I've been putting off this post. At first, I thought it was because I got busy with work but then I realized it was because writing it would be too emotional for me. No matter how brave you think you are with your emotions, there is still room for shyness, isn’t there? Also, writing this post would be proof that my Bali trip really has come to an end, that I’m really back to my ordinary work-a-day life, with all of its struggles; loneliness, financial concerns, a job in which - it has recently come to my attention - Arab misogyny is still alive and kicking, something I really could live without, at this point, I assure you.
So let me tell you about Aminah. Aminah cared for me when I was a child. She was in my chronology as far back as I can remember, in all of those vague flashes of childhood where the sun somehow is always too bright and the shadows too dark. Aminah was as much a part of our family as my arm was a part of my body.
I remember an ice cream cone cake from Baskin Robbins, bright with play-dough colored icing. I remember her frying things on the stove. Her jokes in the car when she would twist around from the passenger seat and slather her humor thickly to make me smile. I also remember her scoldings.
She asked me once, in my visit to her home in Java, “Was I ever harsh with you?”
I remembered a time when she tapped me on the head with the back of the hairbrush to rebuke me for something I had said.
“No.” I told her, kindly.
AS a child, I loved her so much that she got the best "thing" I could think of. When I was five, I named everyone I loved after a thing. My parents were Seven Up and Pepsi. My grandmother was a pretzel - stoic and dry. My grandmother’s adopted daughter was orange juice because she was bright and sunny. Aminah was lotion. Soft, gentle, creamy.
And then there was Ahmed. He was her husband and our driver. His “thing” was donut because he always took my brother and I out for donuts in those long melancholy Riyadh afternoons. He had a benign fatherly presence that went on forever. He was like the half-moon, smiling and watchful. A funny man, a lovely man. I don’t remember him speaking much but without my knowing it, he was encoding my childhood with love.
I remember running to him in the yard and showing him my new dinosaur lunchbox that I was so happy about and that already was reeking with peanut butter. The interest which he showed it with his kind eyes! Wasn’t it nice to have things and show them to eyes like that?
We sped through the years together in one fine mesh as one family unit. They were indisputable facts in our lives, in gleeful summers and bone dry winters.
As I had my first lunch with them in Java, I told Aminah that, until today, every time I got out of the shower, I dried my face before I dried the rest of my body because she taught me to do that. She shook her head in emotion and told me to eat some more.
Aminah and Ahmed left us when I was ten. We were in the US that summer and, one day, while I was busy daydreaming about how perfect fifth grade was going to be - it wasn’t - my mother called me to tell me that they had gone to Indonesia and were not coming back. I wept because I learned, that day, that life was not as unshakable as I thought it was. I felt betrayed. Who would fill the gap now in our lives? No one did. Not quite.
Goodbyes have always been a ritual with me and there have been many people in my life who did not understand my firm insistence on a proper ceremonial goodbye. I wonder now, in retrospect, if it’s because Aminah and Ahmed never said goodbye when they left.
I arrived in Malang, Java, at 1:00pm. after a horrendous trip on a jet plane. They came to pick me up at the airport. I was a little squirt with bushy bangs and glasses when they last saw me. I greeted them now in yoga pants, hair just as bushy because of the humidity, and no glasses.
A merry-go-around of hugs. Tears. Recognition of faces that had faded like papers in your time capsule. Ahmed held me tight and swung me from side to side letting out a shaky giggly squeal. I had not seen anyone this happy to see me in such a long time.
They apologized for how humble their home was. It broke my heart that they felt the need to. They apologized for the simple food but simple food was what I was in Indonesia for. They apologized for leaving without saying goodbye. And because my heart was breaking already, it missed the opportunity to say “all is forgiven”. So I smiled and remained silent.
They took me to the mountains. “Trek”, they called it with that lovely clipped accent, like someone had hit the breaks too soon on the word. We trekked up Mount Batur to peer down the crater into the mouth of a wide volcano. It was only hours after we had climbed down that I realized that looking into a volcano had been on my bucket list for years.
We visited, Ahmed’s sick mother. She had had a stroke a few weeks ago and was taken to the hospital. The poor woman lay heavy in her pain on the bed, a big body that was fighting a battle with itself. Futile? I hoped not. I put my hand on her, with the intention of practicing my reiki, and perhaps sending to her whatever relief my healing could bring. I felt it there, her energy field, tendrils tangled and waging a war inside. It was vibrant and angry, underneath my touch, a swarm of electric hounds snapping their jaws and gnashing. I prayed for her and channeled love through those small patches of skin that my hand could cover.
Aminah, upon my gradual observation, had changed. She was fifty now and her voice was not anymore that loud boisterous train but rather, a wispy crackling leaf. Ahmed gently explained to me that I needed to speak to her face and not from behind her because she had a problem with her hearing. Her giggle, however, remained as self-deprecating and girly as ever.
Those words were still ringing in my ears. When I was about seven, Aminah caught me grinning in the car as I was looking outside the window on our way to school. She turned to me from the passenger seat and laughed.
“Tidhak binapsik!” …laughing with yourself.
I remember feeling embarrassed to be caught with one foot in my own inner world, exposed and a little shamed. She never meant to shame me, of course, but Aminah had the habit of finding funny things everywhere.
The year The Lion King came out, we came up with a family joke. My older sister, Maha, who was often entertaining to me as child, looked at the lunch tray that Aminah had prepared for us one afternoon and she found the tahini sauce missing. For some reason she called Aminah, singing the words “Goolol Aminah, tijeeb altahina!” to the tune of the Hakuna Matata chant. To this day, I don’t understand why we found that so funny. Maybe it was because Aminah was so wonderfully chant-able.
She took care of me, during my visit. She made meatball soup for me, which, apparently, was a delicacy. If you’re wondering whether or not it was a delicacy let me tell you that, chewing those meatballs felt like I was chewing a nose. She made me tea, gorgeous Javanese coffee, and her infamous - and quite traditional- indomei soup which you needed to slurp slurp slurp to get the full benefit of it! I realized how much I had missed her when she produced that indomei soup with a cooked egg floating on the surface.
Ahmed took me riding on his motorcycle through the rice fields. Splendid rhapsodies of green about to swallow us up if we didn’t hurry up and down the pathways and between houses washed in toy box blue. It was a sunny day and the patches of rice were just sighing and begging to be seen and admired. He got off the bike to teach me how to ride. Albeit my first lesson was a disaster, I found it very poignant that he was teaching me to drive something after all this time. Having almost driven myself into a ditch, Ahmed drove us back to the house where we found Aminah, waiting in the courtyard, worried about my safety! Her own daughter, who was younger than I, was married but, to her, I was still five years old.
Throughout those couple of days, Ahmed kept looking at me with incredible fondness, like he couldn’t believe there are people in the world you could be so fond of or that fondness could be so big and wide. And I found all the crates and barrels of love in my heart being pried open; all the people I’d ever loved, all the people I had lost, everything there was to love presented itself to me just in the face of the man who took to me school everyday. I never wanted to leave. On the day of my departure, I was soggy with tears. I want to stay. I want to stay. I want to stay. Please let me stay.
I told him about the dream I had after seeing the guru. Isi kil.
“Isi kil has no meaning in the Indonesian language." He said, "But sikil means foot. Maybe the guru was telling you to stay in Bali.”
I’m not sure what dialect he was speaking of, or maybe my own spelling of the word is incorrect. But it meant something to me for him to say that. There was almost a question in there, a request. Will you stay with us?
“Or maybe,” He continued, “The guru was trying to protect you. There is a lot of black magic in Bali.”
Cat had said the same thing. “With all the black magic flying around, you can feel the energies.”
I was hoping for an interpretation of the dream that was as clear as a billboard. My relentless need for irrevocable sensory proofs deafened everything else. The believer in me and the skeptic would argue over this dream for a time to come.
Skeptic: The dream was just nonsense, inspired by your strong desire to find something extraordinary. It’s your mind playing tricks. It has the habit of doing that. You’ve been seeing green things for almost two weeks, and thinking about magic so it’s most natural that the brain would produce whatever received the most emphasis.
Believer: The dream has a deep interpretation that you have not found yet because that feeling of being “possessed” so that a “download” can be dropped into your consciousness is undeniable. You know the feeling well because it was the same one that woke you a year ago, not into your waking life, but into a floating consciousness that was most certainly real - it wasn’t a dream - and you flew through a forest and up the tree of life.
I had to leave Ahmed and Aminah. I cried as I gave them the hug I wanted to give them back in fifth grade. The promise of “again” stretches between us until now from the yarn of tomorrow’s hope.
It was back to Denpasar for a few hours. I wanted one more ride, one more romp, one more discovery. The sadness of leaving gripped firmly with talons I could not shake off or appease. It was the sadness of cutting a path short to go back to work. I was leaving Eden to go back to Earth. I was climbing down from my highest self yet. I could feel it.
So I called Dewa. I wanted a couple of hours where I could pretend I was not leaving on the 12:00am. flight. He asked for his heaviest price so far because he had to drive from Ubud to Denpasar just to take me around on this make-believe adventure. My heart dropped a few stories down when he said 500,000 Rupiahs. I realized, without a shadow of doubt, that I was holding on to my friendship with Dewa, as the last raft before I had to leave. I cared more about sharing another silence with him than I did about whatever we would end up doing before I went to the airport.
He picked me up and we drove to Seminyak just as the nightlife began to come alive for the tourists. He took me to the grilled corn stand, where they brushed the corn with a sweet and spicy glaze before letting it simmer, burn and sulk in the fire. After that, it was to the downtown where a carnival of restaurants and warungs competed for attention among boutiques of everything you ever wanted to buy. I had ice cream. Then we walked back to the car because that was all the time we had. That was it. Just a little game of pretend.
I reached into my purse when we arrived at the airport to pay Dewa and I offered him the money. He hugged me very sincerely. Then he took his pay. I believe, by then, he had understood why I had wanted him to come tonight.
Bali is a truly blessed island. Most people who come here don’t want to leave because of the abundance and the spices and the sincere friendliness of the Balinese. Even as I travel through this journey, I struggle to let go. Let go. Let go. Let go. But my heart hurts! Let it hurt! But I love them. Then love them. I miss them. Then miss them. I don’t want to leave this Island. You need to. There’s more to learn still. What if I just buried myself underneath a Frangipani tree, there in the earth where the monkeys play? Would consciousness forget about me and leave me be here in this paradise on Earth? I’m going to miss them all. Wayan and Wayan, Chico the dog, Damien, Miriam. Well I’m not going to miss Miriam. We already planned a trip to Ireland soon to dance with witches! But I’m also going to miss the Banyan trees, the Frangipani filling in the gaps between things when Consciousness forgot to put something there, the unquenchable infinite rice fields, the lurid and shameless tropical flowers, that smell that I still could not quite capture; Coconut? Jackfruit? Frangipani or a mix of all? Most of all, I am going to miss the opportunity for high vibrational living, such as I’ve never experienced before. Ubud is designed for people who wish to heal, or people who simply wish to be. If you wish to soak yourself in the ultimate goodness of the Earth, come to Ubud. If you wish to live a slower more dance-like life, come to Ubud. If you wish to throw away your possessions, all expectations, all needless pressure and reconnect with soul, with nature, with love, with humans, come to Bali. It’s all here, waiting.
I don’t know what my path holds for me. But for now, the path was pulling me away. I could feel it in my heart and that’s what hurts the most. The knowing of the heart.
As I slipped back into my life in Dubai, the calling continued. And as time wore me down, the calling began to fade. I can still hear it, ringing softly in the minute tunnels of my ear. I hear it when I type at work. I hear it when my back aches from the chair. I hear it in my sleep in those quiet hours where the traffic washes by in waves at night.
I yearn for it. And I wonder how the Pevensie children felt when they accidentally tumbled out of Narnia, after they had grown to be kings and queens there, into ordinary 1930’s London. How do you accept life like it is after tumbling into discovery and joy for a while, every single day? How do you stay in the cubicle where you’re living when you’ve been on the golden path? I ask myself this question, everyday and sometimes I can feel the imprint of it behind the mind that plans and makes breakfast and runs the morning show. How? Am I supposed to be here? If not, how do I get back on the path? Or am I on it but it’s tricking me, testing me?
Isi kil remains a mystery. When I came back to Dubai, I looked up the meaning in Sanskrit. The words were mute as rock in Sanskrit. I looked them up in Bahasa Indonesian again in the hopes that something was missed. Maybe Latin. Maybe some strange language that I’ve never heard of…
I googled the words one day, as meaningless and raw as they were. A hashtag appeared. #isikil. I looked up the tweet that carried it. It was a picture of the street lights in Istanbul. So I looked up the word isikil in Turkish using google translate. The meaning, on the right hand box was this: light.
I don’t know if google translate can be considered an accurate interpreter of dreams but I am in search of light. Some days I find it, I feel it. Some days I don’t and my frustrations, boredom, hurt and self-deprecation get the best of me. I hold out the flashlight and I don’t see a thing, only to realize that I am covering it with the other hand.
Bali waits for me, still. It beckons. Maybe I will go back here to live. Maybe even soon. My trip was cut short because there is such a thing as annual leave and there is a computer out there that calculates it. I couldn’t just quit my job after five months of accepting it. So I had to go back. But the path is unfinished and waits to be walked to the end. I like to think of my own pilgrimage as keeping the tradition alive, the search for truth and love continues. While my great grandfather brought the pilgrims from Indonesia to Makkah, I traveled from Dubai (very close to Makkah) to Indonesiaas a pilgrim. Lucky for me I did not have to suffer for months on a ship.
Damien once said to me that you could get addicted to the search. I asked myself if it is the ego that drives us on our search, to keep us away from contentment and acceptance of what is. Or is it our unquenchable and playful curiosity? What if, as spirits, this is how we play?