You can go home again (Bali edition)

Even at one o’clock in the morning, stepping off the plane in Bali is like walking into a wall of warm humid air. It takes some adjustment, but at the same time, it felt as though every pore of my skin opened up and said “thank you.”

Other than the fact that my sweet husband had to meet me on the beach at an ungodly hour, it was so nice to be home! While my travels back to the states reassured that corner of my mind that wondered if we could go back again… returning to Bali reminded me as well that home also really is where the family is, where Totem is. She’s our floating home, wherever she happens to lie; we are home for each other.

Bali held yet another homecoming for me. Twenty two years ago, I lived in here while participating in a college semester abroad program with the Vermont-based School for International Training. Yes, it was just as fantastic as it sounds to spend half a year studying in Bali! It was an unforgettable, indelible experience.

One of the real delights in being back was the chance to track down the family who had hosted me, fed me, and made fun of me as one of their own for the months I lived in Ubud.

Yep, that’s me, in 1991. A little chunked out from a semester of dorm food at Tunghai University in Taiwan. The little boy just right of me in the photo, Wayan Manikan, was my little brother in this host family- I’m holding his cousin, who was having a ceremony to mark his feet touching the ground (a big deal, and something that doesn’t occur in Bali until after a child is three months old).

Without an address, I wondered how difficult it would be to find my old family. Armed with a tattered album of photographs I had printed in Kuta in 1991, I followed my nose. I remembered that they were in Tebesaya, one of the 14 villages that comprise what’s known as Ubud. “Ubud” was frankly unrecognizable to me: it wasn’t just the traffic, which was jarring, but the striking amount of development that’s taken place since 1991. I expected it to feel familiar, yet there wasn’t even a pang. What once held small shops now housed glitzy stores (like Ralph Lauren… really?!). We went to a restaurant I recalled because it had been surrounded by rice paddies; it was surrounded by concrete development. The success of “Eat, Pray, Love” seems to have brought a fantastic number of self-satisfied looking Women Of A Certain Age (well, I suppose I’m one of them) to troll the streets for yoga wear, herbal tea, Balinese wisdom and Brazilian lovers. I was at a loss… pusing, dizzy/disoriented, the Indonesians would say.

I walked down the main road in the Tebesaya banjar (neighborhood) away from the hub of Ubud, as the glassy storefronts gave way to warungs and small shops I finally began to get my bearings. When I saw the bale banjar on a corner, I knew just where to go.

How do you return to a family who fostered you, more than two decades later? I didn’t have a mailing address for them (and postal service is iffy at best in Indonesia). This was well before the internet took over and simplified most of our communications. There had not been a practical way to stay in touch, and did not know if they would have the foggiest idea who I was.

Perhaps, once again, I shouldn’t have worried about how hard it would be to go home again. My host father, Ketut, was called back to the compound from work (by a new wife, who didn’t know me), and after a few minutes to feel out our respective memories- we pretty much picked up where we left off.

Reuniting with Ketut
Ketut and me… 22 years later. Oh, I wish I had an old photo of us to compare this with!

It was really special for me to share this reunion with my family. Ketut was as curious to meet them as I was to catch up on his life. To my delight, he was just as I remembered him: friendly, welcoming, jocular- and always, always, with a smile on his face. His son Wayan, that cute little kid in the old photograph, is now in his late twenties, married with a five year old. Unfortunatel for me, Wayan was away, working on a cruise shop out of Panama- but I met his young daughter, and all I could thing was… well… meep! He has a KID! Aging isn’t always graceful for me. Of course he has a child…

The rest of the family had as much meeting Ketut as I did getting to know him all over again.


Reuniting with Ketut
this belly laugh you see shows exactly who Ketut is… a truly fun loving guy

We only had a couple of days in Ubud, so after finding Ketut the first day, we opted to spend all of the second with him before going back to Totem and sailing out of Serangan. Ketut was working as a painter in 1991, but now acts as a tour guide and driver. Lucky us! Quality time for me blended with Bali exploring for the family.

We spent a fantastic day together, driving to see whatever felt important at the time. Long walks along picturesque terraced paddies (I’d spent much of my term learning about wet rice agriculture here), a few obligatory Touron sites (stunning temples, the kids were just getting a little “templed-out”), an amazing lunch at a little warung somewhere in the middle of the countryside.  He talked us through many intricacies of Balinese culture. Why are there temples in the middle of a rice paddy? How is their location chosen? What is the meaning of the black and white patterns found in everything from intersections to the cloth that wraps shrines? He was so very, very good to us.

Once more, I’m reminded it really is possible to go home again, and so very grateful. What a relief, and what a gift!

Ketut Juwet is a wonderful guide. If you’re coming to Bali, he can help you get around too- in comfort, and with great color! Give him a call at 0812 3977 371. His English is fantastic, but besides his good nature, it’s his ability to articulate the intricate aspects of Balinese culture that make him an especially wonderful guide.

10 Responses to You can go home again (Bali edition)

  1. Mid-Life Cruising! May 9, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

    Wow, how nice to re-connect with these people from so long ago! This warms my heart!

    • Behan Gifford May 10, 2013 at 7:34 am #

      thanks Cheryl… me too. it’s overfull.

  2. Skipperette May 10, 2013 at 1:47 am #

    Behan, we will try to connect with Ketut when we arrive in Bali. Thanks for sharing.

    • Behan Gifford May 10, 2013 at 7:32 am #

      Sherry, he’d be a fantastic guide- I hope you do!

  3. The Ceol Mors May 10, 2013 at 6:24 am #

    What a fantastic home coming!
    And seriously, could Mairen possibly be more of a Mini-Behan? No, she could not.

    • Behan Gifford May 10, 2013 at 7:35 am #

      Ha! there are moments when I look at her and think the same thing…but she’s a much more stunning version of my younger self. those eyes, oh man.

  4. judith May 10, 2013 at 7:26 am #

    Isn’t it amazing how everything looks so different when it’s been many years since you’ve been somewhere, and then all of a sudden it just clicks and miraculously your are where you need to be. I think our hearts must take over for our heads.

    • Behan Gifford May 10, 2013 at 8:03 am #

      it’s so true. there’s been a lot of my heart taking over here.

  5. Bill March 21, 2014 at 11:46 pm #

    So I’ve been playing catch up,, having just discovered your (excellent!) blog… First, I was surprised by the coincidence that you were at Gili Air a few weeks after my wife and I went on her honeymoon there. Now, seeing this post, I’m pretty sure my wife and I worked with Wayan on Holland America Line’s ships! When she get’s home from work today, I’m going to ask her to confirm!

    Crazy that a guy from the 3rd most populous country in the world may know this random person from the 4th most populous country, huh?

    • Behan Gifford March 23, 2014 at 8:34 am #

      Hi Bill- now that is a really crazy set of coincidences, wow! Glad you like the blog. I’m so curious to know if that was Wayan Manikan that you and your wife worked with on Holland America. Wouldn’t that be remarkable? Will look forward to hearing back from you!

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