Warning: At some points in this story I will reveal an aggressive and impatient side to my personality that I’m sure none of you knew existed.
The weekend began with anger and frustration. For the past two weeks our neighbor, a dirt-poor man, has been driving us crazy with loud techno music blasting from his new speakers. He’s started a new pop-up bar selling tuak (palm wine) to his friends. It sounds like the music the CIA plays to make their prisoners crazy so they will reveal all of their secrets. If we had any secrets worth telling, we would have gladly spilled our guts.
We tried the nice approach at first. At our urging, Indra (our ashram founder) met with them during Galungan weekend to ask them to turn down the music. They told him it was just a holiday celebration and it would be quiet afterward. But two days after the holiday ended, the music was still blaring. Indra again walked across the road to attempt friendly persuasion. He was told that the speakers were borrowed, would be returned soon, and not to worry the loud music would cease….and it did until the next weekend. But after the Saturday workday had ended, the neighbor pounded the kulkul (wooden drum that signals time for prayer, meals, etc) to send a message that his pop-up bar and techno club was open for business. Sure enough, the drunks from the village arrived, and a big party with pounding techno music ensued…far into the night.
A series of Facebook messages from me to Indra with ever-growing urgency, and anger also was sent by Internet instead of by kulkul. The next day Indra met with Klungkung’s chief of police who said he would look into it, but that his resources were scattered because of the presidential election…blah, blah, blah.
By this time, our frustration with the Balinese limp noodle style of dodging a problem created as much anger as the throbbing techno.
On Saturday, we set out to solve the problem by meeting with the Kepala Desa (village chief). But this meeting too was done circuitously. The inability to solve a problem head-on is sometimes infuriating. But what the hell, at least we were moving. So instead of going directly to the Kepala Desa’s house, we went to SMA1 to meet with the principal about setting up a plastic recycling program. It was report card day, and the school was a madhouse. We were ushered inside and sat next to a group of three men who turned out to be the parent’s council. We had a nice chat with them about recycling and agreed the school would join our plastic recycling network, and then Indra remembered that one of them was the brother of Bali’s police chief. He then told our sad tale of techno-music battles and received some helpful advice which would have taken another two months of networking to achieve our goal of stopping the music…which did I mention: IS DRIVING US CRAZY!!
We then drove to the Kepala Desa’s house only to find he was attending an end of the year ceremony at the local elementary school. It turns out Komang attends the same school, and is graduating, so we decided to drop by the event and accidentally meet him.
By the time we arrived, he had left but we observed a very moving ritual. All of the younger students were saying goodbye to the graduates moving onto to middle school. Our graduate, Komang, was crying her eyes out She gave her principal a long and loving hug.
Afterwards, Indra and I met with the principal to discuss the possibility of setting up a plastic recycling program at the school. She was thrilled to work with us, and it turns out had been wanting to start such a program from the time she arrived at the school just four months ago.
We also got into a discussion about the challenges she faces as a new principal at a village school. It turns out that illiteracy is a major problem at the school and in the village. Kids are just not turning up to school often because their parents consider it a waste of time and would prefer their children to stay at home and help them make the beautiful temple umbrellas that the village is known for. The other problem is that she inherited an unmotivated faculty who tend to push problems under the rug. We experienced this with Komang who although naturally smart was way behind at her new school because her prior education had many gaps. She was bringing homework home that was several levels above her. The principal stepped in and worked with Komang’s teachers and Komang herself that started at the level she was, and built on it. We also started a Homework Club at the Ashram which helped her quickly build some basic math and study skills.
It worked wonders. By the end of the term, Komang won a prize for being one of the best English speakers at her school.
Back to illiteracy. The school principal has created a summer illiteracy program for these kids using some of her more motivated teachers. Ahimsa In Action will be helping to fund the program.
Now back to our techno music problem. We returned to the Kepala Desa’s house, but he had been summoned to the police office to negotiate a fight between neighbors. The poor guy has a tough job. But during the ride Indra says, “Maybe we are approaching this problem all wrong. Instead of trying to solve it with a stick approach, (siccing the law on the guy) maybe we should figure out a way to embrace the family.”
We headed over to the neighbor’s with that thought in mind. It gave us a whole different way of looking at things. On closer inspection the pop-up bar was simply a way for this very poor family to generate some income. Not a very healthy way nor a good environment for the man’s three girls, not to mention his neighbors…but a desperate solution that worked for him. The house and his compound were about as destitute as I’ve ever seen with cracked walls and tiles, dirt floors, broken furniture. Their desperate circumstances really touched our hearts. Indra asked how he could help. Mertha, our neighbor, mentioned that they didn’t have access to water, and a connection to the new village water system would cost him $400, a sum he could never hope to save. Indra said he would pay for the connection. In addition, we are giving him one of our water tanks….and most importantly we are giving the guy a job…making plastic recycling stations. Remember, during the course of the day we had recruited two new recycling partners which means we needed to build an additional ten recycling stations. Our ashram carpenter wasn’t going to be able to do the new work…so this created a great solution for everyone.
We left with our hearts feeling very good, and shedding a few tears of gratitude for this turn of events. It was a moving experience for all of us. Indra reflected on how Ibu Gedong was looking over us today. I thought about the healing power of love and kindness, and how it turned out to be a far more effective strategy than the use of force (law enforcement and political power) that we had first tried.
It’s been two weeks…and while the tuak parties are still raucous, there’s no techno music accompaniment. Our relationship with Mertha and his family began that day. We are embracing them as part of the ashram family and providing food, clothing, and books. A Gandhian group is coming from India next month, and they will be donating their labor to repair Mertha’s house.
Saturday evening was calm except for the emergency trip to the hospital with Ratna for what we thought was a heart attack, but fortunately turned out to be far less serious.
And finally, Sunday was Father’s Day a holiday that is usually not celebrated in Bali. We placed photos of our father’s in the temple, and did a ceremony honoring fathers. At the end, everyone said something about their father. It too turned out to be emotional with kids having mixed emotions about their father’s who generally were considered tough and distant. Every single one of the father’s of our ashram kids is illiterate… which circled back to our discussion the day before with the elementary school principal. Our kids, thanks to the ashram, will be graduating high school with any who want to going on to university and graduate schools. Also pretty awesome!
So a very interesting weekend ended with the roosters crowing and the dogs barking, and not a peep of music from the neighbors.