Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Goodbye to Bali

People here tend to have trouble with my name. I’m mainly called “Nal” or some equivalent to that. I was absolutely shocked a few weeks ago, when driving along Tegallalung road to see the following:

I was as ecstatic as I was confused. I immediately wanted to find out the story behind this shop.

I’ve gone to the store three times in the last seven weeks. Each time I have had to bargain with a taxi driver to take me there (it’s too far to walk) and each time I've arrived, it's been closed. The shop seems to be permanently closed (at least it has been since I've been in Bali). I finally tried calling a phone number on a business card in the window and learned there are many ceremonies happening in the village of the owner, so the store is closed indefinitely.

I was frustrated. I had paid for drivers and gone all the way out there and desperately wanted to know the story behind this place. It seemed like such a sign.

And then, I finally accepted that there were no answers to be found. At least not by me, at least not on this trip. I was not going to be able to track someone down at the store, and even if I did, the chances were slim that the person working would know how the name came about.

I console myself by thinking that while it’s an amazing coincidence (or a sign?), I really should be learning my lesson from the people I’m trying to explain why I want to go there to. After bargaining for the price, I have been telling the drivers that I want to go to the store because my name is Nell. “The same as the store! My name Nell, store named Nell!” I try to repeat in Indonesian. “Yeah…” they often say and stare back blankly. After all, the driver’s name is Wayan or Made or Nyoman or Ketut. And there are shops called Wayan or Made or Nyoman or Ketut on every road.

Although I am terribly curious how a store called “Nell” (let alone “Nell: Parasite Wood Carver”) ended up in Ubud, Bali, I’m trying to tell myself that there’s a lesson to be learned from this. That perhaps there is value in recognizing that my name, like Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut, will be spread and stretched independent of me. That a name is not about personal triumph or even individuality but is actually something that is shared. And that, of all of my conversations about names in Bali, is what I’m left with.

But I’m really going to have to get better at this whole goodbye thing. One of my earliest memories is of watching my (then) three year-old cousin refusing to say goodbye to everyone at a family gathering. She was convinced that if she hid in a room downstairs and didn’t say goodbye, no one could actually leave. That’s kind of my impulse right now.

At the same time, I’m ready to move on. While I think Ubud is the kind of place I would be happy spending many months, I’m also ready to push myself a little bit. The Watson (ingeniously) sends us off into the world with a postcard that reads, “Am I Getting This Right?” for us to refer to in times we feel particularly confused or aimless. (I’ve already pulled this out about ten times). It says that the point of this year is to “remove oneself from the comfort and stability of Home, exploring the world selectively in focused pursuit of one’s passion, and discovering along the way one’s potential for humane and effective participation in the world community. The Watson journey is a ‘solo’ experience, to be lived independently, but shared broadly with those who cross your path.” One of the ways it says you can tell you’re “getting it right” is if you’re “eschewing the known for the unknown” and “learning when to move on, leaving behind familiar faces in search of new friendships and opportunities.” It’s time.

The part that’s hard is thinking of all that I’ve done here in the past two months, all of the language I have learned, all of the people I’ve met, all of the connections I’ve made. And to think that in just about 24 hours, I’ll be back to being an ignorant tourist in a completely unknown place again. Exhausting to think about, but also humbling, and also completely thrilling.

And for now it’s time to say goodbye. Trying to express to people what they mean to you while dealing with a language barrier is probably one of the most touchingly painful things in the world. Yesterday Wayan kept calling me his “younger sister” and tonight I visited his house to say goodbye to his wife and daughters who presented me with a scarf. Kadek is insisting on cooking me dinner with her family tonight. As I was saying goodbye to Oka, he pulled out a mask he had recently completed. “For free, for free” he kept saying. “It’s a gift. Balinese angel.” I gave him a hug and cried the moment I got home.

And that’s what I’m doing in the world for a year. I’m making these attachments and then walking away from them. We had a running joke in my language class because whenever someone forgot the word for “alone”, I volunteered it. “Sendiri, sendiri!” I said. I had been using that word so frequently here it quickly became second nature. “Sendiri” quickly became “Nell’s word.” When someone couldn’t remember it, Nyoman (my teacher), would say, “Alone! Alone! Remember, this is NELL’S word.” This is either terribly hysterical or terribly depressing depending on my mood.

Sendiri again. But leaving Bali with so much more than I came with (and not just in the sense my already overstuffed suitcases will be stuffed even more…that is, once I actually pack them). Terima kasih, Bali. Terima kasih banyak.

Note: Most of the photos above were taken at a cremation procession on the street where I live on 9/17/2011. I got up from my sick bed in my middle of the afternoon, stepped outside, and saw THAT.

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