Okay, so in general I don't think of myself as very Texan, but I have these little moments where it flies out of me. I love Styrofoam cups, and boots, and BBQ, and heat, and SONIC DRIVE-IN. Sonics aren't everywhere. Minnesota where I went to college, nope. Chicago where I lived for 5 years, nope. California where I live now, only 3 Sonics. But hot damn on the way to a gig in Claremont, CA I stumbled upon a Sonic. I literally screamed out-loud. It's like discovering a wad of cash in your purse. It's hidden treasure, a magical place where Styrofoam cups the size of my torso are filled with tea and chili cheese coneys the size of my arm are scarfed up.
We had a Sonic right next to our high school. I have memories of leaving rehearsal and going to get cherry limeades and tots. I didn't even realize Sonic would end up on my list of things I miss, but what do you know? Those onion rings are burned on my brain.
So, you can understand my joy, bliss, delight in finding one right before my eyes. On my way back from my show I programmed my GPS to take me back to this blessed spot. I had forgotten to eat dinner, so I was there at the perfect time, hungry time.
I ordered my extra-long chili cheese coney, onion rings, and Route 44 unsweetened ice tea with limes. Sonic was packed! The drive-in filled with people eating in their cars and high school kids in packs eating ice cream. I was flashed back to these moments I had. Nothing to do in Waco, Texas, go to Sonic.
I waited, and waited, and waited. Hunger starting to force me to loose sanity. Well, hunger and a deep love of Sonic. I knew they were busy. I knew they had my order, and rather than press the button to irritatingly inquire, "WHERE IS MY FOOD?!" I instead just sat in my car screaming every few minutes, "Where is my food?!" or "I'm hungry...Bring me my food!" On the few moments I could distract myself, I watched a charming high school couple in an SUV go from lovey dovey to fight with each other to not speaking. Man, high school drama was AWESOME! Over and over I yelled out until finally a car hop showed up with my meal. She missed a screaming bout. Thank heavens.
They got the order slightly wrong, but I wasn't about to send it back when I had onion rings staring at me. My Route 44 was regular sized. The gall of those people. When someone is serious enough to order a Route 44, they mean it. But tea is tea, and that sweet chili cheese coney looked up at me with it's fat face just asking to be eaten.
I'm glad I was alone in the car, for I am certain that if ANYONE had come between me and that dog, I would have eaten them. I am a little lady, but I pounded almost all of it. DELICIOUS. All of my values about eating organic and growing your own food and conscious buying flying out the window sailing around the car hops on skates.
I couldn't finish everything, but couldn't bare to throw it away. So I took it home. What does it say about a person who takes Sonic home as leftovers...? That I am one bad ass mother sonic lover.
For an American I'm not particularly American. For an American traveling in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, I'm SUPER American. I will admit it. I ATE MCDONALDs. I did. I am so sorry, but I just couldn't force another weird egg or strange meat down my throat. Coca-Cola was my best friend, and toilet paper my boyfriend. At the end of my trip I tacked on 5 days in Bali. I foresaw these last four days as a sweet and relaxing journey into bliss. Alone.
I will tell you right now. Elizabeth Gilbert is a liar. Bali on a budget is not bliss.
All the research I read said you need someone to drive you around, a guide if you will. Driving yourself was a bad idea, and everything I read said DO NOT RENT A SCOOTER. Had there been another person with me I might have been more likely to throw caution to the wind and hop on a vespa, but images of my dead broken body on the side of a Balinese back road floated across my brain. My parents sitting at home wondering, why, why oh why did she insist on that scooter. CNN running a "backpacker slain" story in irritating repetition.
I had a theater instructor in college that would visit Bali yearly. He worked with Balinese masks. It was not my favorite class, BUT it was my only connection to Bali. I sent him a facebook message and he sent me the name of Yasa.
It took me forever to get out of customs. Finally I extract myself from bureaucracy and standing among the hordes is Yasa, a good looking mid 30s Hindu holding a sign with my name on it. I walked up and said, "Hi Yasa I'm Gillian."
"You are a girl."
"I thought you would be a man, but you come out, 'Hi Yasa'"
Yasa speaks English pretty well and taught himself. He doesn't however quite understand how to say my name so he just calls me Gill, not Jill, but Gill like on a fish. He was always asking me "Gill, are you tired?" "Gill are you hungry?" Over and over. "Gill did you sleep?" Gill did you shower?" "Gill are you still on your period?" This of course drove me nuts, but I figured out eventually it is a cultural way of asking, "Are you okay?"
One day out of my trip Yasa had been kind enough to invite me to his family’s cremation ceremonies.
The ceremonies work like this. A person dies. They are buried and then a few years later when family has saved enough money they dig the body up, and cremate it and grind the bones into dust. Then they carry the remains around to multiple temples all over Bali so that the spirit of this individual is brought to these temples to worship. It is a Hindu ritual, but apparently Bali Hindu and Indian Hindu are very different. Same gods but different customs, no bindis, different clothes. You know a catholic versus Baptist deal.
The ceremony goes all day. 4am until 12am.
I had to be in traditional Balinese dress. Which means, batik sarong, a batuk this like lace shirt, and a sash. Basically Victoria Secret asked me to model when they saw me, but I didn't have time because I was doing ceremonies.
Did I mention I was on my period? Turns out this makes a lady unholy. You can't enter a temple on your period. The problem was if I didn't go with Yasa I would be stranded in a fishing village in the middle of Bali. So I decided to take my chances with Shivah. I begged for forgiveness and lied. I metaphorically sucked my blood back up me.
No one spoke English except Yasa. When I say the “family” I mean about 30 people. We are in a caravan of three cars, one minivan, one pickup, and the SUV Yasa has been driving me around in. All the women were carrying boxes and banana leaf baskets of offering. So many offerings. Eggs, fruit, live chickens, incense, small banana leaf bowls of flowers. Rice. Rice. So much Rice.
Each temple is passed on through families. So families have been the priest and priestesses for generations of the same temple. It's hard for me to describe what a Balinese Hindi temple looks like, think Indiana Jones, or Inca. It is a stone compound in the jungle. There are different walled areas for different things. Statues galore, all ages old and covered in green moss. Seriously it looks out of Indiana Jones. The weird thing is, these places are super sacred to the people, but there is litter everywhere. It is built into the culture to litter.
So the ceremony starts and the priest begins to make a series of intricate hand gestures while saying prayers, the women are singing chanty music, the offering are all laid around and incense is flowing. Then everyone picks up little pieces of flowers from the banana bowls and holds them to their third eye, lips, and then their hearts. This is done three times and then the priest sprinkles everyone with water and goes to each person, puts water on them and puts water in their hands and they drink three times. I imitated everything that happening and all 30 people watched, rapt to see the American participate. I kind of faked drinking the water for fear of parasite. Then I suddenly became terrified that there was going to be a curse placed on my head. I was trapped between the Gods and a parasite.
At the end of the ceremony they leave all of the offerings at the temple. Which to the untrained eye looks like a whole lot of litter, but I guess to the Gods it looks different.
So then we move on to the next temple, and things repeat themselves. Then the next temple.
It’s at the base of a volcano by a lake.
So it all starts again. However this time it starts pouring rain. I mean pouring. We are all clinging to the sides of the huge temple structures to stay out of the water that is flooding the worship space, which is of course filled with old offering. So that is all floating up as the water is rising. We are trying to use the hutched roofs around the alters to protect us. In shifts people are taken back to the cars under umbrellas.
Then it's off to the next temple. We go through the whole process again. I wait in the car because it pouring still. I do at this point have to pee, and of course there are no toilets. I had watched the women just lift up there skirts and go. So I just went for it. I did okay. I didn't get pee on the sarong. :)
So we finally finish, and then move on to the temple located at the deceased parents' house. So a Balinese house. Oh man. Basically walls, a tiled, floor and a TV. Very little furniture, and dirty. DIRTY. The temple was in the front yard, and the women preformed the ritual while the rest of us sat in the living room on the floor. I spent the next hour being told I needed to eat, but I just couldn't make myself do it. Literally everyone would come over and have a rudimentary conversation with me about eating. I refused enough for them to just run out of time.
Then the last temple, the big family temple, and the rights were again preformed. This time the temple was in a rice field and it was pitch black. The rice field was filed with the sound of frogs. I honestly couldn't tell at first if it was frogs or music. It sounds just like music. The ceremony was finished and the remains were left in the family temple.
Yasa and I then had an hour and a half drive back to Ubud. We start driving and we are trying to stay awake on these jungle mountain roads. Yasa loves English speaking music. So we start to sing. I'm racking my brain for every Beatles song I know. He tells me what he loves is Rock n Roll. I'm trying to think of Guns and Roses songs and Bon Jovi, and eventually we do a rousing rendition on Bohemian Rhapsody. Neither one of us knows the words entirely, nor does Yasa actually know what the words mean, but who gives a shit. We rock it. Guitar sounds and all. :)
Then we ran over a dog.
I know it's a sad detail but I feel like it's important because it feels like Bali in a way. Beautiful moments surrounded by harsh life and death.
We finally make it back to my Homestay. A homestay is a room inside a Balinese home compound. A home compound looks a lot like a temple. Think Indiana Jones. I finally make it into my room and take a shower in the limited hot water.
I pull down the covers to sleep, and the bed is covered in gecko poop. COVERED. There is just nothing to be done at this time of night so I pull out my wipes and just wipe off the entire bed. I begrudgingly go to sleep.
Maybe that’s what happens when you are unholy. You end up sleeping in shit.
Okay, not entirely sure how to feel about this whole Osamabama business. On one level it certainly helps Obama for the 2012 election, but are we really celebrating someone's death? Are we really holding up murder as an act of justice? I heard a US Senator say that on NPR this morning. "This is justice for the victims of 9/11." So what exactly is justice for all the people we have killed or bombed in Iraq and Afghanastan? Should they take out our figure head, Charlie Sheen (jokes!). I mean Obama.
How exactly does our behavior make us different than a terrorist or vigilante? When was it exactly that we had a moment of reflection about our role in the rest of the world's perspective of America? We were one step away from standing in the street holding up our guns and shooting them into the air last night. For us, it was just cell phones and American flags.
The US doesn't negotiate with terrorists, as Tropic Thunder reminds us. So would we negotiate with ourselves? Because we have certainly reigned down terror on a few too many countries (shock and awe anyone?).
I recognize that I really have no concept of running a country. Nor have I ever been directly confronted with Spock's epic statement, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." But I do know that I want to be proud to call myself an American. That assassination is not a celebration, and that justice is not death, but choosing to uphold due process, evaluate the complexity of the story, to be guided by truth reason and fairness. To recognize that villainy is often a question of perspective.
Otherwise how in the world are we going to make sure that our future ends up being like Star Trek. Don't we all want that? The Federation doesn't just run around shooting people. Just saying.