Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Vulnerability of Storytelling

I prefer reading non-fiction, and I love writing. I need to write. I have wavered between whether or not I want to share my writing, how seriously I take it, loving and hating what I have written in the past, and ferociously editing or just posting first pass drafts. The longer I live and the more I write, the less perfected and draftier my posts.

Blogging is my version of storytelling, much like the memoirs and biographies I am drawn to reading. My writing could use an editor, or at least a second or third read. Some posts should probably sit as drafts for days or weeks, until I come back and better connect points or polish paragraphs. Letting it go "as is" helps me fight a desire for perfection and get my stories out there though, and I think it's better for the readers. I don't want people to think I have it all together, because I don't. And I shouldn't.

Portrayals of life should be genuine, real, and honest We're all a little broken, a little hurting, a little frustrated, a little disappointed. But if we don't get to see that in others, we define ourselves that way, lose hope, feel like failures, and often lust after the "perfect life" we think we see. The hospitality of inviting someone in our lives is a vulnerable, beautiful practice.

We think of hospitality as how we open our homes to others, when it's really how we open ourselves to others. Own your words, talents, skills, dreams Because Vulnerable Makes the Thing Better. Vulnerability and authenticity feels scary, naked and exposing. Sharing our dreams, experiences, and hopes should feel that way because the stakes are high and our hearts are tender. The more the risk, the more the caring. If we did not care about our dream, it would not hurt as much to have it thwarted or unfulfilled. Storytelling highlights the risks we take, the regrets felt, the insecurities harnessed, and the stakes we gamble. Storytelling is a vulnerable act in building trust with another, and like anything we practice the more we do, the better we get, the better we see, the better we give.

I'm just a regular woman who loves, lives, and spends a lot of time falling apart a little. Here is where I write that story.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Snorkeling in Bali: just another near death experience

It is not really fair to say I felt I was going to die a third time in Bali, but the day we went snorkeling gave me a lot of anxiety! I have always had a love/hate relationship with water. I love to drink it, until I don't. I love to play in it, when I am touching the bottom. When I first went to swim classes around age 4 or 5, I would not put my face in the water and move up the stages of the first level to move onto the next class level. It took over a year for me to put my face in the water. I just need to visualize how it is going to go and work my way up to trying new things. But then when I do, like in that swim class, I move quickly through the stages with surging confidence. Still, I am not a huge fan of swimming in the ocean or going past my thighs. Undercurrent, nuh uh. Not seeing the bottom, nuh uh. Dark water, no thanks. Deep water and not touching the bottom, nah. Creatures swimming with me I am only familiar with from movies and aquariums like eels and sharks, big nope.

It is something I have to work through because I know if I do and don't die, I will enjoy seeing the world under the surface. In 2009, I wanted to challenge myself and also open the trip options to go to tropical places with my friend, Sarah. She lives all things water. She was on the swim team throughout school and did well in high school; she taught lessons and took SCUBA classes in college; she studied marine biology and education, pursued opportunities in college and grad school to be out on the water, and even now works full-time in that world; and she would probably live at or always vacation at the ocean if possible. We traveled together, and I hoped that by becoming certified in SCUBA, we could take a trip to the Keys or another fun location and I could practice diving. If you feel inclined to read the posts, check here, here, here, here, and here.

Add to all the previously listed stressors: breathing out of mouth; wearing goggles; mask over nose and I am a nose breather; possible water getting in the goggles; water getting in the snorkel; hyperventilating; a bad ankle from when I broke my leg in 2007, which makes it difficult and hurts to swim or use fins, which means extra effort on the calf, which means sometimes leg cramping; having to know and hook up my own air and equipment; a fear of heights translates to a fear of depths in the water. I also read the book and travel guides before our trip to Bali, the ones that mention the creatures you may run into and warnings about boat operators.

When we set up our snorkeling adventure with the resort, I was under the impression that we would go with others interested in snorkeling, take a van to the other side's beach, and be able to walk into the water. However, that morning, the resort desk staff pointed us to the staff member at the pool. He had us try on fins and masks and after we found ones that fit, pointed us to the edge of the resort property. Wait, so...we're not taking the van to the other side? We walk over and see a tiny boat that looked like a canoe but much taller and certainly did not seem watertight. Matt had to run the phones back to the room. When he came back, we had to get in the boat without a step and shortlegs here had to ask them to lean the boat my direction so I could fling myself over the side.

The boat ride across the sea was nerve wracking, and then I saw the other boats we would probably snorkel near. Remembering the story of a UVA student a few years ago, I was a little worried about swimming near so many boat motors. We arrived at our spot and the resort staff member was going to be our guide in the water. My sweet husband knew a little how much anxiety this whole shebang gave me, but I am not sure he knew the full extent. Jumping out of the boat meant climbing back inside later. I know myself, slippery boats and steps, and gravity, and that is a whole other challenge. Matt jumped off and was ready to snorkel (his first time!) and waiting for me. He assured me when I said I may not get out of the boat and made it clear that it was okay if I had spent the money to take this adventure and ended up staying in the boat.

But I wanted to go. I just needed a minute to breathe. Dear Jesus who told Peter to get out of the boat, help me get out of this boat.

Out of the boat (!), I took a moment to clear my mask and make sure everything was put on securely, breathed slowly in the snorkel so I did not hyperventilate, and I swam away from the boat and followed the guide into that big, blue sea.

I was making it! See picture for proof!

I still breathed too quickly and heavily if I could not see the guide, my snorkel filled with water, my the fin tired my ankle, I saw a fish or creature farther away and thought it might be coming at me, I saw something that looked very eel or snake like. When something was too close to me or I almost ran into another snorkeler, I would jump and start breathing quickly again.

When we had been swimming for a while and even came up to talk at a few spots and check in, my husband thought I must be doing okay. I was having a good time after all. Later he came up behind me and grabbed my ankle, which sent a flurry of panic through my body. I looked back to see who or what the danger as I was also yelling, "NO! STOP! LET ME GO RIGHT NOW!" The first time I have ever yelled at that sweet, sweet man. The panic was real. I do not like people being behind me. I do not like being grabbed. My ankles and feet were propelling me in the water so this literally was cause for me to stop. The startle. Reliving it now gives me a sense of panic. That man of mine immediately realized how big of a deal it was as I struggled to free my ankle and swim quickly away from my perceived danger and called out apologies. He felt so bad about not realizing how tense I still was in the water. He had just wanted to get me to look his direction at a cool fish. I felt so awful that I had yelled at him and that I felt such immense panic and anxiety. I cleared my mask several times to wash away the tears. I tried to remember to also breathe. Snorkeling is an activity in multitasking buoyancy.

We did see so many beautiful fish! I wish I had not been so panicky before I got out of the boat so I would have remembered to get out the GoPro. As it was, we swam about 45 minutes, and when we were nearing the boat's new spot, Matt went to get the camera so we could remember our adventure! Since we only had the camera for the last bit of swimming, we only have a few good shots. We actually have MANY pictures, but they are almost all the same fish or the blue and green fish do not show up with the color of the water. Go see Finding Dory. It's probably 97% of what we saw that day (speculation since it's in a similar part of the world and I have not actually seen it yet).


I am glad we were able capture a few pictures of our adventure, and I am glad we were able to go snorkeling. The fish and coral were so beautiful. Facing fears and being challenged is difficult, but it is so worthwhile. To gain new experiences and appreciation for amazing worlds seen only under water, sometimes you just have to get out of the boat.

Back on the boat and breathing, we headed for land, drinking in its beauty, breathing the calm.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tenganan: the second time we almost died in (or rather didn't make it out of) paradise

Our trip to Bali can be considered as two parts. The first part was in the lush highlands. Think rainforest foothills. The second half of our vacation moved us to the eastern coast, the epitome of paradise. Our resort was close to and offered a complimentary shuttle to the town of Candidasa and the remote village, Tenganan. Candidasa was small with one main street full of little shops and lined with person after person after person asking if you needed a taxi or wanted a day of boat and water activities. We barely looked at the shops but instead searched for trees, water, and a breeze. It was incredibly hot that day. We did pass a lovely little pond with so many lily pads and water lilies. 


We were trying to time our stroll with the complimentary shuttle from the hotel as it only came through Candidasa a few times during the day, but it would also go to the remote village Tenganan. We had even asked the driver of the shuttle as we went to Candidasa if the shuttle always also goes to Tenganan so we could catch the shuttle to come back. He assured us it did, but based on the confusion and miscommunication between he and Matt, we should have seen this as the first warning sign. It was so hot, Candidasa had so little we were interested in, and we were so frustrated and tired we decided to hire a taxi to go to Tenganan ourselves and time the visit to catch the late morning shuttle on the way back to the hotel. Thankfully, we did decide to hire the taxi though it would cost money, instead of walking as we discussed a couple of times. 

We told a driver we would like to go to this village, which was supposed to be very, very close to the town and pretty well-known as a remote and secluded society, but he initially did not seem to know where we were talking about. This should have been the second warning sign. The driver told us a fee that seemed way too much for the distance we would be riding, and we walked away. He walked after us offering other fees, but he would not take the fee Matt said we were hoping for. We walked on as there were many taxis on the street we could choose from, and he agreed to take us to the village for the fee named. As we agreed, Matt did make sure the fee was for a ride in a car or van rather than the dirt bikes by where we were standing. 

We got in the vehicle and rode a much longer way to the village than we had read it would be, so again, we were thankful we had chosen not to walk. The road also had a steady incline with narrow passages in spots and no shoulder, no trees, no shade. As we rode along, the driver with his very broken English tried to talk about the towns and ask where we were from. He mentioned the name of the town and pointed to a sign and kept talking as we took the left road of the Y. Seeing the name of the town on two signs going in separate directions should have been another warning sign, but since we could barely understand his words and he kept saying Tenganan, we did not give it a lot of thought. When he drove into the small parking lot at the entrance of the village, he pointed us to the stand where we would pay a "donation" and be escorted and toured around the village. 

We began walking with our guide down the main concourse, and I interrupted our tour to tell him we needed to be back at the parking lot at a certain time for our hotel shuttle. The guide asked which hotel and did not seem to recognize the name. That should have been another sign. We walked on listening intently to history and village layout. While we followed our guide, Matt and I shot each other glances and "I'm not sure we're in the right village"s. Calm(ish) in chaos, I said we might as well wait until we return to the entrance and wait for the shuttle before we worry. We press on with our tour!

We strolled down the main concourse through the small village, looking at their temple, outdoor meeting area, homes, and women practicing their crafts. This area is known for double ikat weaving, and a woman in one of the first homes with a side open to the road demonstrated her skill on a large loom. Then she showed us how she carves designs and stains the lines into banana leaves to create calendars and other etchings. We continued walking and hearing about the village and its people. This village is remote and had been secluded until a few decades ago, but it is still closed to outsiders. Meaning, only people born in the village can live in the village. If someone marries outside the village, he or she must leave. 


As we got to this higher area of the road to take a picture, we heard about another similar village close to the mountain and another similar village in the other direction. The villages were all called their word for "one," "two," "three," and as the guide elaborated, "In English, it is like 'Tenganan the first,' Tenganan two,' 'Tenganan three'"...

I hope you have been following me here because this is yet another sign that we might be in the wrong village. But in the meantime, let's look at some chickens and roosters outside of many homes!


Chickens were outside of many homes across Bali, but I took a picture of these because of the colorful painted one on the left. I bet it makes it taste better.

Circling back to the entrance and end of our tour, Matt and I decided to wait in a tiny market shop for our hotel shuttle. The market was essentially a roof  supported by posts with no walls, one shelf for drinks, one shelf for snacks, and a couple of tables with plastic outdoor picnic chairs. The shop owner had two small children with her, who sat beside us while we re-hydrated from the hot walk. We waited out the clock and tried to determine what time the shuttle would be at this location after the main stop in Candidasa. 

We waited, and waited, and waited. As you may have guessed, we were not in the right Tenganan village. Matt went to ask the ticket stand attendant about our hotel shuttle, and most of the people standing around did not seem to know the hotel name. One finally did and called the hotel for us to have them send a shuttle. THANK YOU, STRANGER!

We settled back at the table in the shelter and waited more. We talked to the shop keeper some and a little to her kids. They did not speak much English, and we did not speak their language so much of our communication was through smiling at the kids' playing. Eventually, I stood to walk around the shop and look at the weavings hanging on the line. There were sarongs and scarves in many bright colors. The fabric was soft and the patterns interesting. The shop owner came to tell me the cost of each I touched (by the way, everything sounds incredibly expensive in Bali/Indonesia as their currency is much different than the almighty U.S. dollar. For instance, 10,000 Rph is equal to about 75 cents in our currency--at least from today's rate). When the touch of one particularly lovely and soft fabric received a, "This one million," you quickly quit touching it! A number of items were less, but still, I knew we had given most of our cash to the taxi driver, the donation for the tour, and then the drinks. We hardly had any money left and would have to share a tiny drink if we were stuck there all day and needed another beverage, not to mention if we needed to pay someone to call the hotel for us or ask for any favors. The shop owner kept telling me prices and tugging at other scarves and sarongs to get my interest. When I shrugged and told her we had spent our cash on our drinks, she beamed, "Credit card??"

"Why, yes! I do have credit card. I had no idea I could use." "Yes, yes. You can use credit card with *points to man across street at entrance ticketing stand*" "Great! *walk over to man*" He walks with me back to shop and asks about items and amount and then tells me to come with him. "The machine is just on other side of ticket booth" so I looked back at my husband sitting at the table as I walked down the concourse to supposedly the next building. While we are walking, the man tells me the machine is in his home, just past this place. We kept walking. "Oh, look at the chickens, the goats. We have pets and dinner." We kept walking. He pointed out things as we walked and asked if the guide had told us about this and that and answered all our questions. We kept walking. I asked how far we were going because I needed to get back for our hotel shuttle. "Oh, we are almost there." We kept walking. Finally we turn off the main path and walk down a little alley, under a wire, by a bunch of chickens at head-level. We turn again to a smaller alley. We turn again into a tiny doorway, which opened into a courtyard. Well, this will at least be an interesting way to die. 

He introduces me to his home and removes his shoes. He walks up the platform that looks a little like the stone table Aslan was on in The Chronicles of Narnia, and he turns to motion for me to come up the steps with him. I do and walk through an even smaller doorway than the previous passages and we are standing in a room with a little table, mop, bucket, and cup. The floor is tile, and I assume easy to clean me up after I'm killed with maybe the cup? But a little machine is pulled from the door under the table and he punches many buttons. My card is swiped, I sign a receipt for him and one for the bank in pencil, which seems a little worrisome, and receive another copy to take with me. We wait for a while for the modem to connect. He tells me how they share a credit card machine and assures me the shop owner will receive the money I pay. The transaction is complete, he gathers his shoes, acknowledges the home temple on our way out of the doors, and we walk the paths back. We chat and laugh. Hey, they wanted my money, not my life today! What a good day!

Then I see my husband and one of the village men walking toward me as we neared the village entrance. I assumed this meant the hotel shuttle had arrived and I hurried so it would not have to wait. I was not late; they were only coming to find me. After I had been gone for quite some time, my loving husband walked up to the ticket stand and asked, "Hey, where has my wife been taken? She has been gone too long. Can you take me to her??" And the reply, "Oh, the white woman? (as if we did not already stick out there and it was not obvious) Yes, I will take you." So they set off searching for me, the white woman. In our marriage, this is probably the most cared for I have felt. Who doesn't want a spouse who will hunt her down in a remote village where he doesn't speak the language in a foreign country on the other side of the world?? All the heart eyes, all the swoons.

We moved from the little shop across to an open air shelter on the other side of the parking lot to wait. The "seating" was a large piece of plywood held up by several short posts. Two men were already sitting on one side. They invited us to sit with them. We could have fit another 8 people or so spacewise, but I was already skeptical of the posts holding more than the two men sitting. Still, we sat. The platform remained steady. We waited and watched a tiny TV with some American talk show with these men. We waited. We talked about the hotel shuttle. I could see Matt was nervous telling so many people which hotel we were staying in. First, there would be many knowing our location. Second, we were staying in a very nice resort (though we paid a small fraction of the cost in our travel deal) and might be taken advantage of. We waited more. Matt asked the man at the ticket booth if he would mind calling again. We persuaded someone to call for us. We were assured the hotel was on its way. We waited more. Every time a vehicle drove into the parking lot, we sat up. "Is that...." "No..." We considered asking to borrow the phone to call the taxi driver who had brought us to the village from Candidasa. Even though he certainly knew he took us to the other village, we were willing to have him take us to the hotel. We talked about asking the shop owner's husband to take us to the hotel, for a fee of course. But we kept waiting. Eventually the hotel shuttle had arrived. YEEEEEEEEES! All the exclamations! 

We got in, opened the waters the driver had waiting for us, turned the air vents to our faces, and sighed with relief. On the way back to the hotel, the driver chuckled and told us that he had gone to the "other" Tenganan village and no one had seen us there so he drove back to the hotel (~20 minutes each way), and it was not until they received the other call that both sides realized we were in a completely different Tenganan village (though we had told the villagers we believed this to be the case). In a village closed to outsiders, we really had a difficult time trying to leave.

We lived and had quite the experience doing so. The beautiful double ikat sarong I purchased from the little shop is now a fun tablecloth reminding us of our adventure.