Emergency exit

ImageDear All,

In the alley next to my house are several coins of 100 and 200 rupaih (1 and 2 dollar cents) laying on the street. Every day I pass by I have fun because people are bending over to pick them up. That is not possible, I assume kids glued them to the pavement. How I know is a difficult question, and who was laughing when I tried to pick them up I do not want to know either.

Shame? A school in Bali instructs the pupils to be ashamed. Develop a culture of shame I read in ‘rules’ from the school. In particular rule number four is special. ‘Be ashamed when you make a mistake.’ Be ashamed, ashamed, ashamed – seven rules to be ashamed. Great plan to let kids grow up, to make them free-spoken adults with a lust for life. Not. But it explains a lot though. For instance why Frans, when he teaches English, is confronted with kids that do not dare to answer a question. I would be careful too. When I didn’t explain myself properly at a company that would do some work for me my remark was that it was stupid. ‘Who is stupid?’ ‘Well, I’m stupid, I should’ve told you.’ The lady at the counter looked flabbergasted.

Not admitting a mistake, it’s something not totally unknown to us as well. The times that people, specially those from a certain profession, tried to explain to me that a crooked line was in fact straight, that black was, when one would look really close, very white are countless. (Suppose one has no vision but understands that that’s not a good thing. Fumble a bit with the real meaning of vision and look, it becomes something undesirable. Vote for me, I have no vision. It’s what the Dutch PM in fact expressed few days ago.)

Still, the way that people here, in general, consider making a mistake as equal to loosing face – another destructive concept – is worrisome. Also in this aspect has ‘It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance’ a meaning. Afraid to make a mistake so better do nothing. Birds of paradise that never learn to fly. It’s fortunate that I, although certainly not a bird of paradise, make plenty mistakes, often without any shame at all, to be an example how things can be different.

In front of the market in Sukawati, on the crossroads, a big truck of the fire brigade and lots of police are in position. The traffic is blocked and something is about to happen. It is musim ngaben, the cremation season. That is possible because a cremation here is often not done right after someone died but sometimes years later. The family has to find the money first because these are expensive happenings. Well, happenings… It turns out to be a group cremation. With numerous drummers going up front five beautifully made bulls come out of an alley. The bulls are attached to bamboo racks, carried by dozens of laughing and shouting men. In the bull ‘rests’ the body of the deceased, on top of the bull sits a member of the family, usually a son. When they arrive at the crossroads the drummers triple their efforts and sound ever so loud, dozens of kids on top of the truck of the fire brigade scream and shout as loud as they can and the guys that carry the bulls join in.


With wild movements the bulls are turned around anti clockwise and the bamboo racks are moved up and down so that the bulls face the earth. The anti clockwise turns are meant to make it clear to the deceased he or she has to go back to the earth, back to where life came from. According to Ketut it does happen that the banjar (neighbourhood) didn’t like the person who died and that the movements are so uncontrolled that the whole thing breaks in pieces. In Sukawati, luckily, that didn’t happen. Maybe also thanks to the fire brigade that kept on showering the crowd with tons of water to keep things cool. After about twenty minutes the drums choose a lower pace and one by one the bulls, together with the crowd, went back into the alley. How the dead looked by then, nobody will ever know because it went straight to the place where the cremation is done. It was a fascinating happening that shocked me quite a bit. Obvious comparisons kept me awake till early morning and only then I remembered a little joke my father used to make. ‘Don’t make anything fancy of my funeral, the graveyard is close by, I’ll walk those last few hundred meters.’ Yep, I’d prefer the same, if this is the way it has to be, I’d rather walk.

To manage in a time of economic crises, R., an American, works temporarily on a building site in Sumba. A rather remote island, much less advanced than for instance Bali, lif is rough over there. Years ago I witnessed the pasola there, a play they do every year in which hundreds of horsemen fight each other with wooded spears. A play but after a short while the police had to clear the place because the play part was gone, it became dangerous. Now I hear that in the village close to the site where R. works 27 people were killed last month in fights between local groups. It’s not clear to me what sort of management hires a supervisor that doesn’t speak Indonesian. R. only speaks English and that doesn’t look like a good plan. I hear from lots of arguments with the workers, many of them based on misunderstandings I’m sure, and at night R. has to walk a few kilometres to his room, alone. Sumba is a beautiful island with nice people. I wouldn’t mind going there for a vacation.

Or a honeymoon, I do have possibilities you know. When, last week, I was at a company where I come more often, the lady that brought me coffee hesitated to leave me alone. She knows where about I live, my name, that I have a nice bike, am Dutch and do speak Indonesian… In fact she knows me inside out. That’s probably the reason of her surprising offer. We should get married. It was clear to her that my reluctance was because of not knowing the advantages but she was happy to explain. Help in the house 24/7, she can cook so no problems there, she has her own motorbike and already two grown-up kids, implying that that difficult chapter was already finished. Although my argument of being too old didn’t mean a thing to her, I managed to talk my way out.  The smile on my face on the way home did contain some tears too. When life is heavy one looks for an emergency exit; in an overkill of ceremonies for incomprehensible gods or in a marriage with a foreigner who is, no doubt, rich. Is there anyone that never looked for a way out where that way couldn’t possibly be?

Love, Frank