The Powers That Be

Most of the things that we encounter here are interesting and or beautiful. But one exception has been the internet. It’s really flaky. We rely on it here more than when we lived in San Francisco. There it was something that made our lives easier in some ways, or was a fun and interesting perk to enjoy. But here, we really need it to manage our life’s business, and to keep in touch with so many people. Even our phone system is on a VoIP network, predicated on a viable internet connection. Most every phone call that we’ve made has been suddenly disconnected. We’d hoped to Skype or just dial up family and friends more routinely once we got here, but have since let go of that fantasy. Some spots around Ubud provide a better connection than others, but they’re all unpredictable, and we’ve struggled with this in all 3 of our different locations. There are 2 or 3 cell towers within a few hundred yards from our deck, but they don’t seem to matter. Nor does the fact that we’re up in the hills, above most of Ubud. It’s made writing my blog difficult at times -or checking on our finances or bills or email. I will add however, that I love (being forced) to seek out and enjoy the many cafes near and far, just to blog.

The internet here is not the only utility that is challenged. Name another and there are problems associated with it. Our gas canisters can run empty without warning. The dial is outside and dirty and not easy to gauge. One minute we’re boiling hot water and the next we’re just not. It’s taken a while to figure out that each canister lasts about a month for us.

We have a big water tank in the back yard. Like the gas meter, it’s hard to understand and predict just when our well will run dry, but run dry it has, suddenly. When this happens we need to call Kuntia, our property manager (and ultimately the owner, though we rent from a lease holder who lives in Australia). He then calls and pays the water company and this gets everything flowing again. We’ve had our water shut off 3-4 times so far, including a few weeks ago when it was off for 2-3 days.  In this tropical climate, that was a challenge. The experience taught us a new Indonesian word, bau, which means smelly. This time it wasn’t just our own water that was shut off. A terrific -and exciting- storm on the island created a landslide up north that took out some key water pipes. Most of Ubud went without water -at least those homes and businesses without private wells. For us this meant not using the basins or shower or toilets. The only water we had to use was the 2 water jugs that we drink from.

The most common utility failure we encounter involves blackouts, which occur about once per month or two. This can happen because our pulsa has run out and we need to pay for more. The darkness itself is not such a problem because we have lots of flashlights around, and candles at the ready. But our water tank system is run by electricity, so when the power goes off, and as water seeps out from the refrigerator, the basins and toilets, again, stop working. Sometimes regional blackouts occur out of our control, and all we can do is wait them out. We had such a blackout just before New Year’s, and it was a memorable one. We were hunkered down, flashlights and candles in hand, listening to the jungle -and then heard a commotion outside. Loud voices were running past our home, and it sounded alarming. Twice we stepped onto our front porch to try to follow the sounds but could see nothing among the darkened rice paddies. We soon forgot about it and eventually went to bed in hopes that the power would return by the morning, which it did. But as we began our day and met with the others in our neighborhood, the talk was not about the blackout. Instead we began to learn what all that yelling was about.

Our village of Penestanan is a charming village, but has also long been notorious for 2 things. The name itself means Black Magic, and many locals believe in -and even practice- it. Our driver Nick casually tells us amazing stories about such things without a hint of doubt about them -but assures us that foreigners are safe from the evil powers because we don’t believe in it. The second thing that our village is notorious for is expat home robberies (Either in the daytime while the occupants are away, or in the still of the night while they’re asleep). There have been several over the 6 months that we’ve been living here. The 2 most common links between them is either a dishonest worker on the premises such as a pembantu, gardener; or security guard, and doors or windows that are left open or unlocked. There are no guarantees, but we feel pretty good about our safety, employees, and routines.

Turns out that on the night of that blackout, a Balinese burglar from another village jumped over the outdoor shower wall of a house nearby to gain access, thinking nobody was home. Apparently this was the second time he’d done this sort of thing in Penestanan. The occupant’s screams attracted the attention of local villagers who gave chase past our house and into the rice fields, where the suspect was caught and then dragged to the village banjar, or town hall. The Balinese take social crimes very seriously, including those against expats living in their village (we bring in a lot of money). So a Balinese from an outside village trying once again to rob an expat is a serious crime against the village, and this one was dealt with according to old Balinese laws and forms of justice: he was severely beaten, right then and there, and then taken to the hospital in Denpesar, where he died 2 days later. There was no police investigation -we heard that the police were in on the beating, and as far as the village was concerned, the matter was settled right then.

-matt

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