At the overwhelmingly beautiful closing party of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival I take a moment to retreat from the music and use the toilet. I’m second in the queue and the woman in front of me is deep in conversation with another woman. The cubicle becomes empty but her conversation continues so I indicate that I will sneak in front of her and she smiles her assent. When I come out her conversation is drawing to a close and I comment “you look so very happy”. She answers “this festival has offered me an opportunity to see that a different life is possible for me. Now I’m going home to work out what that life might look like.”
I am just back in Laos after a wonderful holiday in North Sumatra and Bali. I am living that different life. I don’t know how to use words to express just how wonderful the holiday was so I offer you a few short snapshots that can maybe convey just a little of that wonder.
I’m walking through the jungle. My back hurts and my breathing is laboured, but I am surrounded by green beauty and my spirit is soaring. Suddenly our guide stops. My trekking partner and I follow his gaze up into the eyes of a wild orangutan less than 10 metres away. The experience is gloriously frightening. This orange monkey is big and we are told that he probably wants the lunch that we are about to eat. But we are in good hands; one guide encourages us to stay calm while we slowly walk past the orangutan and the other stays to check where he goes so that we can adjust our route. Thirty minutes later as we eat our (delicious) lunch another family (including an oh so cute baby) come to watch us, but they stay at a comfortable distance.
A few days later I’m sitting in the banks of a river overlooking the jungle with two Indonesian men, eating corn that is freshly barbecued on an open fire. Kendro owns the land that we sit on and he is talking about a school group from an international in Malaysia that is currently visiting the jungle. This morning he saw them dropping plastic bottles on the ground and when he asked the leader to tell the students not to do it the leader was less than responsive. Eman charitably suggests that maybe they don’t know it’s wrong but Kendro screws up his face and says: “I didn’t go to school and I know it’s wrong. If they pay so much money to go to an international school and they don’t know then something is very wrong.”
We talk about their lives for a while and later I ask the two of them what they think about the tourists who visit the jungle from far off countries and specifically if they are jealous of our freedom to travel. They both look at me as if I am crazy and Kendro sweeps his hand across the wide view of river and jungle. “Why would we be jealous? We live here.”
I’m sitting in a panel discussion at UWRF and the jungle seems a long way away. The discussion is about happiness and on the stage sit four inspiring men, each from a different country and a different discipline, talking about happiness. Honestly, the essence of most of what they say I know, but to hear it again in this setting, utilising a blend of poetry, culture and research is wonderful. So wonderful that as I hang on every word I find myself crying big fat happy tears. In this moment I am so grateful for this holiday, so grateful for the opportunity to do my research, so grateful for my life.
I’m sitting in a cafe in Ubud. I have just finished my volunteer shift, helping at a children’s drama workshop conducted entirely in Bahasa. I am energised by the vibrance of the workshop leader and the children. I check my emails and, quietly sitting in my inbox, there is a simple message saying that my research proposal has been approved and I can get my visa as soon as I am back in Laos.