• RH

The Big Day

Finally, the big day arrives. For the first time we are going to distribute our lunch boxes in the hills of Lipah. At noon, as agreed, Ibu Jero Wimega arrives on schedule with the 30 bento boxes, which are filled with rice, fish (tum ikan), vegetable (urab), Tempe, Bali Sambel, and one fruit. Ines has already labelled each box with the name of the recipient and a number. The latter helps those who pack the boxes into sacks to pack them in reverse order so as the messengers don't have to rummage a lot when they deliver them. Wayan Rangsi and Wayan Aria each take 14, and 16 boxes respectively. The latter will make his tour with his motorbike, while the kepala, the head of Lipah, will walk his beat. Komang, our driver, and I decide to accompany Wayan.

It's a sunny day and hot and, after the abundant rain fall of the last days, humid. It almost feels like walking through a sauna. I know I am fit. However, I have respect for this tour. Wayan takes 2 plastic bags with 5 boxes each, Komang takes one with 4 boxes. They are kind enough to spare me the weight, so besides my water bottle and my mobile phone I don't have to carry anything. At the end of the village the terrain is already steeply rising. Wayan has grown up here and he knows literally every stone. So it is no surprise that he immediately takes a short cut, which forces us to teeter on a tiny path over smaller and bigger rocks. He is about 50 years old, tall and slim. He walks lightly in his cheap plastic sandals as he goes up the hill, as if he didn't have to carry 10 kilos worth of bento boxes. Where I must hold on to a rock to steady myself, he walks sure-footed with his upright posture, swinging one plastic bag in each hand. I plod wearily after him.

About 40 minutes later we arrive at our first destination. The old woman, who noticed our arrival from far, quickly unfolds a bamboo mat for us to sit. She is so frail we must take off the lid of the box for her. She takes some rice, kneads some palatable lump and eats. The remaining rice corns, which are still sticking at her fingers, are shaken off. In the back, her husband, who is nearly blind, is sitting on the floor and participates verbally in the meal. After a few bites she closes the lid of the bento box. Komang translates my question, whether she isn't hungry. Yes, she says, she will eat later. I wonder: The kepala has recommended to give just one box for couples, to prevent others, who we couldn't provide with our help, from being jealous. Perhaps, when we have left, I am thinking, the old husband will also get his share. After a short talk with the couple and a pamit dumun, which means goodbye in Balinese, we continue our tour. There are still 13 boxes to deliver, after all. The path gets steeper and steeper and takes us over a small river edged with big rocks, flowing down the dip line, in which children are floundering about in the backed-up water of a pond formed by rocks.

Another 20 minutes and we arrive at the next house where the little welcome ceremony of unfolding a bamboo mat and the Balinese reception are repeated. I try to memorise the short Balinese sentences, but due to exhaustion I keep forgetting them, and, not wanting to leave wordlessly, I must consult Komang time and again. 20 minutes further we get to the street that connects the neighbouring village, Lean, with our village, Lipah, over the hill. From here, the peak of holy Mount Agung can be seen in the west, and Lombok, Bali's neighbouring island, in the east. What a superb panorama, I am thinking, and for a short while the struggle is forgotten. But on we go on the steep road. My hand phone tells me that we are on 209 meters above sea level, although at this point we have probably climbed around 350 meters in altitude difference since we had to go up or down from the road to the houses to deliver the lunch boxes.

It is past 2 pm when we arrive at the house of the kepala. The usual colourful carpet gets unfolded for us to rest a little before the last part of today's climb. The pregnant daughter-in-law of Wayan serves us hot Bali kopi and jaja, which are sweet pastries. I sip my coffee slowly, savouring the breath-taking view to the full. In moments like this I realise the modesty of the people, who are living in these cliffy hills. And how much they love their freedom in their eagle nests up here. So much so they cannot convince themselves to relocate to the coast where their sons are working and living, and where they would have an easier life. Not even when they are sick and frail and can hardly move around the house, they would want to relocate. And I notice something else: the incredible hospitality of the people here. Even if they have little to nothing, there is always something to present a visitor with a coffee, some sweets or crispy popcorn made of home grown corn.

Speaking of corn: While climbing over narrow terraces, which the people have wrested from the precipitous hill, I marvel at the fact that in the rainy season every square centimetre of reasonably horizontal surface is cultivated and vegetated. Among the various leaves of the small plants I recognise corn and I wonder if the other leafy greens around it are weeds. Wayan explains that corn, long beans and pumpkin are planted at the same time together in one spot, with a lot of space between each spot. Why? Because the terraces are often the only connecting path between the widely scattered houses. And to protect the small plants from being trampled, they are planted with quite some space, so that people can step between them. When the corn has been harvested, the long beans will grow up entwining the withering stern. The pumkins will ripen last and all this comes from one little hole in the soil. That's clever, I’m thinking to myself, and this is a highly efficient cultivating method in this forbidding and steep terrain. Every Swiss mountain farmer would gratefully decline to operate under such conditions, even though subsidised, and would scarper to farm down in the lowlands.

After this prolonged break we tackle the rest of our tour, across more boulders and rocks, probably spit out by a volcano some millennia ago. We are conquering the last steep climb to the house of Wayan's mother and his blind father. Since it is already 3 pm the latter has decided to get some sleep. How else could a blind person, although evidently in good physical condition, spend his time up here? My question, if perhaps he would like to listen to some music, is negated. He just wants to be left alone, says his son. Wayan opens the lunch box for his father and explains its content to him. Hesitating, the kaki, which means grandfather, gropes for the little heap of rice and eats a few grains. Then he briefly has a go at the fish and closes the box. He has just eaten a bit, expains his wife, he will finish it later. At our parting she takes my hand and thanks us for the visit and the meal. She still holds my hand when we start to walk down. I feel gratitude. In the meantime, we have arrived at 250 meters above sea level. My hand phone takes its leave with a soft 'See You'. I am kind of relieved it declares its defeat before I do. However, it is a close race. The last two houses are only visited by Wayan and Komang. I want to give my battered knees a break before the long descend.

Komang and I are alone on the way back to the coast. I want to know his impression of people's reaction to the food. He tells me that the people have respect for the unexpected gift. I think, if somebody should have respect, it is us who must have respect for the humbleness and the zest for life of our Balinese friends.

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