By Hannah Black
After three years of being compared to and told about my husband Ongky’s cousin’s wife Sonya, I have finally met her face to face.
She and her husband Kadek live in Australia with their daughter and although they come back to Bali as often as they can, we tend to be away visiting my family in the UK when they are here.
This time, though, they are over for a month; so I’m getting to know Sonya quite well.
From the moment I stepped foot in the village, Sonya, being the other Western wife, was the benchmark for all behaviour, looks, language skills and eating habits.
I’ve never minded being compared to her as until a week ago I’d never met her and therefore couldn’t really tell if I was being insulted or complimented.
Even now I think most people were basically stating facts – for example: “Sonya speaks Balinese, but she can’t speak Indonesian.” “Sonya is loud and you are quieter.” “Sonya loves Balinese food.”
I knew from what people had told me that we are very different characters, and at first it was pretty annoying to be compared to someone else all the time, but I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter at all.
One thing we have in common is the village, and it’s been amazing to be able to share experiences.
I talk often to my husband’s family about the differences between living here and in the UK and US, but I think it is often very hard for them to understand because they haven’t been away from Bali.
Sonya and I have been chatting non-stop about village life compared to our other lives outside of Bali, and of course have a good bitch about things that are annoying here and also the things that tick us off us about life away from Bali.
We’ve been out a few times together and are quite the circus sideshow when Sonya starts chatting away in Balinese. I’m sure it’s been nice for her and her daughter Ida to have my daughter Lola and I around to chat and play with.
Being the only Westerner in a village can get lonely no matter how much of the language you speak and how many family members there are around you every waking hour.
Having someone to go to the spa with and share the duty-free booze bounty with is a definite bonus (for both of us).
It’s not often we get to drink real alcohol as a bottle of any of our chosen tipples seems to run anywhere from US$35 to $60, which is way above our budget these days. So it’s been very easy to sip name-brand vodka and tonics and chat away into the wee hours of the night with our temporary neighbours.
We’ve had a nice run of barbeques the past couple of weeks, thanks to Sonya and Kadek being here on holiday and wanting to gather all their friends and family.
A good barbeque in the village is a fun event as people love to get together and eat grilled food slathered in sambal – the hotter the chillies, the better the barbeque.
And Sonya is renowned for her ability to stomach Bali-hot sambal, unlike me, who ducks out when the food gets too spicy, too greasy or too spiky (durian fruit).
Another thing that’s great is I finally have someone around that sweats when it’s hot. I’ve been melting in the heat the past week or so and as hot as they say they are, the Balinese seem to stay nice and dry while I look like I’ve just climbed out of the shower. Thankfully Sonia is sweating away, which makes me feel much better about my body’s cooling method.
In a couple of weeks my new neighbours will move on, but we’ll stay in touch and will be planning barbeques, trips to the beach with the kids and duty-free alcohol sharing for many years to come.
In the meantime I’ll go back to being the only foreigner in the village – and proud of it.