You never know where life takes you. The latest chapter on mine has taken me to the south of Bali at a very strange time indeed.
This island was made for tourists. Now, as the coronavirus progresses around the world, and nation after nation react, here, in a land of smiling faces, warm welcomes and great surf, the Balinese are using this down time to catch their breath and pause. And that’s a good thing for everyone to remember.
Indeed, for one day every year, the Balinese hold a quiet day. There is no noise. There is no traffic. There is no music. Families stay at home and enjoy each other’s company. And they take time out to reflect on what the past year has brought and what might be in store for the new Balinese year to come.
I was sitting in a local cafe, having a beverage, talking to the owner. It was the time of day when children get out of school — only in Jakarta so far, have they been shut down for two weeks initially
I think the world needs more of this. Taking a pause, taking a breather, taking time out of busy lives to reflect on the past, the present and the future.
I have friends who are in quarantine back in Europe, the result of some family members who travelled to Italy and contracted the Covid-19 virus.
It is indeed a strange time, one where we are all told to engage in social distancing. If there is a long-term negative in this, it might be that social distancing might become the norm. We would be happier to interact with a screen and a phone than to engage in social interaction with each other.
Oh wouldn’t the trolls and stalkers love such a phenomenon, where we used social media as our primary source of social interaction. I don’t think I could happily live in such as time or place where people only made friends or chatted on their phones.
Joys of travelling
One of the joys of travelling is the interaction with different cultures and peoples — finding commonalities, understanding differences. Travel, by its very nature, gives us a real understanding of what life is like beyond our village, our town, our seas, our borders.
Meeting people of different cultures and heritages, beliefs and philosophies opens our mind to new ideas, to other ways of doing things, to understanding, to tolerance. And those are good things indeed, making us better as a whole, breaking down barriers, erasing divisions.
Here in Bali, where the occupancy rates in hotels have gone from 90 per cent to the low to mid-teens, there is obviously a sense of worry, with 80 per cent of Bali’s economy depending on tourist spending. Many are indeed worried about the longer-term impact this crisis will have, But there is also the time now to talk to the foreigners here now. There is little else to be done.
I was sitting in a local cafe, having a beverage, talking to the owner. It was the time of day when children get out of school — only in Jakarta so far, have they been shut down for two weeks initially. And I met little Wilbert, her nine-year-old son who is as bright as a button and full of the questions that children of such age are of the world and the different people who inhabit it, and who come to his mother’s cafe.
She encouraged Wilbert to talk, to practise his English.
And I asked him, as adults do, of what he wanted to be when he grew up. Doesn’t everyone remember being asked what they wanted to do? A train driver, a pilot, a vet, a soldier. At least that what’s we answered when I was his age. The jobs change with the generations.
Little Wilbert? “A Youtuber” he answered with a gap-toothed smile. Oh how times have changed.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe