I’m lying on my bed after completing yet another pilgrimage down to Nyuh Kuning, to my weekly stint at the Bumi Sehat Clinic. For a few hours every Saturday afternoon, I morph into a member of the self-ascribed Moxa Team; assisting in the always-busy akupuntur klinik – with the typically colorful batik-outfitted Dr. Bobbi (American-born, Chinese medicine doctor and acupuncturist) at the helm.
The clinic’s success and constant busy-ness is attributable almost exclusively to the phalanx of diehard volunteers (and, naturally, a small number of paid employees); there are nurses and students, young Balinese women and men who show up – sometimes as thanks for the free medical treatments that brought them back to health. Foreigners (doctors, nurses, cranio-sacral therapists, yoga teachers, etc) sign up in droves, sometimes taking sabbaticals from their paying jobs abroad to volunteer their time at this bare-bones clinic.
Take a quick look around and the place looks run down, water leaking through the roof during a rainstorm, bed sheets with holes, pillow cases needing a good wash. But these are only exterior signs of an institution that runs on donations and a shoestring budget, functions at all thanks to the thousands of donors that keep it alive.
But scratch the surface, peer inside – past the jungle of trees and jumble of motorbikes – take a long look at the work that is being done and I can almost guarantee that you will be awed by the energy, the love and compassion, the unwavering efforts that are made at this tiny health clinic, for the Balinese people.
Bumi Sehat started off as a birthing clinic, with Robin Lim – CNN’s Hero of the Year for 2011 – as the one and only midwife, providing birthing, pre-natal and neo-natal guidance to Balinese women unable to afford hospital fees. The clinic grew over the years, providing more services to a population in need; pediatrics, acupuncture, homeopathy and naturopathy (and more).
It’s now busting at the seams; with birthing rooms (with up to 4 beds in each), a pre-natal room, an office for midwives, an office in which hand-me-down couches and a library stocked with books about pregnancy, childcare and healthy living – even a book by Pema Chodron.
Adults queue up for hours, patiently waiting their turn for an appointment, for acupuncture – even to go into labor. These Balinese people, you can see that they are used to waiting.
They arrive from all parts of Bali, some traveling hours in the hope that Dr. Bobbi and her team will provide them some sort of relief. They show up complaining about problems of fertility and high blood pressure, dealing with the effects of stroke, cancer, arthritis, goiter, hernias and more.
There is a sense of organized mayhem about the clinic: English, Balinese and Indonesian are spoken interchangeably and, sometimes, all at once. Bobbi and her dedicated team (and, when possible, other volunteer acupuncturists) mill about the clinic, flitting from one room to another, reading a patient’s clinic card about previous visits, consulting with others, inserting needles in the relevant meridian points, and giving instructions about whether or not to apply moxa; which, if any, Chinese herbs are to be packaged and sent home with the patient after treatment and which foods are to be avoided. Once in awhile, a sudden situation stops people in their tracks, diverts them from the grid – Bobbi gets a call from a harried mother whose child’s condition is worsening and may necessitate a transfer to hospital in Jakarta; or a staff member gets a call telling her to return to her village immediately because her grandfather has died and the cremation is imminent.
Towards the end of the afternoon, the initial waiting list of anywhere from 25-40 (on a good day!) slowly begins to dwindle down to the last handful of patients. The staff’s energy is waning, soya lattes and brownies are ordered from Bali Buddha and the place is still reeking from hours’ worth of moxa-wrapping-paper-smoke. Sometimes the giddiness sets in, but mostly Bobbi is ready to call it a day, thank her staff and close up shop.
Whatever I used to think about Nyuh Kuning when I first arrived in Ubud – it’s a sedate, mostly residential neighborhood named after the plentiful yellow frangipani trees lining its streets – I now think of it first and foremost as a place of healing, the headquarters of Bumi Sehat; Bali’s epicenter of love, health, wellbeing and fountain of new life.