Still, Wayan needs to buy a house, and I'm getting worried that it's not happening. I don't understand why it's not happening, but it absolutely needs to happen. Felipe and I have stepped in now. We found a realtor who could take us around and show us properties, but Wayan hasn't liked anything we've shown her. I keep telling her, "Wayan, it's important that we buy something. I'm leaving here in September, and I need to let my friends know before I leave that their money actually went into a home for you. And you need to get a roof over your head before you get evicted."
"Not so simple to buy land in Bali," she keeps telling me. "Not like to walk into a bar and buy a beer. Can take long time."
"We don't have a long time, Wayan."
She just shrugs, and I remember again about the Balinese concept of "rubber time," meaning that time is a very relative and bouncy idea. "Four weeks" doesn't really mean to Wayan what it means to me. One day to Wayan isn't necessarily composed of twenty- four hours, either; sometimes it's longer, sometimes it's shorter, depending upon the spiritual and emotional nature of that day. As with my medicine man and his mysterious age, sometimes you count the days, sometimes you weigh them.
Meanwhile, it also turns out that I have completely underestimated how expensive it is to buy property in Bali. Because everything is so cheap here, you would assume that land is also undervalued, but that's a mistaken assumption. To buy land in Bali--especially in Ubud--can get almost as expensive as buying land in Westchester County, in Tokyo, or
on Rodeo Drive. Which is completely illogical because once you own the property you can't make back your money on it in any traditionally logical way. You may pay approximately $25,000 for an aro of land (an aro is a land measurement roughly translating into English as: "Slightly bigger than the parking spot for an SUV"), and then you can build a little shop there where you will sell one batik sarong a day to one tourist a day for the rest of your life, for a profit of about seventy-five cents a hit. It's senseless. But the Balinese value their land with a passion that extends beyond the reaches of economic sense. Since land ownership is traditionally the only wealth that Balinese
recognize as legitimate, property is valued in the same way as the Masai value cattle or as my five-year-old niece values lip gloss: namely, that you cannot have enough of it, that once you have claimed it you must never let it go, and that all of it in the world should rightfully belong to you.
Moreover--as I discover throughout the month of August, during my Narnia-like voyage into the intricacies of Indonesian real estate--it's almost impossible to find out when land is actually for sale around here. Balinese who are selling land typically don't like other people to know that their land is up for sale. Now, you would think it might be advantageous to advertise this fact, but the Balinese don't see it that way. If you're a Balinese farmer and you're selling your land, it means you are desperate for cash, and this is humiliating. Also, if your neighbors and family find out that you actually sold some land, then they'll assume you came into some money, and everyone will be asking if they can borrow that money. So land becomes available for sale only by . . . rumor. And all these land deals are executed under strange veils of secrecy and deception.
The Western expatriates around here--hearing that I'm trying to buy land for Wayan-- start gathering around me, offering cautionary tales based on their own nightmarish experiences. They warn me that you can never really be certain what's going on when it comes to real estate around here. The land you are "buying" may not actually "belong" to the person who is "selling" it. The guy who showed you the property might not even be the owner, but only the disgruntled nephew of the owner, trying to get one over on his uncle because of some old family dispute. Don't expect that the boundaries of your property will ever be clear. The land you buy for your dream house may later be declared "too close to a temple" to allow a building permit (and it's difficult, in this small country with an estimated 20,000 temples, to find any land that is not too close to a temple).
Also you must take into consideration that you're quite probably living on the slopes of a volcano and you might be straddling a fault line, as well. And not just a geological fault line, either. As idyllic as Bali seems, the wise keep in mind that this is, in fact, Indonesia-- the largest Islamic nation on earth, unstable at its core, corrupt from the highest ministers of justice all the way down to the guy who pumps gas into your car (and who only pretends to fill it all the way up). Some kind of revolution will always be possible here at any moment, and all your assets may be reclaimed by the victors. Probably at gunpoint. Negotiating all this dodgy business is not something I have any qualifications whatsoever to be doing. I mean--I went through a divorce proceeding in New York State and everything, but this is another page of Kafka altogether. Meanwhile, $18,000 of money donated by me, my family and my dearest friends is sitting in Wayan's bank account, converted into Indonesia rupiah--a currency that has a history of crashing without notice and turning to vapor. And Wayan is supposed to get evicted from her shop in September, which is around the time I leave the country. Which is in about three weeks.
But it's turning out to be almost impossible for Wayan to find a piece of land she deems appropriate for a home. Setting aside all the practical considerations, she has to examine the taksu--the spirit--of each place. As a healer, Wayan's sense of taksu, even by Balinese standards, is supremely acute. I found one place that I thought was perfect, but Wayan said it was possessed by angry demons. The next piece of land was rejected because it was too close to a river, which, as everyone knows, is where ghosts live. (The night after she saw that place, Wayan says, she dreamt of a beautiful woman in torn clothes, weeping, and that did it--we could not buy this land.) Then we found a lovely little shop near town, with a backyard and everything, but it was located on a corner, and only somebody who wants to go bankrupt and die young would ever live in a house located on a corner. As everyone knows.
"Don't even try talking her out of it," Felipe advised me. "Trust me, darling. Don't get between the Balinese and their taksu."
Then last week Felipe found a place that seemed to fit the criteria exactly--a small, pretty piece of land, close to central Ubud, on a quiet road, next to a rice field, plenty of space for a garden and well within our budget. When I asked Wayan, "Should we buy it?" she replied, "Don't know yet, Liz. Not too fast, for making decisions like this. I need talk to a priest first."
She explained that she would need to consult a priest in order to find an auspicious day upon which to purchase the land, if she does decide to buy it at all. Because nothing significant can be done in Bali before an auspicious day is chosen. But she can't even ask the priests for the auspicious date upon which to buy the land until she decides if she really wants to live there. Which is a commitment she refuses to make until she's had an auspicious dream. Aware of my dwindling days here, I asked Wayan, like a good New Yorker, "How soon can you arrange to have an auspicious dream?"
Wayan replied, like a good Balinese, "Cannot be rushed, this." Although, she mused, it might help if she could go to one of the major temples in Bali with an offering, and pray to the gods to bring her an auspicious dream . . .
"OK," I said. "Tomorrow Felipe can drive you to the major temple and you can make an offering and ask the gods to please send you an auspicious dream."
Wayan would love to, she said. It's a great idea. Only one problem. She's not permitted to enter any temples for this entire week.
Because she is . . . menstruating.