But all the fun and games caught up with me after a few weeks. After all those nights of not sleeping and all those days of too much lovemaking, my body struck back and I got attacked by a nasty infection in my bladder. A typical affliction of the overly sexed, especially likely to strike when you're not used to being overly sexed anymore. It came up as fast as any tragedy can strike. I was walking through town one morning doing some chores when suddenly I was buckled over with burning pain and fever. I'd had these infections before, during my wayward youth, so I knew what it was. I panicked for a moment--these things can be awful--but then thought, "Thank God my best friend in Bali is a healer," and I ran into Wayan's shop.
"I'm sick!" I said.
She took one look at me and said, "You sick from making too much sex, Liz." I groaned, buried my face in my hands, embarrassed.
She chuckled, said, "You can't keep secrets from Wayan . . ."
I was in godawful pain. Anyone who's ever had this infection knows the dreadful feeling; anyone who hasn't experienced this specific suffering--well, just make up your own torturous metaphor, preferably using the term "fire poker" someplace in the sentence. Wayan, like a veteran firefighter or an ER surgeon, never moves fast. She methodically started chopping some herbs, boiling some roots, wandering back and forth between her kitchen and me, bringing me one warm, brown, toxic-tasting concoction after another, saying, "Drink, honey . . ."
Whenever the next batch boiled, she would sit across from me, giving me sly, dirty looks and using the opportunity to get nosy.
"You careful not to get pregnant, Liz?"
"Not possible, Wayan. Felipe has a vasectomy."
"Felipe has a vasectomy?" she asked, in as much awe as if she were asking, "Felipe has a villa in Tuscany?" (I feel the same way about it, by the way.) "Very difficult in Bali to get a man to do this. Always the woman problem, birth control."
(Although it is true that the Indonesian birth rates are down lately due to a brilliant recent birth control incentive program: the government promised a new motorcycle to every man who would volunteer to come in for a vasectomy . . . though I hate to think the guys had to ride their new bikes home the same day.)
"Sex is funny," Wayan mused as she watched me grimacing in pain, drinking more of her homemade medicine.
"Yeah, Wayan, thanks. It's hilarious."
"No, sex is funny," she went on. "Make people do funny things. Everyone gets like this, at the beginning of love. Wanting too much happiness, too much pleasure, until you make yourself sick. Even to Wayan this happens at beginning of love story. Lose balance."
"I'm embarrassed," I say.
"Don't," she said. Then she added in perfect English (and perfect Balinese logic), "To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life."
I decided to call Felipe. I had some antibiotics at the house, an emergency stash I always travel with, just in case. Having had these infections before, I know how bad they can get, even traveling up into your kidneys. I didn't want to go through that, not in Indonesia. So I called him and told him what had happened (he was mortified) and asked him to bring me over the pills. It wasn't that I didn't trust Wayan's healing prowess, it's just that this was really serious pain . . .
She said, "You don't need Western pills." "But maybe it's better, just to be safe . . ."
"Give two hours," she said. "If I don't make you better, you can take your pills." Reluctantly, I agreed. My experience with these infections is that they can take days to clear, even with strong antibiotics. But I didn't want to make her feel bad.
Tutti was playing in the shop and she kept bringing little drawings of houses over to cheer me up, patting my hand with an eight-year-old's compassion. "Mama Elizabeth sick?" At least she didn't know what I'd been doing to get sick.
"Did you buy your house yet, Wayan?" I asked. "Not yet, honey. No hurry."
"What about that place you liked? I thought you were going to buy that?" "Found out not for sale. Too expensive."
"Do you have any other places in mind?"
"Not worry about it now, Liz. For now, let me make you quickly feel better."
Felipe arrived with my medicine and a face full of remorse, apologizing to both me and Wayan for having inflicted me with this pain, or at least that's how he was seeing it. "Not serious," said Wayan. "Not worry. I fix her soon. Quickly better."
Then she went into the kitchen and produced a giant glass mixing bowl full of leaves, roots, berries, something I recognized as turmeric, some shaggy mass of something that looked like witches' hair, plus eye of what I believe might have been newt . . . all floating in its own brown juice. There was about a gallon of it in the bowl, whatever it was. It stank like a corpse.
"Drink, honey," Wayan said. "Drink all."
I suffered it down. And in less than two hours . . . well, we all know how the story ends. In less than two hours I was fine, totally healed. An infection that would have taken days to treat with Western antibiotics was gone. I tried to pay her for having fixed me up, but she only laughed. "My sister doesn't need to pay." Then she turned on Felipe, fake stern: "You be careful with her now. Only sleep tonight, no touching."
"You're not embarrassed to fix people for problems like this, from sex?" I asked Wayan. "Liz--I'm healer. I fix all problems, with women's vaginas, with men's bananas. Sometimes for women, I even make fake penises. For making sex alone."
"Dildos?" I asked, shocked.
"Not everyone has Brazilian boyfriend, Liz," she admonished. Then she looked at Felipe and said brightly, "If you ever need help making stiff your banana, I can give you medicine."
I was busily assuring Wayan that Felipe needed not one bit of help with his banana, but he interrupted me--always the entrepreneur--to ask Wayan if this banana-stiffening therapy of hers could perhaps be bottled and marketed. "We could make a fortune," he
said. But she explained, no, it's not like that. All her medicines must be made fresh each day in order to work. And they must be accompanied by her prayers. Anyway, internal medicine is not the only way Wayan can firm up a man's banana, she assured us; she can also do this with massage. Then, to our lurid fascination, she described the different massages she does for men's impotent bananas, how she grips around the base of the thing and kind of shakes it around for about an hour to encourage the blood to flow, while incanting special prayers.
I asked, "But Wayan--what happens when the man comes back every day and says, 'Still not cured, Doctor! Need another banana massage!' " She laughed at this bawdy idea, and admitted that, yes, she has to be careful not to spend too much time fixing men's bananas because it causes a certain amount of . . . strong feeling . . . within her, which she isn't sure is good for the healing energy. And sometimes, yes, the men get out of control. (As you would, too, if you'd been impotent for years and suddenly this beautiful mahogany- skinned woman with long black silky hair gets the engine to turn over again.) She told us about the one man who leapt up and started chasing her around the room during an impotency cure, saying: "I need Wayan! I need Wayan!"
But that's not all Wayan can do. Also, she told us, she is sometimes called upon to be a teacher of sex for a couple who are either struggling with impotence or frigidity, or who are having trouble making a baby. She has to draw magic pictures on their bedsheets and explain to them which sexual positions are appropriate for which time of the month. She said that if a man wants to make a baby he should make intercourse with his wife "really, really hard" and should shoot "water out from his banana into her vagina really, really fast." Sometimes Wayan has to actually be there in the room with the copulating couple, explaining just how hard and fast this must be done.
I ask, "And is the man able to shoot water out of his banana really hard and really fast with Dr. Wayan standing over him watching?"
Felipe imitates Wayan watching the couple: "Faster! Harder! You want this baby or not?" Wayan says, yes, she knows it's crazy, but this is the job of the healer. Though she admits it requires a whole lot of purification ceremonies before and after this event in order to keep her sacred spirit intact, and she doesn't like to do it very often because it makes her feel "funny." But if a baby needs to be conceived, she will take care of it.
"And do these couples all have babies now?" I asked.
"Have babies!" she confirmed with pride. Of course they do.
But then Wayan confides something extremely interesting. She said that if a couple is not having any luck conceiving a child, she will examine both the man and the woman to determine who is, as they say, to blame. If it's the woman, no problem--Wayan can fix this with ancient healing techniques. But if it's the man--well, this presents a delicate situation here in the patriarchy of Bali. Wayan's medical options here are limited because it is beyond the pale of safety to inform a Balinese man that he is sterile; it cannot possibly be true. Men are men, after all. If no pregnancy is occurring, it has to be the woman's fault. And if the woman doesn't provide her husband with a baby soon, she could be in big trouble--beaten, shamed or divorced.
"So what do you do in that situation?" I asked, impressed that a woman who still calls semen "banana water" could diagnose male infertility.
Wayan told us all. What she does in the case of male infertility is to inform the man that his wife is infertile and needs to be seen privately every afternoon for "healing sessions." When the wife comes to the shop alone, Wayan calls some young stud from the village to come over and have sex with her, hopefully creating a baby.
Felipe was appalled: "Wayan! No!"
But she just calmly nodded. Yes. "It's the only way. If the wife is healthy, she will have baby. Then everybody happy."
Felipe immediately wanted to know, since he lives in this town, "Who? Who do you hire to do this job?"
Wayan said, "The drivers."
Which made us all laugh because Ubud is full of these young guys, these "drivers," who sit on every corner and harass passing tourists with the never-ending sales pitch, "Transport? Transport?" trying to make a buck driving folks out of town to the volcanoes, the beaches or the temples. Generally speaking, this is a fairly good-looking crowd, what with their fine Gauguin skin, toned bodies and groovy long hair. You could make a nice bit of money in America operating a "fertility clinic" for women, staffed with beautiful guys like this. Wayan says the best thing about her infertility treatment is that the drivers generally don't even ask any payment for their sexual transport services, especially if the wife is really cute. Felipe and I agree that this is quite generous and community-spirited of the fellows. Nine months later a beautiful baby is born. And everyone is happy. Best of all: "No need to cancel the marriage." And we all know how horrible it is to cancel a marriage, especially in Bali.
Felipe said, "My God--what suckers we men are."
But Wayan is unapologetic. This treatment is only necessary because it's not possible to tell a Balinese man that he is infertile without risking that he will go home and do something terrible to his wife. If men in Bali weren't like this, she could cure their infertility in other ways. But this is the reality of the culture, so there it is. She doesn't
have the tiniest shred of bad conscience about it but thinks it's just another way of being a creative healer. Anyway, she adds, it's sometimes nice for the wife to make sex with one
of those cool drivers, because most husbands in Bali don't know how to make love to a woman, anyway.
"Most husbands, it's like roosters, like goats."
I suggested, "Maybe you should teach sex education class, Wayan. You could teach men how to touch women in a soft way, then maybe their wives would like sex more. Because if a man really touches you gently, caresses your skin, says loving things, kisses you all over your body, takes his time . . . sex can be nice."
Suddenly she blushed. Wayan Nuriyasih, this banana-massaging, bladder-infection- treating, dildo-peddling, small-time-pimp, actually blushed.
"You make me feel funny when you talk like that," she said, fanning herself. "This talking, it makes me feel . . . different. Even in my underpants I feel different! Go home now, you both. No more talk like this about sex. Go home, go to bed, but only sleeping, OK? Only SLEEPING!"