How I brought in the Balinese New Year: Part One
Thursday, March 22nd: the day before NYEPI 2012
Today, like most days, we went to look at the surf. It was low tide. It was a gorgeous day, post rain, with bright, clear skies and fluffy white clouds scattered about. The air was still and the sun was beating down directly overhead. Buckets of sweat rolled off of my forehead from the 10-minute gander at the surf. I’m sure I lost a couple of pounds of water weight.
There was a fast, little, bowly left, about shoulder to head high, sweeping past the half-way-exposed reef. The boys decided they wanted to paddle out. Me? Well, I’m a chicken. Especially, when it comes to shallow, tide-is-still-dropping reef breaks. Thanks, but no thanks.
Even if I wanted to paddle out, I couldn’t. My board was out of commission. It’s in the ding-repair shop. The first day I pulled my board out of the board bag, I discovered little fragile bits of resin and a huge chunk of crumbled foam among layers of bubble wrap and duct tape. My eyes welled up in tears for about a good 5 seconds. And then, I was over it. I accepted the fact that after so many years of traveling with surfboards, I had finally become a victim of luggage-handler-brutality. I shrugged it off. I guess it comes with the territory. But, that’s another story…
We followed a little path that led to down to the beach. A short staircase brought us to a sea cave, adorned with umbrellas, offerings, and the sweet smell of burning incense.
I could hear a woman’s voice coming from behind a wall of old lava rock. She was talking to someone else, but I couldn’t see them; all I could hear were soft, echoing voices.
After coming down the last step, we stepped onto soft, white sand, and almost immediately had to crouch down and make our way under the lava rock.
The Indian Ocean greeted us on the other side. Aaaaaaah…time to cool off!
While the boys were surfing, I found some shade under a small cliff side. I enjoyed watching people come down to the beach to leave offerings throughout the afternoon.
When I first arrived, an elderly Balinese woman left an offering, or ‘canang sari’ under one of the small sea caves. She came up to me afterwards and said something in Indonesian – or Balinese (I’m not sure).
Always with a grin on my face, I replied, “Maaf, saya tidak mengerti…Saya…ummmm…saya bukan orang Indonesia.”
(Translation: “Sorry, I no understand…I…ummmm…I am not a person of Indonesia.”) Then, I flashed an even bigger smile, a little embarrassed in my attempt at Bahasa Indonesian.
Smiling back, she responded with something else. Surprisingly, I totally understood what she said.
What really happened next is beyond me, but I kind of bowed, putting the palms of my hands together and said, “Ma kasih…Terima kasih.”
I don’t know why I did that. I just said, “Thanks…Thank You.” It just came out, whether it made sense or not (probably, because that’s all I knew how to say). I had absolutely no clue what she said to me…
She smiled back as she returned to the other sea cave that lead back to the trail.
The local people often mistake me for being Indonesian, usually saying, “Oh, you have Indonesian face.” So, a local Balinese bartender taught me to say, “Sorry, I don’t understand. I am not Indonesian.”
So far, it’s helped, especially when locals approach us and immediately start having full-blown conversations in bahasa Indonesian with me (while completely ignoring Brendon). It’s pretty hilarious.
Back to my story. After the woman left, I could see the offering she had left from where I was sitting, along with the incense stick that accompanied it. It was unlit. Then I thought to myself, “Hmmmmm…maybe she was asking me for a lighter…duuuh.”
Perhaps I should start carrying a lighter or some matches with me, just for these instances. And for the fact that everyone here loves to smoke – the locals, the international tourists, everyone, it seems, has a stogie in their mouth, even if it’s raining cats and dogs. But that, too, is another story…
The Balinese leave offerings for the Hindu gods throughout the day, on a daily basis. You can see them everywhere: in front of homes, restaurants, hotels, and businesses; on sidewalks, along roadsides, in the middle of intersections, and in cars and mopeds; in the forests and on the beaches.
They leave offerings to the good spirits, so that those spirits will continue to provide prosperity, good fortune, and good health. They also leave offerings for the bad spirits to keep them satisfied and quiet, in hopes that those spirits will leave the people alone. Daily offerings are a way to thank the gods and to keep the relationships between human beings and spirits in harmony.
With Nyepi approaching, it was a busy day. As the afternoon went on, more people came to leave an offering of their own.
First, it was the woman who didn’t have a lighter. Then another woman arrived, alongside her tiny boat over-flowing with seaweed. About 20 minutes later, an elderly man, dressed in temple attire, left another offering. After that, another elderly woman approached with a teenaged girl – the elderly woman dressed in traditional attire and the girl dressed in modern-day fashion. They, too, left an offering, except the girl – like all teenagers – stared out to sea, ignoring the whole offering thing, as if she was daydreaming about her friends and the evening’s ogoh-ogoh festivities. Finally, before I left, a young man came to leave an offering.
I sat quietly on the beach, keeping my distance, and exchanged smiles as people came and went.
It was a beautiful thing.