I love that Alula is growing up somewhere so full of magic and wonder. Where she runs around school barefoot, singing songs about love and thanking the mother earth and father sun for her lunch. Where at night she counts geckos not sheep. In the mornings she wakes up and squawks ‘cockadoodledoooo’ at the top of her lungs. Normality for her is putting offerings out for the fairies and stopping to pat the Ganesha and Buddha statues by our door on the way to school.
There are few of the same issues here that plague children back in the UK. There’s little in the way of one upmanship (so far) – when the only toys to be had are wooden drums from the market or cheap plastic tat from the only supermarket. There’s no fashion so to speak so no comparing expensive brands. Hardly any of the kids watch tv so there are no trends to follow – no Bratz dolls, High School Musical (errr actually I have no idea what the latest trend is either). Most the parents living here are eco-conscious, ecstatic dancing, broad-minded joy seekers and the children in their tie dyed clothes, waist length hair and tri-lingual happiness reflect that.
In many ways living here is as perfect a childhood (in our book) as you could give a child. She has us with her almost all the time, has made friends with people from all around the world, is learning another language, is being immersed in a culture which respects the earth and nature and the spirits, is surrounded by nature in her bamboo school and in her house amidst the rice paddies.
But at the same time it’s a bubble world. It’s a tiny part of the globe which is rapidly changing and shifting as Starbucks and the dollar take hold but nonetheless a world which remains a bubble for the time being.
Today at the Bali Spirit Festival, surrounded by many friends and people wearing an astonishing amount of Lycra, Alula ran barefoot and free, squelching in mud, dancing to West African rhythms, stroking snakes, eating ice cream, chanting to Kirtan. And then she was with us one moment and gone the next – yelling something about going off to do some magic.
We found her twenty minutes later sitting in the children’s tent glueing and sticking. When I talked to her at bedtime about not running off ever again she asked why and I struggled with how to explain just enough that would make her understand but not enough to frighten her.
‘Because we worry about you,’ I said.
‘But why?’ she said, and I saw it from her perspective. Why would we worry about her when she’s amongst friends in a place she’s never felt afraid, where all the children are running happily amok?
‘Because it’s relatively safe here,’ I said, ‘but sometimes, in some places, it isn’t safe to do that. You can’t do that in London for instance.’
‘What’s safe?’ she asked.
How do you shatter a four year old’s innocence?
‘Just there are bad people out there and we don’t want something to happen to you,’ I say.
‘A bad person like the person who took daddy’s flip flops?’ Alula asked.
‘Yes, like that.’ I said. ‘And we love you and don’t want anything bad to ever happen to you.’
‘Like the flip flops?’
Growing up in a bubble is wonderful, magical even and I feel sure that it’s the best thing we could do for her. We just have to hope that she isn’t being set up for a massive shock when it bursts, as eventually, one day it must.