Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Indonesia, Java, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel

The Kindness of Strangers

When traveling, I am constantly surprised by the kindness of strangers. But in Bali, no one is a stranger for long. Indonesia is known as the “land of smiles,” and rightly so. A smile is always returned and immediately followed by the question, “Where you come from?” Before you know it, you have a new friend.

Yansu is my newest friend in Bali. He seemed to take a liking to me during the drive from the airport the night I arrived, and the following day he began talking to me about taking a trip to his local village so I could meet his family and see the end of a religious ceremony that had taken place over the last couple of days.

After sharing our coconut in the afternoon, he said if I wanted to go with him, I should get ready and we would leave at six o’clock. This is the point where I wonder to myself if this is an authentic invitation or if I might be getting myself into a bit of a situation. Yansu seemed harmless though, so I accepted the invitation, and after getting ready, we hopped on his motorcycle to make the 30-minute drive to his village.

Yansu comes from a village called Tegal Besar, which sits east of Ubud and just below Candi Dasa. The village is home to 350 people, and Yansu explained to me that it is a poor village, but one that’s filled with very happy people. We arrived at his home, and within five minutes, I think I had met his entire family, because they all live within the same quarters. His father, who strangely resembled Obama, however, was still working in the rice fields at that point in time.

He showed me around his home and then took me over to the family temple which sat to the back left side of the house. Here, 3 people were praying and making an offering. I sat and watched for a while, before taking a tour of the village and the black sand beach. We ran into Yansu’s uncle and cousin at the beach. They all seemed so excited that I was there to visit and to participate in the ceremony that evening.

From here, we made our way to a local restaurant for Lalapan Ayam. This is a dish of chicken, served with a rich chili sauce and rice. Then, we headed back to Yansu’s home for the festivities. Before I could participate, I had to put on the correct clothes. Yansu lent me a sarong and a tie (amed) for my waist, while his uncle began to explain to me the meaning of the holiday.

I found out that the name of this festival is Odalan. This is a Hindu festival that is held every six months. (Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, but Bali is 95% Hindu). During this specific ceremony, families pray to the God of sun, the God of ground and the God of family (or the family temple), and make offerings of crushed flowers and holy water.

I sat down with the family and town people and participated in the prayers and offerings that were ending the 3-day Odalan festival. I felt so fortunate to be a part of this, but was more touched by how the entire family had welcomed me in. After the festival, I sat with Yansu’s father, uncles and brother and we shared a kopi tbruk, a sweet, strong, black coffee before heading back to ubud. I left with persistent invitations to return for the following week’s full moon festivities.

I arrived back at the guesthouse and sat reflecting on the evening. To me, this is what it’s all about. Bali can be quite touristy and I had the opportunity to step away from it all and really get off the beaten path, thanks to Yansu, his generosity and his pride for where he comes from. These are the moments that separate a visit to a place, from really experiencing a place and another culture- moments that separate a trip from a journey.

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