By Hannah Black
The Bali Times
SILAKARANG ~ It seems the Balinese can turn their hands to just about anything, including construction projects around the compound. Over the past couple of years I have watched my husband Ongky and family members build a barbecue and a fishpond, landscape a terraced garden, erect a TV antenna, lay paths, hook up new electricity lines, reroute plumbing and most recently, cover part of our outdoor bathroom with a new roof.
Tools used in these DIY projects have included hammers, stone chisels, bits of string, sticky tape, kitchen knives, tree branches, breezeblocks and a lot of chicken wire. I’ve cringed as my husband has fiddled with lamps that had mysteriously stopped working, climbed into the roof space to thread wires through the house and superglued various things together, often being sent away for being the “health and safety officer.” I’ve been told off more times than I can count for trying to do things “too properly.”
However, somehow, things always seem to turn out okay. We have a lovely multilevel garden and a fantastic barbecue, shelves that hold books and handmade curtain rails in our daughter Lola’s bedroom. The only real failure has been a now-empty fishpond, which cracked under the weight of the surrounding earth in the rainy season, leaving our fish gasping for air while we were out shopping.
I may often start out skeptical at the beginning of a project, but nine times out of 10 I end up having to eat my words and thank Ongky for his fine work. I’ve never had the chance to say, “I told you so,” and even if I had I’m sure it would have come back to bite me on the bum. Most importantly, no project has ever resulted in serious injury – hold on: must go find some wood to knock on.
The Balinese tend to be resourceful people and are able to use the simplest materials to do a job that could take days and require multiple specialist workers in other parts of the world. Often, as in the case of my new roof, scaffolding or even a ladder is considered unnecessary, as the Balinese seem to be able to scale buildings and balance on precariously narrow walls without batting an eyelash. When scaffolding is absolutely indispensable, it is of course fashioned from bamboo and to the Western eye looks like a deathtrap anyway.
Calculations, plans and measurements are also often thought superfluous. A couple of years ago, when our house was being built, I was told to scratch on the wall with a nail where I wanted my bathroom and windows to be; it was quite nerve-racking, but again it all worked out okay. If something doesn’t quite fit, it’s made to, and if you don’t have quite the right tool, you use the closest approximation; hence substantial gaps in my nice wood flooring around doorframes.
I find projects in my compound are also done at lightning speed, contrary to what most may think about Balinese construction work. A few days ago I pointed at a wobbly bit of step on the way down to our house and low and behold the concrete fairy had it covered by the time I woke up the next morning. Perhaps this is because once Ongky gets an idea in his head there is no discussion, only action. All my “what ifs” and “how abouts” fall on deaf ears, and his plans tend to go ahead with or without my approval.
Women don’t seem to have much say in new additions to the compound, building-wise. In stark contrast to what I’m used to, they are normally left to do all the heavy lifting. I’ve been thoroughly embarrassed by my husband’s aunts more than twice my age carrying stack after stack of bricks on their heads, whilst I attempted one and then bravely two, shortly after which I gave up. I like to have a go and get my hands dirty, and I’m pretty used to being laughed at by now, but it really made me want to scurry off and join the gym.
Whilst writing this article, Ongky, his brother Soling and my father-in-law have set to work on a parking bay for our new car. Just when I thought there was no more room left in our compound, they have magically created a perfect car-sized space tucked in next to the family temple, showing me again just how flexible a Balinese compound can be.
The string, bits of wood and amazingly enough a spirit level have been gathered and the cement and breezeblocks dumped in the road outside our house. It may not be the easiest parking spot to get out of, but I’m going to keep my mouth tightly zipped until it’s finished.