From traveling to many cities and countries nationally and internationally, it is always so interesting to observe the different types of lives people live. Some of them leave me feeling envy, while others make me realize how fortunate I am for my reality, which has come mostly due to my birthrights. There are a few experiences that still find their way into my thoughts, while posing many questions and inciting deep reflection. Two of these experiences occurred during my last trip to Bali, about 3 months ago.
During our cooking class at Bali Asli, we heard loud cries from a distance, and people commented that they were for a funeral, a way or mourning and communicating with the spirits. Interestingly enough, people commented that they did not think it was a good day for a funeral, as in Bali, ceremonies like marriage and funerals are determined by the “Saka”, the Balinese-Javanese calendar system.
After our cooking class at Bali Asli in Amplura, we were making our way back to Nusa Dua with a planned stop to Kusamba to see a traditional village of salt panners. As we drove towards Kusamba, we encountered a funeral ceremony where a number of people were surrounding a public cremation by the road. In plain sight, you could see the remains of the person, including their bone structure and some clothing, as the flames engulfed the person. To me, there was something very natural and cathartic about this ceremony and how it was held; people were grieving in a community, close to where they lived and farmed the land. Some may comment that they could not conceive having their remains treated this way, but in a 3rd world country were space is scarce and agriculture is prioritized, this is a cost effective and environmentally friendlier way of disposing of someone’s remains. In some cases, people have to choose between feeding their family or expensive North American style funerals/cremations, which are not the norm.
Next, we made our way to Kusumba, a small and lovely little village with many temples, off the main tourist path. As we turned off onto a dirt road, near what appeared to be a construction site, we ended at a small village by the sea. Without our Balinese driver/tour guide, we would never have ventured this way as it did feel as though we were intruding in people’s lives and privacy. We walked towards the ocean, passing many little huts along the way, that I thought were for salt production. I was quickly informed that they were in fact the homes of the salt panners. These huts were essentially one room, had no electricity or running water; essentially they were constructed from bamboo and other wood, banana leaves, mud, rocks, and other materials.
As we continued, we witnessed a number of trays sitting in the sun with sea water, waiting for the sun to evaporate the water to leave behind salt that would be sold for the equivalent of $1USD per kilogram.
We did not see anyone working by the salt pans, as there were about a dozen or so people sitting on the rocks in the heat of the day, sifting through pebbles, collecting a certain type which were placed in a bucket. According to our guide, the pebbles are sold for about $1USD per kilogram. Most of the workers were elderly people, in their 50-60′s, with a few children in tow. Due to the economy in Bali, we would suspect that the younger generations would leave these professions for other ones relating to tourism in tourist centers. We did leave a few dollar bills with one of the ladies, for the baby she was holding. These people did not beg or anything and I had very mixed feelings about giving the money this because sometimes, these gestures of kindness can cause more harm than good, if you consider how currency and accumulation of wealth is a form of enslavement of people into systems (based on my study and understanding of (global political economics, i.e theory of haves and havenots). In the end, these people were producing something of use; salt for food, and pebbles used in tiles, which is a big contrast to the knowledge economy in which most of us are a part of.
Compared to other parts of Bali, the beach and coastline by Kusamba was very under-developped; there were no hotels and resorts dotting the landscape. The coast lined stretched for kilometers in each direction, with the mountains in the distance, and a black sand rock beach leading to the azure blue ocean.
As we headed back to the manicured and commercialized beach side resort area of Nusa Dua, the images of these two encounters persistently stayed with me, and made it difficult for me to enjoy my meal at our 5 star hotel. As we walked around the resort, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the salt panners/ stone collectors from Kusamba, as the tiles that adorned the resort had little black pebbles in them, set with intricate patterns.
As I was lying down for my Balinese massage in a fancy beach hut by the sea, the images of the people sitting on the stones on the beach came to me. I couldn’t help but wonder if my massage therapist was from a similar village, if she had a better life now that she made more money, if she was a mother who did not get to spend lots of time with her children, and what she longed for. While I think that a simple life, would afford more freedom, you cannot help but think that it may in fact provide less freedom.
Balinese culture is very focused on community; one of our drivers told us that you can have all the money in the world, but without community, no one will take care of you. This concept of family and community is very prominent and you can see it as the government does not take care of people in the same way that we are used to with healthcare, education, and social assistance.
Our driver also expressed that he had no interest in travelling as he likes to remain close to his family and finds beauty in his home. As an avid traveler, I find myself wondering if there is a place where I could settle and be happy with foregoing travel; Bali might be one of those places. I also feel a strong attachment to Hawaii due to the natural beauty and modern conveniences.
During my travels, I cannot help but believe that if I could start my day by walking on a beach, doing yoga/meditating, and having a non-desk job that I would be happier and not be afflicted with some of my minor health issues (headaches, knee pain, and tension on the neck and shoulders). I’ll probably never know as the odds are very low that I would have enough income to sustain a luxurious life as an expat in a tropical place, or would have the courage to take a big risk and to unplug and leave behind the safety, security, and low risk of earning a steady paycheque with rally good health benefits and a pension. My perception and evaluation of my surroundings and life lead me to believe that many people can only dream of having the career, the condo, the trips, and other things, but yet, maybe some don’t and they may have more than I will ever know or come to have. Yet, I cannot help but wonder what I would learn if I would dedicate 2 weeks of my time to live in that village and spend that time sitting in the stones, sorting through pebbles and making sea salt.
Speaking openly of these things makes me feel a little uncomfortable…I am very happy and fortunate to live in such a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and temperate rain forests, near the sea; of all the places I have lived in my native country, this is the one that feels the most like home. All I know is that I will keep travelling, exploring, and collecting Polaroid’s of different lives, realities, people, and places.