Paul Walters in Lifestyle, beBee in English, Travel Spreading the word in SE Asia • Brand Ambassador Be BEE Mar 22, 2020 · 3 min read · 2.4K

Bali In The Time of COVID-19

Its 5.00 am on a Friday morning. 

The dawn spreads soft light over the gardens, lush and green after the recent rains. The sky, a hue of purples, oranges and indigo will soon turn a bright, azure blue as the tropical heat begins to rise. 

In other words, a typical day in Bali during March but, in the time of COVID- 19 nothing is really typical anymore.

Bali In The Time of COVID-19

Above me, the fan revolves slowly, hardly disturbing the humid air except to agitate the dust motes who swirl and gyrate like dervish dancers atop a desert dune caught in a brilliant shaft of sunlight that spears from the sun just peeking over the wall at the bottom of the garden. 

Its time to get up.

There is no reason to go out except perhaps to stock up on a few essential items from the local supermarket. Here the shelves have not been stripped bare by panic buying and most if not all products are available. The local roadside stalls or ‘warungs’ are still doing a brisk trade in fresh fruit and vegetables, dispensing goods to customers who buy their household necessities each morning or at the end of a working day.

 Motorcycles still whizz by, although there seem to be fewer than usual as the thousands of hospitality workers, laid off by the giant hotel chains remain at home hoping and praying that this crisis will soon pass. 

For an island that has become almost entirely dependent on tourism, the departing planes now carry away the very lifeblood that keeps this population afloat sowing an uncertain future in their disappearing vapour trails.

Outside the numerous spas that populate our neighbourhood the staff from these establishments sit outside braiding each others hair when just last week they would have been engaged in filing finger and toenails of overweight and sunburned tourists. Today there are no appendages to tidy up and then decorate in bright and colourful holiday colours while the vials of nail polish sit unopened on the shelves.

The souvenir shops which line the main boulevards festooned with gaudy knick-knacks that hang from hooks above the pavements now float forlornly in the breeze for there will be no eager hands reaching for the woven baskets or cheap sunglasses to take home as gifts.  By next week or so, these establishments will come to the realization that the usual hordes of visitors will not be returning anytime soon and it is time to pull down the shutters and wait until this crisis has passed.

Bali, and indeed Indonesia is a country built solidly on faith as religion and family ties are the glue that binds the two hundred and ninety million souls that inhabit this archipelago. 

Friday prayers for those of the Islamic faith is a time to gather and worship after being called by the Imam’s melodic chant sounding out from the loudspeakers atop the soaring minarets above the mosques. On islands like Java and Sumatra, thousands gather to pray and give thanks but soon, even this practice will have to cease as the government urges the faithful to worship at home before it puts the country into lockdown.

The island of Bali, however, is predominantly Hindu and the 25th March will be the holiest time of the Hindu calendar. ‘Nyepi,’ or the day of silence is when the island’s entire population, whether Hindu or not will stay home for 24 hours. The island will go ‘dark’ after sunset when all lights are extinguished, and families will spend the day in silent contemplation of the year just past and the year ahead.

How ironic it is that at the same time billions of people around the world will be practising the same ritual, confined to their homes and apartments desperate to ward off a tiny virus that is invisible to the naked eye.

Today we dropped off a dear friend at the airport who has had to cut short her month-long holiday to try and get home to France at the urging of her government. There were no taxi touts offering cheap fares, or hordes of hotel drivers holding up handwritten signs bearing the names of arriving guests pouring through the customs and immigration doors. 

From here on in there will be no arriving flights. The concourse is populated by masked, worried-looking passengers, eager to secure seats on the last of the aircraft that will, on Tuesday cease altogether. 

Check-in desks will close as will the coffee shops, duty-free emporiums, bars and restaurants bereft as they will be of tourists who traditionally come to experience this small slice of paradise.

Pandemics do eventually peter out, and COVID-19 will be no different. When it does, the world will try to rediscover a way of life that is as close to what it was like before this crisis began. This tiny island of Bali will be no different and, once the virus been banished these exotic shores, mountains, waterfalls and its unique culture will hopefully lure the curious like a siren calling from the sea.

Our only hope is that this unwelcome guest does not linger too long. Then, and only then will the Balinese begin to repair the damage it has caused and set out to try and rediscover the concept of normal once again. 

 However, this time we as a species, not just here but across the globe should pause and contemplate how we exist and how incredibly fragile our way of life actually is. 

Bali. March 2020 

Photography Copyright Paul v Walters & E.J. Lenahan.

Paul v Walters is the best selling author of several novels and anthologies of short stories. When not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali he writes for several international travel and vox pop journals.

Anna Jackson Mar 26, 2020 · #15

Thanks for this post

Fay Vietmeier Mar 24, 2020 · #14

Paul Walters
How beautifully you portray Bali and the people who call her home. You do have a way with words ... you write like a paint brush ;~)
Your conclusion is universally true "LIFE is fragile" and our way of life is fragile. In moments ... days dramatic change that no one could foresee or imagine

Cyndi wilkins I applaud your creative spirit on making masks and engaging the girls in the project ... you are some bee
I've heard of spelling bees ... now we can add: Sowing bees ;~)
I have read that many companies are responding ... very quickly to this need
Gastonia textile mill "gears up to make 10 million per week"
and Hanes will start making masks ...
(so you can give those girls & yourself a rest soon ;~)

The USA has been addicted to Chinese products ... low cost & low value not considered
I am very grateful that President Trump ... had as part of his mission to bring back home manufacturing & jobs
Also the issue of being reliant on China for drugs/many of the ingredients for pharmaceuticals are controlled by China (how shortsighted is that? --it will be addressed in time )

Jerry Fletcher Mar 22, 2020 · #10

Paul, And so it goes.

+1 +1
Pascal Derrien Mar 22, 2020 · #9

Same here we all have one common nemesis now around the globe

+1 +1
Cyndi wilkins Mar 22, 2020 · #8

We have all entered a prolonged period of ‘Nyepi,’ @Paul Walters...where we are all dealing with the same set of circumstances globally...This is a time of deep reflection and contemplation of how we can help to mitigate our collective fears and assist in whatever way possible to slow down the spread of this fast moving virus.

One of the biggest problems our front line health care workers are facing is a lack of the protective gear they need to safely care for their patients and protect themselves from transmission. Deplorable really, for the wealthiest country in the world to be experiencing this.

The good news is creators are getting very creative;-) Just as an example, a woman I share office space with is a sewing teacher and I called her this morning about making surgical masks out of the scrap fabrics she has in abundance that would serve a great need at this time. She was all on board if I could assemble a team;-)

Fortunately, I have several teenage girls out of school right now who would be delighted to get out of the house and do something creative together...Six feet apart of course, in respect to social distancing. We can accommodate those restrictions as we have a rather large office space. And plenty of disinfectant;-)

The smallest gesture a kindness goes a long way at this time...The heart of humanity is awakening...and every single one of us is being called to arms.

+2 +2