Heart of Campus, Green School

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Monkey Bites and Dead Kings

Monkey Bites and Dead Kings

Our overseas mantra has always been, “If it is not a good time, it is a good story” so I guess I can update our blog with a story instead of bragging about more weekends on white sand beaches.

Ethan had been pumping himself up for months over a visit to the sacred monkey forest in the nearby town of Ubud. So, finally one evening we went. We were careful to put away our shiny objects, snacks, and water bottles because we had read and heard that the monkeys can be pretty aggressive about getting their hands on something in your possession that they want. We had watched tourists entering the monkey forest from a viewing platform one day, laughing at women who were getting their skirts pulled down for bananas they had purchased and then tucked away in their bags for ‘later’ and other silly monkey antics, all of it seemingly innocuous. Nonetheless, we kept a watchful eye on our kids while we wandered through the forest and chose not to feed the monkeys just so they couldn’t have a reason to clamber all over us. After a successful visit to the forest, we stood outside the entrance gates trying to decide where to go for dinner. We were with another family new to the area so there was the time lapse of pleasantries and decision making that happens in a relatively new group of friends. Meanwhile Ethan and Jaya (their 4-yr-old daughter) ran up to the viewing platform to look back down into the monkey forest unsupervised. Then we heard a scream…and looked up and saw three monkeys on Ethan (one on his back and two biting his arm). I screamed. Chad ran (better reaction, don’t you think?!?) and a worker at the monkey forest also ran to help out. The monkeys scattered and Ethan was left a bit blue in the face, crying, with some scratches on his right arm and some marks (not punctures) that were obviously from the monkey’s teeth.
Now, many of you know I had a lot of anxiety about moving to Bali with kids specifically surrounding the rabies outbreak that is occurring here among the street dogs as well as the myriad of mosquito-borne tropical diseases that lurk behind every mossie. So here we were, eight days into our sojourn, facing one of my greatest fears head-on. We tried to comfort Ethan who was beside himself (wouldn’t you be?!?), quickly washed his wounds with soap and water and then texted the school doctor about where to go for care. My worst-case-scenario flashed through my mind which was that immunoglobin (the needed injection for post-rabies-exposure which is sometime impossible to find on the island) would be out of stock and we’d be trying to get our passports back from immigration so we could head out to Singapore on a medical evacuation. Of course, I imagined myself trying to get out of Bali but being unable to do so. Thankfully, the worst-case scenario is often the one that doesn’t play itself out (thankfully). Instead, we ended up at 24-hour medical clinic in Ubud just a few minutes away where, much to my relief, they had fast efficient care and a fridge full of rabies vaccinations and immunoglobin (the hard-to-get-sometimes post-bite treatment.) Ethan had his wound cleaned, was pumped full of injections (four in total) and then the rest of the family began our course of pre-exposure rabies vaccination out of sympathy for him and also to protect ourselves from future incidents. (It costs $60 to do it in Bali, over $1,000 in the USA for the SAME vaccination series, but that’s another conversation for another time about our health care system in the USA!) So, arms sore from shots and circulatory systems exhausted from adrenaline surges, we stopped at a scrumptious Italian gelateria on the way home for a full round of ice cream before we all collapsed in to bed, thanking our lucky stars for the series of positive events that fell into place after a scary incident. Needless to say, the shots are a 3-part series, so we returned a week later to get the second injections, followed quickly by a trip to the gelateria (and I’m sure the final round of injections next Tuesday will also include ice cream. It is only fair, right? ) The nuttiest thing that came out of this is what Ethan and Zoe came up with in order to conquer their fears and re-visit the monkey forest. They decided they would only go back if their favorite Uncle Poopie (who is coming for a visit in October) would commit to tying bananas to his shoes and then try to run through the monkey forest while they safely watched from the viewing platform. As much as we’d love to see this happen, we don’t feel like it is fair to expose Uncle Poopie to such a risky endeavor, even for the sake of helping our kids get over their fear of the monkey forest. The most interesting piece (I’m almost done, really) is that the night we returned to the 24-hr clinic for the 2nd round of injections, THREE PEOPLE came in with monkey bites in the 1 hour that we were there! Folks who have lived here for a while have mixed responses to this: some say it is a new issue whereas others admit to knowing a pile of folks who have been bitten in the past. It is shocking to me that there isn’t more care to alert visitors or at least to have people stop feeding the monkeys (you can buy bananas at the entrance)…but enough on that…we learned our lesson the hard way.

Instead, how about more on death and cremation because it is HUGE here. The king of Ubud died a couple of weeks ago. The town has been building this massive elaborate structure with which they will parade his body down the street tomorrow afternoon from the main temple to a secondary one, then cremate it. The structure is so tall that some power lines get removed in order for his holiness to make the journey and 1,000’s of people turn out for the event. School has been cancelled for tomorrow so everyone can go. It is a major cultural event that occurs about every 10 years or so and it just happens to be tomorrow. We’ve been watching the town slowly build up this 3-4 story funeral pyre. It is decorated with masks, gold-looking doilies, elaborate fabrics and layer upon layer of lavish details. I’ll try to send a photo, but I don’t know how close I’ll get tomorrow. We’re meeting some teachers at their house outside of Ubud and then walking in for a gander just because. We all have young kids and likely won’t have much staying power, but we’ll see how it goes…

Meanwhile, school starts Monday. We’ve been working hard to build ourselves as a cohesive team while simultaneously hammering out the details of the 1st week of school and all of the individual classes we need to plan for. Everyone was pretty stressed until today, the 1st day that we finally were given the whole day to just prepare. New parent orientation is Friday, so I’ll be busy with the Middle School students while Chad will miraculously bounce back and forth from his duties in the High School to helping Casey who will be with Ethan and Zoe at orientation. We are the only family here with both parents working at the school (most families have one stay-at-home parent) but so far Chad’s ½ time status has given him the flexibility to be with the kids when he needs to be, so as long as that’s how the school knows it has to be, then things are good on that end.

The kids have really been enjoying aspects of being in Bali and being at Green School that are unique to this particular adventure. When we walk across the footbridge to school they exchange pleasantries with the villagers bathing in the river below, already in Indonesian. They try to catch butterflies and lizards along the trail, love to visit the pigs, turkeys, goats and chickens on the campus farm. They run through the ‘bamboo forest’ in the main campus building and play music on the huge harp or spin in the nutty pod chairs that hang from beams. They helped plant rice on the school farm during orientation and will be learning more about farming/gardening in their pre-school class during ‘green studies’ breakout time. This afternoon Ethan and Zoe went back up to campus to swing and play and they ended up in a loosely organized pick-up game of soccer with some local kids who spoke no English but were kind enough to let Ethan join in, even letting him score goals with his puny kicks into the net, pretending not to get there in time. There’s even a massive mud pit on campus used for mepantigan ceremonies (basically Balinese mud wrestling with a martial arts twist) where the kids much about and look for tadpoles. More on that another time, I imagine.

Here’s hoping your summer is full of ice cream without monkey bites and parades without dead bodies!

Cheers from Bali.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

"Life is really different here." - Ethan

Over the course of the week Ethan has exclaimed the obvious, "life is really different here" phrase.  He then follows it with an explanation about why life is really different here.  We wait for something profound but realize that with his 4 1/2 year old mind, the small differences are the ones that get noticed and the ones that really matter.  The first time it was because he ate mangoes for breakfast instead of berries.  Today's explanation was a bit more complicated, having something to do with how black ants in Bali bite but red ants don't whereas in Bend it is the opposite...but then there was our most recent weekend excursion to Padangbai (East Bali) where all the ants seemed to be biting and some were a strange mixture of red and black, confusing matters for sure.

So, we have had our second successful weekend away at the beach.  The first was to the resort-filled South (Nusa Dua) where we checked into a fancy 5-star resort and played holiday for the weekend in the massive pool, sandy beach front and manicured town.  It was fun but in some ways we felt like we could have been anywhere in the world -- a sort of strip-mall version of the perfect tropical holiday.

This weekend we ventured east to the port town of Padangbai where ferries leave for Lombok and other islands to the east.  Via friends at Green School we were directed to the lovely Puri Rai hotel in 'downtown' Padangbai which consists of one street on a small bay in a tiny town at the base of some lush green tropical hills.  Puri Rai had everything we could wish for and more: sparkling clean cheap rooms, three small pools in a beautiful garden setting and a delicious restaurant on the street side of the hotel.  The town suited us as well - plenty of choices for food, a snorkeling area to the north and a beautiful white sand beach to the south.  We met our new neighbors there (new Green School staff from Vancouver, Canada and their two boys, ages 5 and 7.)  We were also accompanied by our partners in crime, Casey and Mary.  The kids went nuts on the beach together, catching critters in the tide pools, running and screaming from the waves and building intricate sand castles in the shade of the palm trees.  It felt great to be 'away' on holiday again, this time in a quieter part of the island.  Of course we met people who had just traveled down from the North and East of the island who were expressing their dismay at leaving the more out-of-the-way parts of Bali for busy Padangbai too early, but it is all relative and with young kids still getting used to the place it was great to be somewhere that still offered eggs for breakfast and pizza for dinner.

 Life is really different here, especially because I am writing from my desk at the top of the staircase in our bamboo village house with all the noises of the jungle that have almost faded into background music by now.  Our resident gecko is chirping from the high ceiling, the fans are buzzing in circles and the insects, frogs and other creatures that I hope to learn about soon are creating their evening symphony just outside the floor plan of this house (most of the time, except a few occasional passes through our place).  Mary loves to come over and look at our front entrance which is basically a railing with an opening in it and ask us if we have found the key to our house yet.  That's why we picked this place, though -- we're loving being outside all of the time, minus the somewhat difficult critter encounters that come with the territory.  We're certainly learning how to clean up after ourselves to minimize contact. 

An update on our critter friends:
The oracle remains at his/her post in the trees outside our front door (our massive black spider friend.)

Geiko the Gecko is doing his/her daily rounds, eating mosquitoes and pooping freely around the place.
Tolerable, because we know he/she is eating a lot of mossies.

A house lizard was on the door of the fridge the other morning when Chad went to open it and then leaped inside once he/she saw the opportunity.  Chad had to work pretty hard to get it out, too.

Kinky the rat has had less to snack on now that our bar soap is stored in the fridge at night.  Let's hope he/she finds greener pastures down the road.  Otherwise we're resorting to setting a trap, but we're not there yet.

Chad's downstairs right now helping Casey remove what she describes as a 'huge' spider from the top of her mosquito net.  I'll leave the details on that to your imagination and sign off.  Casey is now screaming and Ethan is saying, 'be careful Dad, it might be poison'.

Back to work tomorrow...more on that once my head stops spinning with school-related matters.  For now I'm most certainly enjoying the 'holiday' of this working holiday expedition.  School with students doesn't start for another two weeks, so we are making the most of our summer vacation.


Wednesday, 3 August 2011

First Impressions

How is it possible that each new country has friendlier people than the last?  I can only say that Bali has completely surpassed all other places I have ever been in this regard.  Folks are amazing here.  So peaceful, spiritual, forgiving, friendly, helpful, kind, polite, forgiving (I have to say that twice, being a newbie and a bumbling American), and even funny.

There's something truly magical about this place.  If you have been here and you have visited the country outside of the box hotels on the south coast you will immediately know what I am talking about.  It is in the architecture, the people, the temples, and the daily rhythm of life here.  (Yes, I have what people refer to as my 'arrival goggles' on or my 'honeymoon phase' glasses, but I will continue to wear them for as long as possible!)

The Hindu influence mixed with some Buddhism and Anamism guides everything on this little island.  I was told Balinese women spend an average of 20% of their lives either preparing, delivering, or cleaning up offerings.  Offerings are everywhere.  In front of every house, on decorative platforms at every street corner, home, business, and of course the temples.  You see people in the streets with long sticks carefully removing flowers from the tops of trees to make the offerings, women walking around with huge platters of offerings, carefully placing them in front of everything...we're living right next door to a temple, too, so we here music and chanting every day at 6am and 6pm.  It is also a temple that services a village where apparently cremation occurs on the same day that someone dies (to quickly move the spirit on so it doesn't antagonize anyone still left on Earth.)  We have been here about 10 days now and we have witnessed two cremation ceremonies already.  100-300 people dressed in their finest clothes parade down the street with music, the body, some bamboo to fuel the fire and then they burn the body at the temple while hanging around and singing and chanting.  Once the body is burned they take the simple wooden funeral bed that they used to carry the deceased into the temple and take it to the river to dispose of it.  All of this happens within a block of our house and inadvertently becomes a part of our day if we are home.  The first time I realized where we lived I was simply walking around the neighborhood to catch up with Chad and Ethan out on a Strider bike ride, then realized I was walking upstream against a sea of funeral-goers. 

So, the spirituality piece is massive here.  The possibility of Bali's natural mellowing agents 'taking' to my blood are immense.  So far, so good.  We have had some fun days getting settled in.  We're committed to going to the beach every weekend for the time being, getting to know our neighbors in the Bamboo Village and also getting to know the staff at Green School because orientation has begun (as of Monday, August 1st) so we are 'in it' already.

A few first impressions and a smattering of thoughts to leave here:

Have I mentioned the amazing, spiritual friendly people?  They actually have a rite-of-passage which includes filing down their canine teeth so their smiles are more inviting. 

The kids are loving the outdoor living.  Well, let me rephrase.  Ethan is in heaven here.  He's out the door chasing butterflies with the neighbor kids, watching red ants fight on the floor of our house after his morning breakfast and generally has engaged in all the amazing opportunities related to our 4-star camping housing here in the bamboo village.

Zoe is still asking for her brick house, her red car, her friends and family that we said goodbye to, but she is managing the transition a bit slower in her own way.

We have a resident rat in our house (there had been signs of him, but he has boldly shown his face as of tonight.)  We're trying to decide if we should trap it, borrow the neighbors cat for a while, get a cat or just wait and see.  We'll keep you posted on this...

We also have a resident spider out front.  He is pretty high up in the trees in a massive web and we have nicknamed him the oracle.  Chad takes Ethan outside to ask the spider what to do in times of trouble.  He's big, black, very long-legged and he's about the size of the palm of my hand.  I hope he stays outside!

We have gecko's, house lizards, ants (plenty of these) and a few loud toads nearby.  During the day the walk to work is often deafening with cicadas.  The noises of the jungle are nonstop in our open-air living arrangement but for the most part pleasant (minus the occasional cat fight and confused rooster).

Traffic is nutty (driving on the left side of the road), heavy traffic at times with 10-20 mopeds for every car.  There's a flow to it, though.  No one goes much over 35 mph in any circumstance.  No one ever makes a sudden move, but everyone takes advantage of gaps and there's not a lot of yielding or following general rules of the road.  We have yet to take up the courage to drive (so far we have pieced together excursions with hired drivers) but we hope to buy a van and start driving in another month or so.

The food is amazing.  Right up my alley.  Lots of rice/noodle/veggie dishes with peanut sauces, grilled meat (chicken satay) and roasted corn-on-the-cob carts abound.  There's also tons of fresh fruit that is quickly made into juice at every restaurant and food stand.  Mostly fresh and wonderful foods abound and we have yet to be disappointed with the fare.  Mango smoothies are the new favorite in our house.

That's it for now.  I'm trying to get this blog going so I can share a bit of what is happening here.  So much more going on than what I have written above but I have to start somewhere...