Villāticus Balicus

DSC02062At 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.

JpegIn the cool interior of Ketut’s shack (one of 2, the other has a small kitchen, sleeping and storage areas), I muddle through the beginnings of a conversation, in my still-mediocre bahasa.

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:

What’s the name of your villa, Ibu Amit?

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.

DSC09845I ask Ketut if the prince’s compound next door is a villa. A confused look passes over her face. Bukan, she says, rumah lokal besar yang itu. It’s a big but local (normal) house.

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…


  1. Amit, we’ve been to Bali a couple of times and spent all or time in Ubud. We’ve vowed that next trip we will explore the island more, and posts like this give us an insight that makes that strategy sound even better. These connections and glimpses into perceptions are the reward of travel. Great post. ~James

    1. Thanks James. I noticed your recent postings about Bali.. I look forward to exchanging stories when you return, hopefully soon! Hope your health has improved too.

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