Moments of beauty

Moments of beauty

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Moments of beauty can creep up on you unannounced especially if you are light enough in the heart to have your senses open to such a gift when it presents itself..

This is an ongoing lesson I find – it is so easy to get caught up in planning and scheming and theorising that sometimes you can be so busy projecting into the future that you miss the here and now. But so lovely when you get it right!

In a sense I am even doing it in this moment as I write – projecting with my musings..

What I am actually doing in the here and now is sitting in between two idle luggage conveyors in the foyer of Darwin airport. Its 10.30pm at night, every available nook and cranny is occupied by travellers who are also waiting around for a flight at some ungodly middle of the night hour (mine is at 1.30am, last night’s was at 2.20am – blerg). No doubt some of them are just being good cheap skates and sleeping in the airport to save the cost of a night’s accommodation.

I am admiring of this carpet. It is so kitsch, it is beautiful.

It has undulations of different blues and green to represent water and it is overlaid with juicy green vine leaves, infused with scattered magenta lotus flowers. I gather it is, quite successfully, a view of a pond from above. It is also quite scratchy to sit on.

So if the whole foyer of Darwin airport is a pond, does that mean that as the more energetic amongst us transients and busy airport staff go about our errands up and down the majestic 100m of the building..are we ‘walking on water?’ – it doesn’t feel particularly religious in here it must be said!

Although, admittedly there is something otherworldly about airports – like you are in a little island of international no-man’s land – as indeed you are. The rules are different here. I once heard of a man who had been living in an airport somewhere in Africa for years as some kind of loophole between being a refugee of one place and trying to enter another or some such.. Interesting.. (not that I would want to be him!).

I was noticing the contrast of this carpet when I arrived back here in Darwin at 6.30am this morning to the chipped tiles I had recently walked in Denpasar.

This time last night when I was sitting waiting around there at that airport the atmosphere was different.. Predominately due to the press of people hanging about, hoping to earn a buck by driving a tourist or carrying their luggage, or even just taking the excuse to be Balinese men and sit around talking and smoking – which they seem to do a lot of – the hard day’s work being heightened by the strenuous activity of crying out “Yes!?” “Transport?” “Where are you going? Yes?”  To tourists as they walk by before taking a well-earned break and having another cigarette.

Quite a few men seem to have the important job, once they have been christened (no doubt after extensive training) with a whistle – and when it is really important and night-time – glowsticks! – which deems them traffic conductors. It is actually quite an important task, as unless someone occasionally stopped traffic flow to allow trucks to manoeuvre and so-on the whole island would surely go into gridlock as every driver on the road inched as close to the car in front of them on principle.

The women are also hard at work… Cooking, cleaning, child rearing (although it must be said that Balinese men seem to be endearingly happy to hold babies and coo at them whilst the women are otherwise occupied),  preparing and performing ceremony (which happens a number of times a day),  carrying baskets of rocks on their head as they are doing roadwork, digging sewers, etc etc.

I oversimplify of course – but it is hard as an outsider not to get the impression that the women are really doing all the hard yakka while the men sit around gossiping!

Sooo. I mentioned moments of beauty didn’t I? And how you have to have your eyes open to see them?

Like last night on the way to Denpasar airport I was feeling all excited to leave but also looking about and seeing all the beauty in the chaos. A late night Warung on the side of the big main road, dirt verges and pollution seeping in but in the window displayed delicacies on a balancing act of bowls stacked upon one another to create a pyramid of food from which to choose from. The electric light shining through that display, creating interesting shadows as the owner was wrapping some food in a piece of brown paper for his customer, motorbikes parked out the front and of course an offering of a small woven palm basket with bright flowers and small goodies on the ground outside the doorway, flowers in the windows.

The beauty was unmistakeably there – so long as you were open to seeing it.

We pulled up at some traffic lights and a woman was standing on the median strip with a baby tied to her chest with a sarong. She was looking at the traffic for a moment and I wondered what she was doing until she walked up to someone in the school of scooters idling there and I saw him give her some money. Ah. She is begging.

She felt me looking at her and came and stood by the passenger window across from where I was sitting, just looking in the taxi for a moment or two then in a perfectly understated fashion indicating her baby with her hand thus asking for a donation to her cause.

I pulled out my wallet and was thinking about how I was on my way to the airport and had only limited rupiah left and that so long as I had the 150,000rph I needed to pay departure tax and 80,000 for the cab fare,  I would be ok. I fumbled about and feeling a bit lame leaned across and pressed the button down on the electric window and held out 10,000 rupiah to her. She took it, looked at the note and smiled a little, said thankyou and moved on.

A moment later the lights changed and we drove on. We were coming up closer to the airport, I had wound the window down and was both (as always) exalting in and crinkling my nose at the smells of poverty and verdant life.. Dank water, fragrant flowers, burning plastic and rubbish, perfumed incense and a dozen other contrary scents rolled in and out in random wafts and waves.

We passed a bunch of young guys sitting on a rather flash looking bit of lawn (ie – it was green and bigger than 2sq metres)as we entered the airport grounds and it looked like they were having fun – all cheering on the hero of the moment who was expertly juggling long-neck Bintang beer bottles..

But my mind was still on the woman and her baby.. I can’t help it. I am ashamed to say that I think vaguely suspicious thoughts when I see beggars now and again… It is embarrassing to admit but a part of me wonders – are they really that poor? Do they have some ‘beggar pimp’ around the corner who promptly claims most of their takings? Do they borrow their neighbour’s babies to beg with?! I mean why do they all have little kids? And then, do they not wash in order to strengthen their case?

Awful, awful, awful outrageous ponderings on my behalf I know, I KNOW!! But I just do have those flitted musings when confronted with such a situation sometimes – and as we got closer to the airport I was chastising myself for such uncharitable and no doubt naïve and terribly spoiled thoughts.

I was looking at the situation logically and making myself really think about the fact that whatever the subtleties of this woman’s misfortune may be – the reality was that she was standing in the middle of the busy road just before midnight on a Monday night asking people for money while her baby slept against her. She was asking Balinese people and they took pity on her because within this society she is very poor. Her plight is real.

I am now sitting on the floor in Darwin airport with a load of luggage and she is no doubt again standing in the traffic holding her hand out to strangers.

And she will be tomorrow..And probably the day after that, and the day after that too.

We arrived at the terminal. I paid the taxi driver, bought an extortionate 20,000rph ‘airport price’ bottle of water (cafes also have their own laws at airports it seems) and sat down outside the foyer  on the stoop to watch the people milling for a moment and do my last minute ‘passport and the rest’ check before I went through security and left Bali behind me.

Passport – check

Luggage – check

Jacket for the plane – check

Departure tax… ah. Only 100,000 rupiah. Not the 200,000 I thought I had set aside for the tax…

That 10,000 I gave that lady in the dim light of the roadside traffic light.

It was actually 100,000…

And a big grin broke through on my face – she needed it more than me – slight inconvenience but I could find an ATM and ‘magically’ pull another 100,000 from the machine on the wall. Granted I worked hard for my money – but I also had the good fortune to be born in a country where I could earn it.

To me it was a small but fitting final moment of beauty on the island – though it had been an accident I was extremely pleased with the outcome – I had accidently done a good thing and brought a smile to someone in the process…

A day later again and I am home now. I am cosy in my own bed that has been here all along waiting for me.

This home and bed of mine is in stark contrast to what that lady had been doing at this time a few nights ago. I hope she had a warm, safe place to go when her evening was over, unfortunately, I doubt it.

Other random Beautiful moments during a month in Bali “Island of the Gods”:

  • A motorcyclist and a bus driver laughing hilariously at one another when said bus driver nearly wiped out the motorcyclist
  • Rice drying on roadsides
  • School kids in matching uniforms and hairstyles walking home together enmasse through the streets – unaccompanied by adults – even if they were about 6..
  • Women going about their business whilst effortlessly carrying bowls of goodies on their heads
  • The air getting crisper and cleaner as the bus drove up to the middle mountains on the way to the north.. then slowly growing hot again as we left the magnificent views of the ranges and hanging lake systems behind us
  • The sounds of gamelan practise somewhere or other each night no matter which village you were in
  • A beggar girl skipping along in front of her mother and scooping up sweets from the offering baskets in front of storefronts as they made their way down the street
  • Waiting on the beach in Lovina in a relaxed atmosphere gathered loosely on the sand with tourists and locals alike in wait of a beautiful sunset
  • Sitting in a groovy little beachside café whilst watching kids play in the street and young men fly kites (the walls of which were painted with all sorts of good advice for travellers such as – “do the giggy gig a lot” and “learn from other cultures” – which also had a menu with a photo of the café’s dog commenting “I have lots of children in the village – but it is my owners fault because they didn’t give me condom” ?!)
  • Men wearing flowers behind their ears and sarongs (skirts!)
  • Incredible artistry and beauty in architecture and presentation everywhere you turn – from a bowl of flowers of contrasting colours to the intricate carvings on the doorway
  • Hearing a cover band do a rocking set with fab Balinese accents (in a tiny beach bar which they took up most of the floor space of)
  • Waiting for hours in the sun for the cremation party to arrive – and when it does witnessing the teamwork of the sheer human effort involved in moving great big offerings to the spirit world about with mortal hands
  • Seeing cotton thread getting dyed by plants in order to hand-weave fabric from them. The bowls of soaking cotton covered with palm leaves to keep them protected
  • Never once seeing people in horrendous and outrageous traffic seem to be either impatient nor grumpy with one another
  • Exploring the world on a moped and feeling a part of the thriving press of activity and getting lost and finding myself in a random families compound looking at the leather sandals they were hand painting cause they had a beat up old sign out the front of their house advertising leather goods (and many variations on this moment in the search of treasure)
  • Two gorgeous little girl beach vendors each spontaneously throwing a gift of a beaded shell necklace over my head after I bought a couple of wooden bracelets off them to be friendly (kickass salesgirls they were too). And they told me I was beautiful
  • Seeing an old man hanging out in a side street late at night happily looking after a little tiny baby
  • Drinking a watermelon juice on a hot day
  • Eating Papaya for breakfast
  • Feeling peaceful.

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