In Bali we shamelessly initiate and then cultivate a friendship with anyone who cleans our room. It is a means of finding out first hand what is going on in the district, where, when and if it’s any good or good value or simply worth seeing.
This is how we found out about the Monkey Dance regularly held in the temple grounds in Ubud (not the Palace) and we have not visited Ubud since without watching the performances of this dance which is always accompanied by the Fire Dance and the Trance Dance (*). We are so addicted that we even have our favourite ‘monkey’ and try to locate him and sit behind him if possible. He is an older man with muscles across his back where I never knew there were muscles and he uses them in what I think is an old-time total involvement and absorption in the performance, a dedication frequently lacking in the younger performers, most of whom just go through the motions.
It’s not hard to believe that he is a monkey for the time of the dance.
(*) If you have never seen Trance Dance I strongly recommend it. I really don’t believe in this trance stuff but this dance is performed by two very young girls who dance a complex routine with their eyes closed but in perfect synchronisation.
The process of cultivation that we have developed is to first offer a gender un-specific bribe in the form of money and candy left on the pillows when we leave in the morning. It has never been refused although on rare occasion it has not been rewarded. By the second morning we have found out if the cleaner is male or female and the day’s bribe becomes gender specific; money, candy and sparkling Aussie flag stickers for the back of the motorbike helmet for a man or money, hair scrunchies and lipsticks for the women. Conversation generally flows from this point and its so easy to find out about their family and particularly their children, where they are living and which is their home village, things about their parents and brothers and sisters, how long they’ve been in this hotel - - - and on and on.
Once the dialogue starts boundless opportunities arise to tailor the daily bribes to their circumstances.
Generally a side benefit in addition to local information is a noticeable change in the state of the room each afternoon when we return, and if you think that this is one of our main motivations I won’t argue with you, but the other benefits soon become more significant. Have you ever tasted those little Balinese pineapples freshly picked from a home garden, peeled and cut into quarters lengthwise within the half hour? Let me tell you that first thing in the morning it is an unbeatable start to the day and quite a different flavour and intensity to even those you might buy at a night market and peel yourself later at breakfast time.
Evelyn was different. She threatened to break the routine but eventually we became part of her life and she part of ours.
One of the first things I do on our first morning is to collect the two empty Yakult bottles and the two empty water bottles. I hack off the tops of these with the pocket knife in the tool bag and trim up the edges with the scissors. I then ramble through the gardens to find flowers for my ‘vases’; usually a frangipanni, a red or yellow bougainvillea for the Yakult bottles and something a bit larger for the water bottles. These vases go on the bedside tables, by the TV and in the bathroom. After our first morning bribes we came home in the afternoon to find several additions about the place including a quite intricate arrangement on the bed.
This business developed into a sort of a competition, Evelyn initially improving on my basic arrangements with a spray of leaves or something and later ditching my day-old creations and putting me in my place with much more elegant ones, even saving an off-cut of gold coloured ribbon from our rubbish bin to tie in a neat bow around one ‘vase’.
On day three I silently resigned from the competition, but Evelyn kept going.
Evelyn was 30 years old, single and with no interest in searching for a companion nor the where-with-all to tissy herself up for such an adventure.
She had been cleaning for 7 years since coming with her uncle to Bali from Flores to the east of Bali. Her future hopes centred on being a cleaner for the next 7 years, or 17 years or 37 years.
What else could she hope for?
She worked at the hotel from 8 am to 4 pm, six days a week. Her pay for the 48 hour week is Rp700,000 per month paid fortnightly or Rp50,000 a day. (That’s about Aus$7.00 a day at the exchange rate when we met her.) She has 30 minutes a day for lunch but any other time off is deducted from her pay. Our Rp5,000 note left on the pillows was a 10% salary rise for her.
On the seventh day she helped her uncle clean the Catholic Church on Jl Kartika Plaza before and after services and also after any other functions through the week.
She lived in a room somewhere behind the church. She described the room as ‘small’. When I asked her what she had in her room she replied ‘A mattress.’
‘Ah’, I said, ‘like that one?’ pointing to our bed.
‘Oh no’, she replied with a wry smile, ‘like this’, holding her thumb and forefinger about 3 centimetres apart, ‘like some massage ladies use on the beach.’
The ‘mattresses’ I’ve seen used on the beach are similar to what I’d call a campers underlay.
‘But I’ve got a pillow like yours’ she added, and I thought she sounded very proud and a bit defiant when she said it, ‘and a chair from the pool here.’ I pictured a plastic chair with a broken back like I’d previously seen in the pool plant room where the staff had their lunch each day.
‘What else?’ I prompted.
‘No place for anything else’, she laughed, ‘only small room!’
I immediately thought, ‘small cupboard!’
One morning I was up early and sitting outside watching the rain, which I wished was falling somewhere in Australia where it was needed much more than here. Evelyn came clattering across the path and up the steps leaving a trail of drips and wet footprints behind her, skating a bit on the tiles that she mopped every morning before coming to a stop. She had a fancy red umbrella, with a well known business name on it that I won’t mention, but the bottom of her jeans and her shoes were sodden.
‘Wet walking this morning’, she said, ‘cars splashing. Might have a bike by the end of the year.’
‘Saving up?’ I asked.
‘Yes’, she replied, ‘been saving up since I started work.’
‘Motor bike?’ I asked.
She smiled and laughed at my unintended foolishness.
A few days later, with all this still running around our in heads of course, we happened across a half decent bicycle for sale at what we thought was a cheap price. Well, maybe it didn’t just happen; we could have been keeping our eyes out.
We had it delivered to the Pantai as we didn’t want to stir up any difficulties for her at work. That afternoon we asked if she would show us the church and offered her a ride there in Made’s van.
I don’t know what she thought when Made turned into the drive of the Pantai just across the road from the hotel’s car park but she got the message when Herself pointed to the bike there and I handed her the keys to the bike lock.
It was that same day that we had bought a mattress for friend Lisa’s little Kadek so we tried to do a ‘buy one, get one free’ deal. We didn’t entirely succeed in this but there happened to be this mattress in the back of the van when we followed her back to the church on her bike (and where we met her uncle) so we gave it to her.
Two days later friend Lisa bought her a poncho rain cover to go with the bike.
I think Lisa felt as good about this as we did.
We think she’ll arrive at work dryer now.
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