I had already purchased a plane ticket for Bali when CNN reported the bombing of two nightclubs at the beach resort of Kuta last October. Despite news stories and government warnings, I decided to go ahead with my plans for a three-week trip. I arrived in the midst of preparations for Bali’s best-loved holiday, Galungan, and a flurry of purification ceremonies in the aftermath of the bombings.
Referring to a huge purification ceremony at the bomb site, news headlines translated as “All Bali Comes Together for Harmonization of the Universe,” and “Today We Return to Kilometer Zero,” that is, today is the first day of the rest of the universe. I couldn’t have come at a better time.
At home in northern California, I weave, spin, and dye yarn, so the handwoven arts of Bali have drawn me back half a dozen times since I first went on a tour five years ago.
After my first visit to this Hindu island in the middle of the largely Moslem Indonesian archipelago, I felt confident enough to return on my own.
While in Bali I always make my base at Rumah Roda, a homestay in the bustling art center of Ubud. My host, Darta, works as a guide, and his wife, Suti, teaches culture in the elementary school. They treat me like one of the family, make sure I meet the neighbors, and invite me to their many ceremonies. Up and down the street people recognize me and look after me. What a comfortable feeling for a solo traveler.
On my last visit in November, Darta, Suti, daughter Tutut, adopted son Lolet, brother Rudi, Rudi’s three-year-old son, grandma Ibu, cousin Weti . . . and so on, all greeted me with "Selamat pulang!"(Welcome home!) and hugs all around.
"I knew you would still come," said Darta, smiling broadly. He hadn’t had a guide job for two months, and for two weeks his five guest rooms stood empty. Now, two Canadians rented the room next to mine and a French couple had moved in next to them. Life looked better.
Darta invited all the homestay guests to his cousin’s traditional wedding ceremony and celebrations. At the party I met Ketut, a young man who had worked at the bombed Sari Club. A few seconds before the blast he stepped outside to get ice. He was grateful for his life, but he now had no job or prospect of one.
Everyone was short of cash, and when Pasti, my friend who owns a small textile shop nearby, dropped by my room to borrow money to pay her phone bill and buy food, I couldn’t refuse her. I knew it was not really a loan.
After several days of Galungan festivities, I asked another friend, Oka, to take me in his Toyota SUV to the mountain village of Munduk, a two-hour drive from Ubud. There coffee, cacao, and clove plantations cover the steep hillsides. I was the only guest at the hotel, usually packed with Americans, so I could negotiate a room for US$30, less than half price – good for my budget, but it contributed to the air of sadness, almost despair, that had settled over the lush garden and romantic cottages.
Two days later, when I returned to Darta’s house in Ubud, one of his younger brothers showed up on leave from his job as a policeman on the island of Sumba. The Sumbanese police chief was with him, on holiday too. Over dinner, Moslem police chief and Hindu Darta had words.
Darta railed against injustice perpetrated by religions, and the police chief was intransigent about Moslem policies. Although Darta always told me he respects Islam, this visit I felt a rising tension in him, and I worried how widespread this feeling might be.
Oka came to the house the next morning with a sack of tart mangosteen fruit and news – good news and bad news. First, most of the European nations had lifted their Bali travel warnings: "Now we’ll have more work." Next, three men responsible for the Kuta bombings had been apprehended. The sinister news was that their leader, Imam Sumadra, was reported to have trained with Al Qaeda.
I found myself overcome several times a day by the urge to sob. Then my mood would brighten into optimism with a glimpse of men clearing water channels in the rice fields, women carrying offerings to a temple, or children laughing at a barong, the Chinese dragon-style monster who visits their neighborhood at Galungan.
During this bittersweet visit, I could see how the Balinese reaction to "the tragedy," so unlike the Western desire for revenge, was interwoven with their philosophy that good and evil exist – the best we can do is try to achieve a balance of the two. As Darta explained, "We Balinese seek to restore the balance of the universe."