My intention was to write about last night’s gathering at a lovely sprawling house on the edge of the jungle. It was the first night of Passover and our motley crew assembled for an improvised, egalitarian, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-flowery-pants evening of prayer, candles, song, and to hear Sofia recite the story of Passover (while I looked on over her shoulder, correcting her pronunciation of words much bigger than her). I’d intended to write about how we came together, representing (in a non-official capacity) countries ranging from the US and Canada to China, the Netherlands, Israel and Australia.
I thought I would describe the mouth-watering array of vegetarian goodies that lay in wait on the buffet table, or about the bottle of kosher wine (imported from Bangkok) that, thanks to many efforts at dislodging the cork, popped open yet ended up staying untouched until the end of the meal. I was sure I would hail A’s coup; mixing up a batch of raw, flax and sesame-seeded dehydrated matzas (unleavened flatbreads) that were the gastronomical hit of the evening. Yes, I really thought I’d delve more into all those stories and more…
Instead, I find myself wondering about what preceded last evening because of the forceful impact it had on me. Perhaps the timing was inauspicious, or then again, maybe there was an element of irony after all… It began like this:
I was lying on my bed writing away when Iluh came up to (ostensibly) clean my room and terrace, eventually revealing the real reason she’d climbed up to my place; I was being asked to leave the guesthouse, the compound I’ve called home for nearly 2 years. This, after I’d spent more than an hour earlier in the morning helping Kadek and Kiki out with the offerings for Galungan.
For a people whose culture is so inextricably tied up with ceremony, it dawned struck me odd that I was being dumped – nay, evicted (for a second time no less) so.. umm.. UNceremoniously. The reasons given were strange, odd, unbelievable and, in true Balinese style, uniquely related to spirits, family temples and shrines – and the location of my toilet and shower. Yes, ’tis true. After a brief talk with a smiling Iluh, then raising my voice with a suddenly stumbling – nevertheless always smiling – Nyoman, I decided it best to let things lie and went back up to my room.
An hour hadn’t passed when I suddenly heard rumblings outside. More like gratings perhaps. The noise level was increasing, to the point where I jumped off my bed to look outside to find the source of the outrageously loud sounds. Whereupon I was shocked to see a massive cloud of smoke moving ever closer: Fogging!! In that proverbial moment when we must grab the only things that are most essential, I snapped up my cellphone and anti-pollution mask.
Turned up all the fans to the highest speed and banged the unlocked door shut behind me. Dashing down the stairs and out the door, I hurried down the street, watching over my shoulder to see if the creeping cloud was already at my back. It was like a scene out of a bad Hollywood movie – or our worst fears of being enveloped by exactly what it was: the most uber-toxic bit of poison floating around. (Little wonder I heard my neighbors coughing throughout the night…)
As if those weren’t enough to send me spiraling away for good, I ended up walking into a compound nearby, looking for Joni. Joni has been my go-to and reasonably affordable driver for the past 2 years. He’s picked me up from the airport, driven me there and to healers, to Sidemen and to other remote locations. We’ve had long conversations, I’ve become acquainted with his family (and their share of life’s dramas) and I’ve brought him and his family small gifts from my trips abroad.
When I showed up yesterday and he came out to greet me, I asked why he didn’t answer my messages. At which point, unceremoniously of course, he informed me that he was not going to be driving anymore. What do you mean, I asked. He fumbled and stumbled, mumbled Maaf (sorry) too many times and slinked back. What about your promise to pick up my friends at the airport on Thursday and drive them around for a few days? Maaf, maaf. No further information was forthcoming, no reasonable explanations. You can look for another driver, he said. All with a smile.
It felt a little like I was living the three-strikes rule. What did it all mean… did I strike out?
Undoubtedly, at least yesterday, something was rotten in the state of Denmark. There was a strange irony to all of this happening on the first evening of Passover. A story of exile, of being mistreated, of trudging through the desert for 40 years in the pursuit of freedom. Ok, I’m not living in a desert and not feeling enslaved. But what was it about yesterday’s trio of incidents that has still left an imprint, has shaken me up, has made me wonder if I need to magnify the writing on the wall so as to decipher its meaning?