I’m in the car being driven to see my friend in Canggu. I would normally drive myself but I have work to do and it’s easier to type (like I’m doing now) if I’m in the passenger seat. Though I have no doubt that many Balinese would attempt to do both at the same time, considering the laissez faire attitude to driving on the island…that was a stop sign? Look at me! No hands! Why can’t I talk on my mobile, drive one handed with my baby strapped to my chest with a sarong, wearing no helmet and balancing a dozen coconuts and two other family members on my bike? Why do I need to look right before pulling into traffic? What do you mean I have to be 16 to ride a motorbike? I’m 9 but I look 12, that’s plenty old enough… I on the other hand have a strong sense of self-preservation. And I really, really don’t want to kill someone.
Anyway, I digress…our driver Komang (who deserves a sainthood for driving three screaming banshee girls every day to and from school…why’d you think I handed over car pool duties?) is bouncing me over the ruts. We almost bounce into a woman in kebaya and sarong, laying an offering in the middle of the road.
‘Why is she laying the offering in the middle of the road?’ I ask Komang. I mean, I’m used to the laying of offerings and I am a full believer in placating spirits (through several experiences we’ve all become full believers in the magic and spirits to be found in Bali) but I’ve never understood why sometimes the offerings are in the middle of the road.
‘Oh,’ he replies, swerving to avoid the beautiful coconut leaf tray of rice and flowers. ‘It’s for the devil.’
‘The devil?’ I ask, shooting nervous glances into the jungle on either side of us.
‘Yes, if it’s on the ground it’s for the devil. We give offerings to the good spirits and to the devil,’ he explains.
‘At every junction,’ Komang goes on to explain, ‘The Balinese make statue and temple because there were so many collisions and people dying before.’
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘So they built the statues to slow people down?’
I’m thinking of this giant statue that sits on a really crucial intersection near our house. It’s almost impossible to see what’s coming so you creep slowly forwards until just enough of the road is visible for you to know if it’s safe to pull out. The Balinese, much more at home with ideas of mortality and believing as they do in karma normally fly straight out without so much as a pause, reminding me of that classic Clueless scene where Cher is taking her drivers’ test and runs a stop sign… ‘I like totally paused.’
I strive for this mental attitude…this notion that when your time’s up, your time’s up…so why stress about it? I
But I’m thinking, that’s actually some wise and clever urban planning right there, plonking giant statues at intersections to try to slow people down and force them to look first before pulling out but…
‘No,’ Komang replies. ‘They’re for the offerings.’
Of course they are. Though judging from the number of deaths on the road here each day perhaps some traffic lights might also be in order?