?I recently was listening to my IPOD on shuffle when a Sarah Pace song came on, and one of her lyrics caught my attention: “I’m not afraid of changing, it’s the same I’m scared to be.”
That really resonated with me as I cleaned the sofa cushions from the outdoor living room at Jiwa Damai. I started to think about all the ways that travel has changed me.
First, there are the everyday challenges that come with travel. Questions that need answering, like: do bus schedules exist? Where do I even catch the bus, since there are no real bus stops? What time should I go? Where, exactly, will it drop me off? Things that you never thought yourself capable of you achieve on a daily basis, and this lends a brilliant new confidence to all activities.
Casually sweeping little squished gecko body into the pond. Will that huge monster fish I occasionally see surface eat said gecko in this circle of life?
Of course there’s also the constant state of learning that travel keeps you in, assuming you are actually trying to immerse yourself in a new culture and aren’t just staying cooped up in a resort.
Then there’s the unexpected. The part of travel where nothing really goes as planned. For myself, I feel a certain release in my control-freak nature that’s particularly freeing.
For example, I was on a 24-hour long trip from Koh Lanta to Kuala Lumpur last week. The bus that took me to Hatyai arrived much earlier than expected. It was 1:30 p.m. Then the man at the travel agency informed me that our night bus left at 7:00 p.m. I was stuck in Hatyai for 5 ½ hours, desperately needing a shower and hauling around a heavy backpack. Where once I might have been put off by the delay, I found a certain calm in the slow afternoon and went to look for an internet shop.
When the bus dropped us off in Hatyai at 5:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m. Thai time) and I hadn’t changed any money, and nothing was open, I didn’t panic as in the past I was wont to do. I had made some Swiss friends on the bus, and I walked around with them as they looked for a hostel. They finally found an affordable place in China Town and checked in.
I explained that I already had a place to stay that night – I was couch surfing – but I hadn’t changed money and had nowhere to go until things opened up. The kind staff at Oasis Guesthouse in KL allowed me to store my baggage, go upstairs to their communal space, watch TV and have a cup of coffee, all free of charge.
The climax of all this happened here in Bali. Jiwa Damai has a wonderful pool that I quickly took advantage of. I use it to swim laps at the end of the day. The second day I was here, while getting dressed after my pool time, I noticed that my hair looked green in the mirror. I inspected it more closely.
Yes, indeed, my blond highlights were strongly tinged with green.
The next day I brought this to the owner, Margret’s, attention. I told her I knew that it was the pool. I’d also experienced a sort of blue residue on my fingernails, toenails, and even staining my swimsuit. I showed her my hair.
Margret, whose German, about 5’7 and has dark red, henna dyed hair, laughed. She laughed at my misfortune and then called the man in charge of the pool, Vera, over to look.
“Show Vera your hair,” Margret said, still smiling.
I acquiesced. He looked closely.
“It’s green, yeah?” She said, pointing.
He acknowledged that it looked green, then said, “It no problem.”
“No problem?” I said, “Problem for me! My highlights are supposed to be blonde, not green.”
“He means that it doesn’t hurt you,” Margret clarified. “He put some cleaner in the pool the day you arrived. That’s why.”
I didn’t let it stop me swimming in the pool. What’s done is done, I thought. No sense in not swimming if my hair’s already green.
Now I wear a shower cap Margret gave me, which I’m pretty sure looks absolutely absurd, coupled with my goggles. Not that the aesthetics of my swim outfit matter, but the cap doesn’t even fit securely. Water sloshes in and out as I splash through my laps. All the same, I keep it on…
The resident gardener, Ketut, speaks only a bit of English, but that doesn’t stop him from talking to me at length. The first day I went out to work with him he told me that I could take many breaks because, “You girl, not as strong as boy.”
While I could have easily pointed out that I could surely beat Sugi, one of the office managers, in an arm wrestling match, I accepted his estimation of me. I wasn’t going to say no to breaks.
Ketut’s motto is, “Don’t do it if it’s not in your heart.”
I am learning that Balinese seem to thrive on drama. He quickly followed with, “For me, you have problem with me, Wyan have problem with me, I don’t want problem with nobody. He no work so hard. He tell Mar-gar-et and maybe make problem for me.”
Okay. Minimize problems. No one wants them.
Change gears, “You know, I no have house. We build temple. We have 20 temple one year.”
20 temples? Am I hearing you right? I play the Pete and Repeat game.
“No we have 4. Not so big. Small but nice. Big temple, big offering. Small temple not so much. We build more temple.”
“But you don’t have a house?”
“In my village, I am first, not my brother, not sister, so I build temple.”
“You’re the firstborn, so you have more responsibility?”
“No problem now with my family. Before we have many problem, fighting.”
“Because of the temple? Wait, do you live with your family?”
“So you have a house, just not your own house.”
“Yes I share house.”
My head’s spinning as the mid day heat threatens to melt me down. That’s when Ketut tells me I have to break for lunch because at noon the ghosts come out, and I can’t be outside with them. They come out at sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight. Time for lunch.