DENPASAR, INDONESIA: It’s fair to say that this coronavirus scare has rattled a lot of people. Here, in Bali, it has. And so too has the earthquake that shook the island early Thursday morning.
Lying in bed as the dawn started to break and the birds began their morning chorus, my bed began to shake. No, I wasn’t snoring. The gentle rocking lasted for roughly 15 seconds. Being not quite awake, the tremors didn’t quite fully register with me. But they did register with the European quake monitoring agency at 6.1 on the Richter scale, and caused minor damage across the island.
The tremors were also picked up by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre and the Indonesia earthquake monitoring agency. The epicenter was some 100 kilometres down in the Earth’s crust and some 102 kms off the southern coast of Denpasar – but thankfully there was no tsunami warning issued. Some residents of the city ran out into the open following the tremors. Me? I just slept some more.
Twitter user Marc van Voorst described the earthquake as feeling like a heavy truck or train passed close by which, by all accounts, is rather like my snoring.
According to Reuters, Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency posted a photograph of a damaged statue at the Lokanatha temple in Denpasar. There was also minor damage at a school.
“First coronavirus, then an earthquake,” one friend noted on social media. “Don’t you think it’s time you got out of Bali. Haven’t you had enough yet?”
Well as soon as I get back to Ireland, I’m going into lockdown, so I might as well make the most of my last few days here. Besides, the route home isn’t clear yet.
One of my flights has been cancelled and I’ve been placed on another, later flight. That has been cancelled too now, so I have a fear that I may be stuck at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. As long as I remain in transit, I won’t have to go into quarantine in the Netherlands. If I leave the transit area, I’m stuck in Holland for at least two weeks.
As things stand now, I am supposed to fly out on Tuesday – but flights are being cancelled by the hour.
Would it really be so bad if I couldn’t make it off Bali for another week or so? The good news is that I booked my flights direct with the airline and, as such, it is the airline’s responsibility to ensure my booking is completed. But given all that’s happening around the world, I fully understand the limitations that are in place.
No one could have predicted how much the world would change when I began this long-planned break here, or indeed how much it has changed over the past two weeks. Then, we lived normal lives, shook hands, mixed and mingled and social distancing was something you did when your mobile phone was out of range and couldn’t pick up a signal to connect to Facebook or Instagram.
In Indonesia, the world’s fourth most-populous country that is predominantly Muslim, Hinduism is prevalent across the island of Bali.
Right now, islanders are gearing up for the Balinese new year festival of Nyepi. The belief is that on the eve of Nyepi – the day of Ogoh-Ogoh – large statues of Hindu deities are carried through villages and towns for hours on end, chasing away the bad karma that has built up during the past year. On Nyepi, it is a day of absolute silence and reflection. No traffic. No shopping. No music. No work. Nothing. Just silence. A time to reflect on what’s important for the year to come.
Naturally, given the threat posed by coronavirus, Indonesian authorities are attempting to limit public gatherings. And for that reason they have suggested that the Ogoh-Ogoh celebrations be limited as much as possible. That’s going down like a lead balloon.
The sentiment is that the festival is a time of purification and now, more than ever, purification is needed.
Concerns have already been raised that Indonesia has been slow to react to the virus and failed to clamp down on mass religious gatherings in early March that have been linked to the spread of Covid-19.
If the worst comes to the worst and I’m stuck here, then maybe I should take part in Nyepi. Don’t we all need to restore the good karma and find a balance in our lives right now? Besides, what’s the worst that could happen – like sleeping through an earthquake.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe