straight to the compost pile, any other rubbish straight to a rubbish pit leaving nothing tempting for any mice in the neighbourhood thinking of dropping by. (Mice are a part of life in Bali, living in the rice fields, they love to hang out in kitchen roofs. It only takes a scrap of food to bring on a visit).
The open walls let in the dust, but I’ll take dust over damp any day.
Looking back now I can’t believe how close I came to getting it all wrong, falling into the trap of yet another ‘tamu blunder’.
I was clear about the kitchen design but my thinking on the path to get to the kitchen was completely screwed up.
I slipped into old thinking… house first, kitchen second. I imagined the path from the road would take me to a fabulous entry doorway, framed by colourful flowering foliage, through the garden to my terrace and the front door. The path would then continue on to the kitchen, tucked around the corner from the house. La la la, clearly I had too much time on Pinterest.
What was I thinking? No one would drop by. Arriving at my lovely front door would be so formal and so intimidating. And certainly no one would want to pass by my terrace to get to the kitchen.
But I got there in a round-about, very intuitive way. Giving over the planning of entries and paths to the spirits and local ways saved me.
I now have kitchen first, house second. More village than villa.
I laugh to myself as I flick through my notebook. The first few pages are filled with tear outs from magazines showing photos of fabulous doors in exotic settings. I had my heart set on a fabulous antique wooden door painted in tropical hot pink or deep turquoise blue. I spent hours and days searching antique stores. I found what I was looking for not far from Ubud. I even talked the guys into letting me be in their workshop when they did the spray painting so I could check on the depth of colour, getting just the right amount of ‘washed out’ finish.
The reality is the entry path takes me to a home-made gate, built from left over timber, opening on to the back of the kitchen, which is kinda messy but so right.
We can all see over and through the gate. If I’m not in the kitchen, a yell from the gate is enough to call me out of the house if Cantik in his role of ‘satpam’ (personal security for me) isn’t already barking.
The back terrace has turned into the ‘village warung’ for anyone dropping in. Vegetables and fruit are dropped onto the bench by the sink. Water bottles are refilled from the kitchen tap. Everyone makes themselves at home, sitting on the concrete floor or on garden blocks, with no need to take off their mud caked rubber boots. My machete, yes I have my own now, is always on the bench ready to open a coconut to be shared around.
Conversations are kept up through the open walls with whomever is in the kitchen. We catch up on village news over coffee and snacks.
Then along came the Covid-19 pandemic changing everything, locking us down all over the world.
My gate no longer swings freely, we sit 2 metres apart if anyone drops by, and at one stage I was trading masks for mangosteens over the gate. My chances of family or friends from outside Bali coming to visit is zero.
But we still have the yell factor going on, albeit from behind a mask.
It’s quite bizarre to be wearing a mask as I walk through the rice fields with freshly cooked pumpkin pancakes wrapped up in a banana leaf to give to my farmer friends.
I find it interesting that the pandemic brought out how desperate we are for human connection and that food is a way of connecting, sharing, giving – food care packages are donated to those in need, neighbours doing grocery shopping for those that can’t get out, in Italy they’re leaning across balconies to give the neighbour a coffee and cake, restaurant kitchens no longer trading converted to creating meals for the hungry, virtual coffee breaks replaced café hangouts with friends.
I’ve had this quiet thought/hope that the kitchen will return as the heart of the home.
Imagine if we all had kitchens that neighbours and friends felt free to drop into. No scheduling required. Loneliness be gone.
Caught out. No Choice But To ‘Camp’ In My Own House. Covid-19 Factor Meets Minimalism.
Like so many in the world during the Covid-19 pandemic, my plans unravelled overnight.
I’m ‘camping’ in my new house right now.
It could be worse. In fact….
I love it.
My camping kit….
1 x table and chair
1 x big floor cushion (my bed)
1 x small floor cushion (Cantik’s bed)
I x floor mat
I bed cover
1 x rattan chair and side table
1 x small basket of clothes
1 x ladder converted to book shelves
1 x sewing machine + 1 bag of fabric and essential sewing bits and pieces
1 x yoga mat
1 x laptop, phone
1 x tote bag of personal essentials – money, passport etc.
I can’t describe how immensely happy I am in this space. It’s so incredibly uncomplicated.
I must never forget what I love about right now…..
I love the ‘studio’ vibe.
I love that I can easily move each piece of furniture indoors or outdoors, chasing the sun, the shade, or the moon depending on my mood.
I love that I can carry the ‘beds’, bedcover and mat to the terrace to air in the morning sun.
I love having only a handful of clothes to choose from every day. Marie Kondo would be proud. Minimalism mastered.
I love that I can sweep the entire floor, with no chance of dust accumulating in corners or under furniture. It’s a satisfying clean sweep.
I love this style of minimalism. The curved ceiling, whitewashed timber, natural bamboo bedeg, softens the concrete floor and glass windows. It doesn’t feel polished and perfect.
I love that I can take over the entire floor space, scattering fabric everywhere, for my sewing projects. Using the floor and having only one table forces me to clean up after every session. The permanently cluttered sewing table habit is kicked.
I love the lofty exposed ceiling, even if it does leak.
I love the lush, green layers of garden and dense jungle, bursting with flowers, natural chaos, not an ounce of restraint or minimalism, one step from my terrace.
How did this minimalism happen?
I must confess, I didn’t do the ritual of mindfully asking every item I owned if it was bringing me joy to determine what was to be kept or moved out of my life.
The truth is the combined forces of a leaky roof, getting smashed by a nasty bacterial infection and the Covid-19 factor brought about this minimalist camping scenario.
The leaky roof put a stop to repainting the floor, the last job before I could fully move in.
The roof workers are keen to get back here but as they’re from outside the village, I decided that Covid-19 isolating and social distancing practices were more important than fixing my roof. I have a tarpaulin tied over the roof as a short term fix. It works, it’s not pretty, but it’s not the end of the world.
The bacterial infection required a brief hospital visit, wiping me out for 8 days, bringing all work to a grinding halt. I’m over the worst, but my pace has gone from blitzing physical building projects to needing a little nap after sweeping the floor. I’m on a very slow mend, being kind to myself.
The Covid-19 pandemic is leaving a trail of pain the world was not ready for, changing our lives in ways we never imagined. We’re staying home, social distancing is the norm. Consuming has pared down to the essentials. We’re all learning to go without.
I’ve cancelled my travel plans for the year. The only house or garden projects that will get done are the ones that I can do by myself as I’m strictly isolating.
I could be in ‘camping mode’ for a few months, waiting for the world to return to ‘normal’ whatever that may look like. In the scheme of things, this ‘camping’ is no big sacrifice on my part. I have a roof over my ahead, (albeit a leaky one), food in the ground, water, electricity and my best four-legged friend for company.
What seemed important pre Covid-19 has been kicked down the line. Health and looking out for everyone in our community is what counts. It’s a time for doing stuff that counts.
There’s no choice but to give in gracefully.
I’m letting Cantik set the new pace….. one day at a time.
The Neighbourhood Thug Shows Up. I’m Scared.
Late afternoon. I love the hour before sunset in the tropics. Everything seems more peaceful as the light softens and the heat disappears. It’s chill time.
Wandering across to the kitchen, in search of ginger tea, a loud rustle of leaves brings me to a sharp halt. Instinctively I know something is going on, this is not the usual sound of birds gently fluttering around in the trees.
My heart is racing. The peaceful vibe shattered.
As I turn the corner I see a huge monkey sitting on my fence outside the kitchen.
I’m terrified of monkeys.
I’ve had many conversations over the years with Sharing Bali guests keen to visit the Monkey Forest in Ubud. My advice is always the same…..
“You may think they look cute but they’re not to be played with. They’re wild animals with claws, teeth and rabies. One bite or scratch and you’re off to hospital for very expensive rabies injections. And if you get bitten you’ll get the brunt of my worst “I told you so” attitude along with zero empathy. Seriously, leave them alone.”
Some listen, others paint me as ‘she’s no fun’. That’s ok.
Whilst I’m terrified for myself I’m more worried the monkey will attack Cantik when I’m not around. Cantik has no fear, he takes his self-appointed role as my protector seriously. With no clue he’s a tiny dog, he would try to chase off the monkey, unknowingly putting himself in danger.
I ask around, ‘who is this guy?’ Turns out he’s well known for hustling up and down the ravine, dropping into various farms, looking for food.
‘He’s a large male, can be aggressive, do not approach’ is the advice.
No chance of that.
Thankfully he disappears back into the jungle.
They say you should get to know your neighbours before you buy into a new ‘hood. It never occurred to me to check the jungle for thugs.
Village Jokes. This One’s On Me.
‘Hey. Join in!’
A crew of eight men building a brick fence are joking with me as I walk through the village to the warung to buy some eggs earlier today.
The joke continues when I pass by on my way home. I can’t understand everything they say as they’re talking in Balinese but I get the gist that my ‘tamu status’ has now been elevated to labourer.
It’s all in good spirit. I laugh right back.
As I wander home, it occurs to me that whilst women may do a lot of the digging, lifting and lugging, they’re not builders, and certainly not the boss onsite nor are they making decisions about house design. I think that’s changing within Balinese life but not in this village. Not yet anyway.
It occurs to me how lucky I am to be accepted for who I am.
Life Reimagined. The Next Chapter. It’s Here. Cheers!
As I sat down to write at my table on the terrace this morning, I uttered the words ‘oh wow!’ …. out loud.
I’m alone. No one to say wow to. I even surprised myself. I’m not one for overt outbursts of emotion.
But it was a moment of simple pure wow. One that took my breath away.
As I sat down I could see the prettiest light on the bamboo, flowers glistening with morning dew. The sound of birds in the trees, along with the ever present sound of roosters in the background. All lit by the gentle light that comes before the heat of the day. It felt so special, magical.
If there was ever a moment to be grateful, this was mine. I couldn’t help but think how quickly I forget what it took to get here. To this moment.
Abandoning my plans to write, I opened my photo files and clicked my way through the last few months, reliving the ups, downs, laughs, tears and ‘what have I done’ moments.
Those first anxious days building the foundation seem to be a lifetime ago. There’s still plenty to do. I’ll be camping until Covid isolation is declared done. My furniture and belongings are packed up waiting for the move.
I’m here today because I had to reimagine my life. The Covid-19 pandemic has been the double whammy, life as we’ve known it has been thrown up in the air. What’s next is really unknown.
Bring on the next chapter.
I’m struggling for words on what that feels like, what it’s been really about, getting here. This popped up in my inbox which seems to say it all…..
|You Are The One You Are Waiting For|
Ultimately, you are the one.
We spend a lot of our lives looking for role models, mentors, teachers, and gurus to guide us on our path. There is nothing wrong with this and, in fact, finding the right person at the right time can really help. However, it is important to realize that in the absence of such a figure, we can very safely rely upon ourselves. We carry within us everything we need to know to make progress on our paths to self-realization. The outer world serves as a mirror. Or to use another metaphor, our inner world has a magnetic force that draws to us what we need to evolve to the next level. All we need to do to see that we already have everything we need is to let go of our belief that we need to seek in order to find.
The path of the spirit is often defined as a journey with a goal such as the fabled pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In this metaphor, a person begins a search for something they want but do not have and then they find it, and there is a happy ending. However, most of us know that getting what we want only makes us happy for a moment, and then the happiness passes until a new object of desire presents itself. Joy is a permanent aspect of our inner selves and is not separate from us at any point. We do not have to travel to find it or imagine that it resides only in the body of another. In fact, what the best teachers will do is point out that this very precious elixir is something we already possess.
So when we find ourselves on our path, not knowing which way to turn and wishing for guidance, we can turn to ourselves. We may not know the right answer rationally or intellectually, but if we simply ask, let go, and wait patiently, an answer will come. The more we practice this and trust this process, the less we will look outside ourselves for teachers and guides for we will have successfully become our own.
Life goes on….
Grab another glass of wine. I’ve been journalling about life in the village during Covid-19 here.