Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving at the Dump

Just to let you know folks, I’m two months behind on the blog. I’m physically in Bali!

True confession. Not exactly due to laziness or the demands of sightseeing in Portugal or farm-work in Nepal. More like lousy wifi. 

But I have to send this one out on time even if it feels like a time warp. I need to connect with you on Thanksgiving. I need to feel the love that shared holidays bring. And I want you to share in my experience, here in Bali. Then we’ll go back to Portugal and Nepal…. and eventually land again in Bali.

What are all of you Americans doing back at home on this Turkey Day?

Cooking, celebrating family, eating alone in a restaurant? Whatever you are doing it is a special day. I tried to explain it to Isti, the young woman who sweeps the flowers off the lawn and out of the pool each morning. She liked the story of religious freedom — large numbers of Hindus had descended on Bali as Islam swept Indonesia. She was saddened by the story of Pilgrims’ starvation and could enjoy my description of feast, for Bali has many festivals. I told her that the point of Thanksgiving for me is celebration in spite suffering.

I had no idea of how I could make this day a special one for me. 

Sorely missing my family but relived of the stress of cooking and making everyone happy, I could look for an alternative. Bryn, my cottage neighbor, invited me to join her at the dump. 

What? I’ve heard of serving turkey at a homeless shelter, but the dump? The best she understands it (and some might have been lost in translation to her) the Javanese government brings homeless families to Bali. Here they live at the dump, in squalid shacks, and earn their keep by sorting through stuff. 

Men sit on their haunches pulling out rotting food for the pigs. 

Others go through the mounds of stinking trash and pick out the bottles and cans for the beverage companies. A human recycling system, if you will, of basically indentured servants. Bali’s dark side?

And at this stinking place dwells a little preschool.

It is supported by charities. Bryn has taken it upon herself to arrive every Thursday morning with boxes of lunch, water and melon. The adorable children greet her enthusiastically and shyly high-five me. They assiduously work in their workbooks.

Look at how clean they are in donated uniforms or clothes from home.They line up when asked. They wash their hands before eating (only with water, even though soap has been donated.) Bryn teaches them the names of each food item in English 

They respectfully say some sort of blessing (Hindu, Moslem, Christian?), politely receive our food and slowly enjoy a full meal. Rice, vegetables, tempeh and peanuts, wrapped in greasy paper packets. A cup of clean water. A slice of watermelon. Never scarfing it down, never grabbing, never whining. A fully appreciated Thanksgiving meal.

And then it’s their turn to give to us! 

Maybe they’ve been told it’s Bryn’s last visit before she returns to the States, but they go all out! The happy teacher leads them through Balinese dance.

Then “I want to wish you a Merry Christmas!”

...and “Feliz Navidad!”

Talk about a time-warp for me! Christmas at Thanksgiving? 

Then they put on their little backpacks and head home to their shacks at the dump.

“What will they do now?” I ask the teacher. “They are children. They will play.”

And even though the stink of the place disgusts me and clings to my clothes, these children don’t outwardly seem affected. They are clean, well-mannered for 5 year olds, happy and enthusiastic. Obviously they are much loved and cared for.

As for me? I cry of course. 

How could I not when they sing to me this early Christmas present? 

When the teacher asks each of them to come to me on the way out the door and touch my hand to their forehead with a “Salem?” 

When I can feel the blossoming life of children and the hope of families pulse through the thick fetid air?

Do I commit to daily counting my blessings, as Thanksgiving is supposed to inspire? I’m not sure. It still feels that I’m traveling on this journey by myself,  that I’m still alone here, that nothing has changed on the outside. 

But from the inside I have connected to forty beautiful little beings, their hard-working parents and happy dedicated  teachers. I wish them well! Celebration in the midst of squalor!

Then finishing the day in Thanksgiving-style self-indulgence, 

I find this café on the beach. I order this scrumptious fresh grilled snapper and kang-kong (sautéed water spinach), grateful for the bountiful ocean and Mother Earth. $7.

I end the meal with a big hunk of lemon meringue pie at the Gardenia Cottages, grateful for the staff who make the place beautiful. 

And then a full head and body massage, grateful for this dear body that is getting me through this challenging trip. $7. 

And grateful for you, I write this message:

Wherever you are, whatever you are eating, thank you for connecting with me. It makes me so happy to share pictures and self-indulgent reflections. I hope my solo journey reminds you that every day is an adventure of unknowns and possibilities. 

And may we all remember to wake up each morning saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Salem — I touch your fore-head in blessing as you have blessed me. Happy Thanksgiving!

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