Nyepi. In Two Acts.

Yesterday morning, Bali hit the pause button.

Homo sapiens and machina: exit stage right. Stay in the wings. Quiet. Out of sight. All day.

The natural world needs a break – from all of you.

ACT ONE.

Curtain rises.  

Enter stage left: universe. The garden of Eden.

Shortly after 6 o’clock, the barking of dogs dies down (only to resurface, intermittently, throughout the day); they have no one to pester.

Birds sit on a wire. I can almost hear them ask: Where are all the cars, planes and motorbikes?

Paradise still resides on this island. One day a year.

When you can almost hear the rice grow and the leaves rustle on the uppermost reaches of the coconut palm.

Pigeons coo in unison. Later, from my bedroom, I can hear the distinct sound of their wings flapping in a distant tree – a courting ritual. (I would never hear that on a ‘normal’ day.)

Egrets cross the clouds above, without a plane on the horizon.

Cicadas perk up.

The cat comes back, slithers under the gate and watches in fascination at the inexplicable absence of rushed humanity.

With no farmers in sight, the birds swoop down, land on stalks and feast to their heart’s delight.

Surely the sky is a lighter, brighter, blightless blue.

For one whole day, humans and man-made stuff were meant to stay put, and quiet.

At least on the roads, the highways, the waterways, the air.

ACT TWO.

But, like all good things, silence too must come to an end. Sometimes abruptly and earlier than expected. (No surprise, since last year’s Nyepi, I’m now surrounded by new villas.)

Just before 9 a.m., I hear people talking loudly outside the 2-floor new villa across from mine. Not yet rented out, the Balinese farmer’s family has instead occupied the space – loud talking, splashing in the pool, and all – for their own “2-night 1-day Nyepi Getaway Package Deal.”

Shortly after 10, Blackie paws and pushes noisily at my front gate, peering under the wood boards and through the partly opaque curtains, watching my every move. She gives up and retreats; but it’s only a matter of time before she’s back.

Clearly, she hasn’t read the memo.

The man in the house behind mine, when he sneezes, does so many times over. There he blows.

By 11, the whiny Russian kid in the other house out back, is.. well, whining loudly of course. Any moment now will come his big and noisy splash into the pool. Voila. I wander out to the road in search of the pecalang. Nobody in sight.

I walk back to my house – trailed, not surprisingly, given all the action on an empty road, by Blackie, Chocolate and Vanilla (her neighbors). Blackie comes and goes the rest of the day, seeking sounds and morsels.

After 12 pm, I hear what sounds like a hive of buzzing bees. It persists and seems to be getting louder. I step out onto my terrace, look up to the straw ceiling, and spotting nothing, I step down into the garden. Craning my neck and looking up to the sky, I see… a drone. Landing minutes later inside a neighbor’s garden; then repeating its buzz-filled sorties throughout the day, until the sunset.

Then, loud chatting resumes in the garden of the villa compound across the field, when a (Balinese) woman calls up a friend; I can even hear the person on the other end.

The night-time sky is spectacular; with man-made lights switched off, it’s dotted by thousands of stars clearly visible.

By 5 this morning, through the darkness, I hear the first sign of vehicles revving and tearing down the road. Time’s up – even if it is before 6.

THE END.

I’m so grateful for the gift of near-silence that descended on this island, even if imperfect. It seems that we’re always at least a few degrees away from bona fide silence. Maybe that’s the way it ought to be…

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