Kenapa! (Why?)

Having spent a great deal of time in Bali, I've slowly learnt to observe things, and accept them. When I first arrived, asking "Why?" anything happened invited frustration. Now, having acquired a bit of Indonesian language, and some Balinese friends, I've found that there are usually reasons for things that, at first glance, seem inexplicable. Mind you, that is not to say that the reasons make any sense to a non-Balinese (or, for that matter, a lot of Balinese!).

Readers of previous columns will recall that the roads of Bali provide a lot of "Why?'s". I recently solved three Mysteries of Driving. The first was understanding why so many male motor cycle riders push their full-face helmets half-way back over their head, making a broken neck almost certain, if they have an accident. The reason? Simple - they are hot. The second is, why don't drivers in Bali stay in the marked lanes on highways? A friend provided the answer. He asked his very experienced driver what the white, dotted lines on the road were for. "Boss, that's to show it is a busy road!" was the answer. Presumably, the thick, white lines at intersections only show that a lot of people cross there. The third mystery is how a motorcycle passenger could, psychologically, survive a journey with his/her head stuck up the back of the rider's poncho. The reason for doing it is obvious: two riders, rain, one poncho. An Indonesian friend, who says that he often has to be the passenger, because he is small, says that the rider provides a commentary. So, things like "We are passing McDonald's" and "Lean in, we are turning left" help the passenger cope.

Shifting the topic slightly, it is common, at certain times of the year, to see gardeners, gardening, in motorcycle helmets. This is usually around the time that coconuts ripen, and fall, so the reason is not difficult to work out. However, I recently asked a gardener why he was wearing his helmet while pruning, without a coconut palm in sight. He was protecting himself from the ever-present red ants, in case they fell on his head*. I'm not sure what he would have done if one had crawled inside his helmet.

Whist still in the garden, I've observed that many, many Balinese sweep gracefully, with their left arm tucked behind their back. They look very much like ice skaters as they glide about the garden. My friend, the motorcycle passenger, says that his grandmother told him that being graceful while sweeping keeps down the dust.

Still on sweeping, in the West, the streets are swept and the lawns are watered, to keep down the dust. In Bali, the lawns are swept, and the streets watered, for the same reason!

On numerous occasions, I have asked when something will be repaired, or when something will happen, only to be told "Four o'clock". The first few times I was puzzled when four o'clock arrived, and nothing was completed, or had happened. I now know that many businesses in Bali close at 4pm, so that something happening at "Four o'clock" really means "Today - no way!" Similarly, "Besok" ("Tomorrow") usually means the same as "Manana" in Spanish - extremely unlikely. Getting anything to happen in the middle of the day is difficult in Bali.

Many people have a "siang tidur", or midday snooze. Anyone who wants a taxi either has to telephone for one, or find a cluster of sleeping drivers under a large shady tree, and then be prepared for a grumpy reception. In markets, the stall holder often has to be woken up around midday.

On the other hand, Bali residents feel the cold. It is common to see locals wearing sweaters or jackets, while visitors are wandering around in next to nothing. I've heard of a Sanur bar that is air-conditioned. However, because it is popular with Indonesians, the air-conditioning is turned off, and the doors opened, because it is too cold for the regular patrons!

Astute visitors to Bali will observe many things that baffle and/or interest them. This is one of the attractions of Bali; it is "different" in so many ways. So, keep your eyes open, and don't be frightened to ask "Kenapa?"

*Bali is an amazing place for ants. Sit on the ground, anywhere, and time how long it is before a nest of ants finds you. A minute is a long wait.

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