At the far end of a remote village in East Bali, I meander towards the far end of a road, approaching the last unpaved few hundred meters. On one side of the road, the expansive compound of a bachelor Balinese prince sits empty – awaiting his irregular arrival and short stay, often with partying friends. On the other, construction of a spacious resort is in full swing.
I near the end of the road, surrounded by the village’s penultimate rice paddies and fields when I hear hollering. I turn and see a straw-hatted Balinese woman waving me over.
In the blazing midday heat, Farmer Ketut invites me to join her in the shack amidst her fields – rice on one side, vegetables on the other. As I step onto the raised path abutting the paddy, chickens and roosters scoot away. Ketut’s cows take shade under a bamboo covering nearby. An infant calf looks up at me, a mixture of curiosity and suspicion in her eyes.
Ketut asks all the standard questions:
Asli dari mana? (Where do you come from?)
Dimana tinggal? (Where do you live?)
Then this: Tinggal di villa?
I’m stupefied by her question. Not because I don’t understand, but because I’m puzzled. How does a poor rural farmer living almost at the end of the world (ok, so the eastern end of Bali), in a region considerably less-populated (with foreigners), whose knowledge of the English language doesn’t go beyond “hello,” even know the word.. villa?
After some inquiry, I have a better grasp of what Ketut thinks: Bule (foreigners) come to Bali and only live in a villa, never a house.
It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this belief. I’ve lost count of how often I’m asked:
My answer stumps them: I don’t live in a villa.
I glance over to Ketut’s cow-shed.
Villa Sapi? I ask her. After a moment, she breaks into laughter.
Ahh, so that’s the bottom line: A massive Balinese compound is still a house; but regardless of the size of her house, a foreigner always lives in a villa.
In the original Latin, villa refers to a country house or farm. Not so in Bali.
On this island, the villa is a species of its own; with myriad stories worthy of being shared, another time…