• RH

Fire on the hill

Recently we were told that on the hill in our village Lipah a house had gone up in flames, that the house belonged to Wayan Arya's father, and that there was hardly any money to rebuild the roof. Wayan Arya has been helping us since the beginning of our charity program 'Lunchboxes' to distribute the meals to the old and infirm in the vast hills of our village. Without his goodwill this would have been impossible. Wayan has also been actively involved in the construction of our health post at a greatly reduced daily wage. Of course we don't leave his father out in the rain now, in the truest sense of the word.

I want to get a picture of the situation and ride up the steep road with my motorbike. Already from a distance I can see the house without roof. As I get closer I notice that the ruin has been covered with a blue plastic tarpaulin. A gentle gust of wind and the thin plastic would fly away. Next to the building there is a heap of broken bricks and a pile of partly charred bamboo sticks.

I leave my motorcycle next to the road and balance up the steep hill on a narrow path. It leads past small and big rocks and partly over them. You have to find your own way. The last meters up to the forecourt are like a pre-Alpine climbing tour on a slippery surface. How on earth will frail old people ever be able to leave their homes again, I ask myself a little perplexed and promptly answer the question myself: Never.

When I reach the top, Wayan Arya and his father greet me with the typical Balinese smile that never seems to be superimposed. Together we inspect the house and what is left of it. The attic has caught fire because the father lit an incense stick inside, as he has always done on a daily basis. Then he left the room to collect wood in the surrounding area. Unfortunately, the burning incense fell on a mattress underneath. When the mattress began to burn, it did not take long for the fire to spread in the bamboo roof truss. The whole thing must have burned like a scrawny Christmas tree in February.

The partly blackened walls of the house are still standing. It consists of three small rooms on an L-shaped ground plan. In some places I can look through the unplastered masonry. When I notice this, I remember an old acquaintance, an occasional bricklayer from Naples, who had built me a cozy pergola with fireplace and small walls with granite covering in Zumikon a long time ago. I will never forget his eminently important advice: "A brickwork without plaster is not a wall, but only a heap of stones. It is the plaster that gives the stone bond the necessary strength and stability". If only more Balinese would heed his advice, fewer walls would collapse during the frequent earthquakes. But of course one should not forget that not all Balinese can afford the additional costs for the relatively expensive cement plaster.

The rooms of the house are, as usual in Bali, tiny by our standards. This is supposed to have something to do with the fact that the Balinese are afraid of evil spirits from the sea. Therefore they build small rooms with little furniture, so that the ghosts cannot hide in it. These few pieces of furniture have now become a victim of the flames: the mattress, a small cupboard together with the school diploma of the youngest son, a wooden plate for offerings, which had been in family possession for more than 100 years.

When I take a closer look, I discover that the front of the house is damaged and has been patched only scantily. The damage was caused by the two strong earthquakes in August last year, because no lintel was installed above the windows and doors. Before a new roof truss can be put on, the structure must be professionally reinforced. In the subsequent discussion with Wayan Arya, we quickly agree that the first thing he needs to do is reinforce the structure. He assures me of that. In return, I promise to help him financially with the procurement of the necessary building materials such as bricks, cement, sand, bamboo pipes, roof tiles and nails. But he will have to build it himself.

The next day he brings me a compilation of all the materials required. They cost almost 15 million rupiah (that's almost 1,000 francs). I take him to the nearby building materials store and agree with the shop owner that we will contribute 10 million rupiah, and Wayan Arya and his family the rest.

Soon his father will be able to live under a watertight and safe roof again, which will be especially important when the torrential rain showers, whipped by violent winds, pour down the hills of Lipah in a few months' time. Helping people to help themselves does the trick.