How to Make a Home Away from Home

Our return from East Timor back to Bali felt almost like coming back home! At the Denpasar airport we breezed through the immigration, knowing well which was the shortest line. Walking out of the arrivals hall we were not anxiously looking to find transport and bracing ourselves for the onslaught of taxi offers. We had our driver waiting for us and he kindly stopped on the way at Coco Supermarket so we could buy some milk and breakfast staples.And then as we arrived to our House in Hidden Garden and were welcomed by our landlady, our gardener and tail wagging Luna, “our” dog, it felt like being back home. The cleaning lady had left a packet of freshly laundered clothes on our bed and the fridge has been stocked with our favorite tropical fruit–mangosteen. The usual late afternoon practicing sounds of the neighborhood gamelan orchestra and the cooing of our resident pair of doves in the garden brought us right back to our daily life. The slender grey doves with polka dotted necks coo in the afternoons, the classical chorus of all the other birds warble at first light, about six in the morning.

We have put some of our own touches on the house: set out some newly purchased wooden sculptures in the garden and living room, a new tea pot and special bread basket on the dining table.Since we first met 35 years ago we shared many places and right from the start tried to make them our home. Of course the familiar, uniquely your objects make a house a home, but home is also a sense of belonging and being safe to be you. Coming home where you are accepted and loved for who you are, even and especially if you had a terrible day and you are in a horrible mood.

One Mother’s Day I got a gift of a photo collage with a sentence: Home is Where Your Mom is. I was glad that our girls expressed that feeling, because I knew it well. For many years after we were married and had a home of our own, I got on my husband’s nerves by saying I was going home, whenever I travelled to Europe to see my mom and my family.

Being at home means having daily routines. Breakfast has always been a special time for us, a time before all hell breaks loose in the daily grind of family and work. No matter how early our day begins, we always have breakfast together. Much easier to do so now, of course. In the land of rice and noodles we managed to find our traditional breakfast staples: olive oil, tomatoes, cheese and fresh bread.

Every morning, just shortly after sunrise, before the killing heat of the day makes it almost impossible to walk around, Mirek leaves the house for a short ten minute walk tothe Daily Baguette, a French bakery shop on Ubud’s Main Street to pickup a loaf of fresh sourdough with a crust you don’t find often in places where baking has not had a millennia of tradition.

After a few weeks in Ubud we learned how to master the rather rigid layout of the main streets and make use of narrow alley shortcuts without car traffic. Which does not mean the way is danger free, there are motorcycles of all shapes and sizes, squeezing through. They are everywhere, clogging the roads and taking over the sidewalks. A motorcycle or a Vespa is a transportation mode for old and young. There is a family sedan model too, carrying families, large and small. All sorts of compositions can be spotted: a typical family with dad, mom and two kids squeezed in between. There are moms with tiny babies in their laps, and dads with a toddler standing up in front of them, holding on to the steering. Don’t be surprised to find that there is a special day dedicated to blessing the motorcycles, in addition to cars and anything else metal. On that day they are especially lovingly washed and bedecked with flowers and offerings before the priests come around for the ceremony.Having no wheels ourselves we brought out our laptop and added it to the other household items that were covered with a yellow cloths and blessed by our very own Manku.“How old do you have to be to drive a motorcycle?” we ask our driver upon our last foray into the countryside.

“The official age to drive a motorcycle is 17,” he says.

“Are you sure?” Mirek asks as we pass the kids going home from school. We are just overtaking two motorcycles with the tiniest of girls each driving their friend home. Yes, the Balinese all look much younger than their age, but even the driver agrees that one of the girls could not have been more than 8. He is quite shaken and very upset with the parents who allow that.

“Kids used to walk to school,” he says. “Nobody walks anywhere any more and all they do is eat junk food, play video games and get fat!” We felt right at home with this one.

We are not brave nor crazy enough to rent a motorcycle, the traffic being what it is, with the addition of boys playing soccer, dogs taking a nap or picking a fight in the middle of the road, chickens running around like well, a chicken without a head, an occasional escaped pig being chased by the whole extended family… Every so often I see a Westerner bandaged up on their knees and chin. Invariably it is due to a motorcycle accident.

Walking the small alleys around our home it is hard not to notice that dogs do not bark at us any more. The “residential street dog”

on the corner, where you turn to our compound’s gate just keeps on sleeping as we step over him, without even opening an eye. And the one that got the name of “Rémy’s brother”, because of the likeness to our dog back in Californianow barely looks at us with the just slightest vestige of suspicion, where before he not only barked at us, but chased after us as we were passing! And when we return back home, Luna is at the gate with a question in her eyes,“Where have you been? I have been waiting for you!”

If we run out of our favorite Javanese loose leaf black tea, we know where to get more, as well as where to get cheap and tasty Indonesian take out and where to go for decent pizza. Buy one get one free on Fridays! We know all too well which ice cream place has the best passion fruit gelato. We know which bank ATM spits out the most rupiah, where we can print a document and which post office is opened the longest.

We could easily just hang around at home and enjoy the beautiful garden. There is always a new flower

or animal making a welcome appearance.

A small black lissome snake (water snake, not dangerous, but stay away from the green ones), a decent sized monitor lizard, or a green chameleon. (Perhaps it is not a chameleon at all, as it does not seem to change colors). Different sizes of geckos, with their distinct “Ge-cko!” cry and different species of frogs making an array of somewhat embarrassing sounds like farting.All of interest to Luna, but it is the squirrel in the tree that really makes her crazy. Who knew one would finds squirrels on Bali?

We do make sure that when it cools down somewhat we go jalan-jalan (walking about). We have mastered the four different greetings according to the time of day and all neighbors responds in kind with pleasant smiles. I was hoping to find a private language teacher, but despite a few leads, it did not quite work out. I bought a pocket booklet of Easy Indonesian, but then most people here speak Balinese first, Indonesian second.  And enough speak English that the impetus to learn was diminished. As usual, I find that knowing greetings and how to count to three and how to tell a parent that their kid is cute goes a long way. I did try a few different yoga classes, but I guess no guru presented itself. Perhaps the student was not ready!?Another thing on the list that we did not accomplish is having a famous specialty of Babi gulig (suckling pig). We actually went to the well known Oka restaurant right in our neighborhood, but after getting in through the back door and seeing the killing grounds and pigs turning on the spits we kind of lost the appetite. They looked a lot cuter in the flower bedecked sculptures.A few times a week we go to the movies, sit on our favorite couch and order raspberry gelato and lime juice. It is funny, but we are starting to run into people we know; downtown Ubud is not that big and the expat community is neither.

We must be becoming somewhat part of that community as well, for we were just invited to our first fundraiser. (A great excuse to buy a new dress! And no high heels needed, by local custom it was a barefoot affair.) We are so lucky not only to have found a beautiful and comfortable place to live, but that it comes with a landlady who is worldly, highly educated and knows many people of interest, both local and expat. She was born into a diplomatic family and was educated in the West. While her family was Muslim, she is a devout Buddhist with good knowledge of Hindu Bali religion. You can imagine the enlightening conversations we have. She designs beautiful patchwork bags-it is fun hanging around and seeing her creative process.She is also quite indulgent and is willing to invite friends over for lunch or dinner, so we can meet some interesting people from the world of writing and photography. They can answer some questions from their perspective, though sometime the answer is, “The longer I live here, the less I understand.”

Such gatherings give us a great opportunity to cook. We have always loved hosting people, the more the merrier. Barbecue on the back deck, or dinner around our big dining room table, with long discussions over extra bottles of wine is the best way we know how to spend a weekend. There is something primal in breaking bread together, which helps you really get to know people. No, a cocktail party just doesn’t cut it. So we are scouring the shops for staples to make potato marjoram soup, or fried chicken schnitzel and sweet peas. A stack of crepes with cherry jam was the latest specialty.

It feels good to answer the ever present question, that follows right after “Where are you from?”,

“How long you stay Bali?” with,

“Two months.”

“Wow, two months, that long time.”

Not long enough, really. It is nearly time to leave. The only consolation being that we are already looking at coming back next year.But now it is time to turn the page to our next adventure- the Island of Sumba.

6 thoughts on “How to Make a Home Away from Home

  1. I would always travel with some photos and my African Dolls and a Moroccan bedspread and carpet. This made it feel like home wherever I was until I finally built my own home.


    1. Bringing your very personal items to your temporary home is a nice idea, but when you travel for a year your baggage is limited. At least it was, until we bought too much new stuff 😉 Breaking the rules is fun now and again! > > >


  2. As always, I enjoyed having you bring your travels to life through words and photos. Looks like you both got so much out of your time in Bali! On to the next destination!


  3. Thanks for sharing your travel experience in such an interesting lively way. Especially the part on Timor-Leste was of interest to me, since – after we met – I decided to go over to Flores.
    Since I am back home and back work,this also helps me to project the vacation feeling into my allday live experience.
    Keep on travelling – keep on posting!
    Cheers, Daniel


    1. Great to hear from a fellow traveler! One of the best things about travel is meeting great people like you! Keep on making plans for those scuba trips and other adventures! See you in Europe this summer perhaps!


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