So I was hanging out in Wayan's shop again this morning, and she was trying to figure out how to make my hair grow faster and thicker. Having glorious thick, shiny hair herself that hangs all the way down to her butt, she feels sorry for me with my wispy blond mop. As a healer, of course, she does have a remedy to help thicken my hair, but it won't be easy. First, I have to find a banana tree and personally cut it down. I have to "throw away the top of the tree," then carve the trunk and roots (which are still lodged in the earth) into a big, deep bowl "like a swimming pool." Then I have to put a piece of wood over the top of this hollow, so rainwater and dew don't get in. Then I will come back in a few days and find that the swimming pool is now filled with the nutrient-rich liquid of the banana root, which I then must collect in bottles and bring to Wayan. She will bless the banana root juice at the temple for me, then rub the juice into my skull every day. Within a few months I will have, like Wayan, thick, shiny hair all the way down to my butt.
"Even if you are bald," she said, "this will make you have hair."
As we're talking, little Tutti--just home from school--is sitting on the floor, drawing a picture of a house. Mostly, houses are what Tutti draws these days. She's dying to have a house of her own. There's always a rainbow in the backdrop of her pictures, and a smiling family--father and all.
This is what we do all day in Wayan's shop. We sit and talk and Tutti draws pictures and Wayan and I gossip and tease each other. Wayan's got a bawdy sense of humor, always talking about sex, busting me about being single, speculating on the genital endowments of all the men who pass by her shop. She keeps telling me she's been going to the temple every evening and praying for a good man to show up in my life, to be my lover.
I told her again this morning, "No, Wayan--I don't need it. My heart's been broken too many times."
She said, "I know cure for broken heart." Authoritatively, and in a doctorly manner, Wayan ticked off on her fingers the six elements of her Fail-Proof Broken-Heart Curing Treatment: "Vitamin E, get much sleep, drink much water, travel to a place far away from the person you loved, meditate and teach your heart that this is destiny."
"I've been doing everything but the vitamin E."
"So now you cured. And now you need a new man. I bring you one, from praying." "Well, I'm not praying for a new man, Wayan. The only thing I'm praying for these days is to have peace with myself."
Wayan rolled her eyes, like Yeah, right, whatever you claim, you big white weirdo, and said,
"That's because you have bad memory problem. You don't remember anymore how nice is sex. I used to have bad memory problem, too, when I was married. Every time I saw a handsome man walking down the street, I would forget I had a husband back home." She nearly fell over laughing. Then she composed herself and concluded, "Everybody
need sex, Liz."
At this moment, a great-looking woman came walking into the shop, smiling like a lighthouse beam. Tutti leapt up and ran into her arms, shouting, "Armenia! Armenia! Armenia!" Which, as it turned out, was the woman's name--not some kind of strange nationalist battle cry. I introduced myself to Armenia, and she told me she was from Brazil. She was so dynamic, this woman--so Brazilian. She was gorgeous, elegantly dressed, charismatic and engaging and indeterminate in age, just insistently sexy. Armenia, too, is a friend of Wayan's, who comes to the shop frequently for lunch and for various traditional medical and beauty treatments. She sat down and talked with us for about an hour, joining our gossiping, girlish little circle. She's in Bali for only another week before she has to fly off to Africa, or maybe it's back to Thailand, to take care of her business. This Armenia woman, it turns out, has had just the teensiest bit of glamorous life. She used to work for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. Back in the 1980s she had been sent into the El Salvadoran and Nicaraguan jungles during the height of war as a negotiator of peace, using her beauty and charm and wits to get all the generals and rebels to calm down and listen to reason. (Hello, pretty power!) Now she runs a multinational marketing business called Novica, which supports indigenous artists all over the world by selling their products on the Internet. She speaks about seven or eight languages. She's got the most fabulous pair of shoes I've seen since Rome.
Looking at us both, Wayan said, "Liz--why do you never try to look sexy, like Armenia? You such a pretty girl, you have good capital of nice face, nice body, nice smile. But always you wear this same broken T-shirt, same broken jeans. Don't you want to be sexy, like her?"
"Wayan," I said, "Armenia is Brazilian. It's a completely different situation."
"How is it different?"
"Armenia," I said, turning to my new friend. "Can you please try to explain to Wayan what it means to be a Brazilian woman?"
Armenia laughed, but then seemed to consider the question seriously and answered, "Well, I always tried to look nice and be feminine even in the war zones and refugee camps of Central America. Even in the worst tragedies and crisis, there's no reason to add to everyone's misery by looking miserable yourself. That's my philosophy. This is why I always wore makeup and jewelry into the jungle--nothing too extravagant, but maybe just a nice gold bracelet and some earrings, a little lipstick, good perfume. Just enough to show that I still had my self-respect."
In a way, Armenia reminds me of those great Victorian-era British lady travelers, who used to say there's no excuse for wearing clothes in Africa that would be unsuited for an English drawing room. She's a butterfly, this Armenia. And she couldn't stay for too long at Wayan's shop because she had work to do, but that didn't stop her from inviting me to a party tonight. She knows another Brazilian expat in Ubud, she told me, and he's hosting a special event at a nice restaurant this evening. He'll be cooking a feijoada--a traditional Brazilian feast consisting of massive piles of pork and black beans. There will be Brazilian cocktails, as well. Lots of interesting expatriates from all over the world who live here in Bali. Would I care to come? They might all go out dancing later, too. She doesn't know if I
like parties, but . . .
Cocktails? Dancing? Piles of pork? Of course I'll come.