Wednesday, August 31, 2011

after her water bursts

after her water bursts
contractions through the night, then
a big baby boy

Went to bed at 9:20, fell asleep and an hour later Robin wakes me up to go to a birth with Ketut Tarini in Mas, another woodcaver's village. I am more than half asleep when her brother-in-law picks us up. Robin delivered Ketut's first baby, a girl now 4 or 5, with scars on both legs from hot cooking oil. The family is gathered around Ketut, who is sitting on the edge of the family bale. Her water has just burst. Robin tells me that the amniotic fluid is called Yeh Nyom, the first of the child's guardian angels that accompany the baby when the door between worlds opens. Four guardian angels, Kanda Empat, are conceived with the baby and their physical bodies die when the baby is born: the amniotic fluid, the blood, the vernix caseosa and the placenta. They remain in spirit with the person throughout life and accompany the individual to heaven to give a report on the person's life. 

I am conducted to the ceremonial bale, where the TV has been turned off. I sit on a synthetic mat, joined by the brother-in-law, who speaks English quite well. He spends three months a year in Denmark, carving animals, receiving travel expenses and about $4,000, really good money in Bali. He says he's concerned about a "dry birth." I tell him it's normal for the water to break first and the delivery usually happens soon after. When I report this to Robin later, she says that the hospital staff scare people about the dangers of a dry birth. While we're sitting on the bale, a small black and white cat comes up and my host starts petting it. I am surprised because the Mangkus treat their cats like wild animals, not pets. The cat comes over to me so I start petting it. I ask if it's a kitten because it looks to be a few months old. He says it's full-grown and remarks that all the cats in Bali are very small because people don't have the money to take them to the veterinarian, which means they probably suffer from worms.

Ketut's contractions are 10 minutes apart (stage 1), so Robin and I go to sleep in the bedroom attached to the first building. The bed is very hard and we're sleeping under Pokemon quilts. Robin keeps jumping up to check Ketut, muttering that mosquitoes are biting her eyelids. When Robin calls me to come, it's around 1 am. Ketut has been moved to the ceremonial bale because it was cold on the open family bale, quieter here, and they remembered she had given birth there before, so it is good luck. 

It's slow going. Ketut is lying on her back, her head and shoulders supported on her mother's lap, their arms entwined, heads together. Her legs are bent and spread, a cloth covering just her pubic hair. Robin has them remove her tight, nylon, padded underwire bra, and then she massage's Ketut's dark brown nipples to get the oxytocin flowing to help the contractions. Finally, she has her lie on her side. I have been charting the progress: time, fetal heart rate (counted with the use of a sonic stethoscope), which is now around 120-150 beats per minute, and comments such as the number of contractions, how far apart, length, pushing, water discharge. Now I write Robin's comment, "Rx: no pushing." 

Robin brings her blanket to the bale and I go back to the bed. At 3 am she calls me again. Ketut has been moved inside, on a mat in a corner. Robin does a vaginal exam to determine dilation, which has gone from 6 to 9 cm. She's at stage 2, contractions 3-5 minutes apart, resting between. The mother-in-law and mother take turns holding her. As it gets more intense, Robin has her squat. She is passing blood, which Robin says is called Rah, the second of the guardian angels, which pushes from the sides to help the baby emerge. 

The husband comes in for awhile. At 10 cm dilation she goes into stage 3, moaning, leaving her body. She mutters something which makes Robin laugh. "She says she's decided not to have the baby." With each contraction her belly stands up and her vulva bulges. Robin begins seeing black hair. At 4:17 am, the head crowns and the entire head is out a minute later, very conical. Robin says it got hung up in the birth canal for awhile. The shoulder takes more effort. At first Robin says liang, liang (again, again), then lansam (slow). The full body emerges at 4:19 am, covered in the white vernic caseosa. This is Lamas, the third guardian angel, which lubricates the passage through the birth canal. It's a boy and everyone is excited. With one daughter and only two children allowed, it's very important to have a son. 

The baby is a bit blue and has some wetness in its lungs, so it takes a bit of rubbing and patting to get him crying. Robin lays him on his mother's belly while she waits for the contractions to push the placenta out. The cord is very white and the placenta comes out in a white bag. He's a big baby, 14 kilos and 22" long. Ketut and the baby are moved to the floor by the bed while the women quickly mop up blood and the baby begins nursing. A young woman is holding her toddler, who is nursing almost constantly as she carries the baby around the whole night. Robin asks me to take some photos and the women start jabbering, so she translates. "Oh, we should have taken pictures while she was having pains." But Robin told me definitely to wait.

The father keeps coming in, wanting to cut the cord so they can bury the placenta. The placenta is the last of the guardian angels, so Ari-Ari is the little brother or sister. Robin tries to hold him off because she believes it's better for the baby to stay attached as long as possible, actually until the cord falls off. But in less than an hour he cuts the cord. 

Outside, the men conduct a funeral for the Ari-Ari. The placenta is washed in yellow turmeric water, wrapped it in a new white cloth and placed it in a coconut shell. The father places flowers and rice inside and the grandfather lays a paint brush, ball point pen and carving tool on top, so the boy will be an artist. The lid is put on the coconut and it is wrapped in black sago palm fiber. They chant some prayers and then bury the placenta in a hole to the left of the steps, covered with a stone. Other male family placentas are also buried here, on the right side of the compound, while the female placentas are buried on the left side. A thorn bush will be planted nearby to keep animals away and a lamp placed above it. The baby's bath water will be poured on the burial site for 105 days and three times a day the father will bring an offering of food on a banana leaf decorated with a flower to feed the guardian angel. This is done until the baby joins the human race in a special ceremony. After that, offerings are made to the placenta on full moon, new moon and special days of cleansing. Robin tells me that Balinese children say goodnight to their Ari-Ari and thank the angel in the morning for protecting them in the dark.

The women bathe the baby in a plastic tub with turmeric, a practice introduced by the Dutch. They give us some sweets and ginger tea with honey around 6 am. A priestess comes and performs a ceremony for the mother, the baby, Robin and me, tying a white thread around our thumb, because we are "responsible" for blood in the compound. I wonder why she doesn't include the mother and the mother-in-law, who took turns supporting Ketut, but now is not the time to ask. Robin checks Ketut to make sure she is not bleeding too much. Ketut didn't even tear because Robin held her together. Everyone thanks us, shaking hands, the women hugging and kissing on both cheeks and giving us bags of fruit. As we drive home, the sister-in-law tells people on the street as we pass, spreading the word. Robin is nodding off, drooling on herself. I crash for a few hours, but Robin takes a shower and starts meeting pregnant women on our porch at 7 am.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

yellow coconut

yellow coconut,
beautiful frog, early morning
chain saws and mallets 

We are staying in the woodcarver village of Nyuh Kuning, which means “yellow coconut,” in a natah, a family compound called Pondok Frog, or “beautiful frog.” Inside the rectangular perimeter wall, palm trees provide shade and plumeria cast their fragrant white blossoms. Every compound has a family temple, but Pondok Frog is the compound of the pemangku, the village priest, so there are more shrines here than in other compounds. Three generations live in this compound: Ida Bagus Mangku and Ida Ayu, their sons and their families. The buildings for family members have elaborately decorated doors, walls and pillars, and white marble porches. The sons are undagi tapel, woodcarvers, and they have a shop at the rear of the compound. At 8 am every morning we hear the sounds of chain saws and mallets as they begin work. We are staying in the rice barn, which has been converted into guest rooms. The door to our room is intricately carved of wood, but termites have gotten into it and there is a little pile of sawdust accumulating at the threshold. Robin and I are sharing a small room, while the six girls share two more rooms. I am sleeping on the bamboo frame bed, under the mosquito net I brought with me, and Robin is sleeping on my inflatable camp mat. Above the bed is a tiny shelf for offerings. Behind a divider wall with no door is the squat toilet with a bucket of water for washing. In front of our rooms there is a tiled porch where we sit on bamboo mats to talk and eat. Next door is the kitchen, which has a wood cook stove without a chimney, a well and no refrigerator. The Balinese believe that Brahma, the Creator (not Agni, the God of Fire), lives in the kitchen, so they make upakara to prevent hurt by fire. Vishnu, the Maintainer (depicted seated on a shell in the ocean and holding a conch), lives in the well. 

In Bali every village and every compound is oriented relative to Gunung Agung, the highest and most sacred peak. Kaja means “facing the mountain” and kelod means “facing the ocean.” Since there are settlements all around Gunung Agung, these terms are relative. In Nyuh Kuning, for example, kaja is northeast and kelod is southwest. The other two directions are kangin, “where the sun rises,” and kauh, “where the sun sets.” Since Bali lies just south of the equator, these directions are almost exactly east and west. There’s a bit of a logistical problem when kaja and kelod are not exactly north and south, but the Balinese don’t seem to be bothered by this. Their sense of orientation is more organic than linear.

The Balinese believe that the family compound reflects the human body. The measurements for a new compound are based on the measurements of the head of the household, so a tall man will get a bigger compound than a shorter one. The top of the compound represents the head and that is where the bale daja, the sleeping quarters for the head of the household, is located. The family temple is located in the kaja-kangin corner, closest to the sacred mountain and the first to see the sun rise. In the center of the compound is an open area which represents the navel. On either side, representing the arms, are the bale dangin, the ceremonial pavilion, parallel to the kangin wall, and the bale duah, the guest pavilion, parallel to the kuah wall. In the kelod direction, there is the paon, or kitchen, and the lumbung, or rice barn, representing the feet. Outside the kelod wall are the compost bin and the pigpen. I would not have figured all this out just by looking at the layout, but now that I know, it feels good to be living inside a living body.

Monday, August 29, 2011

twin dragons twining

twin dragons twining
around a coconut shell,
horse-woman spirit twins

Ida Bagus Tista and his wife, Dayu Ariani, and daughter, Wayan Arista, came by. Dayu is 23 weeks pregnant and looks 9 months. "Twins," I say, and show her a photo of mine. Ida Bagus is a bone carver, quiet, narrow face, serious expression. Eight of us squeeze into his tiny car, five in back, three in front. At his tiny shop I pick out an "Indian Spirit" pendant of a horse-woman (spirit twins) for my friend Jennifer, who raises Icelandic horses, and a pierced and an intricately carved coconut shell of two dragons (twin spirits) set on a little wooden lamp stand, the light shining through the pierced shell. I look at a couple of new keris, but again get pricked. I give up on keris! Tista and I talk while the others finish shopping. He used to teach primary school but not enough money, so he learned to carve wood from his father, then switched to bone to be different. Later, Robin tells me more of his story. When she met him, he never smiled. He had had sex with an American woman and thought she would come back and marry him. He waited seven years. Robin got the woman's name and address and called her. She vaguely remembered Bali and some cute guy, one of a few. To save his feelings, Robin wrote a fake letter from her to Tista, apologizing that it hadn't worked out. He mourned for a month and then married Dayu at Robin's suggestion. Before he married her, though, he had taken a fancy to Robin's daughter Deja. "Should I wait for your daughter?" he asked. "No! Marry Dayu." Now he has his own shop, house, wife and child, and he smiles all the time.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Saraswati day

Saraswati day,
Ida Bagus blesses our books
with incense, rice, petals

Today is a special day in the Vedic calendar, Saraswati day. Sri Saraswati is considered the mother of the Vedas, the goddess of knowledge, music, arts, science and technology. Her name comes from saras, the flow of water, plus wati, woman, so she represents the flow of knowledge, which is captivating, like a beautiful woman. Oddly, we are not allowed to write or read on this day. In the morning I see Ida Bagus getting ready for an obachar, a ceremony to honor Sri Saraswati. He will also do a yagya to bless all the books within the walls of the family natah, including the poetry books that Robin and I have had printed in Ubud. Robin is making a house call, so I put on a kamben, a long-sleeve top (my version of a kebaya), tie my batik pelangi around my waist and put my quartz crystal mala around my neck. Then I follow the pemangku around as he makes offerings to the many small shrines inside the sanggah kemulan, the family temple area. There are shrines dedicated to family ancestors, Hindu deities, the two sacred Balinese mountains, Gunung-Agung and Batur, and a large bale for yagyas. The black thatch on the shrines is sago palm, used because it looks like human hair, well, Balinese hair. There is a large statue of Lord Vishnu holding a conch in the middle of the temple area and Sri Saraswati at the entrance gate, carved from paras, a soft gray volcanic stone, and decorated with white plumeria blossoms, but Ida Bagus does not make offerings directly to them. After making the rounds of shrines, he invites me up onto the main temple bale for the yagya. He brings out a bell from a woven bag, flicks petals off the platform, chants and makes blessings with incense and water. Our poetry books are piled on one side of the altar and the priest's books on the other side, with trays of offerings in between. At the end of the yagya, he has me hold my hands together in namaste, sprinkles me with holy water and pours water into my cupped hands three times for me to drink. Then he tucks a blossom behind my right ear and in my hair. Robin and Ida Ayu join us and he repeats the personal blessing for them. Finally, we eat the traditional meal of yellow rice with small dried fish. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

on the black sand beach

on the black sand beach,
boats painted like flying fish,
a dice gambling game

Ida Bagus and his wife have invited us to supper on Lebih Beach, south of Gianyar. Nice to see some different country. The beach has black sand and hundreds of jukung, traditional double-outrigger canoes used for fishing, with a marlin-like prow and triangular lateen sail. A group of boys are sitting on the sand around a dice board game. The board has six squares containing painted pictures: Lord Shiva, a naked woman, a sanyasi in a yellow robe with rudraksha beads carrying a bundle on a stick over his shoulder, a grimacing warrior in armor, a fanged monkey-man, and a pot-bellied demon. The three huge square dice have the same images. The gamblers put their money on a picture. The dealer, with sunglasses pushed up on his forehead, places the dice on a round tray and covers it with what looks like a black flower pot, shakes the pot and uncovers the tray. If you put your money on a picture that turns up, you win, but if your picture doesn't turn up, the dealer takes your money. We sit at an open-air restaurant at low tables on bamboo mats right on the sand. The meal is huge and delicious: rice with sweet potatoes and sampal, satay languan (fish satay) on skewers, pepas ikan (roast fish wrapped in banana leaf), spinach with soy nuts, hot fish ball soup. And then, when I thought we were done, a huge swordfish steak. Robin orders Green Sands, an alcoholic apple drink, and I try the Lime Fanta, which comes in a cracked glass and tastes disgusting. The music is so loud it hurts, so Ida Bagus has them turn it down. He is such a loving father, feeding his daughter in his lap, kissing her, taking her to the toilet. My only regret is that it's too late to go for a swim.

Friday, August 26, 2011

a village wedding


a village wedding,
filled with symbolic ceremonies,
chanting, people, food

Up early. We head down the road to a little shop for breakfast: rice, coconut and boiled bananas wrapped in a banana leaf, and a dirty thermos of boiled water for tea. Next we stop at a small boutique to find a ceremonial sash for me to wear to a wedding, but everyone has already left. Robin borrows a sash and we head over to the next street, stopping to buy coffee and sugar as a gift. A group of young men are sitting and smoking outside the compound where the wedding has already started. Inside the gate there is a table with sweets and soft drinks. A group of women are sitting in pink plastic chairs around the bale gede, which is full of elaborate towering offerings. The couple is being put through various symbolic rituals, all involving fertility. He carries a coconut with a protruding sprout, both of them pushing through a flimsy pole and string barrier, he offers her something hard (a metal piston ring), she offers him something soft (a towel), both of them sit on a small woven banana leaf on top of a coconut three times. The priest has the couple, seated on a cloth on the ground, wash their hands and drink water, and pours earth on them through a woven funnel. In between ceremonies, the priest, Mangku Liyer, comes over to meet me. He is a charming, wiry, snaggle-toothed older man who invites me to his home even before Robin introduces us. She says they are partners in catching babies. He speaks English fairly well. The hostess, dressed in a lovely pastel kamben and kebaya, invites us to join 40 or 50 people at the buffet in the rear, served on wicker plates topped with waxed brown paper instead of banana leaves. The main dish is whole roast pig. I just eat rice because everything else is meat or spicy or both. Suddenly everyone gets up and says goodbye to the hostess. These are the bride's family, the guests. Then the groom's family gets to eat. When we return, Mangku Liyer is doing puja with the couple on the bale gede. They are seated with two women kneeling behind them to support them, the parents also sitting on the platform. Mangku Liyer brushes them with a whisk and makes numerous offerings at the altar. Then they move to the family shrine for more chanting. The festivities are still going on when we leave, but the hostess takes time to give Robin some food to take home.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

a gilded bed raised

a gilded bed raised
in the place of honor on
the bale gede

The family compound of Pondok Frog, like all the compounds in Nyuh Kuning, contains a number of structures enclosed by a high stone wall. Inside, the Mangkus and their sons and grandchildren live together. Each family has its own sleeping quarters and they share other facilities, such as the kitchen. With Bali's mild climate, many activities take place outside, on a porch in front of a building or in the shelter of a bale (pronounced balay), an open-sided platform supported by wooden pillars and roofed with alang-alang, a local grass. The small bale bengong with four posts is used as a shelter during the heat of the day. The larger bale gede has up to 12 posts and is used for ceremonies. 
          An ornately carved and  gilded bed sits on its own platform in the auspicious kelod corner of the bale gede. Robin tells me that's where they put you when you die. This bale gede is guarded by a large carved Garuda, the mount of Lord Vishnu, with a man's body and the wings and beak of an eagle. A kerosene lamp with a glass shade hangs from the middle rafter and, rather incongruously, a fluorescent light fixture is attached in the front. 
          Wyan Widia tells me that the structures inside the compound are arranged like the human body. The family shrine, in the kelod direction, is the head, the bale are the arms, the courtyard is the navel and the kitchen and rice barn are the legs and feet. To me, the bale gede is the heart, where everyone comes together to talk, to play, to prepare offerings, to get married and to rest in death.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

yellow swallowtail

yellow swallowtail
sipping nectar from purple
thistle blossoms

Now here’s a dilemma. Prickly Canadian thistles are bursting into spiky purple blooms in our meadows, along the margins of roads and in cow pastures. The towering plants look like giant candelabras alight with lavender flames that attract butterflies, especially Fritillaries, but also Yellow Swallowtails. The entire thistle plant is covered with spikes that deter herbaceous animals from browsing on them, which is why farmers are not fond of them. Plus, they’re difficult to exterminate because they reproduce and spread easily, the bristly seeds clinging to animal fur, blown by the wind or dropped by birds. Thistle seeds are one of the favored foods of the American Goldfinch, which has a conical beak adapted to eating seed heads. The Goldfinch undergoes a complete molt in spring and autumn, the plumage of the male turning from winter's olive-brown to summer's lemon-yellow in order to attract the more modestly hued female. The finch's breeding season is tied to the peak supply of seeds in late summer. So what to do? Attempt to get rid of the thistles by frequent mowing, or let them proliferate in order to feed butterflies and finches? Well, there are plenty of thistles growing by the roadside and there are other flowers for butterflies and other seeds for finches. So I cut down any thistles I find growing in our meadows. Still, they are persistent and their deep roots keep them coming back year after year. Perhaps we should get some goats. It is true that they will eat just about anything, and I'm told they especially love the blossoms of Canadian thistles.

unhatched robin's egg

unhatched robin's egg
hidden under the grass lining
of the empty nest

On this hot, dry, windy August day, I walk over to look at the old apple tree, half dead, with black leaves on black branches, the other half struggling to stay alive, its leaves turning yellow. This is the tree that sheltered a nest with three blue eggs, and then one lone hatchling. It's been over a month since I walked away from the empty nest, feeling empty inside, the baby Robin gone too soon. Now I wonder if the nest is still there. It is. I peer inside, not expecting to find anything, but then I catch a glimpse of a tiny bit of blue peeking through the grass lining. Could it be a fragment of egg shell? Usually the mother bird disposes of any bits and pieces when the babies hatch. I push the grass aside and there, to my surprise, lies a perfect blue egg. Well, a perfect shell, but the insides are surely dried up by now. This must be one of the three original eggs, one that never hatched. Perhaps it got pushed under the lining by the lone hatchling, and went unnoticed by whatever got the baby. It is a strange feeling, finding this hidden egg, like being let in on some mysterious secret.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

stone bowl of water

stone bowl of water
for flowers, tadpoles, algae and
a thirsty old man

A blue food cart stops outside the gate, drawing several customers. The entrance to the Pondok Frog family compound where we are staying is elaborately carved volcanic stone with a wrought iron gate. Just inside the gateway there is an aling-aling, a low, free-standing stone wall, designed to confuse demons and deter them from entering, since they are believed to move only in a straight line. The driveway is a beautiful mosaic of stones in swirling patterns, white on black, harmony of opposites. Down the middle of the driveway, spaced at regular intervals, are rectangular strips of grass with a recessed stone bowl full of water. The bowls are used for floating blossoms, but are also home to tadpoles and algae. This does not stop an old man who just wandered in from the street from scooping up a handful of water from the bowl and drinking it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

mid-summer gloaming

mid-summer gloaming --
on the pink surprise lilies
 a moth probes for nectar

Coming home in the evening, the cluster of lilies under the shagbark hickory shines in the fading light like a troop of pink trumpets. Grandma called these delicate pink flowers "naked ladies" or "surprise lilies," because it's always a surprise when they shoot up on bare stems in August, months after the leaves have died. I catch some motion above the blossoms. It looks and sounds like a hummingbird, but it's late in the day for them to be out. It's got to be a moth. When I cautiously approach, the moth doesn't seem to be a bit bothered by my presence. It continues to dart from blossom to blossom, probing for nectar with its proboscis. It has pairs of yellow bands on its abdomen, but I can't tell whether it's a Carolina sphinx moth or a Five-spotted hawk moth. The adults look quite similar, as do their larva, fat green caterpillars with white stripes and a horn on the tail. Both larva feed on the same plants: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and tobacco. The larva of the sphinx moth, the tobacco hornworm, has seven diagonal white lines on its side, like little cigarettes, and a red "horn," while the larva of the hawk moth, the tomato hornworm, has eight V-shaped markings and a black horn. Both larva are parasitized by the braconid wasp, which lays its eggs on the bodies of the caterpillar. The caterpillar I photographed earlier in the year is nearly smothered in white eggs, while several Asian beetles seem to be feeding on the eggs. What an amazing life cycle, through a series of greatly diverse forms and behavior, from egg to larva to pupa to moth and then all over again.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

lone blue cloud trailing

lone blue cloud trailing
a curtain of rain over
a strip of cornfields

An isolated rain cloud moving east leaves a stripe of dark wet on the blacktop, indicating the width of its path. On either side, the pavement remains dry gray, the corn shocks faded green. It's mid-August, the height of summer in the Midwest, but leaves are turning yellow and beginning to drift down in the slightest breeze. I have been shaking my Peruvian rainstick at the passing clouds, but the clouds are not responding to my plea. Still, it is soothing to upend the stick and listen to the pebbles trickle down the long, hollow tube. As they hit the cactus thorns, which have been driven through the dry cactus to the hollow interior, they make a sound like rain falling. Although the sound does not fill the cracks in the ground or slake thirsty roots, still it falls on my hope and keeps it growing.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

ducks laughing hee hee!

ducks laughing hee hee!
roosters crying aha! ha!
blend with the silence

Ketut comes by on his motorbike around 6 am to pick me up for a field trip, a rice field trip. We drive along the south end of Monkey Forest, then turn down a path through rice fields to a small modern house he's building as a rental. It has two rooms, one up, one down, each with a large marble bathroom. There is a little kitchen area outside the main building. The floors upstairs are wood and there are two balconies with views of rice paddies, a small stream and Mt. Gunung Agung to the east. The holiest mountain on Bali looks like Fuji-san. Ketut comes here every morning to do yoga asanas for an hour and a half. This is not usual for Balinese, whose spiritual practice is primarily praying and making offerings. Ketut has observed Robin and me do asanas in the morning and she always introduces me as a Hindu mantra meditator, so he must feel that I will appreciate his yoga practice, and perhaps I might know someone who would like to rent his house when it's finished. He strips to shorts and does a set of serious asanas, beginning and ending with a short, full-chested chant. I do my usual quarter of an hour of asanas and then meditate. The silence inside blends with the sound of roosters crying, aha! ha!, a gaggle of ducks sloshing through the rice paddy, laughing hee hee hee!, a bamboo clacker clack-clacking, and a man yelling to scare away crows as he makes the rounds of the ripening rice heads, bowing low. After we finish our respective morning rituals, we talk for awhile. He asks me if I do japa. I tell him that's what I was just doing, practicing Transcendental Meditation, as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which involves effortlessly thinking a mantra with eyes closed. He says he repeats the Mahamrityunjaya mantra, the "great death-defying" mantra dedicated to Lord Shiva. We talk about my poetry book, which I am having published here, on handmade Balinese paper. Perhaps because I am a poet, Ketut asks me to name this house. I gaze out from the balcony, searching for a name that will reflect the feeling of this little house and its setting. There is the little stream, the majestic mountain. Then I notice a large tree with dark shiny leaves and ask him its name. He says it's a special kind of mango, manga genga, with small, sweet fruit. I smile. Mangoes are my favorite fruit and I also like the musical sound of the name. "That's a good name," I say, "because this house is small and sweet, with a sweet view." He smiles. "Maybe you can stay here, write a book."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Kintamani dog

Kintamani dog
sleeping in the sun outside 
his master's dwelling

The dog serenely sleeping in the sun outside his master's dwelling in the Pondok Frog family compound is called Rin Tin. Another dog, Cookie, is from Robin's compound. Rin Tin appears to be a Kintamani, a native Balinese dog that apparently evolved from interbreeding between a Balinese dingo dog and a Chow Chow. There is evidence that a Chinese trader named Lee brought a Chow Chow with him to Bali, where he settled with his family in the Kintamani region sometime between the 12th and 16th centuries. The Kintamani has a long curved or straight tail, perky ears, a long face and short hair, which may be white, black or beige. Unlike most dogs, a Kintamini will climb on top of roofs or walls to sit or sleep. It is a popular pet, affectionate with family members but also a good watchdog. The Kintamani is the only official breed in Bali. Robin tells me that when her family was living here in the 1990s they had a German shepherd, rare on this island where the government killed all dogs who were not Kintamani. They bought the dog from the police in Denpasar, who had confiscated it. Robin made them promise that they wouldn't break her kid's hearts by confiscating it back to resell. In May 1998, anti-Chinese riots broke out in Jakarta, including the rape of Chinese women. The violence did not extend to Hindu Bali, but Robin was afraid for one of her daughters, who is half Chinese, so she fled with her family to the Philippines and they had to leave the dog behind. Robin gave $100 to her neighbor in their compound to feed the dog leftovers, but the woman starved the dog to death. Robin heard later that this woman was a black witch.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

between the carved stone

between the carved stone
candi bentar, a gray cat
serenely contemplates

A small gray cat with a stubby tail is sitting on the threshold between the ornately carved candi bentar, the split stone gates of the temple in the Pondok Frog family compound. Robin tells me that this gate, which looks like a tower split in half, symbolizes the splitting of the material world so that the human can enter the spiritual realm. The left side represents the female quality and the right side the male quality. Balinese believe that if an evil spirit tries to enter, the two sides will come together to crush it. Apparently this cat is not an evil spirit because it is sitting with impunity right between the halves of the gate, nonchalantly gazing over its shoulder. Although the gray cat lives in Bali, it is not a Balinese cat, an official feline breed which looks like a Siamese with slightly longer hair. I'm not likely to see a purebred Balinese, though, because it will undoubtedly be kept safely indoors where it won't risk getting its tail shortened like this little gray kitty.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

balian manak

balian manak,
catching babies, healing
all who come for help

Every day I witness my friend Robin Lim's incredible work. In 1995 she founded Yayasan Bumi Sehat, Healthy Mother Earth Foundation, a birthing and medical clinic for poor people. Today we are going to a nearby family compound on one of her many house calls. On the way, Robin explains that Balinese believe illness is caused by an imbalance between the patient and the spirit world. The patient may have neglected to make the proper offerings to some deity, broken some religious custom, or may be the target of black magic. In Bali there are different types of traditional healers, called balian. A balian manak is a midwife, a balian tulang is a general practitioner, a balian apun gives therapeutic massages, a balian kebal makes  love potions and magical amulets to protect against spiritual attack, and a balian taksu communicates with the spirit world in a trance to find out what offerings or ceremonies are required to cure the patient. Robin is both a midwife and a medical practitioner. Today I get to see her in both roles as she checks a pregnant woman. Through the door I watch Robin laying her ear against the woman's round brown belly. Then we join other family members gathered on the small tiled porch, where Robin hands out homeopathic remedies. One woman with twin girls is epileptic and the epilepsy medication caused one of the girls to be retarded. She is like a little caged bird chirping "Eep! eep!" Robin hugs the little girl, giving her the best medicine of all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

godogan beating

godogan beating 
a kendang keeps the tempo,
 signals transitions

We are staying in the woodcarver desa of Nyuh Kuning, south of Ubud, in a family compound with the half-Bahasa, half-English name of Pondok Frog, which means "beautiful frog." The specialty of the pemahat kayu who work with chain saws, chisels and mallets in the shop in the rear of the compound is, of course, godogan, frogs: regular frogs, frogs playing the drum, flying frogs, frog masks, and many more, some painted, some displaying the beautiful grain of the wood. The frog has a special meaning to the Balinese. A frog symbolizes transformation, since it starts its life in the water as a tadpole and changes to a creature which can live either in the water or on land. A flying frog represents transformation on a spiritual level. Flying frogs are seen as protectors and are often hung over a baby's crib because the infant is transforming from spirit into a physical body, or in the doorway of a menopausal woman, who is transforming from the physical to the spiritual time of life as she moves into the stage of wise woman. Flying frogs are considered bringers of luck because they can connect and communicate between the elements of water, earth and air. The double-headed kendang drum is held horizontally, played with hands and/or sticks. It is used to keep the tempo, to signal paralihan, transitions, between sections and to signal suwuk, the end of the piece. Thus the image of a frog, representing transformation, playing a drum, signaling transition, is a powerful symbol. A Balinese legend relates how the kendang came to earth, as the wheel from the chariot of the goddess of the moon. The drum landed in a tree and shone so brightly that it prevented a band of thieves from going about their unlawful purpose. The drum is another powerful means of communication, both with the living and the spirits of ancestors and the gods. So a frog playing a drum is especially auspicious. A popular dance often performed at weddings in Bali is the Godogan dance, based on the story of the prince-frog. In the Balinese version, a prince of Jenggala who was fond of catching dragonflies disappeared in a dense forest near an erupting volcano. A few years later a frog emerged which was believed to be the reincarnation of the lost prince. One day the prince-frog encountered a beautiful princess of Daha, fell in love with her and wanted to marry her. Unable to fulfill this dream, the frog committed himself to the ascetic life, but by the blessing of Lord Wisnu (Vishnu in Sanskrit) he was turned back into a handsome young man.

Monday, August 15, 2011

old red water pump

old red water pump
locked with a combination,
water repair lid 
rusted shut, puffy white clouds
hoarding their cargo

The drought continues. Corn stalks drying from the bottom up, the ears thin, drooping. In town, brittle brown grass, leaves on trees shriveled and brown. Walking around town, I notice that someone has attached a combination lock to an old red water pump on the side of a building. And on the brick sidewalk, the blue Mueller Water Repair Lid is rusted shut. Day after day, puffy white clouds pass by, little water tanks hoarding their precious cargo.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

flourishing batik

flourishing batik,
flying dragons, leaping dolphins,
fluttering butterflies

Ubud is full little shops selling batik kamben, rectangles of cloth long enough to wrap around the waist twice and tie. A lot of this cloth (which tourists erroneously call sarong, a Malay word for a sewn tube of cloth) is designed for the tourist trade, printed in modern designs with vibrant colors. Today Robin takes us to a wholesale batik store, owned by a family whose baby she caught. We tour the shop where the cloth is dyed using the wax resist technique. In the showroom our group of ladies goes on a buying frenzy, pulling piece after piece from the stacks on shelves and flourishing them like banners. There are dragons, dragonflies, butterflies, dolphins, turtles, lotuses, sunflowers, suns and moons. We are given a special discount because of Ibu Robin, so of course we spend even more. Contemporary batik is quite different from traditional batik. Contemporary batik is often printed on rayon using stencils and aniline dyes. Traditional batik is made on cotton with natural dye colors, typically indigo, brown and yellow, representing the major Hindu deities, Brahmā, Vishnu and Śiva. The traditional method of batik making is called batik tulis. A design is traced onto the white fabric, which is stretched on a frame. Lines are drawn with a tjanting, a tool with a wooden handle and a tiny spouted metal cup for applying klowong, melted wax. The cloth is dyed to get the first color. After the cloth dries, some of the wax is scraped off with a knife and dyed again for the second color, and so on for each color. The cloth is hung in the sun to dry, then dipped in hot water to remove all the wax and dried again. Batik is used in many ceremonies in the Balinese life cycle, including the tedak siten ceremony when a child's feet touch the earth for the first time, special gold batik prada for temple dances, and as a shroud for the deceased.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

girls playing hand games

girls playing hand games,
washing our laundry, simple
actions, deep meaning

A pair of girls are playing a hand game on the bale while Robin and I wash our clothes in a bucket on our porch. As Robin is twisting her wet kamben she says, "A pregnant woman would not do this because it might strangle the baby with its cord." This statement reminds me so much of my superstitious grandmother that I laugh. But as a westerner living and working with the Balinese people, Robin respects their beliefs. She says a lot of them make sense when you understand the Balinese world view. The cosmos is divided into three worlds. The gods and spirits of ancestors reside in the upper world (swah), living humans reside in the middle world (bwah), and demons reside in the lower world (bhur). Geographical locations follow the same system, with mountains being swah, the plains, bwah, and the ocean, bhur. The human body also follows this tripartite division, with the head being swah, the torso, bwah, and the legs and feet, bhur. Robin tells me that Balinese will not walk under a clothesline for fear of underwear touching their heads. Laundry can't be hung in trees, or else the fruit and flowers can never be used for offerings again. Instead, laundry has to be laid on special bushes. A baby's feet are not allowed to touch the earth for the first 210 days (one year in the wuku calendar), until the tedak siten ceremony. I look up at the girls playing on the bale and ask, "Is it okay to pat children on the head?" Robin shakes her head but assures me that any actions done out of ignorance will be expiated by some offerings. Thank goodness for undoing rituals!

Friday, August 12, 2011

emergency room

emergency room,
the porch floor, covered with blood
from an injured man

Just after we sit to meditate at 6 am, Ketut arrives on his motorbike with a Muslim man who'd fallen off his motorbike and had abrasions and a long laceration on his scalp. Ketut found him on the bridge by his store, wandering around bleeding. The injured man lies on the porch outside our room while Robin stitches him up. I hold my flashlight for the suturing, apply compression, fetch medical supplies, boil water. I get some blood on my hands and clothes and Robin asks if I've had my hepatitis vaccines. I run to the little store to buy a liter of water to put three drops of Arnica in it and Robin gives him Ibuprofen. He asks, how he can pay? Robin says, "Always remember that a Christian woman in a Hindu compound stitched you up." (Bali is a predominantly Hindu island in the heart of Indonesia, the biggest Muslim country in the world.) After the man leaves, we clean up the blood spilled on the porch. Ketut's wife sits on the bale to prepare canang sari, the daily offerings to the deities, plus extra offerings because of the blood, which is considered unclean. Robin says people won't let an outsider into their compound if they're bleeding, let alone a Muslim, so Ketut is a real saint. Ketut, smiling, is holding a wooden statue of Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles.                   

Thursday, August 11, 2011

a puppet maker

a puppet maker
surrounded by his creations,
lively and alive

Between the woodcarver's village of Nyuh Kuning and the Sacred Monkey Forest, there lives a little puppet maker. He looks a bit like one of the monkeys in the forest and some of his monkey puppets look a bit like him. However, unlike Jepeto, this puppet maker has already brought to life two adorable dolls. He lives in a two room house that is both shop and home. When I visit the showroom, his wife and daughters pop up like jack-in-the-box from a trapdoor in the corner of the room. He makes exquisite puppets with wooden heads, arms and legs, beautifully painted. The bodies are little squares of traditional cotton batik, with no stuffing. The resulting puppet is extremely flexible and can be arranged and made to move in many ways. I pick up one after another of the puppets, finally settling on a man with the cosmos on his head. They don't have change for my large bill, so they give me a scrub brush with a carved wooden back and a crochet hat. He says they have not made a sale all week. If he goes to the market in Ubud, the cops chase him off, and his shop is out of the way for tourists. If I don't see what I like, he can custom-make something and I can choose both the fabric and the paint color. I love his puppets and I want to give him more business, so I order cats in three different colors for my three sons. When he hears that I have three sons, he tells me with downcast eyes that the government only allows two children, so they did not get a son. Robin says she is going to write a book on how to get the gender of your choice.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

forty days, no rain

forty days, no rain,
creek bed littered with dead leaves,
one small water hole

Went for a walk this evening, the first time in more than a moon. Met some neighbors also out for a stroll in the cool air, the first break we've had since the long heat wave began. Of course the subject is the weather, forty days and forty nights with no rain, the longest hot dry spell since 1955, and that coming hard on the heels of the record run of rain and flooding. We did have one storm a few nights ago, but only half an inch of rain and lots of branches down from the wind. Not enough to erase the wide cracks in the ground. The drought is starting to affect the trees, their leaves curling inward, showing their lighter undersides, the way they do when a storm is brewing, only there's no sign of rain. Some of the pines have turned brown and died, from too much rain or too little, hard to say. And some white oaks have died, the leaves all turning brown overnight. Sounds like that beetle that bores under the bark and infects the tree with a fungus. After we go our separate ways, I walk down to the creek. The last time I came this way I sank to the top of my rubber boots in mud. Now the creek is dry, littered with dead leaves, only a few small water holes. This overhanging tree looks like it's bending down for a drink from a shrinking pool hugging its roots.