Tuesday, September 20, 2011

sawa terraces

sawa terraces
undulate around the slopes,
sparkling in the sun

Ida Bagus has invited me to go to Tegalalang, northeast of Ubud, to see the beautiful rice terraces. His young daughter joins us for the trip. It has started raining, unusual in mid-July.  Ida Bagus is building another woodcarving shop just below the road on a steep hill overlooking the sawa terraces. The bright green terraces undulate gracefully around the contours of the mountain slopes, the water in the paddies sparkling in the sun. The shop is surrounded by tapioca and sweet potato plants, and tall coconut and mango trees and one tree with fringed leaves. 

As soon as I get out of the car with my camera, two toothless old men carrying baskets of coconuts on shoulder poles ask if I want to take their photo. Ida Bagus warns me that they will ask for money. "How much?" I ask. 20,000 Rp (about $2). They ask for 20,000, then 10,000. I have to borrow small money from Ida Bagus. I also take his photo as he stands in his shop, giving me a thumb's up. "How much you charge me?" I joke. He has me borrow one of the men's palm frond hats to stand in the rain. The old guy tries to sell it to me. I pull out my ratty straw and ask if he wants to trade. We all laugh. Ida Bagus goes to the little warung for cookies and drinks, Fanta orange for me, coffee for the men. He hands out cookies to passing farmers, to make friends. One of the farmers climbs an 80-foot coconut tree like a frog to bring down one baby coconut for a large banten offering. I feel almost guilty taking a photo and not paying, but it is the end of the roll so it might not turn out anyway. 

We sit in the sawdust and his daughter "sands" wood with a scrap of wood while Ida Bagus tells me his story. He is from a poor mountain family, no land, no rice fields, so they had to buy rice and try to find work all over. His father's nephew had no father, so Ida Bagus' father felt obliged to help the boy. He says land is very expensive near Ubud, 300,000 Rp for 1 are, about 30' x 30'. This is about $33, an entire month's earnings. He says the people in the mountains cut down their clove trees when Suharto drove the prices down and planted coffee, but now cloves have gone from 3,000 Rp/k to 85,000 Rp/k. He would like to buy land when his shops do well enough. 

Ida Bagus pulls down a black and white ceremonial sash hanging from a rafter and ties it around his waist over his white shirt. Even though he is casually dressed in blue jeans, the sash allows him to make canang offerings at a crude platform set up in the corner of the foundation. He has to do this every day during construction. His daughter stands nearby, watching carefully. He says she is already good at making offerings. When we get home I give him 20,000 Rp for gas, photo, treats. He tries to refuse, but not very hard.

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