Let’s Cut to the Chase and Lessen the Bang

The bang with which the New Year started at Ungasan commenced in the first week of December, when any respite from the cracking thunder that the Gods unleashed from the skies was fractured by the swish and boom of rockets and other pyrotechnics reverberating around the hills of home.

Some of the debris settled on our terrace, after scorching a stone wall. If the rains hadn’t so soaked the island’s pervasive thatched roofing, then Bali may have lit up the New Year night in a blazing bonanza to match that famous but highly controlled Sydney extravaganza to our south.

Our neighbours’ obsession with fire, noise and smoke culminated over Christmas and New Year, waning only at the end of the first week of January. It was like living in a war zone. We felt besieged for the month and wary of venturing outside the stockade lest some sniper’s ammunition hit home.

Cautious and nerve-wracking forays into the battlefield, however, revealed a highly undisciplined enemy to be feared more for its psychological and sometimes substance-induced state of intoxication, its fixation with flouting all rules of the road and common sense, its unruly determination to ignore care for the safety of others and self and its unconstrained access to weapons of dubious accuracy and functionality. This was indeed a perilous and volatile force to be approached with utmost prudence.

On one expedition across the Bukit to Nusa Dua, we saw a baby, too small to toddle, seated at the front of a house, lighted sparkler in tiny hand and ample more in easy reach. The unlit road was littered with abandoned bikes and cars, sprawled every which way, creating an impact-defying obstacle course for the driver. Drat! I’d forgotten the night-vision gear.

The exceptionally slow going was further retarded by a company of disorderly children on about 12 bikes, resolutely committed to retaining command of the full width of the road. Helmetless and unlit, they weaved, wobbled and jerked about treacherously. Some were just too small to control their bikes.

Where are the police when such blatant law-breaking threatens the lives of the kids and others? Who gave them the bikes? Where were the police when illegal rockets and other explosives were being sold on so many street corners? And what utter moron could put a lighted firework in the hand of a baby?

No one minds a good party, but everyone needs to engage their brain so that it is not at the risk of eyesight, limb and life.

Having survived the festive season assault with only badly frayed nerves, sleep deprivation, sensitive eardrums and a scorched wall, I felt strong and resolved, as you do at New Year, to rectify a seething personal frustration of the past two years. I would recommence morning walks around Ungasan, in Badung, the original home of rabies in Bali.

I couldn’t go as far as before the outbreak because, according to the groundsman at my previous destination, there were still many, many feral dogs right there, just over the hill from home. Nevertheless, armed with a sturdy bamboo pole and a watchful eye, I set off to find a suitably demanding route that would not take me far from home and on which I would not meet many dogs.

Cindy the golden labrador bounded out on day one, ignoring the bamboo pole and her minder Made’s call to come home. I should not worry about rabies with Cindy, he said, because she had been “cut” so she couldn’t have babies. What about vaccinations? I insisted. He shrugged. She’d been “cut.” Our banjar gave the same answer to a query about progress with the local rabies elimination programme: “Don’t you worry; the dogs are being sterilised.”

What is this insidious misconception that if you sterilise a dog it is immune to rabies? Bali’s 118 confirmed human deaths from the terrible disease and its uncontrolled spread across the island have proved it wrong. 

Many dog owners who do know that preventive vaccinations are required still believe one shot is enough when (unless it is the newly available French vaccine Rabisin) only a four-course series of injections may be effective. Our health authorities are not educating people whose potentially fatal ignorance is no doubt exacerbated by the ongoing and irresponsible propaganda of some animal activists that rabies in Bali either is being controlled or will be eradicated by vaccinating and sterilising those dogs they might find.

Further proving them wrong is this recently published data from the Badung health office: Number of identified rabid dogs in 2008 – 327; 2009 – 2,918; 2010 – 4,951. Number of recorded human deaths (in Badung alone) over the three years: four; six; and 10.

So much for sterilisation! Wishful thinking is not enough when people are dying horrible deaths and our primary tourism markets are nervous. Cindy’s minder Made, worn down by my insistence that she needed vaccinating, conceded that yes, she’d had the injections. He lied, of course, thinking it was what I wanted to hear.

Some of my greatest wishes for Bali in 2011 are that people take more care of themselves, their compatriots and guests; that kids are kept off the roads; and that everyone starts telling the truth, rather than what is perceived as palatable, on matters of major importance. All that will require more sense and a longer-term view than witnessed to date.

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