Part I. of II.
Just wait for it…this was one of the most remarkable weekends of my life. For those who wish to strain their eyes for a few paragraphs, please do.!
The clock on my international phone read 8:07am and I brushed over on my pillow case and felt very drained. I wanted more sleep, but my rest was interrupted by late night chants from the nearby Temple and the sound of a hammer inching into the concrete as they continue to build a new compound across the gardens from my apartment. However, I smiled inside as I knew today and the rest of the weekend was going to bring fresh experience and tremendous depth to my time here in Bali. A few more hours of sleep would have been better, but I packed my bags hurriedly and excitedly as I couldn’t wait much longer. My two British friends and neighbors, Charlotte and Sarah and the American, Katie were setting off with me to the 2012 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival…a literary event that I have been eagerly awaiting to attend as I planned my trek across the world months ago.
Our 45 minute drive via motorbike put us in a foreign land. We strayed from the hustle and bustle of our crazy home in Denpasar to a much more charming, peaceful, and calm part of Bali. The Bali you see in the movies, the rice terraces that beg you to walk through them and the people that lure you in with their simplicity and assurance.
We arrived at our homestay and were greeted by two Balinese gentlemen who asked us to remove our shoes. I smiled and awaited our keys to be given to us. Two demon like monster statues were dressed in sarongs at the front, a very common setting for the entrance to places here as they serve as protectors from the evil spirits. They make me laugh as they all have their own personalities with their scary but humorous stares…similar to the gargoyles at the Notre Dame.. The Hindu culture here is so thrilling, so intense and I cannot wait to learn more of the Indonesian language so that I can actively participate in some of the religious ceremonies that have been taking place all over the island since my arrival 8 weeks ago.
Our homestay was off the beaten path and I enjoyed how private our pool and views were. I had my own room and patio for $39, which is actually medium priced for the area but it was worth being off of the main strip where all of the literary events took place. This is SO cheap to us Americans, but you have to remember I am being payed a middle-class Indonesian salary so this was a splurge for me.
We set off right away. Note: I spend a lot of valuable time with these girls here in Bali, but this weekend I wanted to make it more about “my retreat” and my time away from teaching and the crazy days that I have back in Denpasar, so I made sure to plan to “ME” time throughout the weekend.
We had lunch at a lotus garden and then trekked to several museums/art gardens/side galleries and found ourselves engulfed in the scenery, which was the setting for yes…the movie Eat Pray Love. I must say the movie does give the scenery here in Bali justice, but when you make your own permanence here your life becomes its own movie and the character in that movie becomes less significant to me even though I read the book and watched the movie. I like that about my time here thus far. I am living these movie scenes everyday and cannot begin to fathom how lucky and blessed I am to be here everyday, and not as an expat, but as a local and a resident.
We walked several miles, peeking in to several wood carving shops and acrylic art shops. The shopping here is incredible. If I had money, I would be in debt just from buying furniture, masks, jewelry, and ART!! It is so inexpensive and incredible for the American dollar, I can’t even take it. It pains me that I no longer have the luxury to spend a dollar and not a rupiah and I really need to remember what my salary and budgets are, haha, but it’s just so tempting. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely spoil myself here but that’s another tangent for another entry.
Most of the events throughout the 4 day festival entailed workshops with a small group of people gathering around with famous literary figures internationally to work on travel writing, the creative process, food writing, poetry, prose…while other events were book launches where you could have coffee or tea with the writer himself/herself, while other events were free and allowed many different spectators of all demographics and socioeconomic statuses to meet and greet over there one love- literature. That’s where I come in. Some of the day passes were quite pricey for me, but Ithought, well, hell if I attended enough free events it would still get me up close and personal…and that I did!
So, you are probably wondering? How big is this event and is it crowded? Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when first planning to attend, but when I hear the word festival I immediately cringe as I know there will be MANY MANY people there and my anxiety might take over my ability to enjoy it. This was far from overwhelming. In fact the creator and founder of the event takes pride in how intimate it is.
The event was created 9 years ago by an Australian writer and activist who thought that after the 2002 terrorist bombing in Kuta, that Bali needed to have an outlet for the terrible suffering the island and the people on it, faced. She came up with with this event to help promote a sanctuary for Indonesian writers who lived through these moments and could now find their own platform for expressing what happened. This of course was brilliant, because up until that point, Indonesian writers were often forgotten about as most of these talented writers didn’t have the funding, sponsorships or outlets to be given the opportunity to share their splendors. Now 9 years later, this has become the largest and most influential literary festival in Southeast Asia. What a gem to be a part of something so personal and so moving. I can’t tell you how many moments this weekend that I took a step back and thought, wow, I am so honored to be present here.
Mid-afernoon the sun calmed and the breeze picked up in the jungle. I sat in the fields with the girls and sipped my iced latte and didn’t mind the little ants that crawled on us, as we were exactly where God wanted us. All of the sudden a wild dog (Which are usually dangerous here as rabies is the number one cause of death, well besides motorbike accidents on the island) so you have to be very cautious about wild animals near you. This dog, though wild was very friendly and you could tell that he was cared for tosome degree as many people here in Bali sort of unofficially adopt them by feeding them close to their huts or homes, but for the most part they can be abused and very dangerous as they eat other animals and attack people. I turned just for a moment as he initially startled me, but then I was taken aback as he just stuck his whole face in my iced latte. Usually this would make me so pissed off, but you should have seen the smile on this dog’s face. Poor little guy must have been dehydrated as he kept finding stray wine glasses and drinking the remnants. I adopted him for a good 25 mins. When we decided to head out, I purchased the little guy some water and found him some shade….then it happened…the first “Aha” thank you God moment of the weekend. This woman bent down at the same exact time as me and was trying to give him water. She was so charming and witty. She asked if I was a writer and I told her I was an admiring spectator of the event. She smiled and walked away with her friend. Then she turned and said, if I had the chance, to look up her book at the shop. I was so happy…..3 mins later, it occurred to the girls and I that she was the writer that we wanted to see at her workshop as she is a pretty esteemed travel writer from Malaysia. WOW…I ran to the bookstore, bought her book and ran back to see if she could sign it. Not only did she sign it but she asked us to sit with her and her partner to chat. We eneded up talking for a good 45 mins and she was so amazing and so funny. Turns out her partner is a Michelin rated pastry chef in Malaysia. HOLY CRAP!!! I was so blessed to have had those 45 minutes with such amazing women.
My nerves set in. I knew what I wanted to do but I didn’t think I had the gawl to do it. I rushed to an internet café’ and downloaded my old blog to find some of my older poetry as I didn’t have copies of any of my new stuff. I cringed as I knew they were unedited. I only had 2 hours until the International Poetry Slam. Could I sign up? I basically sprinted to the nearby restaurant that was holding the event and asked to speak to the Coordinator. “Ma’am I am not a published poet, nor am I a Slam Poet..I do straight readings, can I still participate?” “Yes, Erin..you will be scored though as this is a competition for the 2012 Ubud Writers Festival Poetry Slam.” Crazy me, prepared. I signed up. The cut off was 30 ppl and I was 23rd on the list. 35 minutes to go and I needed to eat. I was alone and ordered, sat at the bar and stared at the stage and the many people that flooded the restaurant’s first and second floor. No seats in the house. My crinkled up print out from the internet café’ was wet with my palm sweat and drops of expensive coke. I was ok. I was going to do it. It started and the whole thing was just a 3 hour surreal experience. Artist after artist performing their work. 2 mins is all I could have before the buzzard would go off and the guest poet judges would make a score out of 10. Text, performance. Check. Erin you are here for you and the scores are relative. You are not here to compete, you are here to participate, to feel the magic of being in a room with so many respected authors. I felt my nasi goreng starting to wobble in my stomach. Swallow and breathe. Here are Charolotte and Sarah, back from dinner just in time…several performances later and I am introduced. The lights hit, the applause boomed and there I was on stage with my crumbled up printer paper. I introduced myself and just grabbed the mic and felt it, acted it..and holy shit the adrenaline……I did it!!! My Scores out of 10. a 6.7 7.2, 8.4, 8.9, and a shit 0.2 (Story about that later—the guy didn’t give higher than a 2 all night. HAHA. I had gone over my time. I didn’t care. It was done and I felt amazing. What an honor.
The women with whom I met earlier in the night…2 retired British ladies who asked if I was a writer said I could practice my reading on them as they didn’t think they could stay for the whole event. Well sure enough they did..and I felt like I had 2 grandmas on my side the whole night as their cheers almost put tears in my eyes.