To think about

To think about

The name of the blog

"It was never just an affair" needs to be in quotations, because it was something my ex-husband said to me early on in the break-up. I guess he thought it might make me feel better to know it wasn't just a fling per say, it was real love? It didn't make me feel better. Him ending the affair and being willing to work on the marriage would have made me feel better.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Love, Friendship, and Karma

My mother often reminded me there were three sides to a story: my version, your version, and the truth that lies somewhere in-between the two. Here I am going to tell my version of how I have behaved in a dishonourable manner, hurt someone, helped someone see another way, and been the other woman. I also want to tell the story of how I felt loved again, how a friend and I connected in a way that I had wanted to believe could happen again, but wasn’t convinced would given the dates I had been on. I asked the Universe to give me love, which reminds me of another saying my mother had: be careful what you wish for. I need to tell my side of story partly because I feel I owe my readers an honest assessment of mistakes I make and the lessons I learn as I go. This forum is also how I process what goes on in my life and allows me to step back and analyze a situation from a distance, which hopefully promotes learning. My ego also feels some small need to defend myself from the cyber harassment I am experiencing from a very hurt and angry woman in the United Kingdom. She has every right to feel hurt and be angry with me about a situation I contributed to. And as always, I want to write about the human experience of love, caring, betrayal, shame, disappointment and anger. 

After I chose Bali as my location for my “divorce trip," many, many months back, I contacted a friendly acquaintance I knew that lived there. We had met about eight years ago through a mutual friend and spent a bit of time together, way back then. We had re-connected on Facebook about four years ago, but only sporadically kept in touch. I wanted his assessment and recommendations for Bali and was very grateful for the feedback I got. He told me when he was going to be home during a break from his cruise ship postings. So, taking into account his work schedule, when the rainy season is, and when my crazy busy pet-sitter was available, I booked my month-long trip. I thought I would see this friend once or twice, tops. Just meet for dinner to get some in-person advice on the Island, recommendations for places to go, the cultural norms , etc. 

We met for dinner my second day in Bali and caught up on life. My divorce, his ex-girlfriend, which is how I met him, and his current fiancee. I had actually thought his fiancee was still in town and I was looking forward to meeting her, but she had gone home a few weeks prior. We talked about my plans for Bali. I had an itinerary for the first two weeks, and a two page list of places I wanted to go and experiences I needed to have; the last two weeks were unscripted. We had a great few hours that night and it was good to see him again; he is an incredibly friendly, warm, and kind person. One of those people that no matter who you are, he makes you feel important because he is interested in getting to know you. So of course I wanted to spend time with him; we had fun, had similar interests, and we made each other laugh. For this first two weeks I saw my friend sporadically as I invited him to join me on whatever adventure I was going to have that day, be it with other people I had met, alone, or later, with his best friend. And then one night about halfway through my trip, he kissed me before he left, and everything changed.

I resisted and I told him it was not a good idea, so we talked about that. By this time, we had spent a lot of time talking about our relationships, and I knew that his side of the story was not the glorious in-love, can’t wait to get married version portrayed in the photos on Facebook. I knew he wanted to end the long-distance relationship, but wasn’t sure how or when. And by this time, I knew that his fiancee already disliked me and did not trust me despite never having met me. I knew my friend was struggling deeply with what he had thought was a good relationship and all the plans they had made for the future, but was coming to realize was actually a deeply dysfunctional union with significant problems that he did not want to commit for life too. Their two year long distance relationship, as per his version, was fraught with a previous bout of infidelity on her part, name calling, insecurity, controlling behaviours, manipulation, and lies. Some of those destructive behaviours originated with her, others with him. 

A few days later I left Bali for three nights to a small Island. The time apart was a very lonely three days that I document in a previous post. I came back, and during the next week we spent more time together. His fiancee was always with us, be it because we talked about her, and their relationship, a great deal, or because she was regularly texting him and questioning him about me. By this point she had grown incredibly uncomfortable with me being in Bali, and had banned him from seeing me. He, in turn, started lying. I did not respect or support his lying, nor did I really understand his motivation for it. If he really wanted out of the relationship, it was time, I thought, for them to have an honest conversation. I can only chalk up his wanting to be the “nice guy” and wait until I was gone from Bali as being partially due to his culture, and his honest caring for his fiancees feelings. A week later I left Bali again for three nights to a small Island, and when I came back for my last six nights, and saw him again, I knew I was falling in love. 

That last week alternated between being hell when I was honest with myself about the situation, and glorious when I buried my head in the sand. I had almost daily bouts of sadness, longing to be the chosen one, jealousy, insecurity, and irritation with her intrusion during "our" time together. Oddly enough, I was experiencing some very similar emotions to the time frame after the disclosure, but from a different perspective. I hated the dishonesty of the situation, I adored my friend, I was acutely aware of the fact he was not 100% emotionally available because of his relationship, and I was blissfully happy when we were together. I cried at the airport when I left on May 23, 2014; Bali felt like home, and he felt like home. Ironically, I had again found a hug and a presence that allowed me to feel safe and loved, despite the wrongness of the situation. 

Once I got home, I convinced myself, and him, that we were only friends until he was, if he became, single. I also stressed the importance of him needing time to grieve the end of the relationship. By May 29, 2014, we admitted we were falling in love with each other and had created a bunch of “shit”. We chatted on Facebook regularly, "saw" each other via Skype, and I bombarded him with articles that I read about love and relationships from websites such as psychology today, the lovumentary, and the good men project. As connected as I felt to him, and I believed he was with me, I was never unaware that he was not fully available. I tried to respect his decision to wait, while challenging him on his motivation, and asking him to be honest with his fiancee. 

On June 2, 2014, I received the following message privately (unedited except for the removal of names) on Facebook from my lovers fiancee: 

“You like looking at our photos so you might like the post I have sent G. Just to wish you well with your future G as you are no longer welcome to call me your fiancé due to the fact that you have slept with Rebecca Wissink after declaring your love and loyalty to me WHILST you were sleeping with a women you called Ugly, Obease and not attracted to her. Even swearing on your mothers life that you were committed to our relationship and future,oh yes and you also swore on your mothers life that you were only friends with Rebecca and not interested or sexually attracted to her.I have loved, been truthful, honest and shown nothing but respect and commitment over the last two years to you and trusted and stood by you. To be treated like this is disgusting and I deserve a million times better than a lier, cheat and a good for nothing man like you. Oh yes and she ain't when you said she respected me and our relationship.”

My first instinct was to write this woman and apologize to her, but I was shocked by her attack on me, and the situation in general as I didn’t know what had happened overnight. A few hours later, I found out that the above message, minus the first sentence, was actually her Facebook status. And it was garnering, as could be expected, a lot of attention and comments from her friends. I was stunned that someone would play out such intimate details of their private life in a Facebook status, but more horrified that she was naming people. That killed most of my feelings of empathy towards her. I knew her anger was coming from a place of sorrow and betrayal and pain, and I had contributed to this. I asked her ex if I should contact her and apologize, and he said she would not hear it or believe it and it would probably further antagonize her. Instead, I reported the hateful post to Facebook and it was removed for inappropriate content within 12 hours.

I thought about apologizing to her for quite awhile, and still think about it, and I believe, based on what I observe and am told of her recent behaviour, that she will not be able to hear me, nor believe me. Which is a shame, because based on her own comments to that Facebook status, she seems to think the affair was long-standing, and pre-meditated, neither of which is true. I wish I could offer her some comfort to ease the betrayal but I don’t know if that is possible.  This situation in general, and my desire to apologize to her, has made me think a lot about the situation with M and Stephanie. 

I had wanted Stephanie to apologize to me, and in those early days I remember asking M what kind of a woman was she that she would not face me and apologize for what she had done. I wanted to know how he could respect, and choose, a woman incapable of taking responsibility for her actions. He said she wanted to apologize, but thought it would make me feel worse. I wonder if he told her it was not a good idea to contact me, as G has told me about Suzanne. Stephanie never has contacted me, and now I don’t want her to. I think I would get sick to my stomach if she violated my safe life with her presence. I would probably find it patronizing and not authentic at all. If you are actually sorry for something you are doing, you stop doing it, yes? Which is a huge reason my husbands apologies felt fake to me. This is one reason I can't apologize to Suzanne, other than in this very public forum. If she continues to seek me out, then she can read here that I truly do regret the way things have happened and I do feel ashamed of having anything to do with their relationship breakdown.  I am not at all proud of this story. 

My friend/lover, has assured me over and over again, that I am not the reason they have ended their relationship. I was a catalyst for bad behaviour on both their parts that escalated until the blow-up came that ended the relationship. My presence in Bali seems to have accentuated flaws that pre-existed in their union. I wonder if Stephanie played the same role in my marriage? I have been assured that G did not leave his fiancee for me. I can only hope that is true, because I do not want to be the reason someone ends a relationship. That is just too sad, and I think it condemns the future relationship to a degree. 

One of the messages about this situation that is ringing the loudest in my ears is being grateful that I never called Stephanie out by full name. I am relieved that I did not contribute to any cyber-stalking of her, not that I think my friends would stoop so low. I pride myself on taking the high road in my divorce. I am relieved that I never published her last name or contact details as I now feel the full effect of that vulnerability. I am glad that I never contacted her in my pain or anger, as I have come to realize, many months into the healing process, that in all likelihood, if it hadn’t been Stephanie, it probably would have been someone else. I thought once about dropping off all the wedding photos, play bills, tickets stubs, and cards M had written me over the years on her door-step. Holy crap am I glad I didn’t do that! It has taken me many months to accept that by and large, Stephanie was a symptom of a diseased marriage that only M and I were responsible for.  

On June 14, 2014, the following message (unedited) was posted to my blog for about eight hours before I found it and removed it: 

“Hi Rebecca, Its a shame you don't practice what you preach! You have spoke about beautiful places and people. What your ex husband to be has done to you! Yet you sleep with and fornicate on a level with my friends fiancé! You knew he was engaged, you had commented on her pictures yet you do that to her!! ???  As a women who has been cheated on by her husband I thought you would of had more respect for yourself and for his fiancé!  Look at this way, if he can do it to the women that meant the world to him then he will do the same to you. I have to say I think you deserve it to be done on you again. Traveling to Ubud to find peace has only made you the same as your husband. All the best as Ubud will of also told you about KARMA !!!!”

Dammit, I hope I don’t come off preachy. I don’t intend to preach, I only intend to share my experiences with others who might be struggling with their own challenges after infidelity, being asked to participate in a non-monogamous relationship, or a divorce. I actually want my blog to be positive; a place of hopefulness that promotes growth after a painful experience. 

So let’s talk about Karma. The following is how I perceive Karma:  

Obviously, what I, and my now boyfriend are being threatened with, is the fear based concept of Karma. 

I, instead, choose love-based Karma. I choose to look at a situation, and my behaviour and motives within that situation, context, or interactions with a person, and wonder what lessons I need to learn? I am always trying to figure out what message the Universe is sending me when something significant occurs in my life. To say I have learnt a great deal more about relationships, male/female friendships, monogamy and cheating in the last few weeks would be an understatement. I regret hurting someone and engaging in secretive behaviour that was dishonourable and not consistent with my moral code. Yet, I am grateful for the learning I have been afforded. I have had many moments of being able to put myself in the shoes of either my ex or Stephanie and wonder if this is how it was for them. The short-lived affair that is now a supportive, caring, and loving long-distance relationship is also a blessing in my life. 

Being the other woman has given me a great deal of perspective on motivation for example. I did not seek my friend out for romance, and in fact, rebuffed him several times initially. However, I am a human being that needs connection as much as the next person, and when someone is fun to be with and makes you feel like you are an amazing person, I think it is natural to gravitate towards them. Particularly when one is vulnerable, as I was, after a major rejection that left me feeling very ugly, uninteresting, and unworthy. I have read research that indicates we seek out repetitive “hits” of the hormones and chemicals that are released in the brain when we are connected to another person; this is how human beings bond on a chemical level.  

I have also learned that it is easy to be selfish, especially when that person isn’t “real” and just exists in social media and you don’t have to look them in they eyes. I was selfish in this situation. I found someone I liked, who liked me, and I wanted more and more contact, regardless of how that contact was impacting someone else. I remember thinking how selfish Stephanie must be for taking my husband when she already had her own. And M admitted he was being selfish during his affair because he liked the “intensity” and how it made him feel, so much so, that he didn’t want to stop regardless of the consequences.  

In the last couple of days I have learned that sometimes the consequences of your actions play out publicly, without warning. So I have also learned to increase my privacy settings on my blog, and block people on Facebook. 

I know I am not a predator, I am capable of maintaining appropriate boundaries with married men, and I think the key component to discuss is respect. I have a dear male friend who is married with children, and I care about his wife, their child, and their marriage, as much as I care for him. I have the utmost respect for what they are working hard to keep intact, and I cherish their togetherness. It would break my heart if they were to split up. Therefore, I believe, that under no circumstance, place or time, would I ever violate the bubble that surrounds their family. I think respect might be the difference in how I relate to that friend, and how I violated the engagement of this other man. After talking intensely and incessantly about relationships with my friend for a few weeks, I had zero respect for that union. I wholeheartedly encouraged him to think hard about his relationship long before I ever had any inklings of feelings towards him, or he expressed any interest in me. I was very concerned about how unhappy my friend was, and how mistreated he seemed to be in his relationship. Which leads me to then wonder what M told Stephanie about our marriage? I wonder if it was easy for her to engage in an affair with M, notwithstanding her own open marriage and lack of respect towards monogamy, because of something M was relaying to her about his feelings and experiences within our union? M and Stephanie had also been friends for some time before their affair started, to the best of my knowledge.

Regarding the comment above, “if he can do it to the women that meant the world to him then he will do the same to you,” perhaps he will. What I do know is that in my marriage, I no longer meant the world to M. His world had broadened to the point where another woman, and another relationship, were a viable option. 

I can only learn from what has occurred as I cannot undo it. I can only apologize to Suzanne via this blog for hurting her because I do not want to intrude in her life. I can only hope that Suzanne will one day make peace with the situation for her own good health, maybe learn something about herself in the process, and ultimately, one day, find herself in a much happier place and be grateful that their relationship ended. As it is for me with my ex.

The list of companion articles I could include here are endless, but I found a few and thought they were a good start: 

The movie in your head about the affair is worse than you think it is:

Men can be the victims in an abusive relationship:

Cyber fighting:

Friday, 13 June 2014

Lonely in Bali and my first stalker

“In solitude there is healing. Speak to your soul. Listen to your heart. Sometimes in the absence of noise we find the answers.” - Author unknown because I wrote the name down incorrectly and don’t remember where I read this quote. 

This evening, May 7, 2014, at dinner, I had a devastating pang of longing for love, or even companionship; someone to talk to and share my experiences in Bali with, someone to bear witness to my life. It has happened to me several times on this trip. I fight back the tears and work to challenge and change my thought process. I tell myself to be grateful for what I do have; this wonderful and amazing experience. I remind myself that I do have friends back home that miss me. I remind myself that I have a great son. 

I get quite jealous sometimes of couples I see. Not always, usually I enjoy seeing two people together who are obviously in love or partnered up. It reminds me to be hopeful that I will experience love again. I typically take joy in seeing others in love, happy, content and connected in their intimacy. When I am feeling really lonely or sorry for myself though, I am not as magnanimous.  

And then the Universe reminded me to be careful what I wish for via a local named Roger. First, he approached my table at the beach front restaurant asking for a light for his cigarette. Then he sat down at my table, uninvited, after asking me if I was alone. He wanted to try one of my cigarettes, and then he attempted to sell me a tour. When my food came he left me alone to eat, but as soon as my food was cleared from my table, there was Roger again, promptly sitting himself back down at my table. I find the local Muslim men on Gili Trawangan, like Roger, much more aggressive than the Balinese. They will instantly ask you for your name, where you are staying, and where your husband is. I have never been asked so many times in my life, over a three day period, where my husband was. I am sure that is contributing to my feelings of loneliness, this constant reminder that I do not have a husband anymore, or even a travel companion. Roger wanted to know what I was doing after dinner, and being my usual Canadian self I told him I was going to get a pedicure. He then proceeded to walk me to his friends spa, where he was thanked for bringing me, by name. It was only once I had been handed over to the staff that he left, saying he would see me tomorrow.  

After a lovely and inspiring chat with Amy during our pedicure’s, an American born Parisian contemplating her life at 41, I returned to my bungalow where I was joined at a table in the outdoor eating area by the pool by one of the young staff at the resort. He wanted to know why I was there alone, where was my husband? I don’t know if it was the language barrier, his Muslim beliefs, or his young age, but he really seemed to struggle with the concept of separation or divorce. He said, “Maybe you come back with your husband?” I smiled and said maybe, but shortly thereafter the tears starting pushing their way out of my eyes and I had to return to the still darkness of my room to ride out my grief. Even typing this out a month later is bringing about a fresh round of tears. There is no husband to bring back to Bali. That time, and those memories, are mine alone, forever and ever. 

In the morning, while I ate my breakfast, there was Roger again, as promised. I felt shocked and stalked when I heard my name being called, and I looked up to see the hard selling man about the Island on his bike at the front of the resort. To picture the resort, it is very small, the back to front being only a few hundred feet deep, and maybe a hundred feet wide? Where I was sitting in the outdoor eating area was only about 25 feet from the dirt pathway. Roger came into the dining space and sat himself down again. I looked at the staff to see if they were going to chase him out. Nope. I realized I would have to deal with this intrusion alone. I told Roger that I was not going to purchase a tour from him and I would like to be left alone to eat my breakfast. He said whatever he said, and left. The next day I saw Roger again; this time I was walking the main “street," the only “street” on the Island, and he said hi and waved. I returned the greeting in kind, and was relieved that I was not followed. 

There is a cost to every beautiful and peaceful moment I experience in Indonesia. The yin and the yang of life will appear amidst the luscious smells and the overwhelming beauty here. The reminder that this month long journey to let go and heal is being funded by a divorced. That my ex-husband so wanted to be free of me that he gives me just over half of his salary every two weeks; his offer. That my ex-husband so needed to be released from his life with me that he is offering to leave my pension alone, while offering me 24% of his; again, his offer. He seems willing to pay any price to have me go away, which allows me to travel, alone, on his dime. 

These are sporadic painful reminders to me of the real purpose of this trip; I am not just here to vacation and sightsee. I am not just in Bali to shop and play tourist, or have a fling with a local. I am hear for growth, painful growth, and change. I am here to embrace my single life, which undoubtably requires me to fully relinquish the old me, the idea that I was someone's wife. I am here to do the hard work of having a months worth of dinners in public alone, dealing with aggressive men, answering tough questions about why I am alone, and problem solving money issues alone. I am in Bali to embrace my re-awakening sexuality as a single female. I am away from home and its comforts for a month to be brave and try new things that will broaden my horizons and increase my self-esteem. I am in a foreign land to push my boundaries and step out of my comfort zones. I am here to stretch, explore and nurture my burgeoning spirituality. I am here to be challenged by a different culture and language. I am on this adventure to surprise myself with my strength. I am here to be inspired by the opportunities my divorce is affording me. 

In short, I am in Bali for a month to make peace with my story; to embrace it and to own it.  As I approach the one year anniversary of the disclosure and request for an open marriage, I want to finish grieving and mourning my losses, and transition into a positive lifestyle of loving myself, following my bliss, being wholehearted and vulnerable, being kind and supportive to others, and continuing to take the steps of following my path; walking my authentic path. I have come to Bali to dig deep, find the grief in the deepest reaches of my heart, and drag it out so that I can leave it behind on Indonesian soil.  

It pains me in a way I have no words to capture, the agony of my ex-husband wanting to have nothing to do with me. I am unaware of any words in the English language that capture the way my heart physically constricts and the tears instantly well up when I think of the distance between us. The knowledge that someone is out there choosing to live their life without me has proven to be possibly more significant than the loss of the marriage itself. I thought for 12 years that we were best friends and soul-mates; now he won’t speak to me. The knowledge that one day one of us will die, and the other won’t know, is somehow much more significant to me than the betrayal, sexual rejection, or loss of the marriage. I am still struggling to wrap my head around his choice to walk away and cut off all contact with me. I did the best I could to remain open to contact, to be as kind and understanding as I could muster about his choices, and as generally neutral as possible, but nothing worked. He told me to stop calling; so I stopped. He hasn’t called me since. 

On April 24, 2014, my second full day in Bali, feeling blissful and heavenly, I got my ex-husbands number from our son. I was ready for him to have my phone number and I told him so. I felt comfortable that it would no longer freak me out if his name popped up on my screen, nor would I hope that every beep of my phone was an incoming text from him. I texted M, introducing the unknown phone number, and told him where I was, and that I had thought of him twice the day before. In the morning, I was grateful that he had ended our marriage and I felt incredibly blessed to be in Bali and knew I would not have come alone for a month if we had stayed together. I told him that I had also shed a few tears for him because when the missing him hits, it feels like I stop living for a moment. I told him that I asked the Universe to bless him, which I continue to do and had been doing for some time. I told M that he would forever be a part of my story and that I wished him love and light. I ended with “hugs” and used his nickname for me. 

His response came within an hour: 

“Becca, I don’t know what to say to you right now except thank you. Thank you for being part of me and my life. Thank you for all that you have done for me. And thank you for continuing to care about me as we go our separate ways. I wish you happiness, love and joy as you find your path through life. Now and always.” 

He is still pushing me away in the nicest way he possibly can. The portion of the sentence “as we go our separate ways” makes my nose burn across the bridge as tears are manufactured. 

When I get home from this trip it will be just shy of a year. I will become eligible for a divorce a few weeks later. We have both done our best to remain amicable and agreeable, and should that hold, it will be a paper divorce, so there will be no court date or seeing him ever again. I am told it could still take a few months from the filing of the paperwork. And then one day I am going to get an email, or a phone call, letting me know that I am divorced. Again. I have not made peace with that yet, not even close, but I hope to in the coming months. I know accepting my failure at something that meant so much to me will come, in time. 

I have been home from Bali now for just over two weeks as I type out my handwritten journal entry. I got to a very different place in Bali, or I came to see and understand myself, through my interactions with others, differently. I know I am no longer in love with my ex, nor am I in any danger of taking him back if he asked. I do not want an intimate relationship with M. That being said, I am utterly confused by my emotional reactions and where I do find myself. None of the books I have read, research I have done, therapy sessions or TED talks have prepared me for the cold hard truth of my recent and current emotions: I am deeply saddened by the rejection of me as a person, and the friendship I have offered. I am having a difficult time accepting my place as a ghost in this world; someone invisible to him. It looks and feels like he hates me, but logically, there is no reason for him to hate me? My current negative emotions about the end of my marriage are very selfish and self-centred. It isn’t about M anymore, it’s about me. 

The first photo is the stunning beach on the Island of Gili Trawangan. The second is the main "street" of the Island. And the third is during my last week on Bali, when I was so proud of myself for becoming comfortable riding on the back of a scooter, having learned to ride/drive a scooter myself a few days earlier on the Island of Nusa Penida. 

Some partnered reading: 

A young woman’s month alone hiking: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Can men and women be “just friends?”

For an article that really hit home as my divorce is coming closer and closer:

Can you be friends with your ex?

Moving on:

Monday, 9 June 2014

My impressions of Bali, Indonesia

Late afternoon on the Island of Gili Trawangan and I am splayed out on a double wide teak lounger in front of my bungalow, which overlooks the gardens and pool, at the Gili Palms Resort. There is a fan fashioned into the header above me that sweeps air from side to side over me, breaking the heat for a few seconds at a time. I have scattered sand all over my lounger that I smuggled back from my blissful morning at the beach. I am clad in a simple thin sarong; a deep purple cotton with gold batik on its print. It is fancier than a beach sarong; suitable for ceremony at the many temples on the island of Bali, which I have left and now miss deeply.

Today is Tuesday, May 6, 2014, and I have been in Indonesia, Bali specifically, since April 22, 2014. I will return home on May 23, 2014. Right now, I don’t want to go home. Since my week spent in Ubud recently, I have wanted to move to Bali. I have found another home in this world. I love Bali’s smell. I love how lush and layered the Island is with its flora and fauna overlapping and intertwining with each other in the jungles. I love the colours of the Indian Ocean ranging from pale green to aquamarine to deep turquoise. I love the heat of the sun, the bathtub warmth of the ocean, and the less oppressive warmth of the evenings once the sun has melted below the horizon. It is only once the sun has gone to visit my home side of the world that I stop sweating, and that is only guaranteed if I sit motionless in thought or conversation. 

I love the ceremony, culture and history of Bali. Everywhere you go you observe the offerings made by the local Hindu’s. The bundles of brightly coloured and heavenly perfumed flowers. The incense burnt with the offerings seems to permeate the entire Island, twice a day, for a half hour or so. Sometimes some rice or a cigarette will be offered in the bundle, and I once saw an opened bottle of beer left at a restaurants guard. The bundles are offered as a thanks to the spirits that occupy each piece of land, a building, the ocean, or even a scooter, in the hopes that they are taken care of. 

Bali seems ancient to me. An elderly relative with the lines of a lifetime’s adventures carved into the landscape of facial features. There seems to be long-held quiet wisdom here. Stories to be told, lessons to be offered, wisdom to be absorbed. I came to Bali to heal myself and I believe this location was a wise choice. Here in Bali my connection to my natural surroundings has deepened. I feel my safety in the universe much more acutely than I do at home. I feel my spirituality awakened by the ritualized ceremony I see everyday, everywhere I go. My sense of gratitude for my life’s blessings, and my daily blessings, are so very obvious to me here that I cannot help but be humbled by my wealth of opportunity and privilege. 

Who could come to Bali and talk to the gracious and smiling ambassadors of Indonesia and not be happy? The very act of clasping your hands together at heart centre and slightly bowing your head when saying thank you is a constant physical reminder of the gifts you have received. The act also forces you to slow down and look the person whom you are grateful to, in the eyes.

I am Bule (pronounced boolay), a westerner, and with my coloured purple hair, tattoos, pale freckled skin, and a height of 5’6 for a woman, I stand out as a foreigner. And that is before I have opened my mouth. In the bigger cities or at the temples this draws little to no attention at all. Bali is the most culturally diverse location I have been to in my limited travels. During my first two weeks on the Island, I have spoken to people from Germany, France, South Africa, Japan, Brazil, Peru, America, and strangely enough, the small farming community that I currently live in! That was an odd conversation and made for a good laugh as we zeroed in on our exact hometown (first Canada, then BC, generalized to Vancouver, moving out to the Fraser Valley, and then finally, Abbotsford). During my visit to a night market in a non-tourist town, I received plenty of stares, maybe in part because I was with a local? Being the Canadian that I am, I smiled and waved, and my greetings were always returned in kind. The children are taught English in school, so I got very used to all of the children saying hi and waving to me, even if I was driving by on a scooter. I learned to end the conversation with them there, because very few of them understood me if I went on to ask them how they were. On one of my last days in Bali, at a temple in a non-tourist town, a local woman bumped into me, and apologized, in English. When I turned to her and said, “No worries,” her male companion used that opportunity to take photos of us standing side by side talking. Never have I had paparazzi!

My Balinese friend who lives in said small non-tourist town, who has travelled the world working on the cruise ships, tells me that Canadians, without a doubt, are the nicest and friendliest people in the world. And this coming from a Balinese local where everyone says hello, and at least half of the people ask your name and where you are from, as a starting point to a conversation if you don’t keep walking. If I had stopped and talked to everyone who wanted to have a conversation with me in Bali, I would not have seen half of what I did. My friend has literally seen the world over the last ten years, minus about three continents. He is charming, sweet, friendly, incredibly proud of his culture and heritage, but quite westernized, and thus aware of Bali’s flaws from a first world perspective.

Sadly, I believe Indonesia is considered to be a third world country, and Bali faces significant issues to correct itself and move into a first world standing, but it is close to doing so. The treatment, or complete mis-treatment of animals, is surely my biggest problem given I am a vegetarian, PETA supporting, SPCA donating, animal-loving kind of girl. The horrific state that some animals were in made me wish I had vials and vials of the meds used to euthanize the animals in my country who are loved and suffering. Conversely, I wish I had millions of dollars to swoop in and gather up all the homeless animals that are quite literally starving to death or diseased. Neither of those options are anything other than a quick fix though. My feeding that beautiful black dog at dinner in Sanur isn’t going to save his life after I have moved on to a different town. My dinner companion reporting a sick animal to a local rescue society will not give that creature a safe place to live once he is healed; he will likely get attacked or injured again. In fact, my interference has probably only lengthened the life span that animal will suffer for. It was such a consistent visual issue that most of the time I turned my head, unable to emotionally cope with a problem so insidiously overwhelming, I felt incapable of doing anything about it. The cultural indifference to animals stunned me given the local Hindu’s believe that their homes and boats have spirits that need to be cared for.

The water, used by locals up-stream to bathe in, wash their vehicles and laundry in, and clean out the pig they are going to roast for the ceremonial feast over the next couple of days, will make you sick. It made everyone I met sick. I took preventative E-coli measures and still got so sick I had to go to the pharmacy for antibiotics, and I was only using the water to shower in generally. Some restaurant clearly snuck dirty ice cubes into my drink. Stomach rot is such a common condition it has a nickname amongst travellers: Bali Belly. On the Island, if you remember to, you use the bottled water provided by the hotel to brush your teeth. 

Which leads to significant problem number three; there is no recycling, and little to no proper garbage disposal. Yet, I can only assume hundreds of thousands of bottles of water are consumed regularly by the many tourists that support the Islands economy. Apparently, the locals have forgotten the spirit of Mother Earth in their offerings. I saw empty lots heaping four feet deep in garbage. There are very few to zero garbage cans, there is no recycling unless you are at one of the few Starbucks locations on the Island, but most critically, there is no culture of keeping the environment clean. I have been raised, in Canada, to carry my garbage with me until I can dispose of it properly; I have been raised to recycle whatever I can. When I was a little girl my Mom taught me to cut the plastic that contains a six pack of pop so that birds and sea life don’t get strangled with it. In Bali, there is a culture of littering. Kuta Beach, the primary tourist beach, was one of the most beautiful beaches, yet the filthiest, I have ever seen. Walking along the beach, trying to avoid the surf line of garbage, I could only wonder if there were condoms and needles buried within, a testament to the Vancouver culture I grew up exposed to. It is heartbreaking to me that the locals apparently have no idea of the incredible resources and beauty they have been gifted. I would like to salute Starbucks, who at their Sanur location, had a beach clean up day organized and advertised.

These three problems I saw scar the beautiful surface of Bali and will take significant government intervention, funding, and decades of cultural conditioning to eradicate. Sadly, I have been told by my Balinese friend that the government, which is quite corrupt, has no interest in dealing with the garbage or water problems. If those changes could be implemented, Bali will change, and I am not sure that I want Bali changed significantly? I want Bali to adopt the western values I consider sacred, and leave the rest as is. Is that even possible though? There is a cost, and a consequence, to meddling in the affairs of another nation, and I would bemoan the day Bali becomes so westernized it loses the charms and the quirks that made my experience on that Island what it was. How to have the best of both worlds? For now, until I move to Bali and can work on the ground contributing to solutions, I have chosen to accept the culture as is, with both the good and bad, the charming and the hideous, the warmth and the cruelty, the yin and the yang.