There’s nothing quite like being handed a key to a 10-day holiday in tropical paradise – even though it’s only a stone’s throw from the family compound where I’ve been resident expat #2. Cat asked me to house-sit while she was in Kalimantan and I barely needed a night’s sleep before happily agreeing to move in.
How could I go wrong: A fully-equipped open-air house (not a single window pane!) ensconced in the 24/7 surround-sound-and-sight lushness I so love (IMAX, eat your heart out). Fruit trees – mulberry, passion fruit, papaya, banana (pink, only for decorative purposes!); veggies – cherry tomatoes, Lombok chili peppers, kale, watercress; flowers – hibiscus, heliconia and frangipani among them; yellow and green coconut trees; crickets, cicadas, tokeks and cecaks whooping it up; a pond gurgling with spring water, fish, greenery and a playful tortoise; and, as if in preparation for a voyage on Noah’s ark, three pairs of pets: chickens, birds and dogs – to whom I daily and dutifully served meals and morsels. And onto whom I heaped bushels of attention.
Yes, Virginia, sometimes even paradise comes with a list of tasks and responsibilities – which just might include singing to a bird…
There was more than enough reason to go into near-seclusion: Shelves overflowing with must-read books about Bali, travel and lives lived adventurously; cookbooks with Indian and Indonesian recipes, manuals about pets and permaculture. The place brimmed with Buddhas, nagas, crystals, mobiles, Sanskrit paintings and wall hangings. Pillows to prop myself on and recline on while writing and reading; a day-bed for lolling about and watching kingfishers perch nearby and swallows swoop by in the afternoons. A proper kitchen – with Wayan (Cat’s longtime pembantu = housekeeper/cook/driver/washerwoman and, for me, language teacher) at my disposal. I lit incense and mosquito coils. Really, there was nothing to complain about…
Even though I was awakened on more than one occasion to the sounds of children dragging their desks across rooms, yelling at each other and the teacher yelling back – still, these were the sounds of activity, joy and life.
Even when the chickens clucked after me, threatening to nip at my ankles, exposed as they were because I’d rolled up my pajama-pant legs – still, I was thankful for the wholesome, organic eggs they offered up each and every morning.
Even when Rama (a.k.a. Big Bird) barely missed me when he let loose a fountain of piss-spray – still I giggled because how can you respond differently when a pitifully-feathered bird has the audacity to belt out “I love you big bird” ad nauseum even while you lock him up at night in his cage.
Even when a stunning but despotic parrot named Chiko emitted the most earth-shattering squawking known to man (he’s an Eclectus after all) – still I was thankful that we finally arrived at a compromise; I patiently fed him miniscule seeds and nuts, by way of plastic measuring spoon, through a small opening in his cage (where he tried but couldn’t nip at me) while reminding him to put a lid on the shrieking as I did so.
Even though I came down with a bad stomach bug shortly after moving in, unable to digest anything more than porridge – still, Wayan healed me with her food, and once I recovered, she displayed such expertise in the kitchen that I smiled with glee at the aromas rising from the stove, eagerly awaited each dish that she served or stored in the fridge for the next meal.
Even when the plastic/foil/toxic trash began to burn, sting my eyes and fill up my throat with a chalky sensation – still, I was grateful that my Bali Community (Facebook, people) came through with suggestions on how to cleanse myself: Cilantro! Spring water! Pranayama!
And even after mama dog, her protective instinct in high gear, managed to bite at least five neighbors, triggered anxiety and fear all around and ultimately carried her pups off to a family compound nearby, leaving a sense of imbalance and now what? in the air – still there was Wayan dutifully placing offerings all around the now-emptied garage, clearing the space and shooing away any potential lingering evil spirits.
Every day, a silver lining shone through.
Every day, a breakthrough.
Every day, another reason to awaken in wonder at the world.