Foreigners are prohibited from owning property outright in Bali. Good thing. Otherwise I might have just signed my life away to a little old man in a checkered skirt, with flowers in his greying hair.
Instead, while the finer points of the lease to a house in midtown Ubud were being discussed, the diminutive family patriarch, I Gedé Raka, stayed in the background, going about his own business – sweeping, washing, eating, praying.
Imagine feudal times in modern-day Ubud: Pak Gedé, for as long as he shall live, is sole title-holder to all the lands in his not insignificant realm, a few patches linking Jalan Suweta and Jalan Kajeng. Yet, his sons get to parcel off bits and pieces here and there, albeit with Papa Gedé’s approval.
Under the oil-painted gaze of Pak Gedé’s deceased brother, Pak Suweta (the man after whom one of Ubud’s main roads is named, around the corner from my newly leased house), I have, for the past two weeks, have been undergoing a trial by fire; trying to negotiate, translate and make sense of a contract… in Indonesian. (What was I thinking?!)
And so, finally, the deed is done. Literally. This agreement has been signed by more people than I’ve ever seen put pen to contract: Madé, monolingual owner of the patch of property on which the house is built; Dr Gedé (The Younger), eldest brother of Madé and family doctor; Nyoman (a.k.a. Komang), younger brother; Pak Wayan, head of the local banjar and CF, an American-Indonesian woman I know who reviewed and signed the original contract, and helped me refine the English version – with the mute but able assistance of Google-Translate.
Other curious and inquiring minds occasionally hovered around: Rai, my friend and the owner’s cousin (without whom this whole process would never have amounted to anything); Ketut, Madé’s wife; E, my visa agent and, in this case, an advisor – with questionable business skills; Dr Gedé’s son, too young to have a say about anything; and the family dog.
Turns out that there isn’t usually much of a formality to these matters; no offerings, nobody wears sarong, kebaya or udeng. People just sign, shake hands, lay palms together in thanks with a slight bend of the head.
But serendipity showers us with blessings just the same: Dr Gedé’s son’s gamelan lesson takes place on the same terrace where we sit around a table; surrounded by the doctor’s impressive collection of barong masks and keris ceremonial knives. I feel that the best of Balinese culture embraces us as we take turns signing. Good omens all around.
The following days are busy with bank transfers, then having duplicate copies of the contract stamped and legitimized by a notaris a few miles out of Ubud.
In about three months’ time, once fully furnished, and for at least five years hence, a big bright light house smack in the center of a hilly town in the middle of a tropical island – a building that somehow remained hidden from view even as I meandered all over town – is the place I will call… home.