• IA

A Village In Mourning

At times it is easy to forget that there are other problems in the world besides COVID-19. Our village was cruelly reminded of this fact: the day before yesterday, two young people from our midst died in a terrible traffic accident. Both were high school graduates on their way to their still closed school to pick something up. They sat together on a motorbike and rode the route from their home to Culik, 10 kilometres away, as they had probably done thousands of times before. On the only dead straight and well paved road in the whole region, they probably put their foot down like all road users. For reasons as yet unknown, an oncoming car suddenly swerved to their side. Frontal collision. Both boys died at the scene of the accident.

Our Wayan happened to be the first from our village to pass the scene of the accident and brought the terrible news home. Since then, the whole village has been in a state of shock. The two boys were very popular, always friendly and helpful, always ready to laugh. Nobody can yet believe that these young lives were so abruptly extinguished. Our Dian is related to one of them, the other one was a direct neighbour of Suseni, Putu Wahiu and Murtini. Today the cremation takes place. The whole village is helping. Our Tim, a close friend of the two boys, helps with the usual fundraising to cover the costs of cremation, the gamelan orchestra and food for the mourning community. Here, as everywhere else, there are rituals that give the mourners a foothold and help them to survive the first days after.

We are as much in shock as our neighbours and friends. But as typical children of the Enlightenment, we soon begin to look for the reasons for the tragedy and above all how it could have been prevented. Two facts immediately catch our eyes:

First: Although riding a motorbike of 125 ccm and more is only allowed in Indonesia from the age of 17, in this region of Bali, even children as young as 10 years old are riding around alone on their parents' heavy bikes. The two boys were no exception and in their case this meant that they never reached the age of 17. Children do not yet have a feeling for danger, here as everywhere else in the world. We all thought we were immortal at that age. That is why there are official age limits, even here. But the Balinese feel a strong distrust, not to say an unhealthy aversion, towards everything the government issues, be it regulations on wearing masks, age limits on driving motorised vehicles or building laws. And since the police in our area are mainly conspicuous by their absence, everyone does as they please.

Secondly, none of the boys had a helmet on. Despite the general obligation to wear a helmet in Indonesia, almost nobody in our region wears a helmet. The reason for this? See above.

Two reasons, which on the one hand explain why the accident happened at all and on the other hand why it was so fatal. Two reasons that both stem from the same evil: the deeply rooted distrust of the government. An evil, yes, but also a logical evil, because trust has to be earned, and the Indonesian authorities have failed to do that so far. Corruption infests all levels and areas of the administration like a cancer with many metastases. Those who pay for it will be proved right. The pragmatic Balinese can come to terms with that, but especially in rural areas, they solely respect the decisions of their village community, which consists of the men of the old-established families (the women in Bali are allowed to vote officially, but the actual decisions are made only by men, who are all deeply conservative and averse to change). Only in theory is Bali a part of Indonesia. The Balinese see themselves more as independent. And because it is against the Balinese nature to tell anyone what to do, chaos and anarchy prevail outside the well-organised religion.

The Balinese are as they are. We admit defeat. Nothing and nobody could have prevented this accident. Nevertheless, it remains a tragedy for friends and family, but especially for the two children who were torn from life far too early.

The text in the picture is Balinese and means: Hopefully they will ascend into Nirvana and get a good place close to God.