Archive for July, 2009

a loss.

July 7, 2009

The whole village had convened at Swasti’s household.  Old men sat smoking and chatting in swift undertones of Balinese, a language of sharp, staccato consonants and deep, velvety vowels of which I understand perhaps three words.  Women rushed about, sarongs swishing, with small, intricately woven trays of leaves containing offerings of incense, flowers, and rice crackers.  I surveyed the scene at a loss.

Made, the musician and dance instructor at whose house I have been staying, turned to me after he had greeted everyone.  “So, I will stay here.  Maybe you will, ah…”  Torn between an insatiable anthropological curiosity to see the coming ceremony and the knowledge that my presence was an awkward burden, I looked at him expectantly, waiting for some indication as to whether I might to stay.  “Maybe you will go back to Made’s house, ya?”  I nodded silently and took my leave.

At ten o’clock this morning a baby died.  Since I arrived at Made’s house in Desa Bona ten days ago, he had told me of the child’s medical problems.  The mother, Made’s sister-in-law, had lived in Made’s house while pregnant because her two previous babies had died within a week of their birth, and Made suspected that evil spirits might be at work.  “So I invite her to stay at my house when she give birth,” Made had explained a few days ago, “so maybe she have better luck with this one.”  And she did have better luck — the baby had survived three months before succumbing to a cardiovascular condition that Made could only vaguely describe.  “The doctors in Denpasar say his heart is not good,”  Made had said dejectedly.  “They say his heart is too big, it cannot pump blood to the right place, it will not grow…”

The ceremony this afternoon will be nothing like the lavish, gaudy cremation rites I saw last week.  There, cream-white cows with golden grins adorned the towering bamboo funeral pyres of prominent village members who had died over the past year.  It was an auspicious day for cremations in the Balinese calendar, and marching bands played with gongs and cymbals while merchants milled about the crowd selling ice cream and plastic windmills.  That was a celebratory send-off, a farewell feast for the souls of loved ones who had lived full and happy lives.  But the baby who died this morning was only three months old.  I do not know its name.  I do not know what will happen to it now, or to its parents.  I only know that when I arrived I was introduced to its mother, who held her tiny child with cautious pride; and that two nights ago when I came back to the house long after midnight, my footsteps woke the baby.  His father opened his door unceremoniously, glaring at me with bloodshot eyes as I bowed in hasty apology.

Since my arrival here I have been rushing madly about with Made to attend temple dedications, full-moon rituals, arts festivals, and countless dance and music practices.  He may be, as Andy half-jokingly suggested, the busiest man in Bali.  But now I am taskless and alone at the house — a house that seems infinitely emptier than it did yesterday — while the family observes its private grief.  Time, I suppose, to update my neglected blog.