Walled In

I learned a new word in bahasa Indonesia the other day. Lembur. Overtime.

Until this week, I’d never had reason to come across this word, and it’s one that I won’t soon forget.

Little did I know that lembur is a pretty popular term in my banjar (hamlet); it’s apparently one of the few that gives it residents and business owners the right to engage in work for many many many hours each day, anywhere from 7:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. Which sometimes creeps all the way until 10 pm., because well, there’s no enforcement of this oh-so-lax lembur law.

Seven days a week. There may be plenty of Krishnas and Buddhas, Ganeshas and Saraswatis; there’s Galungan and Odalan. But a Lord’s day of rest? Not on this island – except for Nyepi, the one day of blissful silence.

The morning after I returned to Bali, I opened my front door to an incredible sight – and sounds; one I’d not seen or heard the evening before because of the darkness. A third construction project was underway – on a rice field that my landlord had guaranteed would not be developed due to the landowner’s lack of funds. “He’s too poor,” said my landlord, “he will never have enough money to build on that sawah.”

dsc05251But lo and behold, in less than 6 weeks, the impossible house was materializing on that very patch of land. Go figure.

Behind my house, not more than 5 feet from the back wall – with openings between my wall and ceiling to allow for ventilation (and free entry to geckos galore!) – the house appeared in the same state (of snail-paced construction) as it had been before my departure. Except for a 3 foot high addition extending the height of the cement wall outside my window – all but blocking out whatever daylight had before managed to seep into my bathroom. But oh, the noise was hideously LOUD. And continuous, from early morning until night – including one memorable 4 a.m. raucous arrival of labourers hauling in a truckload of rocks.

All told, four houses in the very gritty, noisy, depths and various stages of construction. Dust flying everywhere. Non-stop screeches reverberating through my house and body, thanks to the perpetual cutting of lava rocks, wood, brick, and ceramic tiles, for all floors AND walls. Hammering hellions. Deafening sounds from early morning to late at night. Capped off by the whines and shrieks of a young child.

The construction of a  fifth house next door, belonging to my landlord’s brother, is apparently on hold. For the moment.

And to my left, a high wall of a two-floor restaurant and shop, pilfered my view of the sunrise, not long before I even moved in. But it is easy enough to imagine the horizon that I once would have enjoyed, a stone’s throw away and across the road – with rice fields, palm trees, homes in the distance, birds flying across, women walking by with offerings on their head, uniformed girls astride their pak’s motorbike, on their way to school – with ribboned plaits flying in the breeze.

dsc05261Instead, I’m walled in on all sides; by towering and messy cement construction, more walls, higher walls, and hellish amounts of noise.

I now tell my friends that it’s best we meet elsewhere than here; unless, of course, they’d like to experience my newly vamped house, featuring a host of cutting edge construction tunes – playing daily (and nightly) on my very own Dolby surround sound system. Earplugs available upon request.

On the bright & sunny side, my Indonesian vocab is much improving…


  1. It’s the Bali plague. If there’s an inch of land between you and the next house, BEWARE! There are no guarantees…none…about anything except, as you say, lembur, Galungan, Nyepi, and upacara semua, the incontrovertible absolutes. And yet, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Welcome back, Amit!

    1. I think we learn to ‘put up’ with many things here.. just as we do when we live elsewhere. Thanks Paula, but I can think of a few people who’d deserve that medal far more than I (given what they’ve had to deal with!)

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