High Spirits

If a fortuneteller would have told me five months ago I would be watching a football match in a small rural town in West Bali amidst a funeral, I would have probably laughed in disbelief. One of the most embarrassing moments thus far, laughter was indeed the best way to maintain control of the situation. Sometimes, despite all controversies, we can only accept the surroundings and find illogical reasons to raise the spirits.

After missing the first two matches, I felt obliged to watch the third Brazilian football game. After an entire day of filming, I headed back to my guesthouse, which fortunately (and so I thought) had a satellite dish/flat-screen television combo. Before I headed back though, I made sure to purchase a couple beers – not such an easy task around these areas of the island. Yet, I had just recovered from dengue and after a week worth of work, those beers meant more than just drinks; if the game was enjoyment, beer was celebration.

Blimbingsari, located in West Bali and four hours distant from touristic areas, remains truthful to Balinese traditions. Farming corresponds to the major economical activity, and this five thousand inhabitants village leads a rather peaceful and tranquil routine. The reason for the reallocation came from the necessity to document the work of Dinari’s local branch, known as Mitra Usaha Kecil (MUK). In fact, what originally started as one organization, Dinari was eventually divided into three different institutions due to governmental regulations. The not-for-profit aspect remained within Dinari’s missions and goals, but Dinari Venture and MUK, both loan provider companies, joined the profit group; thus, causing the division.

One of the most striking characteristics about Blimbingsari regards the higher percentage of devout Christians. In a Hindu and Muslim dominated island, Christians are a minority, whom have survived the Dutch colonization. A hybrid culture between Balinese traditions and Christianity beliefs resulted after years of practice. Essential Christian elements compose their religion; yet, Balinese Christians entitle themselves Balinese before Christians.

Just one hour before the match, the organization’s manager stopped by the guesthouse to inform that the game would only be playing on local channels; and since we had satellite television, I would not be able to watch it. The solution? Someone would me pick me ten minutes before the game and take me to the organization’s headquarters, where I would be watching the game alone.

It actually sounded like an excellent alternative. The guesthouse corresponded to the local pastor’s home – the only accommodation in town. I would feel more comfortable consuming those beers away from long-standing traditions and possible judgments. Most of the population does not consume alcohol; hence, the difficulty in purchasing it. That same night, the pastor and his wife, as well as the entire neighborhood, were busy attending a funeral of a seventy-year-old lady. In this Christian portion of Blimbingsari, whenever someone dies, the entire neighborhood mourns the death. Men stay awake all night since it is believed that their presence will keep away evil spirits, further assuring a peaceful transition for the deceased.

Ten minutes before the game, someone indeed stopped by to pick me up. Yet, instead of turning left, we turned the opposite way on the crossroads; and within one minute, we had arrived at our destination: the funeral. Over sixty men were sitting in scattered benches, and a television was set up right next to the open coffin. As soon as I realized where I was, I tried to hide the beers behind my back; though, with so many people around, it became obvious I was hiding something. I saw this one available bench on the very back and headed for it; I set the beers on the ground and my legs right in front of it.

Some had already seen the bottles, but it wasn’t until one of the community’s dogs (every single family owns a dog in Blimbingsari) started sniffing around, eventually knocking the bottles down and causing an unmistakable sound, that the mourners realized the content of the goods brought to the “party.” Some were staring at me, some were laughing. It was obviously all unpremeditated and my last intention was to be disrespectful; yet, I was not sure how much they knew about the last minute change of plans. So, I decided to embrace the situation by holding the beers up high and doing the elevated shoulders, upside down hand palms, I-didn’t-know smile – a few consented.

Must say it was one of the most sinister experiences of my life (and I honestly had myself holding from not laughing at the absurdity of the situation). Luckily, the very next day I redeemed myself by attending the community’s procession and paying respect to the deceased’s family. On the last day, I was also brought to the church. I wanted to take an early bus and head back to Kuta, but my hosts insisted I should stay and attend Sunday’s morning mass. During the celebration, the pastor asked me to stand up and address the entire community – this time around, no beers in hand!

Over five hundred people crowded the church and with all eyes on me, I tried to charm myself out of the spotlight. Perhaps my attendance left a good impression on the community – and so I hope. In five days of filming, a good glimpse of life in Blimbingsari transpired through each interview. Men, women, Christian, Muslim, Balinese, and Javanese: I was warmly received; certainly, did not want to leave any disappointments.

More to follow.