Let My People Go….

29 Jul

To my sister who weeps every time she thinks of dolphins and turns into a puddle at the sight of a puppy, these horrific images are for you. Taken at the Burung Pasar (Bird Market), an exotic animal market tucked into the bowels of Denpasar.

Here is what I witnessed.

Lots of Cages….

These largish lizards make a clucking noise at night. The locals eat them as  kind of medicine for the skin and they are very expensive but  I don’t really see why because they are everywhere.

And finally a really sad monkey…

Hope these inspired some righteous indignation.



24 Jul

The flower that you hold in your hand was born today, but already it is as old as you are

– Antonio Porchia

Time is on my side. Yes it is. 

-The Rolling Stones… I mean Jerry Ragovoy…I stand corrected

In the heart of the wanderer, there is always the urge to fight the comfort that comes when time grows slow, faces familar and experiences more sublime. It grows upon one’s soul like vines….or like roots. We become bounded to the places we stop at and it has taken me a long time to understand that this is not so bad.

To pause for a moment in one’s seeking of the untraveled and unknown, to enjoy what is before you and what you know… there is wisdom in this, as there is wisdom in seeking and breaking free from the things that keep us. And in the harmony between the two perhaps there is the greatest wisdom, but I am not so wise.

And just as I begin to embrace the things that bind me here, I must again move on. But not yet. There is time still….

For the things before me and the things I know…

Like walking through the rice fields of the desa (village/neighborhood) in that long hour before the dark when the light is at first golden and warm and things are made golden in it… before it becomes blue, cool and passing. Walking very slowly, where there is just the light and the sound of birds and the wind blowing through the scarecrows, things do not seem so desperate nor so necessary.

And in that long hour, sometimes there is a single voice that rises above the birds and the wind…a love song…. Allahu Akbar… God is good….God is great! All things resonate with these words and with my whole body I can feel it true.

And there is God again in the toothless smile of a 70 year old farmer who stops to talk to me…. In his gnarled hands and burnt face…

And then away from the fields, familiar voices hail me on the road to stop and chat because that is what people do in Indonesia. Stop and chat.

And then away from the desa and in the sea…. sitting astride a 7 ft piece of fiberglass past the breakers, I can contemplate without any thought time kept by the rhythms that move beneath me. And in all that time not thinking, I can begin to understand just how very much alive the sea is, how very old, how it can be angry and how it can be playful. How sometimes if I get it just right we move as one, and how sometimes if I get it all wrong we meet in violence. How sometimes we laugh together, and how sometimes it’s just laughing at me. How there is an ageless wisdom in its constant and never ending ebb and flow, ebb and flow and so on and so forth… until the end. It is monstrous to the point of madness and  there is a great joy in its mystery. In feeling the ungraspable nature of its size and the awe and the fear it brings to the fore. I am beginning to understand it and beginning to understand that I will never understand it and altogether beginning to love it.

And it is wonderful to be not in conflict with time, but rather to submit to its natural rhythm…. When did time become our enemy? In all our hurrying and bustling about when did we forget how to make love to time…and where the hell are we hurrying too anyways?

In the long strolls through the last light and chance meetings, in the movement of the sea and in simply being still and listening…In the sublime rhythms that all to often go unnoticed there resides God and my friends, he is indeed good…with my whole body I can feel it true. be joyful.


16 Jul

Can you guess what this is?

The picture was just to get your attention (but seriously a cold beer to the first person who can guess what this is). This is going to be a serious blog about work….and then some.

In case some of you think that this little venture is all pretty beaches and mystical Hindus ceremonies and surfing and swimming…I would like to remind you why I am here. I am interning for an online microfinance organization called Zidisha that uses a Peer2Peer system to provide low interest loans to low income entrepreneurs.

Are you still reading?

So despite all the stories of intrigue and adventure there has been a lot of work. And in case you doubt me, let me tell you what I have been up to….

Officially titled, the “Client Relations Manager,” it is my job to establish Zidisha’s operations here in Bali. We chose Bali for our pilot program because this is where our verification partner organization is located, but considering the level of development and the over saturation of finance organizations on this island Zidisha will be looking to spread to some of the more isolated islands. So, basically I have been working with our partner organization to establish the foundation for the program and zipping around talking to everyone I can and make contacts in the community.

Finding borrowers for Zidisha’s program has been no easy task. Completely alone, this internship has tested my independent resolve and creativity. I am exploring every way to meet eligible borrowers. Beyond personal introductions through friends, I have been visiting local NGO’s and handing out information packets to almost everyone I have met.

While things were slow at first, I am proud to say Zidisha’s first Indonesian borrower made her debut on the website last week. Dewi Yogasari owns a small business making sandals and shirts. I have met with her and her family several times over this past month and could tell you all about her, but it would be much better to read her own words on the website (www.zidisha.org). Go to lend and scroll down until you find her.

We also have two other borrowers in the wings. One is 28 year old man born with legs and arms crippled. He has dreams of starting a business selling fish.

With more potential borrowers beginning to contact me (instead of me stalking them down), things are finally picking up.

Zidisha is a great program that gives poor individuals a chance to break free from the cycle of poverty through their own initiative and determination. But being here has made me think twice about how we proceed. As in anything, it is important to step back and take a look at the BIG picture. Buckle up or check out, the rant begins…..now.

Development in any capacity is a two faced Janus. While it can mean  better transportation, access to healtcare and education, modern technology, power so on and so forth, side effects may include: cultural homogeneity, social/welfare/income disparity, environmental degradation, constipation, projectile vomiting and death.

The ugly and perhaps unintended consequences of irresponsible development have been made very clear to me here in Bali.The steeped paddies and thick jungles have been chopped down and leveled to make way large glass faced buildings owned by massive international businesses–Starbucks and Billy Bong, French owned hypermarkets like Care-four and the large store chains like Indo and Alpha mart. More and more, people are leaving their villages and their traditional agrarian culture to open small shops in tourists towns selling t-shirts, sunglasses, ripped DVD’s and every other conceivable type of knick-knack. And the younger generation sell themselves to rich western man or woman who are eager to take them under their wing and into their beds.

Tourist flock from all over the world to enjoy the traditional Balinese culture and partake of its wonders and the money they bring has been used to make the places they frequent just like the homes they left behind. Sometimes I walk down the streets in Kuta and feels like I am in Miami beach or some other Western tourist town…is this the inevitable offspring when cultures and blood and money mix.

And while you could argue that all this tourism and development has meant jobs for the Indonesian people, most of the money is funneled into the pockets of the very rich, while the average Indonesian still makes less than $4000 a year (according to the World Bank–the lower class Indonesian makes more like $400 a year). I admit that for many all this development equates to new sources of income and there is a reason why many people from other islands come to Bali, but what is the cost?

And when will it end?  Our entire world economy is based on equations of production and consumption, and if that were to stop then the world would stop and people would go nuts and riot. So is that our fate….to consume and multiply and continue on until what? Viruses do that. Are we a virus?

Maybe I get a little to far ahead of myself here. Let me rein it in a little. What does this all mean to me and what I am doing here. Helping the impoverished people help themselves, addressing poverty, this is a great thing. Zidisha is a great program. But there is a lesson here. Whatever we do, however we proceed, we must do so conscientiously. Because for those of us in the business of development (and really that is all of us), there is a great responsibility on our shoulders. And for me and Zidisha and those who will come after me, it is important that we do not contribute to the futher wreckage of this country or any others…that we support those who are not only interested in augmenting their income but also in augmenting their society as a whole, in maintaining the purity of their people and their environment and indeed the whole world.

I have met alot of people and seen alot of organizations that are doing great things here. Bumi Sehat runs a free clinic in Ubud that offers free pre-natal care and provides health education. They have effectively turned their small village into the cleanest and healthiest in all of Bali. I met a man who is starting his own organic movement and a woman who creates traditional fabric from organic, locally grown cotton. Unfortunately, these folks were ineligible for a Zidisha loan, but I thought it would be good to remind you that there a midst all the plastic retail stores, there is much much good out here.

And…I have ranted for over 1000 words and perhaps I am blinded by my own sense of outrage. If there is indeed some aspect I am missing here (besides my own inherent hypocrisy) I would like to hear it. Thank you if you have made it to the end. It’s starfish. I will quietly step down from my soap box now and resume with my stories of adventure and intrigue.

And then I had religon….

8 Jul

“And then I had a vision, And then I had religion. I could not turn away from these rebels in derision.” (The Congo)

Every day in Bali is a holy one, but July 6th is a particularly holy day.

Galungan, which occurs every sixth months, commemorates the creation of the Universe and the victory of Dharma or Addharma. It is the day when Hindu’s invite the spirits of their ancestors to return home. There they will remain until they are sent back 10 days later on Kanungan.

Kissing Dragons

For weeks before Galungan, people prepare by erecting decorated bamboo poles outside their house called “Panjols” that represent dragons.

The night before Galungan, pigs are slaughtered and prepared for the feast the following day.

Then the day of, there is much dancing and processing and ceremony.

In the afternoon of hare Galungan, after the cock fights, a friend named Ketut brought me out to her village just outside of Ubud. Her entire family lived in a traditional Balinese villa, a small community composed of several houses oriented to the cardinal directions surrounding a family temple in the middle. Everyone from the grandparents to the grandchildren lived in the complex.  They were all very kind and happy and joked relentlessly.

They seemed confused and distraught when I explained to them that children did not live with their parents and sometimes left when they were about 18. They wondered, “What happens to the parents when they get old? Who takes care of them?” I explained the concept of nursing homes. They seemed very disheartned by the idea. To them the family, was the center of the Universe and the glue which held together one’s life. It is funny, that while Westerners feel sorry for the poverty of the poor in developing countries like Indonesia, Indonesians feel sorry for the “poverty” of Westerners. Affluence breeds its own types of problems.

I joined them in the long procession down the small village street where men banged on the

Hanuman himself

gamelon, women danced and the the great Barong dragons marched. My participation required appropriate dress–a sarong (wrap), a sashet of sorts, a traditional shirt and cap.  (See attached)

In the temple, flowers and rice were passed about to be placed in your hair, behind your ears or plastered onto your forehead or throat. Holy water was poured into outstretched hands, that you were to drink. I hesitated sipping the water in my hands for only a moment in fear of adding yet another parasite to my list of companions, but I thought that with proper faith no harm would befall my intestines and so I drank. The water was cool and tasted of roses.Now two days past, I can report that my daily constitutional is indeed normal.

The fast and the feathered

7 Jul

The following images and words may disgust some and piss off others. I accept all commentary .

Cock fights– a gruesome aspect of the Balinese culture– has long been declared an illegal activity in Indonesia. Just being present at a fight could land you in jail.

However, even the risk of imprisonment could not dissuade my curiosity when I saw the group of men circled about a pair of dueling roosters. (It was later explained to me that a special exception to the rule was made for holy days….basically the cops turned their heads).

I wish I could describe what I saw the way Hemmingway describes the beauty of bull fighting. Two roosters locked in mortal combat, jumping and arching and striking deftly with the long blades tied onto their tylons with red string.  Circling, feinting, then coming together in a clash of fury and feathers. And from the temple next door the mad sound of the Gamelon and a lone voice reciting Hindu prayers kept pace for the struggle of life and death unfolding. And when it was over, the loser lay in a crumpled heap, heaving its last breaths and staring into that final abyss as its life blood pooled about him while the victor strutted about with its lion like mane matted with blood.

But if there was any subliminal beauty to be garnished from the scene, it escaped me. There is indeed something grotesque in watching two animals kill each other for entertainment and there indeed something grotesque in my own fascination with the whole thing and all these pictures I snapped and posted here. Regardless here they are and here is the reality. The floor was covered with feathers, and shit and blood and cigarettes, and the birds who failed to kill lay dying and disregarded. Sometimes, the eyes of the dying would dart about wildly at the men exchanging money about him. And I thought to myself what sort of mad desperation, what sort of terror would be running through my head if I lay mortally wounded, while men shuffled about shouting and laughing as if I was not there. But I am a man and not a chicken.

I am filled with mixed emotions and am disturbed by my own apathy.

The Killing Floor

The Victor

The Fury!

Chicanery and Sunshine: Day 3 On the Road

6 Jul

When things are quiet and happy, there just isn’t much to write about.

I spent the day exploring the coast., the ocean, the beaches, picking up shells, swimming among schools of technicolored fishies, talking with children…etc and so on. There was a clear, blue blue sky and everything was filled with the bright joyful light.

At one beach I swam out to a Japanese shipwreck. The old ribs of the great hulk emerging out of the gloom and silence of the sea was haunting. Everywhere there were fish of all sizes, of all colors, and somewhere lurking about was a baracuda. I once watched a special on free divers who could hold their breath up to 10 minutes or so at a time (that might be an exageration). I remember one world record free diver saying that the brain would tell you that you would need oxygen long before your body actually did- a sort of defense mechanism– and that the secret to holding your breath under water was to push through the initial spell of panic after which you would reach a sort of “second wind” that some describe as euphoric. For years I trained to achieve this, but I don’t think I have ever surpassed that initial freakout. I did succeed; however, in being able to hold my breath for quite some time, and finally I had a chance to put this training to good use, diving a good 10 meters down to explore the wreck minutes at a time.

In the evening, I took a long walk along the beach and was accosted by gangs of pitiful looking children selling sea salt. They all had the same pitch, “Please buy salt so I can pay for school.” Traveling in developing countries has taught me that natural reactions of compassion-although a good indication that you still have a heart–can often be misleading and is one of the easiest manipulated emotions. When one thinks he/she is doing good he could actually be doing great harm. It’s not like these kids were running off and getting high on glue (As was the case in Katmandu), but I asked around and learned that while perhaps some of these kids did use the money for school, elementary education was still free. It was more the case that their parents put them up to the job. As one local made the point, “These kids should be playing and studying, not being forced by their parents to sell salt” What got me  was how manipulative it all seemed. These children would approach you with the saddest faces, follow you around relentlessly and ply you with stories of woe and empty stomachs, but it only took a little joking and poking to get them to laugh and smile.

I decided I would not reward artiface or encourage manipulation, but since they were following me around anyways, I might as well teach them something. So along the beach we walked and I gave impromptu English and Math lessons while they taught me some new bahasa. And pretty soon I had a good little gang running along with me, no longer trying to sell me anything but just laughing and be curious and playing as children should be. Then we went for a swim. That was nice and fun.

Col. Kurtz: Day 2 On the Road

4 Jul

On the road again, I sang joyful songs to the mountains which rise to my right and the sea which crashes against black rocks on my left. Along this north coast road, with its quite villages and yet untouched spaces, I feel I have escaped the mark of development that has reached all other parts of the island and feel the joy of being among God’s good things and not man’s.

And then, Somewhere halfway, I came across something strange that forced me to throw on the brakes and turn back. It was a massive complex built on a hill, and you could see tops of the buildings rising over the surrounding wall. Dotting the hillside that led up to the “house” were statues and paintings and one massive reclining Shiva at least 20 feet in length. On the wall itself were the words “Art Zoo.” The gates were guarded by two golden statues of men grabbing their junk, but they were open so I felt that was enough of an invitation. Stepping across the threshold was like falling into the rabbit hole. I was transported from the arid coastline of Eastern Bali into a wacky art wonderland. Everywhere, there were sculptures and paintings…Indonesian faces with exagerated sensous lips, flowers, gods and demons, the sea, the jungle, the mountains, and simple raw ejaculations of color. There were many buildings, and the rooms did not have walls so you could look out onto the seas. Hammocks were strung everywhere, while odd ladders and stairways led to little bedrooms and lookout perches where you could see the jungle spreading out on one side and the sea stretching out forever on the other, and if you squinted you could see the hazy mountains of Lombok in the distance. There was a glorious pool with a tiled floor and the only sound was of the water pouring into it from a spout above.

I wandered about wide eyed for a good ten minutes before I found the proprietor of this strange wonderland–an artist named Symann. He was a large, American man laying in a Hammock, bare chested. A Sarong was loosely draped around his waist and his hands were greasy with blue paint that he rubbed into his chest hair as he spoke. He wore thick glasses that were two small for his face and it made his head look bloated and his eyes large.

Col. Kurtz himself!

He was Kurtz from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or perhaps more like Copolla’s Marlon Brando. He spoke slowly, in an airy, disjointed manner. His thoughts flickering like fireflies and his mind grabbing at them like a child. His eyes would sometimes go very far away and then light up as he would land on some random subject. We spoke of many things—the sensous nature of Indonesian lips, French artists, treking through the Himilayas, the steady destruction of Indonesia and the nature of man. He would say wild things, some I found to be intelligent and some to be just crazy and most of it a mixture of both. like…

“…There are people who walk through my gallery who are brain dead. They forgot how to look at the world. We must learn how to look at the world all over again.”

“Instead of the Japanese enslaving the Indonesians during world war 2, they did it right after when they built their first Toyota plant in Jakarta.”

I left feeling not so much enlightened as confused, and I left questioning my own paths. Wondering if I would ever end up as alone and wild as Symann, wondering if trying to take on that yoke of human society was a foolish thing when I could be lounging in a hammock and discussing philosophy with strangers like Symann. And I wondered if he was happy or if he knew where he was. And I wished that someday I would have a house as grand as his own. If he read this he would probably detest me calling it a house…

On the way out I sang that old song by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, “If you want to sing out, sing out. If you want to be free, be free, because there’s a million ways to be. You know that there are(x3).”

And just around dusk I reached the quite town of Amed and took this picture:

God's great glory....