No Identity Crisis, Just One World

By Hannah Black
The Bali Times

SILAKARANG ~ Last Saturday night my husband Ongky and I decided to have a barbeque in honour of my cousin Eleanor, who is resting with us after a long seven months on the road through Asia. We’ve had loads of little parties and barbeques at our villa in the village, which always includes a mix of my foreign friends and Ongky’s “boys,” all of which have been a pretty good time.

My in-laws, who are now used to a stream of white faces heading through to the back of the compound, welcome everyone and cook up enough rice and sambal to feed an army. My mother-in-law, who is very concerned about me feeding my friends goat food, or salad as I like to call it, makes up a pot of some spicy yellow concoction so we don’t all drop from malnutrition.

Our gatherings start out very organized: local boys outside helping with the barbeque or sitting on mats in the garden smoking, foreigners inside, chatting and eating chips and dip, but somewhere along the way it usually gets all mixed up.

After a couple of hours and plastic bags of arak (rice spirit), the village boys, who claim not to speak any English, start blabbering away and the foreigners, who speak no Balinese, seem to begin to catch on.

The boys, now totally used to me (just another Balinese wife), turn into junior high students around my pretty, foreign girlfriends, whispering to each other in Balinese about them.

By the end of the night everyone is spread out over the grass, laughing and chatting together like old friends. There is no distinction between locals and foreigners and no shyness about speaking in broken English, Balinese or Indonesian.

After last weekend’s party I started thinking a lot about the very real gap between the average Balinese villager and the many foreigners who live here. My life in the compound is a lifestyle that very few foreigners choose and I sometimes feel almost torn between my compound life and my life outside the village.

It feels as though when I’m in the village, I’m just another villager, but when I’m having lunch or a drink in a Seminyak or Ubud café, I’m just another foreigner.

Before I married Ongky, I knew from meeting other foreign women married to Balinese men that to most locals I would always be another tourist needing transport or a four-day-old English newspaper, so usually it doesn’t really affect me.

However, one day in a month perhaps I pray to wake up six inches shorter, brown-skinned and -eyed and black-silky haired just so I can walk around undetected for a whole day. I want to be insignificant and go about my supermarket shopping without the fruit boy asking where I’m from or the parking man wanting to know where I’m staying.

I understand 100 percent that this is the lifestyle I have chosen and I am incredibly lucky to live in one of the world’s top tourist destinations, but some days I feel like I should wear a sign round my neck saying “I’m from Silakarang.” Thinking about it, I’m sure it would only attract more attention – after all, someone always knows someone from Silakarang, or any other village you care to mention.

I love my village life because I can wander around, in and out of family and friend’s compounds, to the local shops and even to the temple without one person trying to sell me anything. Everyone knows I’m married, have a baby and live in a nice little house behind my in-laws. Most have seen me in my pyjamas bottoms and an old t-shirt at some point in the past two years and have never judged me for my scruffiness.

White or brown I’m very grateful to be safe, comfortable and well cared for and I feel just as loved in my Balinese village as I do back in my faraway village of Peel, Isle of Man.

Filed under: My Compound Life

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