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Bali: The gifts and the lessons

July 7, 2014

During our pre-session meeting Dr. Rose Martinez asked us what drew us to this class, I remarked quite unashamed that for me it was her.  After having traveled to Chile with Rose and getting to know her in and around SOLES for various reasons, I find that her penchant for artistic expression is akin to my own.  We speak the same language. So off I went halfway across the world to soak up what I could of Bali from the person I thought could facilitate it best. My expectations were only to soak in a new way of being, thinking, and seeing the world.  I couldn’t conceptualize what it would be, and that was probably the biggest gift of them all, to go in completely open.  IMG_3477

What I was met with was art everywhere.  In the streets, on the sidewalks, in doors and on door frames, even the meals were plated in banana leaves and garnished with flowers.  Everything was art. Well, everything is art, but there was much more of an appreciate and a noticing of it within the Balinese culture.  It was as if the part of our senses that recognize expression were amplified. There was no white space, not in the paintings, not in the scenery, not in the culture. It was filled in completely and sometimes even colored outside of the lines.  In America there is a high value on structure, order, rules, and predictability.  The first time you drive or ride on a Balinese road you have to throw that out the window, if only for your sanity.  Here, it was different. Here the only rule was expression. Expression of pace. Expression of faith. Expression of culture. Expression of mythology. Expression of gratitude. Everything bursts with colors, smells are more pungent, sounds are more cacophonous, flavors are more complex.  Bali is living out loud.

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Every person is a teacher. Every place is a school. Every moment is a lesson.
~Ibu Sari

There were a lot of touching moments and people that we met in Bali but none affected me quite like meeting Ibusari.  She was a 30 year old divorcee–which is a huge deal in Bali, it ostracizes you in a way because belonging to a family, specifically a man, is really your footing in the community–who was not only running a school for special needs children but she was also empowering women through a women’s center.  She was building community, for me I saw her as a female banjar leader, a banjar is a system of about 120 families that operates like a township of sorts, making decisions for the community through a town hall process where a leader (who is always male) governs the process however it is social not political in nature.  While I’m sure some American “feminists” would scoff at the idea of teaching women sewing or cooking or any other domestic skill, I found it to be beautiful.  There is no perimeter or limit to how to empower a woman, and within this culture knowing how to contribute to their families was of the utmost importance. I, for one, think its the same in our own culture it just tends to look a little different.  But why should there be any shame in developing domestic skill? What she was offering women was an endless horizon.  Learning from her and one another the strength of community, the support you can find within one another, and how far you can move a society when all members are empowered.  It honestly was the first time I ever felt anything remotely close to feminism.  It was liberating to know the power of sharing your story, and helping others to be the best them, whatever that might be having no expectation of the outcome.  It reminded me of Julia Stiles’ character in Mona Lisa Smile.  All that education to be a housewife? No. All that education to have the choice.

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I wasn’t wrong when I assumed that Rose would facilitate learning in a unique way on this trip. What is it going to take for you to become? She would ask us.  Take things in, get emotional, ask deep questions of ourselves, reflect, inquire, swim, dance, talk, taste, and give yourself permission for the full range of human experience.  In so many words, she told us all of this on the trip. There were too many trips, too many faces, too many jokes laughs and moments to recall and recount with words that can never describe.  There were tears left in the Indian ocean, blood left on the beach, conversations thrown into the wind by myself if not each of us. I think it is safe to say we all left a little bit different than when we came.  And I think that’s the point of it all.  What I found I walked away from Bali learning was a little bit about an island in Indonesia, and a LOT about a woman named me.

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