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.


  1. Durf,
    Finally ran across your blog. I have quite the picture in my head of what you are experiencing. Sounds like you are busily getting settled in your new Robinson Crusoe world. Hope first week of school goes smoothly for you.

    All my best,
    Julie S.

  2. seriously CRAZY! Quinn was very interested in the monkey bite story. Not sure that's going to sell him on Bali...I guess whatever goes wrong, becomes part of the story, right?