Pandora’s Box (and a Lesson in Gratitude)

This past week, I’ve been reminded of the importance of feeling grateful even for imperfection, for things that do not go according to our plan, for uncomfortable circumstances in which we’ve found ourselves. Seeing the silver lining – always, regardless of the present situation that we face.

And so, as if I’d invited it myself, this gratitude ‘test’ confronted me, full-on, this afternoon. Right at home.

I was sprawled across my bed, writing on my laptop. I’d just discovered Pandora online, and I was streaming much-loved music. The sun was shining, a slight breeze entering my room through the open windows, the white noise of scooters and cars rumbling down the road, about 50 meters away. Perfect, or so it seemed.

The other room, the living/dining area and front entry has a set of carved doors, both of which I keep ajar while I’m home during the day – to let in the light, the air and all the benevolent spirits that reside on this island. I trust that I am safe.

My house is fronted with low cement walls and two metal gates that are always closed, except when people enter or leave my premises (including my landlord’s wife who arrives daily to place offerings). A narrow lane on the outside of the gate is used by myself and the residents who live along the path, further from the road. And abutting the lane is a wide swath of rice paddy – a lovely view. On the far side of the paddy, in full view from my house, is an open construction site, with a house that is nearing completion. A shack has been housing the Javanese laborers for the past few months. They mainly keep to themselves, leaving on evenings and days off.

My front gates, though always closed, are never locked (no lock); a boundary. A non-verbal sign, but pretty self-explanatory. Or so I thought…

I was completely immersed in the joy of Pandora’s play, while also looking forward to a long-awaited visit by my masseuse, Wayan. I rose from the bed to get more water from the kitchen – and to get cash from my wallet for Wayan. A few steps away from my bed, on the other side of the wall, was my bag – where I’d left it on the long bench. I looked inside. No wallet. My heart skipped a beat.

I glanced outside and saw the front gate was wide open. Bad sign. There, on top of the wood-slatted table, was my wallet. More bad news. I picked it up, zipper open, and all the cash was gone. Yes, ALL of it. Lots of it. Indonesian rupiahs and US dollars. I felt a shiver and slight panic. I turned on my heel: was someone STILL inside my house?

Then the reality of what happened sunk in: A stranger had – in full view of the Javanese workers and anyone riding/walking down the lane, driving up or down the road – dared to open the gates, step up onto my terrace, walk through the open doors (knowing that I was inside) and withdrew my wallet out of my bag. Not more than two meters from where I lay, oblivious in my music-enriched reverie, to the crime that was taking place inside my home…

I took a deep breath, grabbed my phone, locked the door, walked out of my gate and closed it behind me. What now?

I heard sounds from the property next door: Wayan (the landlord’s brother) must be there. I went over to talk. He seemed to have seen someone unfamiliar. But I couldn’t catch much of what he told me in bahasa, so I called Made, my landlord.

Not sure what to do next, I crossed the rice paddy and found a couple of Javanese guys. I asked if they’d seen someone across the fields, walking into my house. They said they saw nothing. I wondered if they’d understood me – that I wasn’t pointing fingers, but asking for help.

I crossed the street, popped in to see the laundry lady. She was neck-high in piles of dirty sheets and clothes (after a water breakdown yesterday); hadn’t been away from the machines in hours.

Back to my house. Wayan – my landlord – had arrived. I went over the story – and explained that his brother had apparently seen something. He called Wayan to come over. They talked. They pointed. They chewed and smoked tobacco. Made asked me more questions. Then off he went. To the other side of wind-blown green stalks. He joined the Javanese, striking a match to his smoke. A crowd started to form.

In the middle of that shaft of darkness and worry, Wayan – my longtime masseuse – arrived. I met her on the road. Sorry Wayan, I don’t have money to pay you for a massage today. Tidak apa apa, she said. Don’t worry, next time. She was the sweetest sight for a sad heart and sorry eyes.

How grateful I was for the timing of this massage. I resolved to set aside the distress – if only for the hour. So we talked and laughed and quieted down, while Wayan kneaded the sadness and loss, the gnawing feeling of interference, out of my body.

When I arose and dressed, I led Wayan out of the house. Through the ornamental gates, we were greeted by an unusual sight: a large cohort of Balinese men huddled together across the sawah (rice field). A few of them waved at us. We were being called over, both Wayan and I.

Such is life in Bali, where it really takes a village to sort these things out. Which is how I found myself surrounded by Wayan, Made, the other Wayan, Pak Nyoman and others from Pecalang (village security), a few other big ‘n bulky village people, some in traditional dress, others covered in tattoos (you most definitely want to be on their side), the Javanese workers and a few curious pups from the ‘hood.

This circle, of Balinese men – and I, the sole female tamu – turned a few passing heads. But how to convey the total support and confidence I began to experience in those few moments – even with their questions, clarifying comments between themselves. And then, from one of those very big men (he who wore a carved buffalo-bone talisman, and joked about the alleged criminal apparently wearing a shirt the same color as his!) I heard the term tukang tenung. As in soothsayer or fortune-teller. (Wayan Massage had alluded to it earlier too).

That was the next step: One of them was going to relate my incident to a clairvoyant who would, apparently, see both the crime and the trespasser. Welcome to life in Bali.

I returned home and suddenly spotted, on the same wood-slatted table on the terrace, a little shiny thing that I’d missed seeing earlier: My rose quartz crystal, the one I keep tucked in my wallet. He had left it behind – intentionally or not, didn’t matter. But I still had the crystal, as well as credit cards, passport photos taken just yesterday, a USB stick and a slew of other important papers. And I was ok.

A confluence of my actions, earlier in the day, had unknowingly pried open a box – whereupon a slew of naughty trespassers and spirits were released. Notwithstanding the unfortunate outcome, wasn’t there still so much to be grateful for?


  1. Oh…so sorry to hear about this unpleasant and stressful moment. I have been living in Ubud for about a month now and always felt so safe and secure. Your story made me realized to stay alert even though everyone seems so respectful. Hope you are feeling better. Great blog!

  2. So glad you are ok though Amrit. It speaks volumes that you are able to see the whole picture and your part in the divine Lila. Bless you and I hope your harmony will soon be re established.

  3. A very unsettling event to go through. Three months on, I hope you’re feeling ok about it all. I liked the way the locals rallied around you!

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