Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Bali Endings

Is it auspicious that on our last day in Bali we witnessed our first cremation? The lady who braided Dylan's hair said that it was lucky to see one, and today two people were cremated next to a tiny shrine that overlooked the sea. To one side was the shrine, surrounded by four foot high tables overflowing with offerings. To the other, a small line of shacks that housed two food stalls (called warungs here in Indonesia) and couple of clothes stalls where Dylan could get her hair braided. Since the braiding took two hours we had plenty of time to watch the puppies fighting in the yard and the kids rolling in the dirt (or was it the other way around) and see the first of hundreds of scooters arrive with people dressed in colorful sarongs.

Eventually a processional of a hundred or more, each carrying an offering or playing an instrument, surrounded those carrying the body wrapped in a shroud, as they marched to what looked like a small log cabin. It was actually made of green palm trunks and big enough for the body, which was set inside. An enormous propane torch lit the body inside and for an hour we sat there and watched the structure burn. Many of the mourners quickly lost interest and wandered off to grab lunch or sit and visit with friends. One of the deceased was a young woman, maybe in her mid twenties. Someone carried a large picture of her, and a wreath of flowers that said "Surfer Girl" stood next to her pyre. The other deceased was an old man, who was laid to rest in a deer shaped structure.

The only place in America where death and the mourning process is so public and accessible may have been in the jazz funerals of New Orleans, but usually it's a private matter for friends and family. But life is more public in other parts of the world. Newly married couples parade down the street in Italy while onlookers cheer them. School children in Japan start their first day of school lugging all their supplies with them, including a futon, as they negotiate the streets. And in Bali, the whole community (and a few wandering travelers) usher the dead to their final journey as they rise with the smoke above the shoreline. This is why we travel, to witness how (as the Thais say) same, same--yet different we really are.


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