Sunday, October 20, 2013

Temple Bali

We arrive in Ubud at 2AM. The streets are strangely quiet, and the stars glitter above us. We are so excited to be here for the Ubud Writer's Conference. But we are too tired to truly appreciate the beautiful hotel, De Munut Balinese Resort, with the multiple pools, gardens, or even our private outdoor shower. We fall into bed utterly exhausted.

The next morning is a new day. I breath in the air, clean with a hint of flowers and fruit. The conference doesn't officially begin until Saturday, so we have a day to explore. Madi and I decide to try something new with my friend Shana (who is also here for the conference). We want to visit the Empul Temple. Our driver, Budi, explains this holy Hindu temple was built in 962AD. For over one thousand years, people have come to the temple to ask for blessings. With an adventurous attitude of "When in Bali do as the Balinese do" we drive north of Ubud to the temple.

Water pours from seventeen small fountains. I try to step into the cold water bravely. The icy water comes to my waist, and I can't see the bottom. We stand in line with a group of Balinese school children. We shiver together, our teeth chattering audibly.
 My feet maneuver blindly on the uneven stones. My toes grasp for balance. And I try not to think about what else might be at the bottom of the pool.
Moss drips with spring water, coating the black stone like carpet on the wall. Koi fish swim around my knees - I see flashes of bright orange and white. I wait in line for my turn. At the first fountain, I am tentative. I quickly duck my head in the water, soaking only the front half of my head and face.  The water is so cold I gasp, then panic reminding myself to keep my mouth closed and not swallow the water. I look up sheepishly at Budi who stands at the edge. "Your whole head" he instructs. "For full blessings, you must wash your whole head."

I am braver at the next fountain and submerge my head in the water. While the ladies in front of me offer their Hindu prayers, I offer my own prayers. I start with gratitude. I pray offering thanks for this day, this experience, my family, living in Indonesia, and my incredible job.
By the sixth and seventh fountain my prayers turn to pleas for blessings - blessings of health, joy for my children, to grow old with my sweet husband, safety, finding the right house for our family next year, publishing a book, health and happiness for my parents. My prayers pour forth like the constant water. And I am swept up in the whole experience. I think of the importance of water in my own religion - baptism, sacrament, washings and annointings. And by the time I've prayed and washed seventeen times, I feel very blessed indeed. 

Here we are at the end. Before getting out, I look down the long pool at the Balinese people waiting in line, and I know we are more alike than different. All of us pray for blessings. 
On the way out of the temple grounds, we walk through rows of shops and stalls. This beautiful Balinese child sands a Buda statue.  
She works alongside her mother. We pause for a moment to watch and admire. When we round the corner, I reach out and link arms with my own daughter. I am so grateful to be here with Madi. And I know absolutely, to be here in Bali with my daughter to attend a Writer's Conference, life doesn't get much better than this.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A new library for the Leprosy School

We get lost three times down the narrow, twisting roads, before finally arriving at the pink school behind the rumah sakit (hospital) in Tangerang.

But the search has been well worth it. The children of the leprosy village greet us with beaming smiles.
We arrive to attend the grand opening of the school's first library. Lena Paul, our relief society president, guided the project which involved cleaning and painting a storage room to convert it to a library. And then collecting and donating bookshelves and books.  

We enter the classroom and take turns reading a book from the new library. A missionary from Solo reads in the photo below:
We sing "Popcorn Popping" and "Primary Colors." But the favorite, by far, is "Head, Shoulder, Knees, and Toes."

Then the library tour! Oh the joy. The students file out of the class giggling with excitement, holding hands, smiling.

Then the strangest thing happens. The students stop just outside the library door. They pool at the bottom of the staircase. At first I think, "What's wrong?" Then I look closer. The children bend over to  remove their shoes as a show of respect. They line their shoes carefully on the ledge and enter the library.
A first look at the library.
Here, this darling boy puts his shoes back on after coming back from the library.

Following the library tour, we hand out a small bag to each child. The contents are simple: a pen, a sharpened pencil, and a small notebook. But you would have thought we were handing out tickets to Disney Land. Many of these children have never actually owned their very own pencil and pen before. 

What makes this moment even more special is the knowledge that the pens and pencils have been donated by Karen, my dear friend. Handing each pencil to their outstretched hand is like handing them love from my friend on the other side of the world. 

We walk to a stall at the edge of the school grounds to buy some bottled water. Packaged peanuts, bags of krupuk chips, boxed juices line the stall's shelves. A group of adults ask to take pictures with us. While one man holds his phone to take a picture, I notice the fingers on his right hand are missing and stunted to the middle knuckle as is the index finger on his left hand - a sure sign of leprosy. We converse with them. We shake their hands. They are the parents of the children at the school. 

As with all things here in Indonesia, although we have come to celebrate and to give a library and school supplies to this community, we leave with full hearts. 

My heart is grateful for children's smiles, for handshakes, for books, for a friend whose children sharpened 650 pencils to give to people thousands of miles away, and for the opportunity to meet a group of people who have so much stigma and physical pain but also have so much joy. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Morning Drive

We pile in the car. We are a tangle of backpacks, instruments, laptops, lunch bags, and breakfast. I balance a red plastic bowl in my lap with my favorite breakfast: mixed berry yogurt with homemade granola (Katie's recipe), and my cocktail of vitamins (vitamin D, vitamin B, and acai berry).

Margono drives the car through the morning traffic. We stop suddenly as a motorcycle cuts in front of us. I hold tight to my bowl and waterbottle as an Ibu crosses the road flapping her hand at us (Indonesia's signal to let someone pass). Margono swerves to miss the occasional chicken and cat.

And somehow this mayhem of our morning routine has all become quite normal.

Inside the car, we eat, we chat, and we sometimes read (though the sudden stops and starts often lead to carsickness if we're not paying attention). We look outside at the hanging laundry, the bird cages, the motorcycle repair shops whose cement floors are black with grease, the colorful vegetable carts, and the children in their clean, pressed uniforms on their way to school.

My favorite part of these morning rides are the unique conversations I have with the kids. This week, Madi and I shared a choice moment.

Madi: "Look Mom, there's a monkey!" (Pause) "On a chain" (said sadly). "With his own tree house!" (Happy again).
I crane my neck to spot the monkey. Sure enough, there he is on a tree branch with a chain around his ankle. 
Madi: "I want a pet monkey."
I'm not sure how to respond to this so I say nothing.
Madi continues: "But what I really want is a bengal tiger!"
Me (in my mother-voice): "Bengal tigers are dangerous."
Madi: "Not when they are young. When they're young they're like kittens."
Me: "So at what point would the tiger be too old for us to keep?"
Madi pauses, thoughtfully. Then with absolute seriousness she says, "I suppose we'd know the tiger is too old when it eats Charlotte."

It was a good thing Charlotte was not present to hear about her sacrificial position in our family.

While we sometimes use our car time to philosophise and catch-up, very often our conversations (as demonstrated above) lean toward the absurd.

Perhaps it's the exhaust and delusion-inducing nausea??