Friday, August 26, 2011


I know much more about the love lives of the three teenagers at my homestay than they might want me to. This is largely due to the fact that their parents like to come upstairs some evenings to sit and talk to me about their children’s heartaches. And, let’s be honest, I completely play into it. Having just come out of a small liberal arts college, I find myself facing a serious dearth of gossip.

My conversations with Made and Kadek mostly focus on their son Wayan’s “broken heart” from a girl who, as Made puts it, “jumps around” as well as their daughter Nita’s serious relationship with a boy named Indra from Taro village. Koming, at twelve years old, is saved from these heart to hearts, at least for now.

I have learned a great deal from listening to Made and Kadek about their own wishes and fears for their children. Most Balinese parents hope for sons. This is not because they believe girls are inferior, but because there is a tradition in Balinese families that the wife will move in with her husband’s family. If you have a son, he will live with you forever and you will, essentially, (and in some villages, legally,) adopt his wife. Her husband’s ancestors become her ancestors, and she lives with his family for the rest of her life. When I think about parents in this situation, in some ways, it is no wonder that they hope for a son--a son means they can hold onto their child for longer. With daughters, there is always a letting go.

My Bahasa Indonesia teacher told us that there are some families who have tried to change this, and sometimes, families with daughters will try to arrange a marriage for their daughter to have her husband come live with them. Usually money is a pretty good incentive. However, a man who moves in with his wife’s family instead of the other way around is often stigmatized.

Made and Kadek are prepared to let go of their daughters eventually, but they both have expressed to me that they hope they don’t get married anytime soon. They both adore Nita’s boyfriend Indra though. Kadek tells me he already feels like her son. I’ve met Indra’s family at the house a few times, and last week Made and Kadek invited me to go to a ceremony in Indra’s village of Taro.

When the evening of the ceremony came, I began to realize there were some complications. When I came back to my homestay after a day out, Nita was in a terrible mood. It was the first time I’d seen a Balinese person over the age of two be anything but extremely friendly (I’m actually not exaggerating). As it turned out, the ceremony was going to be an all night affair. Nita and her parents were in the midst of discussing if Nita could stay in Taro all night, and if so, how she would get there and back. Through our conversation, I quickly realized that in inviting me, her parents were also hoping I would pay for a driver for Nita and me. It was yet another one of those awkward situations I perpetually find myself in here, where despite close relationships with people I’m reminded that I am also a source of income for them.

I was frustrated as we kept trying to brainstorm ways to get to Taro and back. Nita was too scared to drive her motorbike that far in the dark alone, so if I wasn’t going, she wasn’t going. She began to cry and I was angry because I felt like I was in an unfair position. Wanting to remedy the situation, I agreed to pay for a driver there for us, and a driver back later that night for me.

Nita quickly forgot her tears and went about getting herself ready for the ceremony. Because there was now a car coming anyway, Kadek decided to come as well. We put on our kebayas and sarongs and sashes and Nita did my hair and makeup. By the time we left, it was two hours after we were supposed to be there. I felt like I had a pound of Balinese makeup on my face and was exhausted after all of these negotiations, communication barriers and emotional drama. Kadek and Nita fell asleep in the car and I made awkward conversation in Bahasa Indonesia with the driver while I sulked in the back seat.

Taro, the village where Indra lives, is about an hour outside of Ubud and much more rural. Stray dogs lined the streets and there were rice paddies between each house. The temperature had dropped and we were shivering in our sheer kebayas by the time we got out of the car. We went to Indra’s house and then finally made it to the ceremony.

Even when had arrived in the village temple, I still had no idea exactly what this ceremony was commemorating or why I was really there. People were sitting on the wet ground and the temple was covered with offerings. Nita and Kadek got us all bubir ayam (“chicken porridge”) from a street vendor and I tried not to cringe as the woman doled out the unidentifiable food with her bare hands. I sat on the cold ground and my eyes watered because of the spicy food and I could have laughed thinking about how much work it had been to get here just to sit on the ground. It turned out the dancing wouldn’t be starting for hours, long after I had gone home. We sat and waited until a priest came around and put holy water on our heads. We lit incense and stuck it in the ground, and when it was burned halfway, Kadek decided it was time for us to go back to Ubud. Nita would spend the night in Taro.

We got up, holding onto each other, and then I realized that Kadek had to say goodbye to her daughter. Nita walked us to the street but then quickly ran back to meet Indra inside the temple again. Kadek and I walked back to the car in silence. I realized that we were both picturing Nita with Indra’s family that night; how she would watch the dancing until she couldn’t stay awake any longer and then curl up at Indra’s house; how Indra’s mother would become her mother, Indra’s grandmother her grandmother, Indra’s uncle, her uncle. Nita wouldn’t be back in Ubud until sunset the next night.

I knew it wasn’t the first time that Kadek had said goodbye to Nita and left her at Indra’s house. I knew it definitely wouldn’t be the last time. And I knew that she seemed fine with it. She knew, like all parents seem to know, that one day she would have to say goodbye.

On the car ride back, as we wove around rice paddies in the dark and had the windows down despite the cold, my reservations disappeared and I was so glad to be in that car with Kadek as she silently said one of what will be many goodbyes to her daughter. I let my reservations go and enjoyed the drive and decided it was worth the the 10 US dollars that I would pay for it. I decided that sometimes it’s worth eating unidentifiable chicken porridge and possibly paying the digestive consequences for it later. I decided that it’s worth having holy water on your face even if you’re not exactly sure what it signifies or what you even believe. And I decided that in a small way, I was helping Kadek hold on for a little longer.

1 comment:

  1. Your blog let's me hold on to you a little bit longer. Love you!