But Bali is a fairly simple place to navigate. It's not like I've landed in the middle of the Sudan with no idea of what to do next. This is an island approximately the size of Delaware and it's a popular tourist destination. The whole place has arranged itself to help you, the Westerner with the credit cards, get around with ease. English is spoken here widely and happily.(Which makes me feel guiltily relieved. My brain synapses are so overloaded by my efforts to learn modern Italian and ancient Sanskrit during these last few months that I just can't take on the task of trying to learn Indonesian or, even more difficult, Balinese--a language more complex than Martian.) It's really no trouble being here. You can change your money at the airport, find a taxi with a nice driver who will suggest to you a lovely hotel--none of this is hard to arrange. And since the tourism industry collapsed in the wake of the terrorist bombing here two years ago (which happened a few weeks after I'd left Bali the first time), it's even easier to get around now; everyone is desperate to help you, desperate for work.
So I take a taxi to the town of Ubud, which seems like a good place to start my journey. I check into a small and pretty hotel there on the fabulously named Monkey Forest Road. The hotel has a sweet swimming pool and a garden crammed with tropical flowers with blossoms bigger than volleyballs (tended to by a highly organized team of hummingbirds and butter-flies). The staff is Balinese, which means they automatically start adoring you and complimenting you on your beauty as soon as you walk in. The room has a view of the tropical treetops and there's a breakfast included every morning with piles of fresh tropical fruit. In short, it's one of the nicest places I've ever stayed and it's costing me less than ten dollars a day. It's good to be back.
Ubud is in the center of Bali, located in the mountains, surrounded by terraced rice paddies and innumerable Hindu temples, with rivers that cut fast through deep canyons of jungle and volcanoes visible on the horizon. Ubud has long been considered the cultural hub of the island, the place where traditional Balinese painting, dance, carving, and religious ceremonies thrive. It isn't near any beaches, so the tourists who come to Ubud are a self-selecting and rather classy crowd; they would prefer to see an ancient temple ceremony than to drink pina coladas in the surf. Regardless of what happens with my medicine man prophecy, this could be a lovely place to live for a while. The town is sort of like a small Pacific version of Santa Fe, only with monkeys walking around and Balinese families in traditional dress all over the place. There are good restaurants and nice little bookstores. I could feasibly spend my whole time here in Ubud doing what nice divorced American women have been doing with their time ever since the invention of the YWCA--signing up for one class after another: batik, drumming, jewelry-making, pottery, traditional Indonesian dance and cooking . . . Right across the road from my hotel there's even something called "The Meditation Shop"--a small storefront with a sign advertising open meditation sessions every night from 6:00 to 7:00. May peace prevail on earth, reads the sign. I'm all for it.
By the time I unpack my bags it's still early afternoon, so I decide to take myself for a walk, get reoriented to this town I haven't seen in two years. And then I'll try to figure out how to start finding my medicine man. I imagine this will be a difficult task, might take days or even weeks. I'm not sure where to start with my search, so I stop at the front desk on my way out and ask Mario if he can help me.
Mario is one of the guys who work at this hotel. I already made friends with him when I checked in, largely on account of his name. Not too long ago I was traveling in a country where many men were named Mario, but not one of them was a small, muscular, energetic Balinese fellow wearing a silk sarong and a flower behind his ear. So I had to ask, "Is your name really Mario? That doesn't sound very Indonesian."
"Not my real name," he said. "My real name is Nyoman."
Ah--I should have known. I should have known that I would have a 25 percent chance of guessing Mario's real name. In Bali, if I may digress, there are only four names that the majority of the population give to their children, regardless of whether the baby is a boy or a girl. The names are Wayan (pronounced "Why-Ann"), Made ("mah-DAY"), Nyoman and Ketut. Translated, these names mean simply First, Second, Third and Fourth, and they connote birth order. If you have a fifth child, you start the name cycle all over again, so that the fifth child is really known as something like: "Wayan to the Second Power."
And so forth. If you have twins, you name them in the order they came out. Because there are basically only four names in Bali (higher-caste elites have their own selection of
names) it's totally possible (indeed, quite common) that two Wayans would marry each other. And then their firstborn would be named, of course: Wayan.
This gives a slight indication of how important family is in Bali, and how important your placement in that family is. You would think this system could become complicated, but somehow the Balinese work it out. Understandably and necessarily, nicknaming is popular. For instance, one of the most successful businesswomen in Ubud is a lady named Wayan who has a busy restaurant called Cafe Wayan, and so she is known as "Wayan Cafe"--meaning, "The Wayan who owns Cafe Wayan." Somebody else might be
known as "Fat Made," or "Nyoman-Rental-Car" or "Stupid-Ketut-Who-Burned-Down- His-Uncle's-House." My new Balinese friend Mario got around the problem by simply naming himself Mario.
"Because I love everything Italian," he said.
When I told him that I'd recently spent four months in Italy, he found this fact so stupendously amazing that he came out from behind his desk and said, "Come, sit, talk." I came, I sat, we talked. And that's how we became friends.
So this afternoon I decide to start my search for my medicine man by asking my new friend Mario if by any chance he knows a man by the name of Ketut Liyer.
Mario frowns, thinking.
I wait for him to say something like, "Ah, yes! Ketut Liyer! Old medicine man who died just last week--so sad when venerable old medicine man passes away . . ."
Mario asks me to repeat the name, and this time I write it down, assuming I'm pronouncing something wrong. Sure enough, Mario brightens in recognition. "Ketut Liyer!"
Now I wait for him to say something like, "Ah, yes! Ketut Liyer! Insane person! Arrested last week for being a crazy man . . ."
But he says instead, "Ketut Liyer is famous healer." "Yes! That's him!"
"I know him. I go in his house. Last week I take my cousin, she needs cure for her baby crying all night. Ketut Liyer fixes it. One time I took American girl like you to Ketut Liyer's house. Girl wanted magic to make her more beautiful to men. Ketut Liyer draw magic painting, for help her be more beautiful. I tease her after that. Every day I tell her,
'Painting working! Look how beautiful you are! Painting working!' "
Remembering the image Ketut Liyer had drawn for me a few years ago, I tell Mario that
I'd gotten a magic picture myself from the medicine man once. Mario laughs. "Painting working for you, too!"
"My picture was to help me find God," I explain.
"You don't want to be more beautiful to men?" he asks, understandably confused.
I say, "Hey, Mario--do you think you could take me to visit Ketut Liyer someday? If you're not too busy?"
"Not now," he says.
Just as I'm starting to feel disappointed, he adds, "But maybe in five minutes?"