Tuesday, November 29, 2011

fried coconut rice

fried coconut rice
and yellow bananas served 
with spicy stories

On my first morning in Bali, I wake up at 4:30. Robin and I walk to the corner store to buy breakfast: fried coconut rice and small yellow bananas. I learn the words for three of the most ubiquitous foods in Bali: nasi, rice, kuning, coconut, and pisang, banana. And I am charmed to discover that the name of our village, Nyuh Kuning, means golden coconut. On the way there and back, Robin is greeted by everyone she sees. Each time she says, "I caught her baby," and oohs and aahs over the children.
          We are invited into one family compound and afterwards she tells me the story of the "walking stick man." She was called in by the family because the man was dying. "What's wrong?" she asked. No one would say. "Pull down his pants." If they won't say, she explains, it's regarding their privates. The man's penis was infected, his testicles the size of a melon and hard as a rock. The man, a Hindu, had gone to a Muslim doctor for a urinary infection and the doctor told him he needed to be circumcised. But in the process he cut off the tip of the man's penis. Robin pumped him full of antibiotics and the man lived.
          Robin has many stories, but if she's telling one while we're walking, I don't always hear the end because we're interrupted by a new, long-lost embrace. She always introduces me as "guru meditation Hindu America." This seems to impress a lot of people. Her granddaughter wants to learn Transcendental Meditation.
          We stop to look around her clinic. Everything is deteriorating. Only one room shows signs of use. Her car is a junk heap, every window broken, the tires sunk into the dirt. Robin doesn't drive, so she asked me to get an international driver's license so I could drive her around. After seeing the traffic and road conditions, I'm glad I don't have to do that. 
          Robin says the trashed car is connected with a woman who had been her "best friend," who lived next door to their house in the same family compound. She was a Brahmin who married a Shudra, reputedly killed her husband with black magic (he drowned mysteriously) and then had many affairs with married men. Yesterday, Robin went back to visit their house, rented out since they left Bali to return to the US. The widow greeted Robin with a hug. Others in the compound came in tears, asking if Robin wanted them to throw the woman out. She said no, but she is very upset by the encounter and the flood of emotions wrapped around the past.
          I am quickly learning that Bali is not paradise. They have the same problems and traumas as anyone else. Perhaps the difference is that they are very open about situations (except anything having to do with privates) as well as their feelings.

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