Farewell to Bali

I’ve been putting this post off for a while because it seems like a tall order to put all we’ve learned and experienced on this trip into words. I also keep falling asleep. But I feel like I can’t move on without devoting one last post to our big summer adventure, especially because it’s starting to feel like I just dreamed the whole thing and woke up from a six week coma.

Regular readers will have already gathered that this summer our family spent five weeks in Bali, Indonesia as my husband led a study abroad program for college students. It was an amazing time filled with good food, gorgeous views, and lots and lots of Balinese music and dance. We loved our time there and never wanted to leave.

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The trip was a good time for me personally to transition from my over-scheduled end of the school year to my new, possibly under-scheduled fall. It gave me a chance to unwind and relax, to experience just spending time with my children, and to think about what my new focus should be as I start a new, unfamiliar part of my life. I discovered that my kids are pretty nice companions, and that, given the chance, can get along quite well with each other.

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While we were in Bali, Fritz was quizzing us: “What is the square root of sixteen?  What is the largest mammal on earth?” Then he asked, “True or False: Does travel broaden the mind?” We’re not sure where a seven-year-old picked that up, but we knew the answer, at least for our kids on this trip, was a big, fat “TRUE.”

There were lots of big discoveries but many small ones too. For example, I’d never felt the urge to sit my kids down and explain the different currencies around the world, but walking past the money changer’s exchange rate sign several times a day led to conversations about pounds and yen. My boys learned how to haggle, how to cross a busy street without crosswalks, how to stand alone to answer questions at an airport immigration counter, how to understand and follow the customs of another culture, all things they really couldn’t have learned any other way.

One of the most valuable parts of the experience was that we were not just sightseeing and adventuring; we were working and learning alongside people in their homes and communities. They hosted us, fed us, and taught us while we were there.

Our first stop was in the tiny rural village of Bangah, where we stayed in the family compound of master musician I Made Lasmawan and his wife, Ni Ketut Marni, an expert dancer. They and the members of the performing arts organization they founded in Bangah, Sanggar Manik Galih, opened up their home and invited us to be a part of their daily family life. Uncles were constantly swooping in to pick up or hug my boys, to play chess or soccer, or to take them on motorcycle rides to get ice cream. For two weeks we felt part of their family as they taught us about the music, dance, and culture of Bali, and we’re excited to see many of them again as they travel to Provo in November as featured guests in BYU’s gamelan concert.

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Sometimes in a place that thrives on tourism, there’s the danger of tourists seeing the local residents as existing only to serve them. After moving from the family compound in Bangah to a hotel in Ubud, I was immediately uncomfortable with the change in our interactions. Later that day, at the welcome meeting for the Çudamani Institute in Pengosekan, the co-director, Emiko Saraswati Susilo, addressed this very challenge and emphasized this as a specific goal of the Çudamani workshop: for people who value the arts to encounter and engage with Balinese artists and community members in contexts other than the service industry.

While studying with Çudamani, our students worked six days a week, six hours a day. The schedule was demanding and the teachers kept a high standard of expectation, but they were always patient, kind, and respectful. I was impressed at how my sons and the college students (my temporary kids) were able to learn and improve so quickly in that environment.

We spend the final leg of our stay in the capital city of Denpasar, at Mekar Bhuana Conservatory, a studio founded by music scholar Vaughan Hatch and his wife, Evie, who is a professional dancer. They and their instructors provided us with many new and interesting experiences, including learning about the characters of topeng (masked) dances, peeking behind-the-scenes of a of shadow puppet performance, and learning to play the ancient style of Balinese gamelan called selonding.

Our group’s study at Mekar Bhuana culminated in a benefit concert for Puspadi Bali, a charity devoted to increasing mobility and independence for disabled members of the community. We were able to tour the facilities and to see how they make prosthetics, provide physical therapy, and offer training and employment. It was a wonderful experience and we were grateful to participate in a small way with their great efforts in Bali.

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I’m grateful that we had the chance to interact personally with so many wonderful people, that our boys were able to see so many people as surrogate uncles, aunts and cousins, that we could walk down a busy street and hear people call out our kids’ names from a passing motorcycle, that our children made a habit of greeting shop owners and security guards and laundry workers as friends each time we passed. I also loved watching the college students chatting with cab drivers and waitresses and showing a genuine interest in their lives away from work.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson my children learned was that Balinese people don’t exist only to feed them or drive them or clean up after them. They did feed us and care for us, but because we were there to learn from them, those were not our sole interactions. In fact, often the same people driving us or feeding us in the morning were teaching us or performing for us with great skill hours later, leaving us feeling quite humbled and impressed.

I think, out of all the skills we learned or cultural experiences we were exposed to, the most lasting and long-term takeaway from our time in Bali is, as we read in LDS scripture, “…the worth of souls is great in the sight of God,”and that broadening the heart goes hand in hand with broadening the mind.

One of our hosts shared a story about a time someone tried to explain the New Testament story of Jesus’s nativity to one of the performers in their group. When they got to the part about there being no room at the inn, he interrupted and asked why they didn’t just let them in. When told it was because there wasn’t enough room, he seemed confused and said, “But there’s always room for one more.” And it’s true in Bali – one more person can always squeeze into a crowded car, one more motorcycle can push its way into a full lane of traffic. We will always be grateful for the hospitality and generosity of all those who made room for us in their homes, their schedules, and their lives. 

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