In Peril at Panjor Mas… Pak “Spiderman” Dave Cries

Wyasa Leading the Way

Wyasa Leading the Way

As a warmup for the summit, I was invited on the trek to Panjor Mas which I was told was a quick jaunt around the lake to the base of the summit. I suppose my Indonesian language skills are not nearly as good as I thought because somehow I missed the part about this being an “extreme” hike.

Mommy!!  Ibu!!!

Mommy!! Ibu!!!

I probably should have gotten a hint when only 31 people all much younger than me met for a prayer before the hike, and then we stopped again to pray an hour later.  It was after that second prayer that things became quite hairy.

Yikes

Yikes

The first extreme section at least had handholds and footholds. I inched along  footholds about an inch wide until reaching some half-submerged thin logs for the remaining part of the traverse.  Tough, but manageable.  I gave high fives all around, and figured that we had conquered the major challenge.

But of course I was premature because the next hour required technical climbing skills, strength or both.  I had neither.  I glued myself against the rock face, and tried to avoid looking down at the cliff and lake below.  Wyasa was guiding me from in front with Gede in the rear.  At two points, there were simply no handholds or footholds to be seen.  I gasped, “Where do I put my foot next.”  To which Wyasa answered:  “Be like Spiderman Pak Dave.”  To which I responded with the few Indonesian swear words I know, plus some familiar English ones…and then I wanted to cry.

So all those many hours of prayers paid off, and I slowly made like Spiderman across the abyss.

 

At Panjor Mas

At Panjor Mas

Our destination was Panjor Mas which is spring fed by a waterfall born on the summit of Rinjani.  We took a bath in the spring waters, and gathered holy water for a ceremony. Beautiful and very powerful place with the partially cloud covered summit rising thousands of feet above us.

A word about garbage

Sadly, every step of the way from our base camp to Panjor Mas has been through tons of plastic garbage.  It’s particularly difficult to deal with mess at camp when cooking and eating. There seems to be little or no awareness of this blight on the part of my Balinese friends who just seem to ignore it.  However, when I picked up the garbage around our camp, my friends joined me.  There was really not much we could do but burn it which was better than just throwing it on the ground.  I asked some new friends in nearby tents what they thought, and they were also concerned but stumped at what to do about it.  We got into a conversation about the ashram’s recycling programs.  They started to get excited about doing something about it, and we resolved to get together to see what we could do to start a recycling program in Mataram.  We’ll see.

In the meantime, we are living in harmony with the rubbish.  Even the holy water from Panjor Mas came to us from a funnel made from a discarded plastic water bottle.

Plastic garbage funneling holy water at Panjor Mas

Plastic garbage funneling holy water at Panjor Mas

How the Balinese deal with Evil and Other Bad Stuff

There are just so many things I don’t understand at all about this culture, and one of them is dealing with evil and dangerous animals.  On the first day I was walking behind one of the mangkus.  I was wondering why he had a plastic bottle filled with rice hanging by his side.  Right about then, he stopped abruptly and threw some rice onto the side of trail.  Curious.  And then I saw a small cobra slithering off the trail.  The rice was a way to symbolically feed the snake so that he would avoid biting us.  My initial “western” reaction was to whack the snake with a stick.

The next day I was walking with Putu and Wyasa when we saw some very aggressive monkeys harrassing trekkers just ahead.  I started to pick up some rocks to chuck at these beasts.  Instead, my friends told me to avoid conflict, and instead distracted the monkeys with some bits of apple.

Later on, Wyasa suggested that these actions of using diversion rather than direct conflict against evil or danger is deeply embedded into the Balinese culture.  He reminded me that before every ceremony evil spirits are temporarily diverted by feeding them some rice, coconut and giving them a drink of arrak and maybe a cigarette.  Balancing good and evil is important in almost every Balinese ceremony.  As a westerner, I wanted to fight the evil.  The Balinese figure this direct approach is pointless and likely to be counter-productive.

Gunung Barujari today

Gunung Barujari today

Gunung Barujari blasting its way into creation around 2004

Gunung Barujari blasting its way into creation around 2004

About Shoes:

This was one of the most difficult hikes I had endured over rugged volcanic rocks.  I wore tennis shoes, and wished I had brought my boots.  My friends hiked in an array of different footwear.

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Next: The Day for Climbing the Summit of Rinjani

The Summit of Rinjani

The Summit of Rinjani

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On the trail to Rinjani

This Was the Easy Day

This Was the Easy Day

We walked in the dark for the first hour, and thank God, because actually seeing the cliff faces we were walking on would have scared me into turning back.  By the time it was light, we were too far up the trail to bailout especially since there were 200 people behind me….And this was the easy day.

Our porters carried their stuff in rice bags hung on bamboo poles.

Our porters carried their stuff in rice bags hung on bamboo poles.

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Hiking with Putu

Hiking with Putu

With our group partners Ibu and Kadek

With our group partners Ibu and Kadek

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Every morning and evening, the community prayed together.  No matter what the religion, there’s something very powerful about praying with 250 people in a beautiful outdoor setting.  Our prayers were primarily to harmonize with God, nature and other people (Tri Hata Karana) which means we prayed to the primary Hindu trilogy of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (The Protector) and Shiva (The Destroyer).  We always finished with the Tri Sandhya mantra which is the most common prayer in Bali.  It is chanted at public schools every morning and in most temple ceremonies.

Our group ascending to Anak Laut.

Our group ascending to Anak Laut.

Sprinkling tirta (holy water)

Sprinkling tirta (holy water)

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The chief priest offering prayers.

The chief priest offering prayers.

The Tri Sandhya is followed by the traditional five prayers using flowers:

1. Pray for your soul “atman.”  2. Pray to Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and your ancestors.  3. Honor the one God, and ask forgiveness of your sins.  4. Prayers asking God to help heal the sick.  5. Pray for peace in your soul and the world.

Then comes the water purification ceremony.  The assistant priests (mangkus) first sprinkle water on your head followed by three sprinkles to drink and another three for washing your face.  I’ve heard the Balinese form of Hinduism called Agama Tirta, or the Religion of Holy Water.  Water is the key element in all Balinese ceremonies.  For example, in the cremation ceremony, tirta is the mechanism which releases the soul to return to heaven.

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Holy Water (Tirta) from Anak Laut

Improvised temple at Anak Laut

Improvised temple at Anak Laut

Sorry, to go into detail on this, but the Tri Sandhya, these prayers and the water rituals are really at the heart of Bali’s culture.  I can’t pretend to fully understand all of their meaning, but for every Balinese it really goes to the soul of their spiritual and community lives.  It’s these daily rituals that define the people and their culture.  In a very concrete way it makes one feel bound to God, bound to your community and bound to nature.  The Balinese are very open in allowing outsiders to participate in their rituals.  It’s something we’ve done for many decades while visiting here and at home.

A mid-morning ceremony

A mid-morning ceremony

Blessing a goose who is about to become an offering

Blessing a goose who is about to become an offering

Our group sacrificed several chickens and other foul as a way of feeding the spirits above and below which helps our prayers become accepted.  Good news Bad news story for the chickens.  Good news is that their souls are reincarnated into higher beings.  Bad news: your lunch

Our group sacrificed several chickens and other foul as a way of feeding the spirits above and below which helps our prayers become accepted. Good news Bad news story for the chickens. Good news is that their souls are reincarnated into higher beings. Bad news: your lunch

Hindu or Christian, Pak Dave?

Surprisingly, no one had asked me this question before.  But since we were spending 24/7 together sweating our way up the mountain, a few Balinese people risked asking me this personal question because they observed me practicing the Balinese Hindu rituals.  My answer was that I was born and remain a Christian.  And during this journey, I spent a long time thinking about the Sermon on the Mount.  What I love about Jesus is that he was such a subversive, and there’s nothing more revolutionary than the Sermon on the Mount’s direction for people to go deeper into their souls in understanding and following the Ten Commandants.  It’s intention that counts as much as ritual and external acts.  At the time, it was a direct assault on the rituals of the synagogue.  It’s also a reminder that excessive ritual which can happen in Bali Hinduism, Catholicism, and other churches is sometimes a distraction from getting to the heart of the matter.

I also told him I was a Hindu because it helps explain the reality I’ve experienced in the world and in life.  Also, I particularly love the Balinese approach to Hinduism which is a mish-mash for spirituality, community and common-sense.

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And finally I told him that I’m on the hunt for other religions to understand. I’m now reading the Koran, for instance.  So this pretty much blew his mind because Indonesians (at least officially) like to have clear labels for people.  The national identity card (until yesterday when the new government changed the law) , for example, requires every citizen to identify his/her religion. But this ecumenical view is all very Gandhian.  Gandhi was an adamant respecter of all religions, and carried a copy of the Gita, Sermon on the Mount and Koran with him.

With one of the mangku's (assistant priests)

With one of the mangku’s (assistant priests)

Sorry for the diversion into theology.  But as you can tell, this adventure turned out to be as much as spiritual journey for me and my new friends as it was a mountaineering adventure.

Back to the Climb

We spent the second night along a river that was very fresh but with a yellow color from the sulfuric lava rock and hot springs nearby.  There were few tent sites available, so we ended up camping on a bed of ashes from a forest fire that had burned the area very recently.  Smokey the Bear would not be happy about cavalier approach to campfires practiced by these Balinese trekkers. In fact, a couple of logs nearby were still shooting flames out.  The yellow river proved to be an excellent tub. Fortunately, our drinking water came from a fresh spring further up the hill.

Clean, but sulfury water great for bathing, not so good for drinking

Clean, but sulfury water great for bathing, not so good for drinking

We arose again at 5am, and sat on hard, cold rocks for a quick morning prayer before the day’s hike began. While the trail turned out to be quite steep in places, the pain in our bodies was soothed by diversions to two sacred sites.  The first one we slithered into a cave through a very small opening.  Inside the cave was a warm pool where we prayed in all five sacred directions.  We then hiked another few miles to a second cave where the Goa Susu (cave milk) or hot springs soothed our aching muscles and blessed our souls.

Wyasa emerging from the cave opening after praying

Wyasa emerging from the cave opening after praying

Praying inside the cave to the five sacred directions

Praying inside the cave to the five sacred directions

Climbing through Goa Susu (cave milk)

Climbing through Goa Susu (cave milk)

Wyasa getting his Buddha on

Wyasa getting his Buddha on

Finally, we hiked into our final camp at beautiful Anak Laut (Child of the Sea) a crater lake formed in the caldera of the Rinjani volcanoes.  Yes, that is plural.

Anak Laut

Anak Laut

And we finally got our first peek at the summit of Rinjani.

Anak Laut

Anak Laut

Next up:  Pak “Spiderman” Dave traverses cliffs and ledges at Panjor Mas.

Oh Shit

Oh Shit

 

Roadtrip to Rinjani…Our Mission: Pray for Harmony, Rain and Don’t Die

Rinjani last erupted in 1994

Rinjani last erupted in 1994

Rinjani volcano at 3,700 meters is the third highest mountain in Southeast Asia.  When Wyasa invited me to join him and a few of his friends to climb this peak, I thought we were in for a mountaineering adventure…But as usual for me in Indonesia, I really had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to this six-day adventure.

Our Mission: Pray for Harmony, Rain….and Don’t Die

Putra, who helped organize this great venture

Putra, who helped organize this great venture

Mataram Taman Temple

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It turned out that our journey would be a pilgrimage with a group of 250 Hindus primarily from Lombok, and a few from Bali.  Our mission would be to honor the most fundamental Balinese Hindu philosophy of Tri Hita Karana which roughly translates to finding harmony with God, harmony with other people and harmony with nature.

The group also carried the responsibility of conducting prayers and ceremonies to ensure a healthy rainy season.

In addition to these group objectives, my own personal goal was to avoid a painful death which could occur if I fell off the mountain, was burned alive by lava got hit by lightning or one of the dozen other calamities that can occur on such an expedition.  In other words, I just tried to stay positive.

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And on the positive side, one of my goals for living in Bali is to become embedded in the culture.  This trip helped me do that.  My Indonesian language skills are still nursery school level, but good enough to hold conversations.  And I am continually humbled by the gracious and accepting way that Balinese people invite us into their families, their ceremonies and their pilgrimages while forgiving my many faux pas.

The event got rolling on November 1 with a ceremony at the Mataram Taman temple in Mataram, Lombok.  Hindus represent about 20% of Lombok’s primarily

Muslim population.  We spent the night at Nengah’s family house.  Nengah is Wyasa’s beautiful and very smart girlfriend.  Nengah is one of eight daughters. They and their lovely parents took very good care of us.

Nengah, our beautiful hostess in Mataram

Nengah, our beautiful hostess in Mataram

The next morning we tightly packed ourselves into buses without air conditioning.  Per ritual, everyone lit up a clove cigarette to get the ball rolling, and then promptly fell asleep sprawled over one another.

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Our first night we slept in relative comfort after a ceremony. Orders were given that we were to be awake at 4am, and ready to start by 5.

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Bali Tooth Filing and Cremation Ceremony

Putu, Komang, Father and Kadek in front.  Grandfather and uncle in back

Putu, Komang, Father and Kadek in front. Grandfather and uncle in back

Saturday was a very auspicious day for ashram members Kadek Ayu Ariani, Komang Ayu Juliantari and their sister Putu Ayu Astri.  Five years after their mother died, they were able to cremate her.  The mass cremation ceremony was sponsored by a Member of Parliament from the Karangasem area.

Big sister Putu, took charge of making sure her sisters were taken care of

Big sister Putu, took charge of making sure her sisters were taken care of

The sisters and their family worked all week long preparing offerings for the cremation.  After the ceremony they walked down to the sea where they released her ashes to return to the universe.  Very moving.

But wait that’s not all.  The same afternoon, there was another important ceremony for Balinese…tooth filing or mesangih.  This ritual is usually performed around 16 or 17 years old.  However, it’s expensive so many poor people cannot afford.  But the same organization sponsored the mesangih for more than 200 people including Kadek and her father.

Showing off their filed down teeth

Showing off their filed down teeth

Kadek praying before the ceremony begins

Kadek praying before the ceremony begins

Dad under the knife

Dad under the knife

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Experiments In Truth and Recycling

With apologies to Gandhi for stealing his book title (Experiments In Truth) sometimes launching a recycling program in Bali seems harder than achieving independence from England.

But then I spend time with Balinese young people.   The enthusiasm, energy and commitment they bring to the goal of cleaning up their school and village just makes my heart feel lighter and the hurdles seem less daunting.

SMA1, Semarapura is our fourth school partner.  We’ve learned we need three key ingredients to be successful:  1) A willing principal.  2) One or two student leaders and 3) The ability on our ashram’s part to build the facilities (recycling stations and storage sheds) on time and deliver reliable weekly trash pickup service.

Two of our three Co-Presidents of Eco Club SMA1

Two of our three Co-Presidents of Eco Club SMA1

Principal Pak Putu, and his successor, have been willing partners in establishing the recycling program at their school.  Our ashram coordinator Wayan Wysasa identified three student leaders to create Eco-Club, our Ashram Manager, Kadek Donal, managed the building of the bamboo recycling stations and we finally have found a village man with a pickup to be our trash collection man.

We launched the recycling program at SMA1, Semarapura with a kick-off meeting with the principal Pak Putu, our Ashram founder Indra Udayana and the school’s young leaders.  Here’s a video that shows excerpts from the launch.

As you saw, we built a lot of enthusiasm, and ultimately recruited 60 Eco Club members.  These students will manage the recycling program at the school.  Most importantly they will educate their peers about the value of recycling.  Our goal is not just to clean up the school, but to build a cadre of young leaders who will change the environmental ethic in Bali.

Our new Eco Club logo

Our new Eco Club logo

The recycling stations are built and will be delivered next week.  Eco Club is scheduling a Field Trip to see where the plastic, paper and glass is taken after they recycle it, and most importantly the Eco Club tee shirts have been ordered.  Rule Number One:  You can’t Keep Bali Beautiful unless you have a club t-shirt.

Can you help?  This campaign takes some cash to keep it rolling…Not a lot, but we need to pay for the recycling stations, the pickup driver and of course the t-shirts.  If you have a few extra rupiahs, please click here.

Jungle trekking in Borneo with Orangutans

Sailing on the Sekonyer River in the Rainforests of Borneo

Sailing on the Sekonyer River in the Rainforests of Borneo

“Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings.”

Apologies to Joseph Conrad for stealing this quote from The Heart of Darkness, but a recent trip to Tandjung Puting Park in Borneo to visit the world’s largest population of organgutans felt a bit like being a character in his novel.

Tandjung Puting is home to 6,000 organgutans which are one of the planet’s three great apes (chimpanzees and gorillas are the other two).  The park gives you an up close view of these remarkable animals.

Mom and her young one at one of Tandjung Puting's three feeding stations

Mom and her young one at one of Tandjung Puting’s three feeding stations

Gurundi, the dominant male at Tandjung

Gurundi, the dominant male at Tandjung Harapan

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I glimpsed a few orangutans in the wild, but mostly saw them at the park’s three feeding stations where rangers provide bananas once a day.

Tandjung Puting was first designated a national park by the Dutch in 1939, and later by the Indonesian government, but the orangutan reserve is mainly the work of a remarkable scientist named Birute Galdikas who arrived here in 1971 by dugout canoe.

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She spent years following the orangutans often wading or standing in peat swamps with water up to her chest.  These videos were made in less rugged conditions.

It was a magical experience watching these creatures emerge from jungle.  You first would see tree branches swaying and then would catch a glimpse of red hair in the trees and finally they would slowly walk or swing over to the feeding platform.

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In addition to researching the orangutans, Dr. Galdikas also began a rehabilitation program for hundreds of them that had been captured or lost their homes due to rainforest destruction.  The feeding stations are a step in their rehab program to become completely independent “wild” creatures of the rainforest.  For more info click here.

Standing near wide buttress roots of rainforest trees

Standing near wide buttress roots of rainforest trees

Jungle trekking in Borneo

I spent a few days just walking through the jungle which is different than any trek in the Sierras.  First, the rainforests are home to a remarkable number of plant species.  A single acre might have hundreds of different tree species and other plants.  In addition to orangutans these forests are also home to many different kinds of animals and plants.  Here are just a few:

Kingfisher

Kingfisher

Sun Bear

Sun Bear

Proboscis Monkey

Proboscis Monkey

Hornbill

Hornbill

Clouded Leopard

Clouded Leopard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness”

Also saw tarantulas, crocodile, eagles, macaques, wild boars, crestless fireback, grey heron, mynahs, maroon monkey, gibbons and a few more I couldn’t identify.

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My guides were from the village of Sekonyer.  A generation before their families were people of the jungle.  These men were deeply familiar with the jungle.  It was like walking through a pharmacy as they pointed out trees and plants and the medicinal uses.

Muliadi also had the ability to whistle like birds who lived in the forest.  He would whistle and the birds would return the call.

He also told us a few stories.  His father had a long-standing dialogue with a green viper, one of the most poisonous in the jungle.  This snake stalked him for several weeks. Finally, the father made a deal with him….you can hang with me for two more weeks, then after you need to go home…apparently it worked.

Forest fruits

Forest fruits

Pitcher plants

Pitcher plants

 

Muliadi invited us to visit his village of Sekonyer which had been moved from the park side of the river to the other side with a grant from the Japanese government.  I assumed it would be a very poor village.  However, was surprised to find streets with pavers, nice houses, solar-powered street lamps and a satellite dish at every house.  Just another example, of the clash between the old and new here in Indonesia.

Solar-Powered Street Lamps

Solar-Powered Street Lamps in Desa Sekonyer

The rainforests are spectacular, but they have been devastated by logging, palm oil plantations and other forms of destruction.  Dr. Galdikas has done a remarkable job of educating the locals and others why the park and rainforest should be preserved.  But you can see the pressure of development and modernization at work here every day.  For more information click here.

Lest you think that the jungle means deprivation and hardship…the Indonesians have found a way to make the trip very easy.  You travel in a boat called a klotok with your own guide, cook and crew.  The food is delicious.  You sleep on the river under a mosquito net while listening to the sounds of forest…

Bikram yoga in the jungle

Bikram yoga in the jungle

“We couldn’t understand because we were too far… and could not remember because we were traveling in the night of first ages, those ages that had gone, leaving hardly a sign… and no memories.”

Flores, Indonesia…Komodo Dragons…But Much More

Komodo Dragon

Komodo Dragon

Most tourists visit Flores to see the Komodo dragons, the largest living lizard on earth growing to 3 meters (or about 10 feet for my fellow Americans).  I really had no desire to get up close and personal to such an ugly beast…

…and as many of you read from my last post, my mission to Flores, Indonesia was to reconnect with our friend Martina.

Map of the Indonesian Islands east of Bali

Map of the Indonesian Islands east of Bali

What is continually fascinating about Indonesia is it’s mind-boggling diversity. Bali is mainly Hindu, but Flores is mainly Roman Catholic…and they are both in the middle of the largest Muslim country in the world.  Not to mention that the flora and fauna of Flores are more like the dry parts of Australia than the tropical islands of Bali and Java.  The local languages are completely different and the cultures aren’t even closely related.

The geology is pretty similar though.  Just about all of Indonesia is on the eastern edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire…(California is on the west side)  and that means lots of volcanoes and quite a few earthquakes.

Mt. Inerie Volcano

Mt. Inerie Volcano

Volcano Lakes near Maumere, Flores

Volcano Lakes near Maumere, Flores

Visiting Martina and her family meant I got to know a little about the Catholic way in Flores which arrived with Portuguese traders in the 16th century.   Both Jek and Martina are devout Catholics.  Martina regularly attended mass at the Newman Center in Berkeley when she lived with us.

Mother Mary Statue Overlooking Maumere

Mother Mary Statue Overlooking Maumere

Here too her family regularly attends mass.  Their son Nick goes to the very tough but high quality Catholic junior high and high school.  The priests and bishops appear to be a positive force in the community.  Not only providing services like schools and hospitals, but also providing a credible and positive social force.  I’m sure there are exceptions, but these points are based on discussions with several people western and Indonesians.

Catholic Church in Maumere

Catholic Church in Maumere

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But it’s Catholicism with its own flavor.

 

 

 

Driving around on a motorbike I saw that almost every house had its own tomb where the ancestors are buried.  Apparently, this goes back to the traditional religion of Flores before the missionaries arrived.

Family Tomb at a Flores Home

Family Tomb at a Flores Home

And, Flores Catholics celebrate some festivals you don’t see often anywhere else.

Flores De-Mayo Procession

Flores De-Mayo Procession

But this is Indonesia, so right next door to Maumere is a Muslim and Christian fishing village of Wuring built on stilts over the tidal flats.  In fact, every morning I woke at sunrise to hear the village mosque broadcast morning prayers. The people originate from Bugis and Bajo tribes from the south of Sulawesi. The village consists of more than 200 people who speak two separate languages.

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Speaking of different languages…there’s about 6,000 of them in Indonesia. Nick’s Catholic boarding school has boys from all around Indonesia.  We spent a fun afternoon with the kids saying a phrase in Indonesian with the boys translated them into the dozen “local” languages they speak.

And finally, what is continually glaring about Indonesia is that within the same village there are people living in the entirely traditional world, and some texting and Facebooking with friends around the world.

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One night I was sitting on the beach doing a video call with Lucas while on the mudflats a traditional fisherman used moonlight to harvest fish to feed his family.

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Reuniting with Martina

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Many of you may remember, Martina.  She is from the island of Sumba, Indonesia and she helped us through a very difficult time in our lives, not to mention the fact, she saved my Dad’s life.

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Martina grew up in Sumba which although a hour plane trip from Bali and still in the country of Indonesia could really be a million miles away from our island.  Sumba is dry unlike wet, tropical Bali. Instead of Hindus,  most Sumbans are now Catholic overlaid over Sumba’s own local religion and adat (customary practices).  For more about Sumba, see Elizabeth Pisani’s book, Indonesia, Etc.

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Because she is very smart and has a huge heart, Martina attracted the attention of a Sumban teacher who knew our friend Ibu Gedong from Ashram Gandhi, Candi Dasa. Martina spent 1.5 years at the ashram.  When Ibu Gedong found out that our oldest son Lucas had been diagnosed with diabetes, she knew we needed help and Martina was just the right person for the job.  She contacted Martina in Sumba, who returned to Bali for her visa and passport and a week later on her first airplane trip landed in Berkeley.  Max never had it so good.  He was 18 months, and never cried again until Martina left three years later.  Martina helped us through those very challenging months where we were learning to manage Luke’s diabetes while trying to hold down jobs and deal with a new baby.  We could never have managed without her.

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We not only fell in love with Martina.  Both of our families did as well.  She saved my Dad’s life one night in Rocklin when she alerted the household when he was having a heart attack.

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In addition, Max and Martina were the most popular duo at Berkeley’s kid parks.  Everywhere we went every family with young kids knew Martina and Max.

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Martina returned to Indonesia more than 17 years ago.  She married Jek Wara, a wonderful man from Flores and has lived there since returning.  She and Jek have four children of their own (Nick 14, Ike 11, Julian 8 and their baby of 2.5 years)  But they also generously have invited another six family members in need to live with them in their beautiful blue house in Maumere, Flores.

Flores at sunrise

Flores at sunrise

Felicity and Max visited Martina four-years ago, but I hadn’t seen her for 17 years.  It was a tearful reunion, but wonderful to find she is still the same Martina with a very big heart an infectious laugh and willing to serve her family and friends.

Talking to Felicity

Talking to Felicity

For the past several years, Jek has worked afar first in eastern Flores and then in West Timor.  He does development work which means building essential services like schools and hospitals.  He told me many stories about the trials and tribulations of weaving through the inevitable local politics that occur in his job.  More about that in a different post.  Fortunately, he’s been transferred back to Maumere where he can live with his family full-time.

Jek

Jek

Even though Jek is a college graduate and has a government job and Martina runs a small shop out of her house and raises pigs, chickens, etc.  they live very simply compared to a US family.  It’s not at all unusual to raise your siblings kids or to take care of an Auntie in this culture.

Martina's kids on the beach with me at sunrise

Martina’s kids on the beach with me at sunrise

Once their shyness wore off, their kids loved playing Frisbee.  I treated them to a day at the hotel I stayed at, and they never got out of the pool except to drink the sodas they were served.

Wedding couple

Wedding couple

One night we attended the wedding of Jek’s cousin in the village where Jek was raised.  The bride and groom wore traditional dress, and we ate some delicious pig intestine soup.  But it was a little culturally dissonant when they turned on the dance music and Shania Twain blared out.  We also visited Jek’s father who is 84 years-old, but still farms.  He raised 12 kids and sent a few of them like Jek to University.

Jek's father

Jek’s father

On the last day, we went to see Nick who is their oldest child.  He lives in a Catholic ashram in Maumere.  They send him there because it provides a very good education.  He lives in dormitory with one room that houses 77 ninth graders.  They live a very disciplined life with early morning prayers, chores, classes, study and evening prayers.  Similar to our ashram.

Nick with his proud Mom and adopted uncle

Nick with his proud Mom and adopted uncle

It’s expensive for him to attend which is why Martina is raising the pigs and running a shop in her front room.  But they think it is worth it.  Nick was quite shy when I met him, but warmed up.  Very smart and nice kid.  Would expect nothing less.

Want more information about Martina?  Let me know:

 

Mass Cremation in Bali

Balinese people aren’t stressed about much, but the one thing that can create overwhelming tension is the inability to afford to cremate your parents and family.  In the past, cremations have financially ruined poor and middle class families alike who by tradition must provide a suitable cremation ceremony for their loved ones which can cost thousands of dollars.  When you are a farmer earning hundreds of dollars a year…it could have meant selling your land or not putting your kids in school.

Our friends Greg, Esther and Alex with Darmawan's father waiting while the ceremonies go on.

Our friends Greg, Esther and Alex with Darmawan’s father waiting while the ceremonies go on.

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Fortunately, many Balinese villages have adopted the practice of mass cremations where all of the people who die over a five-year or so period are cremated at the same time.  This mass cremation helps because it allows richer families to subsidize poor ones and permits every family to perform their sacred obligations to their loved ones.

We were invited by our friend Darmawan to the village of Tangkas in the Klungkung Regency to participate in its mass cremation of 95 villagers who had died over the past five years.

Sarcophagus containing the bodies from one banjar in the village

Sarcophagus containing the bodies from one banjar in the village

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It was a very long but fascinating day.  Darmawan’s family had lost a young nephew who had died from drinking too much Arrak (palm brandy) five years ago.  His body had been buried for the past five years.  His remains were dug up just before the ceremony and placed in a white cloth for the ceremony.

offerings around the sarcophagus

offerings around the sarcophagus

Cremation represents two important actions. First, it is a physical act in which the five elements of the universe contained in a human body are released by cremation to return to the earth.

The fire begins

The fire begins

More importantly, cremation releases a person’s soul from his body to be returned to the circle of life and death (reincarnation) or to be released from the cycle by seeing the face of God (moksha).  In Balinese tradition, the ritual mechanism for doing this is through a water blessing.  Every person who was cremated was accompanied throughout the cremation ceremony by a woman of his family.

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In our friend’s case this was Puspa, Darmawan’s wife.  She rose at 8am to prepare the water offering from holy water provided by the priest. Just before the cremation, the priest sprinkled holy water from her offering onto the body of her nephew.  After the embers died down at 10pm that night, she carried the ashes to the river for the soul’s final journey back to the spirit world.