By Richard Boughton
Few men who come to the islands leave them; they grow grey where they alighted.
– Robert Louis Stevenson
One year and a handful of months ago my wife and I had a yard sale and a house sale, sold both house and yard in the bargain, and lit out for the island of Bali, just as Huck Finn had once lit out for the West, a land of greater possibilities and fewer troubles.
We brought with us one boy and 13 boxes. We also brought one dream – that of a simpler, less stressful, less hectic life, where nice homes are affordable, food is cheap and the sky is not cloudy all day.
Things quite honestly were not good when we left America. We were looking for something better, something curative, and figured we would start with paradise.
Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam…
But of course there are no buffalo in Bali. You may find the smaller, distantly related water buffalo, but the buffalo I’m talking about is a powerful, ungainly creature perfectly endemic to the North American continent. As is the American dream. You can take it with you (not the buffalo, but the dream). Any American citizen can. For although it is quite colossal, it is also quite weightless, as easy to pack along as the breath on ones lips.
By and by, we, our boxes and our boy, found a place to stay and settled in for a long new life in our own promised land.
And then my wife went back to America.
This is where my story begins. Marooned on a tropical island, strangers in a strange land, neither of us able to speak more than a handful of words in Indonesian. My wife, an Indonesian, has returned to America while we Americans find ourselves stranded in Indonesia. The fast life in America, the pounding pulse, the maze of freeways, the tachycardia of technology all seem suddenly slow, a stroll in the park compared to the chaos of the Bali road and highway, the tangled mysteries of the simplest necessities, the bewildering Babel of language, the Cheshire grin of a foreign culture. We begin, hardly knowing where to begin.
Whoa, thought it was a nightmare, low it’s all so true
They told me, don’t go walkin’ slow, the devil’s on the loose
Better run through the jungle…
My brain exports words such as these, from the old Credence Clearwater song. My heart knows the tune; my soul knows the rhythm – and both find themselves dazed by the gamelan orchestra, the temple gong, the mournful wail of the Muslim call to prayer.
Trippy trippy trance dance
Hip hoppity funk on a dup tip
With a rubadub soul sip
That, courtesy of the Deee-lite rap group, which suddenly begins to make as much sense as anything else in an uninterrupted land of shouts and bells and motors and jabber.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Or so said the fabled Jabberwocky from the pages of Alice in Wonderland.
A confusion of reference ensues, you see – not only of what is new, but of what is old as the two worlds touch fingers, grope for cohesion, and try to name all the new creatures brought before them.
You do things step-by-step, day-by-day; and what you recognise and know from new day to new day becomes the basis and the substance of your life as it is presently lived.
Were there old times and old places and vast, inhabited lands across the boundless sea? Yes. But it doesn’t matter now. For every marooned man must stare and wait and be numb for a time, sitting out the setting sun on the sand; then rise and turn from horizons and address the business at hand.