I checked out of the swanky Sanur hotel and I heard a voice shout my name. It was Made (pronounced Mah-day). He was sitting in the lobby and stubbed out his cigarette and smiled at me. Something about his smile was so comforting. He was the kind of character that within minutes of his company I felt like I had known him my whole life, very familiar with kind eyes. He dressed casually in a t-shirt and jeans but still had an air of being presentable. He appeared to be in his 40s but I later learned he is only in his early 30s – perhaps life had trodden him down a little. I had met him prior to today as he is the Nephew of an old Balinese friend and he offered reliable transport. Today was different; today Made’s eyes were full of concern. It turned out his Father had a stroke and he needed to get him to the hospital urgently. I asked him why he didn’t cancel picking me up as I would have been happy to get a taxi. He looked stunned and quickly responded, “Nooo!” I also asked him why his father could not get an ambulance. Made told me that ambulances are not sent for ‘trivial’ things like strokes! Being an ambulance clinician myself in England, this really stunned me. A stroke is serious and is treated as a time critical incident in England, yet here in this Balinese paradise, over-swarmed by western tourists to the point that you could be in Sydney, an ambulance was saved for something more serious!! This highlighted even more how the healthcare service in England is abused by so many!! But also, how in the developing world, the idea of turning down paid work to take your urgently sick parent to hospital is impossible. My heart broke a little for Made.
I arrived back to the cosy hotel in Kuta that I have stayed in many times before over the past 7 years. The local shop owners recognise me. One in particular, a young lady called Putu always recognised me, even when I return pasty and white some years later. “Lou!” She shouts as I walk past her shop. Putu was always smiling, come rain or shine. She invited me into the back of her shop where a small child was screaming on a small dirty mattress. I joined Putu on the mattress and she explained to me that Olivia (her daughter; one of four!) was upset because their family friend had left to return to Australia. Putu went on to tell me how blessed and happy she was. I looked around the small cramped room that she lived in with a small mattress to share with four small children and I felt a pang of guilt. Putu was grateful and happy to have her shop and a roof over their heads. I couldn’t help but retrace the thoughts I have had over the past 2 years and all the difficulties I have faced which one would consider ‘first world problems’ and yet here was Putu who had next to nothing but she was so happy and always smiling. It really put things into perspective for me.
Soon after, I left Putu’s shop feeling a little dazed and strolled through the humid heat around the buzzing lanes of Kuta. I found a tailor shop filled with hard working local men working on sewing machines. I am a keen sewist and asked if I could watch them for a while. Within no time they had me working on a machine, for fun of course. However, the thick humid heat swelled in the room with a small dusty fan which may as well have not been there. Whilst I struggled to concentrate and work in that heat with sweat pouring from my entire body, the employees mostly had their shirts off and a cigarette hanging loosely from their lips, casually working away, cutting fabric, ironing, overlocking. I admired them so much. Naturally being a western white woman, lots of tourists walked past and giggled at the sight of me working in this shop filled with Indonesian men, but I didn’t mind. I actually got a glimpse of an insight into what life is like working in poverty-stricken Asia and I noticed that they don’t take ‘days off’, they will work 80 hours a week without a complaint if it pays the bills. This again gave me perspective on my life. Yes, my job is challenging, but I DO have days off and down time to put my feet up. I doubt very many do in Indonesia and similar countries. I stayed in the shop for several hours and found a new sympathy for the local businesses “harassing” tourists for business. Seeing things from the other side softened my heart.
I had been reading a book about he Bali bombings (The Paradise Guesthouse, Ellen Sussman – highly recommended) and felt an overpowering need to visit the memorial site. The book had made the incident feel so real to me, all those who lost their lives. I was pulled to the location of the bombings and stood for a while, staring at the plaque listing the full names of all those who lost their lives on that tragic day. For some reason, I couldn’t walk away until I had read the full names of all 202 people who passed away and tried to imagine a little something about their lives, be it local Indonesians or Portuguese solo travellers.
The rain started beating down, harsher than a power shower and I slinked off into the shelter of a local pub for a beer. What a day it had been! A real eye opener. It’s days like these that keep my desire to travel burning forever.
I later found out that Made’s father was treated for his stroke and is on the road to recovery, much to my happiness and relief!
Cuddle Your Globe