Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bali. All by myself. With my kid. And some friends. (Which turns out to be way better)

Bodhi and I are in Bali together. 

Ive been thinking about where to begin. Indonesia is more than I thought it would be, there is how this place smells, all cloves and incense and sticky sweet flowers, salt and sweat and bug spray. The hum of life in the narrow streets around Kuta is like Thamel in Kathmandu, but happier, there is this carless joy everywhere.

The scooter, I could write about what it was like to learn to ride a motorbike in Bali, the traffic flows like blood cells, clumping and clotting and finding ways through, up on the sidewalk, into oncoming traffic. The scooters work together to some extent, like a faster, more organic flow of traffic. I haven’t seen any road rage yet, it seems more like a game of flow and go. Bikes pull up next to you in a pack, there’s a two year old standing in front of his dad holding the handlebars, his wife behind him, nursing a baby, the groceries on the back. They smile, the boy sucks his thumb. The dad asks how old Bodhi is. The light changes. He guns the throttle and the horns begin. Careful, a man with crates of fruit and water so huge you can barely see him is going to squeeze past you and through the cars ahead. 

There are teenage girls riding sidesaddle in high heels talking on the phone. Bikes like Jamie’s are outfitted with surf racks so you can tie your board on and motor from surf break to break. Over the course of three days, I learned first to stop looking for a clutch on a scooter. Then, how to stay left. Then, that the traffic rules are more like guidelines, anyway. “You have to go, Kate. Be assertive. Don’t hesitate. If you make the choice, make it.” Jamie teaches me. I have to learn these lessons now, because we can’t get around the island if I’m not safe on the bike. 

He taught me to keep moving, move faster than the other traffic and you will actually move with it. Don’t be scared to shoot the gap, go head on, weave in and out. Be aggressive. Just like skiing bumps, think about making choices and looking way ahead, if you think about what might happen, you are moving too slowly. 

But while the scooter is thrilling, and getting my own kiddo on the back of mine and off of Jamie’s in three days, learning where our hotel is and where the cheapest food is, where the best coffee is, and how to heal bug bites and how much sunscreen we should have used (more. the answer is more), the thing that I keep coming back to, the thing that is Bali and this trip to me so far; is people.

Friends, connections, there is contentment and safety and beauty and unknown and gratitude in all of the people I am meeting. I, foolishly, thought I’d feel that way once I got where I was going. I was going to find my own way there. 

I was excited to come on this trip on my own. I had an idea about what that would mean. I wasn’t setting out to find friends, I was setting out to explore the world with Bodhi. 

But what I have found out is that exploring the world is nothing without exploring the people. And that this fixed idea of finding it my way is so incredibly myopic that had I held onto it, I might have missed so much. 

I might have missed reconnecting with Jamie, who I first met in Japan. I might have missed making friends with Lisa in the airport (also traveling to Ubud), with the SriLanken man who we shared the row with on the way to Kuala Lampour, with the three Indian women we met in Japan on the way through customs. 

This morning, I was sitting on my balcony in Suka Beach Inn, in Kuta, Bali, and thinking about how grateful I was to find connections here. And how much I thought I didn’t want to connect with anyone, that it would be somehow cheating myself out of this independent adventure. I started thinking of the connections I’m feeling, and how they grow this sense of gratitude: there is Dara, a friend of a friend, in Ubud, willing to show us around, and Prem at the Shala where we will be studying, Jamie here in Kuta, Michael who owns Breeze pizza, who has a girl who works for him who will help with Bodhi sometimes. 

I almost didn’t want to know anyone. I wanted, in some sort of rebellious and idyllic way, to strike out alone. And then I think about what I am. Human. And what that means, what I think about while I am struggling to be a better human. What is it that I tell myself, and others, when we are trying to find our way through our emotional world? 

That we aren’t alone. We aren’t meant to do this alone. Just like the motorbikes flowing together like blood cells pumping furiously, we swarm around each other, work together, and suddenly slingshot away, alone, free, independent, before coming back together. 

My life is richer because of the connections, the hearts, I find along the way. I am letting go of needing to do it alone, realizing that alone can mean independently, instead of in isolation. Together with friends and with gratitude and with connection, instead of stubbornly separate. 

I can’t seem to stay separate, anyway, even when I try, because Rama at the store across from where we eat, 9 years old, is smiling at Bodhi, connecting, because the woman selling bracelets who had a headache let me rub her neck and now I have a present from her on my arm, because on the first day here, I was willing to follow Jamie through traffic into the mountains to the sea cliffs. Bodhi found bliss in a limey cave because of that. 

I probably would have spent the first three days stepping carefully and slowly out on my own, making slightly larger and larger forays away from the sanctity of the known space of my hotel room, if I hadn’t been willing to let go of my idea of how I should do this trip, and be like a motorbike in the alleys of Kuta. Flowing with it.