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.
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.