Living in Limbo

It’s been a little over two weeks since I moved into a relatively new and still-unnamed place owned and run by a Balinese personal trainer named Ngurah. It’s still in Banjar Tebesaya (Tebesaya neighborhood), diagonally across the street from my last home, the Family Guesthouse; so when I returned from Singapore, it was a cinch to move my things from there to here. That was the easy part, whereas the rest of the transition and trying to get settled in at ‘Ngurah’s place’ has been anything but…

First, the lack of sunshine. My room faces the jungle, so the view is leafy, lush and full of birds, butterflies and bats. The downside is that the room is set back with a roofed terrace, so until late afternoon, I hardly get any direct sunlight, rendering my room much darker than suits me. But that’s not even the hard part: waiting patiently for hot water… for more than a pitiful stream of water to drip from the taps…wondering if the shards of window glass that nearly exploded on my head from the bathroom wall, will do so again – despite a guarantee from Ngurah’s worker that it won’t (Balinese ‘guarantees’ are a non-existent concept)…a toilet that looks pretty but flushes slowly and inconsistently… and a few more minor kinks.

It’s amazing how much little things (basics?!) like sunshine and a real hot shower provoke me – and make me miss my old place…

I dropped in at the Family Guesthouse yesterday, saw those I’d not bumped into on the street in the last while; little Ayu uncharacteristically shied away from me – until I offered her a couple of durian candies, at which point she could be more easily persuaded to give me a hug and a smile. Iluh and Yanti were watching TV with Nyoman’s mother, while Nyoman was finishing up her prayers and offerings in the family temple. Suddenly Chie flitted by, her arms flailing about, throwing me an apa kabar?! (how are you?)

My thoughts turned to the semi-permanent trio of guests (including myself) that roomed there together for a number of months: Chie, an eccentric Japanese woman of indeterminable age, has been living there for nearly three years. Typically slim, but tall, she has been studying Balinese dance since her arrival, with teachers in both Ubud and Denpasar. I went to watch her class one day and was amazed at her stamina and ability to replicate with such precision all the facial and hand movements.

Once a week, Chie also dances on the outdoor stage at the Family Guesthouse-owned touristy restaurant, Laka Leke. She speaks fluent Bahasa (Indonesian), smokes like a chimney on full throttle, eats a heaping plate of papaya and plain yogurt every morning, covers her entire body (including arms, hands and feet) to avoid any sun exposure, talks and laughs loudly, using her whole body. Since Chie and I don’t share a common language, our conversations were usually limited to niceties when seeing each other. Still, when I saw her yesterday, she greeted me with great fanfare, as if I was a long-lost sister.

Then there was David. A Czech-born writer and translator of novels and non-fiction works, he’s been globetrotting for years – primarily in Asia – working wherever he settles in for awhile. He typically spends a few months in a given country, clicking away on his keyboard for days at a time, getting up to meet with friends, see a few sights, duck into a cheap local food stall for a meal. He’s spent months in Bali at a time, basing himself in Ubud, occasionally heading out to the beach or to see friends down south. He left Bali a little while ago, heading first to Saigon to spend time with his Vietnamese girlfriend before returning to Prague – and then planning to head out into the world again.

David and I first met when I was having trouble with my internet connection and I went seeking him out down the path. I hadn’t seen him before because our rooms were at different ends and he often didn’t leave his room until (breakfast was served on his terrace) until late in the day.

We went to Mama’s Warung for her specialties, headed out to Mas for fish, up to Sangiggan for gado-gado and met at the Masakan Padang for Indonesian-style fast (but relatively healthy) food. Being the movie buff he is, David offered to share a plethora of films he’d accumulated with me, so we spent a few hours one day downloading an assortment of classics, Czech, American and Italian movies onto my laptop.

There we were, for a few months, the three of us, the mainstays, the semi-permanent fixtures, an ad hoc extension of the Family, coming and going, probably a continuing source of curiosity and gossip for Nyoman’s family and staff.

To get to my room at Ngurah’s, I walk down a long, erratically-laid-mosaic-filled cement path, passing the family compound on the other side of a low brick wall, where the women are nearly always busy washing laundry, cooking food or whipping up offerings for the next day, where the men sit around and smoke, the kids zip around on their bikes, the roosters crow from under their coops, the dog lazes far from the sun’s heat and the sound of motorbikes fades into a background whir. There’s no hustle and bustle, no fruit and hot water with ginger being prepared and delivered to my room, no sunshine bursting into my room as the roosters belt out the last notes of their morning song.

Maybe, just maybe, when the water issue is fixed, when the glass panes show no further signs of doom and danger, when the other kinks get ironed out, I’ll feel settled in. But perhaps not…there’s still the matter of my irrepressible craving for sunshine.

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