How to Fry a Frittata on Your Back

A few days ago, in the middle of Eka’s yoga class, I was so overcome with pain in my backside and leg that I collapsed onto the foam pad. I must have done so quietly and somewhat gracefully because I don’t recall anyone running over to soften the blow of my descent; nor do I remember the class ending (except for Renata’s face and muffled voice hovering above me at some point). I awoke from a reverie or deep doze about an hour after the class ended, a yawning silence filling the now-empty studio.

Still in pain, I began the long and slow trek home. On the way, it dawned on me that my decision, a few days earlier (while still in Penatahan), to beg off Dewa’s instructions might have been ill-timed; perhaps my body was showing signs of withdrawal and I needed to re-assess…If you think it is not possible to fry an egg on your body, I am here to tell you, unequivocally, that you absolutely, most definitely, can do.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me back up…

One evening towards the end of September, Gede picks me on his motorbike and we head up to Tegallalang, past Gede’s house, past the night market, the football field and lots of farm animals, to his wife’s cousin’s house: Dewa is a bone balian, a traditional Balinese healer specializing in repairing broken bones. I’ve heard of these bone balians, incredible stories of healing, unimaginable corrections of bone formation, accident victims with bones once again intact. How can I not seek one out?

Dewa lives with his large and extended family in a non-descript compound at the near-end of a darkened unpaved road and up an inclined driveway. We are greeted by a disproportionate number of growling dogs. Further inside, Dewa’s mother and another female relative are sitting on the ground of a fluorescent-lit covered terrace, preparing tomorrow’s offerings, weaving coconut palm fronds into little hanging enclosures, barely glancing at their handiwork – so skilled are they at churning out these weavings, their fingers flying through the air in a pas-de-deux of green leaves.

Dewa’s mother rises promptly, smiles and, while speaking with Gede, pulls out a rolled-up white tarp (in fact a few emptied wheat bags sewn together) and unfurls it on the ground for us to sit on. I nestle onto my pillow sideways while Gede sits cross-legged across me. While we wait, Gede tells me how he came to see Dewa after falling off his bike and seriously injuring his shoulder; within a couple of appointments, he was completely healed.

A few moments later, a young man in bare feet walks out of an adjacent room, greets Gede with a few words, turns and nods towards me with a smile. He can’t be more than 40 years old, with shoulder-length hair, his face deeply burnished by the sun, his eyes red-shot but the whites giving off a sharpness amplified by his deeply-tanned skin. Dewa sits down, in well-worn sweat pants and top, joins Gede in a smoke and we are all offered drinks. I pull out my bag of offerings and incense that Gede has prepared for the occasion, tuck in a bill and place it on the ground in front of me – customary procedure.

The tea tastes putrid but I know well enough not to insult my hosts so I sip it just slowly enough that they notice. Gede reminds me that Dewa won’t begin to scan a body or ask for information before he’s had a cup of kopi (coffee); one of sixteen cups he drinks daily. (He’s just come back from a long day, beginning in the rice field, then working on a construction site; his day job).

So I sit and observe quietly as the men speak and the women behind us, still twirling long palm leaves in the air, listen and join in periodically. Dewa speaks in even tones, smiles easily; I sense an energy in his presence that I cannot pinpoint, an aura of spirituality and intuition emanates from this man whose words I cannot understand (Gede translates back and forth). When our eyes meet, I wonder: Is he already scanning and reading me?

As they continue to speak in Balinese, I look over into Dewa’s room: Barely furnished, it’s Spartan in every way; a simple wood platform with a thin mattress and sheet for a bed; a small set of drawers between the bed and wall, a small TV on top – most likely an Indonesian soap opera playing at sotto voce. The room is very dark, the walls grimy and bare. A door inside leads (I later discover) to the altar room, where Dewa seeks out guidance from his spirits.

Gede’s attention turns to me: He wants you to lie down on your stomach. I do so, laying my pillow underneath to soften the hardness of the ground below. Dewa starts to poke at the soles and toes of my feet, rolls up my pant legs. He palpates all over my lower back, the sacrum and the upper part of my buttocks; up and down my lower legs.

Dewa says that circulation in both my legs is very poor – so much so that in a number of years I may not be able to walk at all. I’m not as surprised to hear his words as you would think because I’m instantaneously transported a few months back to the office of Dr David the Chinese doctor in KL who, after scanning my body, said the exact same thing…

Dewa expresses regret at not being able to do much for me; had I seen him immediately after the accident, he is sure to have re-set and healed my bones. Nevertheless he offers to consult his spirits to see if there is something that will help ease the pain.

Dewa returns from the altar room, his sweatpants replaced with a sarong. I rise onto my knees with my head lowered. A ritual of incense sticks, smoke, holy water and flower petals ensues. I’m thankful that I’ve already learned the (basic) ropes about receiving blessings from attending countless ceremonies.When Dewa is seated again, he resumes his conversation with Gede. There is more information for me: If and when the time is right, and if I have patience and am able to withstand more pain, he may be able to press down very hard onto the bones to re-set them. He also suggested that I should get married, because movement may be very helpful as well; Gede and I later realize that marriage is Dewa’s euphemism for sex – as a way to promote and accelerate the healing… of my bones. He was dead serious.

Dewa then explains to Gede exactly the kind of obat (medicine) I am to prepare – to both help with the pain and release liquid that is stuck to bone; the poultice dressings that I am to prepare each evening: one egg yolk – but not any egg, it must be telur ayam kampong (from a free range chicken), onto which I am to sprinkle a pressed small red onion and a garlic clove – but only the button, bottom part of the garlic, throwing the rest out, because I injured the bottom of my body. I am to place the concoction on a cotton pad (or wad of toilet paper), lay it onto my sacrum, then wrap a roll of gauze around my hips to hold it in place.

And so, here is what I can report after more than two months of nightly egg-apps: I couldn’t get the smell of egg out of my room, my bed, my pyjama top, my mind. I don’t know how I managed to still order soft-boiled eggs or an omelette for breakfast. Maybe you can never have too much protein – regardless of whether you eat it or absorb it sub-epidermally. Good thing I don’t have issues with high cholesterol.

But infinitely more fascinating was this:  I went to sleep every night with a glop of runny egg, and other smelly ingredients glued onto my back… and a few hours later, when I awoke and de-mummified myself, I was peeling off my back a warm frittata with fossilized strands of garlic and remnants of red onion. How comforting to realize that my broken sacrum was the ideal vehicle for at least one thing. Not edible, perhaps, but ta-da! – a daily serving of protein nevertheless.But after two months of no further appointments, no more guidance from Dewa or clear indication of whether or not this healing treatment was effective, it was time to re-assess (and give my back and egg-soiled underwear, towels and sheets, a much-needed break).

With so many bone balians on this island, the hunt continues.

Then again, maybe I wouldn’t have given up so easily if I could have figured out how to use my body’s heat energy to whip up an order of French toast or grilled cheese…

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