Sunday, August 05, 2007


The Dogs...or, Letting Go (1994)

Dogs on Sanur Beach



I have always been a consummate planner. I don’t believe anything can – or should – be left to chance. Therefore, when I embarked on my fourth trip to Bali in July of 1994, I resembled a walking Wal-Mart, and a portable research library, besides. I arrived at Ngurah Rai Airport with more baggage than most people would have upon their departure, and a head crammed full of facts about Bali – some useful, and some, esoteric. I also possessed a cocky sense of self-assurance. After all, I no longer was a stranger. My level of enthusiasm approached zealotry. Energetic, and optimistic, I held the highest possible hopes for a challenging, stimulating, and mind-broadening adventure. Of course, I was determined to accomplish my goals with me steadily and firmly at the helm.

While in transit to Ubud, Bali’s cultural center, little did I suspect that my orderly perspective on life was about to be jolted to the core. Life-threatening experiences – or what one perceives to be as such – have a way of doing that. It’s amazing what one can learn about oneself. Being out of control can lead to a greater sense of self-awareness as to what one can actually control, and what can – or must – be left to chance. This self-knowledge leads to flexibility that, in turn, leads to self-growth. I grew up that first night on Bali, and all on account of the dogs.

The summer before, I had reflected on Balinese dogs: “One of the most visibly manifested forms of bad karma can be observed in Balinese dogs. These poor ‘mangy curs,’ as I like to refer to them, are dirty, hungry, and often have ugly sores on their bodies. Worst of all, they have the saddest-looking eyes I have ever seen on either man or beast. It’s almost as if they know they are bad spirits who have been reincarnated in this shameful fashion in order to atone for their past sins.” The Balinese either ignore the dogs or keep them at arm’s length, at best. I had seen very few healthy, well-groomed canines on Bali. The sight of these creatures had always saddened me. Until the night of my triumphal return, that is.

I had a room reservation at a hotel in Mas, a village known for its woodcarving. As lovely as the hotel was, it was about six miles from Ubud. Both exhilarated and exhausted, still mildly jet-lagged in spite of a two-day stopover in Singapore, I somehow managed to remember that a confrontation would have done me irreparable harm in the eyes of the Balinese. Therefore, as nicely and apologetically as I could, I explained my plight to the hotel staff. I wanted – I needed – to be within walking distance of Ubud. Fortunately, the manager’s wife worked at just such a place! One brief phone call ended my – and everyone else’s – discomfiture. The nature of the Balinese is such that everyone in the vicinity had taken an interest in my predicament. In his or her own way, each person had contributed to the solution. True to form, the taxi driver had not departed. He drove me to the Pondok Impian (“Sleeping House”).

It was after eight p.m. already and quite dark. The genial staff even gave me a room without making an imprint of my credit card! The upcoming bureaucratic tug-of-war involving my voucher did not concern me. I was just delighted to have arrived. I had already adapted. I had already started to grow! I felt buoyant. I was hungry. I wanted to celebrate my good fortune with a nice dinner. On the way to the hotel I had spotted a place called the Kokokan Club. It turned out to be a lovely Thai restaurant. By the time I finished eating, it was about nine-thirty to ten p.m. I started to head back to the Pondok Impian.

There were very few lights along the road. I used my flashlight to guide the way. I was all but humming to myself. I felt so good, so pleased with the successful resolution of what had earlier seemed to be an insurmountable problem. All I wanted now was a good night’s sleep.

The dogs appeared as if from nowhere. I couldn’t see them, but I heard them. They were growling – a low, menacing, guttural noise. Right at my heels, a huge pack of them – for all I knew – were almost running over me! I could almost feel their breath on my ankles. Never have I been so scared in all my life! “They’re going to bite me, and then I’ll get rabies, go mad, and die!” raced through my head. The “fight or flee” instinct overtook me. I couldn’t fight, so I fled… toward the closest lights I saw.

My heart was pounding. However, I knew the most important thing was for me to get out of the dogs’ way! The closer I got to the lights, the more I sensed I wasn’t being as actively pursued. Rushing headlong into the area illuminated by those lights, I discovered a modern, yet typical, Balinese compound. There was a courtyard surrounded by separate buildings, with each one serving a specific function.

The lights turned out to emanate from a porch that gave onto two small rooms. At least, there were two entrances. The doors were closed. Frantically, I yelled out, “Hello! Is anybody in? Help me!” After doing this a few times and getting no response, I tried the right door. It was locked.

Seemingly afraid of the lights, the dogs no longer posed an imminent threat. However, I knew if I stepped out of the circle of light and ventured forth onto the road again, I would run the risk of becoming their prey once more. I was still so terrified I didn’t even want to be on the porch: I wanted to be inside. I tried the left door. It was unlocked. All thoughts of etiquette aside, I let myself in.

I had never been so happy to enter a room in my life! This little, tiled, brightly lit, room appeared to be the study of a young, modern, Balinese couple. It was a cozy little place, with books in both Indonesian and English arranged neatly on bookcases, a picture of the couple’s beautiful little daughter, many little knickknacks, and even some of the child’s toys and games. The general ambiance of the place was gratifying and comforting. I had found a little home away from home! The only thing that kept this little study from being the perfect haven was the lack of a chair. As I had already resolved to spend the night, the floor would have to serve as my bed. I would depart at daybreak, when, at least, I would be able to see my purported predators.

Safely ensconced in my little cocoon, a new form of fear overcame me. It had finally dawned on me that I was trespassing! Therefore, now possessed with the fear of discovery, I created numerous scenarios and dialogues in my mind, just in case the family came back and found me, an intruder, in their house. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” goes the old adage. When one finds oneself in what one perceives to be dire circumstances, one doesn’t notice the passage of time, either. Glancing at my watch, I was astonished to discover it was almost eleven p.m.

Fear, anxiety, and frustration were quickly giving way to exhaustion. I was suddenly very tired, yet leery of falling asleep and running the risk of being “discovered.” I decided to write my “hosts” an apology note. Just in case, still “unearthed,” I did manage to “escape” at dawn. With a brown flair pen, I wrote the following note:

Dear Kind Family,

Please forgive my intrusion into your house.

I was on my way back from dinner back to my hotel.

The dogs began to bark – I became very scared that I

might be bitten! I am traveling alone. Once again,

please forgive me. If I did any damage, please contact

me at my hotel.

Georgina Marrero

Pondok Impian

Room 205

I then turned off the lights, lay on the tiled floor, and decided to await my fate. It felt infinitely better to be at the mercy of a Kind Balinese Family than between the jaws of potentially rabid dogs! The next thing I knew, I heard voices. Human voices. They appeared to be young voices speaking in a foreign tongue. Rushing out of the room, I yelled, “Help! Help!” as loudly as I could. The young Balinese couple had not found me. Instead, it was a group of young Dutch tourists. I had never been so happy to see fellow human beings in all my life!

The young men in the group offered to escort me back to my hotel. I did return to the study, however, to pick up my apology note. I realized I needed to keep it as a “memento” of my escapade. En route to the hotel, the dogs barked once again. This time, however, they were outnumbered. As during the daytime, they were more afraid of us than we were of them. I thanked my saviors profusely. If they were amused, they also seemed to realize I had just been through – for me, at least – a nightmarish experience.

Back at the Pondok Impian, I managed to relate my misadventure to the night clerk and a friend of his. Although neither man spoke much English, they were also amused. By the time I returned to my room, even I found humor in the situation! I was, nonetheless, thankful to be alive. I marveled at what I perceived to have been my resourcefulness, my ingenuity, and my flexibility. Twice that first night on Bali I had been flexible. I had adapted as best I could to the circumstances at hand. I had – unwittingly, yet ultimately willingly – let chance work to my advantage. I did grow up that first night on Bali. I discovered that if I am willing to bend my otherwise inflexible will – if I leave something to chance – I am still able to reap the benefits of “a challenging, stimulating, and mind-broadening adventure”… probably even more so than if I remain (or think I am) in total control of a situation. Best of all, I might even have some fun!

P.S. I bent only so much: I never again went out at night alone, on foot, outside the well-lit parts of Ubud. And I probably never will.

2003, 1996, 1995 by Georgina Marrero 1770 words

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