Silence

IMG_0812Dear All,
There was silence in Bali. No sound made by humans was allowed, no lamp could shine, nobody left the house. The air-traffic stopped a whole day, ships had to wait till the next day if they were looking for a harbour. It was Nyepi, Balinese New Year. The thinking behind all this is that bad spirits will assume the island is deserted and play their funny tricks elsewhere. The fact that it is repeated every year makes you think… The night before was the night of the ogoh-ogoh. For weeks large groups of people had been working on the making of grotesque, huge monsters, it’s said that they often contain coded critics on existing situations. In the time of Soeharto there was a tight control so that no ‘unwanted’ statues would enter the parade. I did see a western ‘lady’ with a skirt way too short, she looked like you know what. The last days before the parade everywhere along the roads tops of trees were removed and that turned out to be very necessary. When all the monsters came out they could hardly pass and telephone and electricity wires had to be pushed up even higher by long sticks to make way. In how far a day of silence will work…, seemingly new crook-spirits arrive every year. There were pecalang ( a sort of security) to make sure that everyone would obey the rules and when, in the morning, I quickly threw some fish-food in the pond I saw them look at me. The rest of the day I stayed in or behind the house, I don’t want to be the cause of any trouble in the coming year. Blame the pecalang, they walked outside.IMG_0841

Silence is not a very common item in Bali. From the past I remember sessions in the wartel, a sort of a half open-air building, usually at the side of a busy road. I went there to make a phone-call – naïve and ridiculous. With all the noise I heard nothing and the one that I called could, with a little effort, have heard me anyway. I was screaming. And next to me there were Balinese whispering in the phone, not bothered by the noise, not even by me. Apparently there is another perception of noise and are there people that, much better than I, can block out what surround them. Apart from frogs, crickets, birds, tokehs and other animals with their noises I usually do hear the sounds of people and their machines and sometimes that bothers me. A definition of a hangover is that one blames the cat for stamping. I, without booze, sometimes get close to the point of telling frogs and ducks to keep quiet. I know, nonsense and on top of it, there is something like a silence inside. Silence around you and silence within you is not the same thing although finding the latter can be frustrated by noise and sound. Here in Bali everyone is, like in the west, always busy. There are the ceremonies that are or are coming up and in general people work seven days a week. Yes, that sort of economy rules here as well but it is questionable if we should want that. Maybe the Sabbath wasn’t invented without reason, maybe there is a sense in making the seventh day a resting-day. Not literally – let everyone please be free how to deal with his or hers time and judge for themselves if and when that rest is needed – but having a society with room to find silence is a good thing. Balinese are, in the first place, part of a bigger whole – the community – and whether they come to silence within themselves that way I don’t know. Maybe they fall, in a different way, in the same trap in which we, so often, fall in in the west. Not having or not taking the time to listen to the silence within oneself is loss and hinders self-fulfilment and healing abilities. Wellbeing cannot be measured and doesn’t sell so the focus is usually elsewhere. The complaints, often heard, about a lack of vision and perspective towards the future makes one think that there are wishes and longings that are hardly addressed, in the first place probably not (enough) by ourselves.

Argentina will be a proud country by now I think; within one year a pope and a queen. In the new queen I have, with a lot of respect for the way her predecessor Beatrix fulfilled her task, trust. The pope chooses a name that gives hope, the assignment that the 76 year old puts on his own shoulders is enormous. To be, in the Vatican, a pope for the poor, averse to power, pomposity and grandeur; that can’t be easy. Jesus didn’t speak left of right but about things that are way above that. It is clear though that the current wind of have, take and enrich that blows without compassion through the world does not fit within his philosophy. The recent bashing by the Vatican of left, a left that, at least in theory, stands for ideals that are in line with his words, shows that there are other interests. The pope that, in the time he was a bishop, didn’t want to live in a palace and choose a simple apartment, will have a hard time to live up to the meaning of Franciscus. I wish him strength, wisdom and love. It would be wonderful when the institution that claims to be home to the successor of Peter was not a centre of power and capital anymore but a source of love and warmth.

A. is a young man, he is originally from a small village in Jave, in the neighbourhood of Surabaya and lives and works in Bali for already five years. He is more than friendly, has shining eyes and smiles eagerly and often. Of what is behind those smiles I only get to see a little bit. I see a lot of insecurity and I don’t understand. 23, he looks good, has a reasonable job, an own place to live, not stupid and a whole life in front of him. His insecurity is endearing but it can’t be easy for himself. During a conversation I steer carefully in that direction. At first; no, he is not insecure at all, on the contrary, he is very secure about himself I have to believe. I don’t press is but apparently a door is opened because a little later; ‘Well, I am sure about myself, that is not it, but you know, I’m so ugly, I’ll never find a pacar (fiancée)’. Astonised I look at him and tell him what I see; an attractive young man – ganteng (handsome) – that touches me with his open, honest face. He tells about his ears that are tired of always hearing that he is ugly, because black. In my head, on the side, doors from the past go ajar but this man is not black, maybe a little bit darker than others, maybe a skin that’s a bit more beautiful. He talks about it for a long time. About his home where they already called him black, about tv where all the stars in this country – it is true – are light-skinned, about Indonesians that like a fair skin and a lot of things more. I repeat my point again and again, I see a beautiful person. And I say something about the inner man but don’t want to stress it because otherwise he might think that after all… When I go home he walks to his bike as well and he asks again. ‘Really?’ Really I say and I give him a kiss on his forehead. Late that evening he sends a text-message Terima kasih bapak, terima kasih – thank you very much father/sir, thank you very much. Dengan senang hati Mas, dan selamat tidur – with a pleased heart young man, and sleep well.

In the meantime I drive my bike over Bali and enjoy. For those that are worried about me and the bike; the keyword is grandpa. I’m working on a reputation of ‘that old man that drives so carefully’ and I’m getting there.
Love
Frank

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‘Unbegreiflich’

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Dear All,

A new blog at last. Well, not as if it’s important for you, it’s mainly for myself that I write. But I was on a long trip and I just didn’t come to the sharing the blog is meant for. In literal sense there were quite some (temperature)shocks – from Bali with 30 degrees to a minus 10 in the Netherlands, to Africa where it was 32 and back to Holland with minus 12. And now back in Bali with 30 degrees again.

In all other aspects it was pleasant and warm; I met many people that are dear to me. The long break between our meetings made, at the most, our happiness more profound. The KLM wants to restrict check-in and carry-on luggage but for head- and heart-luggage, no rules yet. Good! I take a lot home after a trip like that. The Netherlands, from a distance it doesn’t look that pleasant anymore and also from up close there is a lot that invokes astonishment or disappointment. But the family, the friends, the people – all that I love – are there and thus it becomes good again. And South Africa unfolded itself again as the beautiful country with beautiful people it really is and all the sadness that, every morning, comes to me through the Mail & Guardian* fades to the background. Not to be forgotten but with all the good and beautiful that is there, working on a better future must be possible.

Meeting the other, to really meet, makes everything different. The selective focus that the media often have – selectiveness that is part of their job of course – puts things often more negatively in the mind than justified. To see situations and even more so people the way they really are is only possible with our own senses. Showing it to others is, in general, the prerogative of great writers, filmmakers, photographers and other artists – media loose there. Every day I look through the little tube that is called internet but what I see is often not more than a crop of that what’s not going well. Ever more is, also there were there is no war, shot to pieces and the road seems to become longer and longer.  In the economizing Netherlands, the sharks even now have never enough and those that complain are never ready. The newspapers…, on a grey day it’s better for me not to read because grey turns black very easily. Whether most of the anger about excessive bonuses and such – remarkably more prominent there than e.g. anger about the fact that we are still not able to feed all humankind and give adequate medical care – finds it’s roots in a feel of injustice or the disappointment of not being on the receiving end oneself remains to be seen.

Having to do with less, economizing. For some it seems only an option if there is nobody else to blame.  For now scapegoats enough. And if that’s not an option anymore – with great reluctance and without fail – ‘they first’. They first, also the poorest of the poor. Development aid is something of the sixties I read in (Dutch) newspapers. And experts that think differently are stuck in the past. Not doing it better – good –  but trade is the mantra now. The minister went to Africa together with representatives of big firms. Are they there to break down trade barriers or is it their own interest that  makes them go? What do you think minister? It is not that trade and own interest are necessarily bad although a new form of colonisation lurks around the corner. Companies will do their part but it’s not a substitute for help, at most a lame excuse for unwillingness to spend money. Indeed, trade no aid, it’s often the wish of developing countries as well. But export of glass products from South Africa was a problem, not in the least because of the high import-duties in Europe. Do we mean to annul those barriers? No need to go to Africa for that. Such, not very positive images gnaw hope for the future. In their limitedness no unjust images alas. But limited indeed and incomplete.

‘Everything of value is defenceless’**, too often we see the truth of those words. But aunt Jet*** did see it coming and wrote ‘The gentle forces will surely win in the end’. Travelling, meeting old and new friends, I’m on a refresher course in faith, hope and love.

In LalaLili, a small restaurant, it’s not busy. A sloppy guy drinks his beer – not to first glass it looks like – and on another table a gentleman with a laptop explores and Indonesian dating-site. I’m long-sighted says the doctor and indeed, I can see it well. Food and drinks don’t come quick. Three ladies that serve for three guests but it takes time. A lady comes in with four children, I think between 7 and 12 years old or so. They are with the gentleman with the laptop whom, in the meantime, switched to earnestness; ‘Die Welt’, a serious newspaper. The fact he doesn’t come out of his laptop doesn’t matter, wife orders food for the whole bunch and disappears in an iPad. The kids – nothing to do – are bored to death and don’t know to choose between staring at the ceiling and starting a fight. A little bit of both they decide. Daddy stays with his newspaper, Mummy – she’s on the wrong side of the table, I can’t see what she’s doing! – with her iPad. Now and then there is an ineffective scolding towards the kids. When the youngest lands his fist on the head of his sister it’s crying-time. Daddy comes, seconds long, out of his laptop and grabs the boys arm in a way that the kid starts crying also. Mummies ‘jetzt aufhören’ (stop now) comes from a machine, I don’t think she knows she’s talking.  Not a successful meal. The kids mess with the food, Mummies soup gets cold, Daddy drops some noodles on his keypad. ‘Scheisse.’ A plate drops on the floor. ‘Aufhören’ mumbles Mummy. When it gets worse – the kids are at war now – the parents have to act. Angry they address the kids; ‘It won’t be a nice vacation if you go on like this!’ ‘Unbegreiflich’ (inconceivable) they say to each other. In German that’s close to not understood… The gentle forces will win in the end. But if I, just for now, pick up that laptop and the iPad and throw them in the ricefield… If I can help, with pleasure.  And yet – see also all the luggage I brought with me – I enjoy Bali a lot. The house is ready and there was of course, no way around it in Bali, a ceremony. Four ceremonies in fact. It’s a pity it all took place when I wasn’t here yet, I would have loved to see it, but at least I can live here legally now. In the morning coffee on my porch, a bit of work, a bit of writing, I get through the days with pleasure. And since today I have transport. Till now I’d rent a car with driver but that’s less flexible and expensive. A car was not in it so I bought a motor, more of a scooter actually. This afternoon I did my first rounds, not before there was a ceremony for the motor of course. This is Bali and the gods are not forgotten.

Warm regards, Frank

* South African newspaper
** Lucebert (Dutch poet and artist, 1924 – 1994)
*** Henriette Roland Holst (Dutch poet, 1869 – 1952), was called aunt Jet.