Saturday, June 17, 2006

Returning to Bali

Every time I go back I slaughter a black pig.

To not do so seems rude.

First of all, Luh always seems to have one fattened on cassava and crusts of day-old nasi goreng that she is looking to sell by the time I get there. There is a school bill to pay for Yudi, or Sutra got his girlfriend pregnant and they need to marry right away. Second, inviting the village to a suckling pig ceremony is an excuse to greet those you haven't seen in years, feed the hungry, and appease the gods. The women lay orange and pink and white and red flower offerings in folded banana leaves on the roasted pig, and pray. When that is done, the men slice open its belly and pull out meters of intestine that they stuff with delicious bits of fat, and then they mix the warm pig's blood with fresh grated coconut to make lawar.

The pig screams at four AM as its head is severed in a misty world, where you just can see the steaming backs of the neighbors squatting in the stream that runs down the hill past the bamboo and cement block houses. Their shit runs down the quiet slope, through the rice paddies, and past the photo developing shops that have sprung up right near the beach, into the Java Sea.

I insist on swimming in the sea every day, though the locals warn me of its dangers.

"Don't swim too far," says Putu, who massages tourists on the beach.

The sea is full of black magic and sea lice.

Two of our neighbors squatting next to one another in the stream so early this morning are co-wives, one old and one young. I see them walking down the path in Kayuputih, carrying papayas on their heads, as they follow their husband.

I know what is in this sea and I choose to swim in it anyway. When I first came, the water was transparent. I swim and swim, further out to where I can still see straight down to the deep orange coral.

Every time I turn my head for air, I see the green hills of Kayuputih. In front of me, the volcanoes of East Java pierce the sky. My body is water; my head is sky.

I hear the pig scream.

I know later my hands will burn and burn from the sea lice, because it happens every time. The itching is unbearable and never-ending. Komang's wife Kadek will know how it itches and rub my hands as I lay spent in the heat on the rattan bed. My hands burn and burn, and I long for water.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


At night in Ein Gedi on the shore of the Dead Sea, I sleep in the crevice of golden old moonlit stones, a view of the salty sea lapping so low, the slow bottom of the earth. Coyotes howl under the desert moon, and in the day ibexes scuttle up the rocky hills. There is a hidden stream in the wadi that we hike to after squeegeeing the Judean dust off the tile floors of the youth hostel at the break of dawn. Tali and I take off our tops and sit under a waterfall, crabs scuttling over our thighs.

Yossi is a security guard at Ein Gedi and his father was a rabbi from Bombay. I am nineteen and we lay on the grass at night under that wide desert sky, so dark and so light. One of the German girls volunteering there shows me how to climb up to a cave where it is said King David hid. I climb barefoot up the rocks and then I crouch in that cave with its Hebrew letters carved on the walls, evidence that a long time ago someone was trying to put into words the dryness of this dusty, silent cave so near and so far from that bubbling, noisy oasis.

When Yossi goes to practice his karate alone in the wadi, I sit in the compound with Mahmoud and we drink sweet mint tea, and watch the ibexes climb up and down the rocky hills, or butt heads. Tali is seventeen so I become like an older sister to her, and she is jealous that I am with Yossi, and scared to go into the Army so she plans to feign insanity.

Yossi is dark and speaks perfect Arabic and shouldn’t have told me that besides being a security guard at Ein Gedi, he works for the Mossad, but he does. He goes on missions in Gaza, where Mahmoud lives, wearing a kaffiyeh. We are in his room and I sit on top of him and slowly move and remember the crabs, the waterfall, as I look directly into his wide eyes.

"Have you ever killed anyone?" I ask him, moving so slowly, and his wide eyes narrow.

Yossi is number two in karate in Israel, and is saving money to go to Japan and study Zen meditation. I don’t let myself really get to know him, so instead he is my spy, my security guard whom I seduce to stop guarding the youth hostel for a few dark moments under the moon, my Jew and Arab, an Indian with something Eastern European about his eyes, more religious than I am. Every day he goes out to the wadi alone. There is a limit to how much I can seduce him, and I want his discipline.

When he returns, he shows me karate moves, and his eyes are hard as stones.

dead sea