The Ubud Handbook « Diary of a Market Girl
“I gave birth to my first three children at home. Komang and Upi were born in the sawah (rice fields) while I was working. I'd always carry a piece of freshly sharpened bamboo with me, and I cut their umbilical cords myself before wrapping the babies up and carrying them home. When I had my sixth and seventh babies at the hospital – my twin girls – the doctor ordered me to have a Caesarian.
And without asking me, he tied my tubes off as well. I think he thought I'd had enough babies...”
By John Storey. All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2021 Ubud High.
Photo-realistic urban art by an anonymous street artist of a 1930s market scene in Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2021 Ubud High.
“I DON'T KNOW how old I am. I was born on Pagerwesi Day – a Balinese ceremonial day where we put offerings out for our Gods to protect our homes and compounds from evil. Pagerwesi means 'iron wall' in Balinese. That's how I remember my birthday. We didn't use Western calendars back then.
I think I'm about 49 years old.
I left school when I was nine. My parents had ten children, although two of them died – my younger sister when she was still learning to speak, and my older brother when he was about ten. We don't know why they died – they just didn't wake up in the morning.
My dad worked as a rice farmer in the fields around our village in Buleleng, in north Bali. There wasn't anything he didn't know about rice. I used to follow him around when I was a child, helping him to plant young stalks of rice and cutting down the harvest.
We always got huge harvests.
When I left school, my grandmother taught me how to massage pregnant women – she was our village midwife. That was my first job. I learned how to help turn the baby around as it was still growing, and how to massage the mothers as they were giving birth, and massage them afterwards when they were in pain.
I still massage women, but mostly elderly widows who are ill or sad. I'm a widow too, now, and we're in kind of a club.
My first experience of men was when I was beginning to menstruate.
My other job was selling fruit at the market. I was walking home one morning when two young Javanese men stopped on their motorbike. One of them suddenly lifted me onto the back between them. He held me tightly and put his hand over my mouth so I couldn't scream. It's like they'd done it before. Then they drove me to an empty beach, and they held me down as they were trying to take my pants off.
My mother always told me that if men did this to me, I should throw dirt in their eyes and kick them as hard as I could in the groin. She showed me exactly where to kick them. So I got some sand and threw it in the eyes of the first one, and then I threw sand into the other one's eyes until they couldn't see, and I stood up and kicked them both in the groin as hard as I could.
Then I ran away.
I came to an empty temple on the beach and went in because I knew God would protect me. I spent the night alone there, and the men never found me. I spent the next day walking home.
My parents thought I'd died. They were worried sick about me. I think the men were going to throw me in the ocean after they'd raped me so that I couldn't talk.
A lot of girls in Buleleng used to disappear in those days.
I met my future husband while I was working in the sawah – the rice fields – during a harvest. I fell in love with him. We started dating when I was about 13, and by 14 or so I was pregnant. This is how most Balinese girls get married. We date one man, and when the girl falls pregnant the families get together and arrange a marriage ceremony. Almost all the girls on Bali are a few months pregnant when they get married, except they're older now, maybe 19 or 20.
But we used to get married very young then.
Of course we didn't have money when we got married. My husband was 15 or 16 and he didn't have a job, so we lived in an open hut in the rice fields with a cow and some chickens, and we farmed the land for a rich landowner. We would give him half of our harvest and keep half.
Until now, I have never been so happy as I was then. My son was handsome. I loved my husband. Living in the hut was so romantic. We were deeply in love.
Then I got pregnant again.
My pregnancies always lasted less than eight months. On Bali, they call this a uni burung – a 'bird' pregnancy. A ten-month term is a uni kerbau – a 'buffalo' term. But I always had bird pregnancies, and within a few months of giving birth I would always fall pregnant again.
My husband would just have to touch me and I'd fall pregnant.
I gave birth to my first three children at home. Komang and Upi were born in the sawah while I was working. I'd always carry a piece of freshly sharpened bamboo with me, and I cut their umbilical cords myself before wrapping the babies up in a sarong and carrying them home. When I had my sixth and seventh babies at the hospital – my twin girls – the doctor ordered me to have a Caesarian.
And without asking me, he tied my tubes off as well. I think he thought I'd had enough babies.
I wasn't allowed to have sex for a year because the doctor said it would be too dangerous for me. That's when the trouble started. There was a young Javanese woman working in the fields where we lived, and she would always flutter her eyelashes at my husband. And he would flutter them back. He was a very handsome man. And because he couldn't have sex with me anymore, he had sex with her instead, and she fell pregnant.
My husband ran away with her.
But when she had her baby, it was very thin, like a baby with ayid (AIDS), and its belly grew very fat and it died. A male relative of the woman came over from Java and invited my husband out for a night to drink arak with him. Then the man went back to Java. A week later, my husband's belly grew very fat and went purple, and then he died in awful pain. I think the Javanese man poisoned my husband because he wouldn't divorce me and marry his relative.
After we cremated my husband, I fell apart.
I drank a bottle of insecticide and started to die. My family found me making strange noises in my room, and poured lots of young coconut oil into my throat until I vomited, and then they made me drink young coconut water until I could breathe again.
My throat's been sore ever since, and I cough every day now. I went to see a doctor about it a few years ago, and he told me I had a tumour in my throat that he wanted to operate on. But I wasn't brave enough to let him cut it out, so I left it.
Anyway, I can't afford the operation, so I never went back.
When I was strong enough after drinking the poison, I put all of my children into Hindu orphanages and ran away as far as I could. I think I ran away for about a year. I used to sleep by the side of the road or in temples, and I would eat food that I found on the street or left as offerings, or sometimes people used to feed me. I stopped washing, and in the end I was walking around with no blouse on, just a sarong wrapped around my waist.
I didn't care about anything.
I found myself in Ubud, in the middle of Bali. A young Dutch woman saw me at the side of the road one day, and she bought me some clothes, and asked me to live with her. I got better, and I started to wash again. I shall never forget her.
Her name was 'Beah'.
She was Indonesian, but had been born in Holland. She gave me a job washing and cleaning in her house, and I stayed with her until I could look after myself again. I loved her. Beah saved my life. She opened a bank account for me, and after she left for Holland she kept putting money into my account so I could live.
I went back to the orphanages where I had left my children.
Anggrek and Mawar, my twin girls, were more than a year old. Ketut – my third son – was four. Kadek, my oldest daughter, was seven. Komang, who was nearly six, had been beaten with an iron bar on his belly for not working hard enough at the orphanage, and he had a huge hernia. He couldn't walk, and his gut was wrapped around one of his testicles. Gede, my eldest son, had also been beaten severely.
But my daughter Upi, who was nearly three, wasn't there. I asked the orphanage owners where she was. They said a white couple had taken her to Denpasar to adopt her. I told the owners to bring me straight to meet the couple – I was so angry, and I insisted they drive me straight to the foreign couple's house. We met them in a big villa with a swimming pool on the coast near Denpasar, and I took Upi away from the couple just as they were getting ready to leave for their country.
I don't know if they were good or bad people.
All my children cried when they met me. I swore to them that I would never leave them again on this earth, and I took them all back to Ubud with me for a better life.
I've kept that promise ever since.”
Scarlet flower petals used in Balinese-Hindu offerings for sale at a market stall in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2021 Ubud High.
© 2021 John Storey. All Rights Reserved.
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Portraits from Bali by Ubud High
Photograph by © Ubud High.
© 2021 John Storey. All rights reserved.
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