Monday, October 2, 2017

Eat, Pray, BREATHE

Long flights are the perfect time to start a new book, and that is why I picked up Eat Pray Love when I first came to Australia. I figured that my semester in Australia would be the best time to connect with the author's travels to Italy, India, and Bali. I identified with the Elizabeth Gilbert’s wanderlust and desire to find herself in my guilty-pleasure read. Reading her book began my interest in Bali- which is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Australia. I did not live with a Balinese medicine man or fall in love with a Brazilian man like she did, but my experience in Bali didn't disappoint. I experienced the "Love" that she described as the overarching theme of her time in Bali, but the best word to summarize my experience is "Breathe."

Personality tests and life experience has taught me that I am a Type A, control freak, perfectionist. This has been an asset for me in a lot of situations and a detriment in others, and I think these characteristics are the reason that I ended up crying on a FaceTime call with my mom the day before I was supposed to leave for mid-semester holiday.

When I heard the news that Australia set its travel warnings for Bali to the highest levels because of the possibility of Mt. Agung erupting, I instantly became nervous. My other friends who planned to travel to Bali for the week were able to joke light-heartedly about the situation, but that only made me more nervous! (I have also learned that I tend to be less nervous when other people share my fears). 

They all agreed that they didn't want to tell their moms and make them worry more, but I knew I had to talk to my mom. I was thankful for the fact that I knew my mom would give me strength in this situation instead of compounding my fears. When I told my mom the situation, I was surprised that she kind of laughed. She laughed in a reassuring way rather than a mocking way as she reminded me that if I wanted to travel the world, then I would have to deal with bigger issues than just snowstorms in Rochester, NY. She reminded me of the privilege I have to travel places that most people I know (including her) have never seen. And most importantly, she reminded me that God wouldn't put me in a situation that I wasn't meant to be in.

Over the next couple days, I watched the news carefully. Talking to my family about it was the best way to calm my nerves because they helped me to make light of the situation. My brother yelled "THE FLOOR IS LAVA" during one of our FaceTime calls to help me practice. And although I don't think that the destruction that volcanoes can cause is even remotely funny, I needed my family's twisted sense of humor at the time.

I was excited to travel to Bali with Ari, one of my close friends from school and favorite travel buddies. Based our past experiences traveling together, I was expecting her to be more worried about the volcano, but she surprised me. She didn't get worried until a guy working at the front desk of our hostel told us not to fly to Bali without traveler's insurance "just in case your family needs to fly your body home." That's when we shared the realization that we didn't know anything about travelers insurance and were in over our heads. I questioned whether or not we should even go up until the flight took off. I was reassured a little bit to see so many seemingly calm people on our flight (including parents with kids). 

On the flight to Bali, I started reading Half the Sky. It's about the oppression of women around the world, and it was simultaneously the best and worst book for me to read on my first trip to Southeast Asia. The first couple chapters were about sex trafficking, which scared me but made me realize that there were things that I can control and things that I cannot control. While I cannot control when the volcano erupts, I can control my awareness of my surroundings. Nonno always reminds me to “keep my eyes open,” and reading that book made me realize that that’s what I needed to do. 

I was expecting the volcano to erupt from the second we landed in Bali. The news coverage made it seem like the tremors were like massive earthquakes felt over 100 times per day. It sounded like all parts of Bali would be destroyed by lava if the volcano were to erupt, but this is not likely the case. Bali is bigger than it seems, and for the media to say that "people are evacuating Bali" is not the same as saying "people are evacuating the region of Bali that is closest to the volcano." 

Ari and I made it safely out of the airport, thanks to Made. Made helped us with our luggage and drove us to our accommodation in Ubud. Between his gentle voice, the calming music in the car, and even the unaggressive car horn, it was impossible for me to feel unsafe. I was able to fall asleep in the car so that I didn't even know that it had rained outside!

Day 1

The next morning, we met our tour guide, Wayan. Ari and I both agree that Wayan was one of the best things about our Bali trip. He made us feel so welcome and safe in Bali, as he taught us about his home rather than just showing us around. On our first day, we explored Ubud! We didn't get more than a block away from the hotel when Wayan gave us our first lesson in Balinese culture. 

He pointed out the offerings in a temple along the street and explained how every family makes an offering every day. The offering consists of 3 different color flowers (to represent the 3 main divisions of the Hindu God), rice (to sustain life), and some type of candy or food. He also taught us our first word in Balinese- "Suksema," meaning "thank you." Wayan explained that "suksema" is the most important word in the Balinese language, which I think is a testament to the respectful and kind culture that exists in Bali. 

Wayan showed us around the monkey forests, where the macaw monkeys took over a temple and the Balinese let them. He took us to have lunch in the rice paddies and then took us through the markets, where we tried our best at bartering.

Day 2
The next morning, we awoke at 1:30 AM to leave for a sunrise hike up Mt. Batur (a different, less threatening volcano). The hike was pretty difficult, especially because it was still dark outside, but we were able to make it to the top before sunrise. 
Mt. Agung is the high peak to the far right of this picture!

The view was stunning. It started out relatively dark, but slowly, light crept over the land so we were able to discover a body of water standing between Mt. Batur and Mt. Agung in the distance. We watched the clouds pass through us as we were so high up in the sky, and we were careful not to let the monkeys steal any of our stuff from our bags! By the time we walked back down the mountain at around 7 AM, I had already walked about 20,000 steps and felt more awake than I do most days at school. The hike was fulfilling but definitely tiring so I was excited to be spoiled by a Balinese massage and a nice nap when we got back to the hotel. After a couple of hours of relaxing, Ari and I went to a Balinese dance performance that Wayan recommended at the Ubud Main Temple. I didn't totally understand the plot because the few words spoken during the performance were in Balinese, but it was interesting to attend an event that wasn't catered towards English speakers.

Day 3

The next day was my favorite. Wayan brought us too Tirta Empul temple for a water cleansing ceremony. Rather than just watching, he encouraged us to participate. We each offered up everything that was weighing on us psychologically in addition to our physical offerings, and we formulated these thoughts into a wish to say before putting our heads under each of the fountains. I didn't know exactly what I was doing, but I started with "Dear God." I imagined my God as I spoke (although I believe that my God and Wayan's God are mostly the same). The fish in the water were nibbling my toes as I tried to focus on my thoughts. I finished my offering with "suksema" and then dunked my head in rushing water of the fountain.

After the cleansing ceremony, we dried off and went to another part of the temple to pray. Ari and I were dressed in traditional Balinese clothing and were able to participate in ceremony, following Wayan's lead. We put flowers from our offerings between our hands as we prayed, to show appreciation for life and nature which is at the core of Balinese Hinduism. The love of nature is also the reason that traditional Balinese clothes are so colorful, like flowers!

After the ceremony, Wayan told us more about his religion. He explained how Hinduism and Buddhism came to the country of Indonesia as early as the 5th century. He told us Islam is now the most prevalent religion in all parts of Indonesia except Bali, where Hinduism is most widely practiced. He said that all religions are welcomed in Bali as long as they fit into "the system," which he explained to mean the system of tolerance and respect. He said in Bali, Hinduism may be more prevalent, but it is not more dominant than the other religions. He helped me to understand the similarities and differences between Balinese and Indian Hinduism. Both types of Hinduism share beliefs in karma, reincarnation, and nirvana, but in Balinese Hinduism, the caste system only relates to ceremony and does not affect daily life as it does in Indian Hinduism.

After Wayan finished answering all my questions, he showed us the community aspect of temple life. He showed us where the Balinese women were working to make offerings and encouraged us to learn from them. We walked into a huge room of Balinese women working away at their offerings, and they all stopped to look at us as we walked in. They were looking at us and we were looking at them, until I smiled at them in attempt to show my intentions for being there. I also said "Swastiastu," the way to say hello in Balinese (although it more literally is a blessing). Despite the fact that I could only speak 2 words in the language, I think that they understood that I was there for good reason. I thought back to my experiences in Haiti when I was able to establish a connection based on a smile alone, and I decided that one of my favorite feelings in the world is when you make a connection with someone whose background is different from your own. Being reminded of that feeling in the temple made me reestablish my interest in practicing medicine in a developing country after I graduate. 
Here we are learning how to wrap a couple grains of rice into a banana leaf for part of the offering! It was harder than it looked!
For the rest of the day, we explored waterfalls and rice terraces and the famous Luwak coffee, before heading back to the hotel for the night. That night, I woke up twice in the middle of the night because I felt tremors from Mt. Agung shaking my bed. They lasted for about 5 seconds each, and each time, I looked over at Ari with wide eyes. Ari slept through the tremors, so I had to remind myself that no amount of stress I put myself through would prevent the volcano from erupting. I wasn't going to will the volcano to remain dormant by staying up all night, so I went back to bed.

Day 4
We left Ubud for a beach trip to Kuta. Kuta was HOT and very touristy, but we decided to go in hopes that the Bali Sea Turtle conservatory would be releasing baby turtles that day... and luckily, they were! It was a really special experience to be involved in such an amazing process. I learned that only 1 in every 1,000 sea turtles survives until adulthood, and I hoped that mine would be the one to make it. 
Carried this guy to the beach and he did the rest of the work from there!

Day 5
Ari and I planned to do a cooking class on our final day. The class started with a visit to the local market, where we learned about the local ingredients which were commonly used in Balinese dishes. We had a lot of fun cooking, but my stomach didn't feel great after the class. I imagined Nonno laughing at how my stomach didn’t like the food I cooked for it.
Yours truly was the slowest chopper in the class, but we had fun!
After we digested a bit, we headed off to a yoga class (another good reminder to breathe)! The Yoga Barn was just down the street from our hotel in downtown Ubud, but its tucked away location on a side street made it feel like it was a yoga retreat. We took the intro class, which involved a lot more talking than actual stretching. However, I left the class feeling stretched and calm. I almost fell asleep in class, which I interpreted to mean that I was calm. I enjoyed the class a lot, and I felt like it was the perfect way to end our experience in Bali.

On the way to the airport, we had a nice conversation with Wayan where he asked us about our biggest goals in life. He told us about how his goal was to travel to the United States. When I asked him how he liked it when he finally went, he said he was surprised by the people in "survival mood." I asked him if his experiences made him miss Bali, and he said, "from day one." It made me so sad that my friend didn't enjoy spending time in my country, but I can see why he felt that way. He also told us about how his other goal was to buy his own car, which he accomplished as well! He talked about how he used to work on cruise lines and didn't enjoy it all. I respected Wayan so much for finding a way to use his work experience and passions to build a business that he loves. Ari and I both were sad when we left him at the airport.

We were sad to leave Wayan and sad to leave Bali.... until we logged into the wifi and learned that our flight was delayed for 24 hours. After we got over our initial frustration that our plans changed, we realized that we were getting an extra night in Bali paid for by our airline. It honestly worked out better than we had originally planned because we didn't have many plans for Darwin anyway! 

Despite my worrying during the trip, God had better plans for me than the plans I had for myself. This quote says it best:

"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

I will continue to think about the volcano and worry about how it will affect Bali, Wayan, and the friends we met, but I am safe, happy, and blessed to be back in Australia. 

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