It was moving day. Again. I seem to have developed a regular habit of moving, regularly, since I came to Bali. But this time, I was returning to a home I last lived in a few months ago, and had vacated to allow the landlord to do a fix-it job and a few much-needed renovations. Not certain if I’d return to the same house, I dropped in every so often to observe the workers’ progress. A few days ago, after a few rounds of negotiations, I shook hands with Made and we agreed that I’d move in today.
But first I had to take leave of my friends and favorite dog-duo (after a brief dog-sitting gig), return to my last place of residence (in a compound where I’d already moved house once before). I’d been packed up, went to fetch the key, handed over a deposit for rent, and coaxed my regular and favorite driver (also a neighbor and also named Made) to squeeze in my move – of not too many boxes, suitcases and bags – before he had to pick up a customer. We did it (with the help of his wife – yes, also named Made) in record time, from door to door in under 15 minutes.
After the dust had settled, all boxes had been carried inside, I surveyed the piles, laid down for a few minutes and got to work. (I briefly detoured into town to pick up some food). I returned, rested and restarted my unpacking. All went well, until…
Not more than 2 hours after I’d moved in, with my two front doors wide open – as they usually were before, letting in an abundance of sunlight and air – I got wind of a cacophony of voices. They grew louder, the numbers seemed to grow and I sensed an air excitement brewing. I stopped the bathtub-scrubbing, dropped the rag, went out the front door and to the gate, and there, not more than 25 meters from my front door, I saw this:
Mecaru. The Balinese word for land-blessing ceremony; held immediately prior to the breaking of ground for construction of a new house, when the negative spirits are cleansed from the land. The women, dressed in kebayas and sarongs, waved over at me as I stood, stared and snapped away in utter astonishment. They placed baskets and piles of offerings all over the bamboo mats that had been unfurled and laid down around the property. Dried husks of coconut were lit, setting off little explosions. The kids were running about, neighbors looking on.
The whole ceremony lasted under one hour. The attending priest – who so happens to be the village priest, my previous landlord… also named Made – was ringing his bell, chanting mantras and blessings and flicking flower petals into the air in front of him.
The women packed up all the remnants, many of which were discarded in over-sized garbage bags. These, they set on fire; after which they gathered in front of the (sadly, toxic) fire and nibbled on fruits and snacks that had been blessed. By late afternoon, after the briefest hint of rain had sputtered drops onto the walkways and fields, the women had carted away the last hints of mecaru, while the priest and men surveyed the land that had been marked off with pegs and string.
Not so long ago, when I last lived in this house, I was paying close attention to the development around me. The construction of a two-floor house (you can see it in the photo above, just beyond the field) had been completed while I lived there. Despite the quiet that, for a few days, gave us all some rest from the incessant noise, I sensed that another site would likely pop up soon.
Still, I couldn’t be sure. So, cognizant of what the future might bring if I’d move back, I’d asked my landlord (who also happens to be the administrative chief of this village) if he knew about pending development in this neighborhood – to which he said no, nothing.
Imagine my surprise – with a little creeping frustration and a smidgen of anger thrown in. I let myself muse over the irony of this day’s strange turn of events. And then, while looking over the fields – soon to be turned into a noisy, dusty, way-too-close construction site, I surrendered and asked out loud (with just a touch of embedded sarcasm): How does it get better than this?