My Most Treasured Possessions

I am not a materialistic kind of girl, I do not own very much, and what I have, does not hold great attachment for me. When I left England, I gave away everything I owned to charity, and left with a back pack on my back. Since settling in Bali I have accumulated things, but I could easily give it all up for a life on the road. All that is, except my three most treasured possessions; my children. I could not imagine life without these three amazing human beings.

Kai Mele (Song of the ocean) is my eldest, and will be turning 18 this year. He towers me, at over 6 feet tall, which makes it hard to imagine he was ever a tiny baby. He came in to this world on my bedroom floor, in the middle of my 27th birthday party. He was the best birthday present I could have wished for! He was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, with his caramel colored skin, big brown eyes and ridiculously long eyelashes. He also inherited his father’s big smile that melts hearts to this day. He loves the arts, music, dance and drama, and is very entertaining. He also has a huge heart, making people feel at ease in his company. I have no doubt this charismatic nature will take him far in life.

When Kai was one year old, in fact, on our shared birthday, I started to feel the familiar nausea feeling, and 9 months later, his brother Kajika Olu (Walks quietly and gently) joined the family. Its always interesting to see how mixed children turn out, and Kajika definitely got more genes from my side of the family. He has my Scottish pale skin, and more western facial features, but still has the brown eyes and long eyelashes. Kajika is very sensitive, feeling empathy for all creatures, human, and otherwise. He hates conflict and is very gentle (just like his name). He does not speak as much as his siblings, but when he does, its very sharp and funny, in a very dry way.

Six years went by, and we decided to make a last ditch attempt to have a girl. We did everything all the old wives tales say, and something worked, as Keona Ipo (Gods gracious gift) was created. She was born in the bath, in a very gentle birth. They say babies born in water are very calm, and Keona certainly is. She has a feisty side, which is necessary with 2 older brothers, but she is also very sweet and gentle. Like Kai, she loves the arts, and plays violin and dances. In fact I am becoming a bit of a dance mom, but not crazy like the TV show!

I believe in supporting my children to follow their passions. They all have a very clear idea of what they want to do. All I am here to do is provide support. I know they do not really classify as “possessions” as Khalil Gibran wrote:

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and the daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you they belong not to you.”

Having said that, I treasure them, and am making the most of the time that I have with them. I am enjoying watching them develop their own unique characters. I know it will not last forever, as I have managed to instill in them a love of travel, and they are all planning to leave Bali and spread their wings. Its the best thing they can do. Bali is a small island, and they need to get out, and experience the world. Who knows, they might get tired of travelling, and decide like I did that Bali is the best place to be!

Should You Boycott Bali?

The term Boycott Bali is being bandied around Facebook right now, in reaction to the execution of 8 death row convicts, and in particular the 2 Bali 9 ring leaders. I am having a hard time trying to understand the reasons behind this knee jerk reaction. So lets clarify who should Boycott Bali:

1. Drug smugglers. If you are a drug smuggler, and planning to bring drugs through Bali, then I highly suggest you boycott Bali. If you make the choice to still come here, after what has happened, then more fool you. Please look carefully at the photo of the sign that you will pass when you enter:

death penalty

This sign states very clearly what will happen if you bring drugs here, you cannot say you were not warned.

2. Murderers.  You should also boycott Bali. If you plan to come here, kill your mother, and stuff her in a suitcase, think again. You will get caught and end up in one of the worst prisons in the world.

3. Pedophiles. The Balinese love children, and do not appreciate anyone messing with them, so please boycott Bali.

4. Thieves. Also, not really appreciated here, and if caught, you may not make it to prison as the local community may deal with you first.

But, if you are someone who is looking for a place to visit, where you can relax in the sun, meet wonderful people and learn about a new culture, then you are welcome. If you are a law abiding citizen that respects the laws of the country you are visiting, there is no need to boycott Bali.

Indonesia is a large country, that consists of thousands of islands, of which, Bali is only one. The laws are not created in Bali. The head of the Kerobokan prison even put his neck on the line by speaking up for the two Bali 9 guys. The Balinese people had nothing to do with the executions. They should not be punished for this. The majority of the Balinese people rely on tourism to support their families, and by boycotting Bali you will be hurting the wrong people.

So should you boycott Bali? Check the list above, and if you do not fit in the first four categories, then I see no reason for you to do so. Of course, you are free to make your own decision, but just make sure you are boycotting for the right reasons, and not just to follow the crowd.

My Mean Neighbour

For once, the sun was shining, so I was sitting out on the front step of our house, enjoying the warmth on my body. As I sat there, I looked down the length of the street. Surprise surprise, absolutely nothing was going on. Not a whisper, not a person in sight, nor even any cars passing. This town is so damn boring! Nothing ever happens here. Why did we have to move to this dump?

I had been so happy in Marlborough, we had lived there all my life, and we had the perfect set up, everyone knew each other, and I had friends all over town. But we had to move, because my dad got fired from his job. I was so angry with him for that! Why did he have to be so stubborn. My parents wanted to get out as soon as possible, so they moved first, but I stayed behind, to finish the school year. I stayed with various friends, and had such a great time, I missed my parents, but I had  my first experience of freedom, and it tasted so good!

But, the school year had ended, and along with it my freedom. So here I was, in this god awful town, bored out of my brain. I don’t have any friends, and don’t even know where to go to meet any. The neighbors are not friendly at all, not like they were in Marlborough. Here, everyone keeps themselves to themselves. Everyone, that is, except mean old Mrs. Pauley.

My mum warned me about her when I first arrived. She had been really mean when my mum had gone over to introduce herself. She has lived in the street for years, and thinks she owns it. She walks around like she is the queen. She is tall, and thin, and was probably beautiful when she was younger, but now she is just old. She speaks with a clipped upper class accent, like the queen, but it does not sound right, like she is forcing it or something. She probably comes from lower class, and is trying to be upper class. She always looks down her nose at everyone, pursing her lips tightly,and flaring her nostrils like we smell bad .

Her husband seemed like a nice man, not that she let him talk to us, but he would sneak a smile to me when she was not looking. He was shorter than her, and seemed to grow smaller by the day, until one day he just ceased to exist. I don’t know how he died, but my guess is he was fed up with living with her! He did not have the guts to move away like his sons did. He probably really envied them for escaping her clutches!

So anyway, there I was, sitting on the step, soaking up the sun, minding my own business, when suddenly, a police car came out of nowhere, and pulled up outside Mrs. Pauley’s house. Three men stepped out of the car, and walked up to her front door. They rang the bell and waited. Mrs Pauley opened the door, with that haughty look on her face, which fell bit by bit as the men talked. She did not say much, I tried to overhear what they were saying, but I just could not make anything out. She did not invite them in, and was blocking the doorway with her body. Her body language was very stiff, and she was not as assured as she usually was.

Finally, the men turned to go, and as they did, I heard them say

“You have a week to move out or here. If you are still here when we come back, we will force you out”

Mrs Pauley looked over at me, and sneered, as I looked her in the eye with a sweet smile on my face

“Ha!! Serves you right, you old meany!!”

Leibster Award

I was nominated for the Liebster Award by Grainne from the Irish Girl in Korea blog.

I had no idea what this was, being pretty new at this blogging business, so I had to do a bit of research. What I found out is that it’s an award given and received by bloggers. It is passed around and it is a way of helping other bloggers and getting to know the blogging community more. Thank you so much Grainne for nominating me.

So here are the rules:

The Rules:

1. Thank and link the blogger(s) who nominated you.
2. Nominate 11 bloggers who have less than 200 followers who you think deserve this award and link their blogs too.
3. Answer 11 questions posted by the blogger who nominated you and also ask 11 new questions for your nominees to answer.
4. Notify your nominees.

 Nominees, these are blogs I have enjoyed reading since joining Writing 101:

  1. Simply Marquessa
  2. HumAq
  3. My Red Page
  4. Finkelstein & Sons
  5. Ainswordly
  6. Beyond Beirut
  7. Word shamble
  8. MJChatters
  9. Creaking Bones
  10. Udayology
  11. Diary Of a little bird 

The questions that I’d like you to answer:

1. Why did you start your blog?

2. Who inspires you?

3. Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

4.What book are you reading right now?

5. What is your all time favorite movie?

6. If you could choose anywhere in the world, where would you choose to live, and why?

7. Do you speak any foreign languages?

8. Do you have any hidden talents?

9. What career would you choose if you had a free choice?

10. Whats your favorite type of music?

11. Whats your favorite type of food?

I’m looking forward to reading all of your answers!

Here are the questions that Grainne asked me:

1. If you could choose one country to visit where would you choose and why?

The top of my list for places to visit is New York. I love theater, and so would love to go to some shows, and then just wander the streets, and take in the atmosphere.

2. What is the first thing that you do in the morning?

The first thing I do in the morning is talk to all my animals, I have 2 cats and three dogs, and they are all waiting for me when I come downstairs

3. Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging as I love writing, and felt I had so many stories inside me that needed to be written down. I am hoping to get my thoughts in some kind of order to one day write a book

4. How has blogging affected your life in a positive way?

I love the blogging community, everyone is so supportive, and I have found many interesting and talented writers.

5. If you could be any animal what would it be?

When I was a kid I wanted to be a duck, I would walk past a river every day, and they seemed to have a pretty good life. But now that I have had cats, I think they have life sussed!

6. How would you describe yourself in three words?

Kind, caring and compassionate

7. Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

On my front porch, with my lap top, writing my next novel! As well as traveling the world to visit my kids

8. The mountains or the sea, which would you choose?

I love both, but there is something very soothing about the ocean, so I think I would have to go with that.

9. Do you like or dislike meeting new people? Why?

I love meeting new people! I love to talk and listen to other people’s stories

10. What do you value most in life?

Family is the most important, and then traveling

11If you were a character from a movie or a different world (e.g. from Space), who or what would you be, and what would your story be? 

I am not sure how to answer this one. I dream of being like Jane in Tarzan, living in the jungle with my man, so maybe I will go with that.

Death by Firing Squad

Its the talk of the town right now. Tonight, just after midnight, nine death row inmates will be taken from their cells and lead to the execution sight. There, they will be blindfolded, and tied to a stake in the ground. They have the choice to stand, kneel or sit, their hands and feet will be tied together. Each prisoner has twelve marksmen aiming rifles at their heart. They will be wearing white clothes, with a black spot over their heart, to help the marksmen to hit the right spot. The coffins and crosses are already prepared. Their fate is sealed.

I wonder what is going on in their heads right now, as the end draws near. I hope they have come to terms with their fate and can let go peacefully. I don’t think we should fear death, the way they are going to die is horrific, but death itself, perhaps not.

Watching all this unfold, the fears that are racing through my mind are very selfish. I am haunted by fears for my own children. When I look at the photos of those two Bali 9 boys when they were first arrested, they were not much older than my boys are right now. They were young and foolish when they committed the crime. Yes, they broke the law, and deserve to be punished. They have already served ten years in jail. But do they deserve to die such a violent death?

What I fear is, despite being reformed citizens, doing so much good within the prison community, despite the prison governor vouching for them, and pleading their case, the president of Indonesia will not back down. It is black and white, and he is showing absolutely no mercy.

That’s my fear. Will my boys fall in with the wrong crowd, or be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and be unable to argue their case? Will they face the same dead end? I love Bali, but there is a very frightening side when you are a mother of teenagers. My boys are starting to spread their wings, and explore new things. I want to hold them close, and never let them go, and yet, I know I need to cut the ties and let them fly…..

Lost Identity?

After a few weeks of pure bliss, hanging out together, enjoying each other’s company, we started to talk about the future, and where this was all going. Agus turned to me, with a serious look in his eyes and said

“I have one thing that I need you to do if we are going to be together”

“ok….what is that?” I inquired nervously

“I need you to become Indonesian, if you can’t do that, we cannot be together”

“Ok, but you have to give me time to think”

“There is nothing to think about, do you want to be with me or not?”

It was so black and white to him, such a simple request, and so typical of his character to this day. He was so convinced that this was the only way forward. For me, nothing is so clear cut, and this seemed to be a huge request. By taking on Indonesian citizenship, I would need to renounce my British nationality. My British passport had been a faithful companion for many years. It had enabled me to go to many different countries with ease, and represented freedom to me. It is one of the most coveted passports in the world, and here I was being asked to give it up and take on a new identity as an Indonesian.

I had barely been a few months in this country, and did not even speak the language. This was such a big decision, and one I was struggling with. On the one hand I loved Agus and was willing to do anything to be able to stay with him, on the other, it was all still so new, and this was a big commitment. What if the relationship did not work out?

My mind was racing, I talked to everyone I could, and most people were telling me it was a crazy idea. Finally, I found myself in Ubud, a small artists community in the hills of Bali. This magical village had attracted many foreigners over the years, many western women had married local men, and  made their lives there. I met some of these wonderful women and asked for their advice. These wise ladies had been faced with the same dilemma many years before, and had chosen to become Indonesian. They were convinced it had been the best decision.

They presented the situation to me, if I remained British, I would be on a visa, and have to leave the country regularly, which would be costly.  I would not be able to work, unless I had a work visa. I would not be able to own property, and would have no rights to my children if the relationship did not work out. Put like that, it seemed there was only one solution. If I was going to make a life for myself here, I needed to jump in with two feet. All or nothing.

So I did it, I renounced my British passport. I still have it, kept in a drawer for prosperity, with the corner snipped off, and a red stamp inside. Proof of my former identity, the young girl with innocent eyes.

It was the biggest, most important decision I have made in my life. One that I did not take lightly, and I do not regret the path I took. Yes, an Indonesian passport is not as coveted as a British one, we do need to get visas when we travel, but we just have to plan a bit more. Anything is possible. I lost one nationality, and gained a new one. A passport does not define who I am, I am still the same person inside, I just have a different colored book!

Besakih Temple

Besakih Temple, is known as the “Mother Temple” in Bali, and is the sight for many pilgrimages. It  is said to be the only temple where a Hindu of any caste can worship, and therefore attracts thousands of worshipers daily. It has also become one of the many tourist attractions on the island.

Over the years that I have been living in Bali, I have seen a steady commercialization of all things Balinese. I understand the incentive, its a great money earner, but at what cost? Every tourist attraction becomes swarmed with hawkers, trying to cash in on the tourist dollars. This is an inevitable side effect of a tourist destination, but should this really extend to the temples?

Besakih temple is a particularly spiritual setting, located on the slopes of the majestic Agung mountain, it has an extremely commanding presence. I have only been once, but the memory of my time there is still extremely vivid.

It was within the first year of being in Bali. Everything had moved so fast, getting married, trying to learn about the language and religion, and coming to terms with living so far away from home. The initial honeymoon period was over, and we were finding ourselves butting heads. My husband suggested that a trip to the temple would be good for us.  I was not particularly keen, as it involved a long car journey, dressed in a corset and temple gear. Not the most comfortable clothing, I can tell you.

Anyway, I agreed to go, not that I really had much choice! The journey was long, and uncomfortable, as predicted. We parked the car, and then had to walk the rest of the way. The road is steep, and there are lots of steps. All pretty hard to maneuver in a tightly tied sarong that only allows tiny bird-like steps. (I have since learned how to tie a sarong properly to allow better movement)

We finally arrived at the temple, and settled in among the thousands of other devotees. I sat down, and took in my surroundings. The moon was full, illuminating the mountain behind the temple, creating an amazing backdrop. Meanwhile, the temple was a bustle of activity, people of all ages, all dressed in their smartest temple clothing. Little boys in smart white jackets and colorful sarongs, and white head gear looked like mini versions of their fathers. Just as the girls, hair tied back neatly, gold jewelry in their ears, and beautiful lacy kebayas over their sarongs, looked the spitting image of their mothers. Everyone was flocking in to the temple to pray together. I started to relax, a feeling serenity washed over me. As we prayed, the energy was palpable, I was moved almost to tears, and even now, retelling the story, the hairs on my arms are standing on end. I have never been a religious person, but  I experienced something pretty magical that evening.  I turned to my husband, and could see he was equally moved. I took his hand, and we both sat there together, and I knew he had been right to bring me here. It was a reminder that there was something much stronger than us guiding our way

The experience I had that night would not have been the same if this temple was allowed to be overrun with tourists. I have read comments of foreigners, complaining that they could not go in to all sections of the temple, due to them being restricted for worshipers. Well, think  about it, imagine if a group of Japanese tourists came in to your church, and started taking photographs and ogling at you while you were in the middle of a service. It would be completely inappropriate, and the same applies here. There are some things that need to be kept sacred.

So, please Bali, do not sell yourself out to commercialism, at least keep your places of worship tourist free.

Earthquake!

Dear Earthquake,

Thank you for visiting us yesterday, and not being too angry. I guess something was bothering you and you wanted to remind us of your presence. I understand we need to treat our earth with more respect, and you are right to remind us of your power.

However, I beg you to remember the children. They are still innocent and cannot defend themselves from your wrath. My children were particularly shaken after your visit yesterday. My daughter was in the bathroom when you came, and she felt extremely frightened. She is only young, and did not understand what was happening. All she knew was that the ground that she walks on every day was suddenly moving without explanation. Its a very unsettling feeling for a small child. She has not wanted to be alone in a room ever since, and did not sleep well last night.

The memories of your visit to Indonesia in 2004 and the deluge of water that followed are still fresh in our minds. The devastation that you wreaked was horrendous. Over 170,000 people were killed and over 500,000 left homeless. They are still rebuilding the area, and many lives will never be the same. We lived in terror for years following that visit, every tremor sparked fear and panic.

We had  just recently started to relax, enjoying life without any disturbances, and then you came back yesterday. Maybe you do not want us to become complacent. Is that your message? With Earth day coming up tomorrow, your timing is perfect!

I hope you do not feel the need to visit again anytime soon, but if you do, please try and be gentle

Yours Sincerely

A concerned citizen

image courtesy of latestnewslink.com

Finding Love in Bali

As I turned away from scanning the ocean for a yacht, my eyes caught on a sign outside one of the beach side stores. It read “Tyas Tattoo”. I felt an uncontrollable pull to go to that store, once inside, there was no turning back…

I had been toying with the idea of getting a tattoo for years, and seeing this Tattoo sign,I thought, there was no harm in looking. As I approached, there was a guy standing out front, leaning against the doorway of the store. He was dressed in a bright pink Hawaiian style shirt, with blue jeans. His hair was long and curly, tied back in a ponytail. He had the widest, brightest smile I had ever seen.

“Want a Tattoo?” he called

“I’ll have a look” I replied, rather coyly

He led me through the small cafe, to the back, where his studio was located. It was actually his private living quarters, that he had divided in two. One half was his bedroom, and the other half his studio. He had brightly colored sarongs hanging around the walls and lots of books of designs to choose from.

I sat on the floor, crossed legged, with the books all around me, pouring over them .There were so many great designs, I couldn’t choose just one. Agus did not put any pressure on me, he was happy to sit and chat while I browsed. He gave me a drink, and the conversation flowed freely. Finally I made up my mind, and chose a sun symbol, which I felt would look great on my shoulder.

Agus started to get the instruments ready, and I watched in awe at the deep concentration in his eyes as he prepared the machine and inks. His care and attention to detail touched me deeply. He was such a calm, gentle man, nothing like the images I had conjured up in my mind of scary bikers, talking in gruff voices and laughing at the little girl wanting a tattoo.

The noise of the machine started, it had the low buzz of a dentists drill, and I tensed up immediately. Agus laid his gentle hand on my shoulder, and I relaxed in to his touch. He then brought the machine up to my shoulder, and started creating the design on my back. It really did not hurt anything like I thought it would, and it was such a small design, it was over quickly. I was on an adrenalin high, and I did not want it to stop! So I did what any girl would do, and asked for another tattoo!! This one I put on my foot, and it really did hurt like crazy, so I decided to stop after that!

We arranged to meet later that evening, and I moved in with him the next day. I forgot all about wanting to get a yacht to Australia. Instead, I flew to Singapore and back to Bali and got another 2 month visa. By the end of those 2 months, we were married! It was a whirlwind romance, but everything just fell in to place, and felt right. I had found the love of my life, on a little island, thousands of miles from where I had grown up. At the same time, I had found a place where I felt I belonged. There was still a long journey ahead of me, and many stumbling blocks along the way, but I was on the path to finding me.

Stuck in Bali

“You will never make it to Australia, you will get stuck somewhere along the way, mark my words”

“I will get there, I have the work visa, and I have it all worked out. I am going to travel through Indonesia, and then take a boat to Australia.”

“Ok, we’ll see” he said with a wry smile.

He knew me better than I knew myself, even though we had not known each other long. We were staying in the same grotty guest house in the back streets of Bangkok. I had been there for six months, and was ready to move on. He had already traveled extensively, and had been on his way to Australia when he got stuck in Philippines for years. But that was his story, I wouldn’t do that, I had a plan.

His words haunted me though, I couldn’t get them out of my head. Would that really happen to me?

I set off on my journey, leaving the busy Bangkok streets behind me, and heading south, to Penang, with my backpack and lonely planet guide as my companions. I took the boat over to Sumatra, receiving a two month visa on arrival. That gave me plenty of time to work my way down though the Indonesian islands and find a way to Australia.

I had such a ball! I met some fantastic people, went off the radar to some really remote islands, swam with turtles, canoed from one deserted island to the next. Caught a lift with a fishing boat, slept nights on bus station floors, did pretty much everything my mother had told me not to do! Sumatra is an amazing place, the landscape is beautiful and the people were so friendly, I was being proposed to on a daily basis, but just laughed it off every time.

Somehow, I picked up a stomach bug in Sumatra, and brought it with me to Java, where I arrived weak from vomiting, and had to lay low for a few days before continuing on. I was restless though, time was running out on my visa, and I had not figured out how to get to Australia.

That was my mission upon arriving in Bali, I needed to find a yacht! Lonely planet had a section all about hitching a ride on a yacht, and that seemed like a great idea! Finding a yacht did not prove as easy as the book said though. I went to every port I could find, and was eventually steered to Padangbai, a small fishing village on the East of Bali.

There were plenty of fishing boats in Padangbai, perhaps the locals had misunderstood what I meant when I said I needed a boat. There certainly were no yachts in sight. I was becoming a bit despondent, and not sure what my next move should be. Little did I know those words spoken back in Bangkok were about to come true.

As I turned away from scanning the ocean for a yacht, my eyes caught on a sign outside one of the beach side stores. It read “Tyas Tattoo”. I felt an uncontrollable pull to go to that store, once inside, there was no turning back…