By Diane Winston
I’m a politician. My friend, Tanya, is an artist. I’m left-brained. She’s right-brained. I’m not sure I know what that means, but she does and it seems relevant to my story. What I do know is that we share a love for Indonesia and recently traveled together to experience the beauty and the bounty of Bali.
We both fancy ourselves as pretty handy with a camera. As we make our way to the beach one morning in Sanur, the sun is just a hint of itself on the horizon although its radiance laces the sky and clouds over what I can only describe as the exotic that is Sanur Beach. The spirit of Bali envelops us in a way you can almost touch. By the way, did I say I was left-brained? I touch.Â Tanya feels. Yet at this moment, our labels drop away and we are no longer wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, employers, employees or any of those adjectives others ascribe to us or we ascribe to ourselves. We’re just two women with sand between our toes and sun on our faces, eyes closed, and dare this left-brainer say it? We are in the moment.
Back to the cameras. After reveling in the sunrise, we aim our cameras to the exact same object. A beautiful young Balinese girl walks ahead of us. Despite the tall stack of sarongs she carries on her head and walking barefoot on uneven sand, she is so graceful. While I can’t see her face, I’m certain that, were I able to, I would see confidence, purpose, beauty and… balance. It occurs to me that this is one reason I’m here: Seeking balance in a life I have managed to fill up with the busyness of duties, obligations, service, and other minutiae of life.
Again, back to the cameras. Tanya and I lift them and look through our respective viewfinders at the girl ahead of us. Although we are looking at the same thing, we are not seeing the same thing. Both of us do see a beautiful girl. But Tanya sees imprints in the sand of the girl’s feet as she walks. She sees the shadow cast by the girl and her cargo. She sees the curve and the sway of the palm fronds above the young girl as a mirror image of the curve and sway of the girl’s hips. Everything in Bali, human and otherwise, seems to move in concert with each other. It’s a rhythm into which it is easy to fall.
What’s in my viewfinder? I see the personification of Bali’s beach economy. I see a woman going to work and taking her place in the commerce that comes to life every morning on the beach. I see another example that women seem to do a lot of the really hard work in Bali.
It’s nice to travel with someone who doesn’t think you have to do everything together. While in Bali, I learned about a society unique in its architecture and in its death rituals, distinctive from anywhere else in the more than 17,000 islands comprising Indonesia. Sulawesi is a quick plane ride north from Bali. Off I went while Tanya marinated in the ambiance of Sanur.Â Â Toraja is a province within Sulawesi that is also unique because its dominant religion, Catholicism, is quite the minority faith in a country having more Muslims than any other country in the world. (By the way, Bali’s dominant religion is Hindu.)
The death rituals in Toraja seem to involve the entire community. When a member of the community dies, the highest tribute one can offer to the family is a bull, or water buffalo. The higher the status of the one who died, the greater the number of bulls involved in the ceremony. All the bulls are eventually slaughtered in front of the crowd. The meat is divided up among the people attending and the bull’s horns adorn the front of the house of the person who died, the number of horns signifying the status of that individual within the community.
Once tutored in the history and unique culture of Toraja, one is less horrified by the blood and gore associated with the bulls and funerals of Toraja. I took lots of pictures, anxious to use them to share this cultural and religious experience with my friend, as words alone cannot make the point that bulls are central to every aspect of life in Toraja and especially central to their main community celebration: Death.
First, no amount of dispassionate explanation about the revered status of bulls in Toraja could force my friend to look at pictures involving their slaughter. I simply couldn’t make her see them like I saw them.
Conversely, I had a few pictures of a water buffalo cooling itself in a rice paddy. It was almost fully submerged with just its head and back exposed above the murky water. Pretty mundane in my opinion. Tanya was immediately drawn to it. She loved its composition, the beauty of the shape of the partially exposed bull, the juxtaposition of this strong animal within the pliant confines of a rice paddy. We will both remember the bulls of Toraja. IÂ see more of their beauty because of my friend’s perspective expressed and she sees more of the unique cultural significance of these animals because of my perspective expressed.
Most of us women who love to travel to Southeast Asia do so to experience something new – to learn about other cultures. We like to collect memories and souvenirs. We take these things home, bank them, and every so often make a withdrawal in order to be instantly reminded of the very singular experience we had halfway around the world – to be instantly reminded that nurturing our souls is as necessary to a healthy life as nurturing our bodies.
As contradictory as it sounds, this very singular experience happens frequently, not when you travel with like-minded people, which we all tend to assume makes for a better trip, but when you travel withÂ people who don’t necessarily have your same profile – your same look at life – who don’t look through a camera’s viewfinder and see the same thing as you do. I suggest not only your trip, but your life, is enriched and more fulfilling when your travel mates have a brain-side dominance opposite from yours. It’s all about balance.
I still don’t understand exactly what being left or right-brained really means. All I know is out of 200 pictures I took in Bali, mostly of people, my favorite is a pink lotus in LovinaÂ Beach. The flower is very pretty. But you should see the shadow it casts on the sidewalk. In Bali, even the shadows enchant.
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Mother and businesswoman for 38 years, Diane Winston spent the last 12 years serving in Louisiana’s state legislature. Â Newly single and having to leave office because of term limits, she is discovering a love for travel and hopes these new experiences help her to decide what she wants to be when she grows up.
Lotus and water buffalo: Author
All other photos: Tanya Dischler