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A Different Sort of Silence

Thursday, April 18, 2013

As an exchange student, silence has sort of become my new way of life. Speaking tends to take a backseat to listening, to watching the frantic motions and trying to decipher the mix of Indonesian/Javanese spoken by everyone around me.

While I was in Bali this past weekend, silence took on a new meaning as I had the opportunity to take part in observing the Hindu holiday of Nyepi.

Nyepi is one of the rituals which marks the Balinese Hindu new year, and involves spending an entire day - traditionally, from 6 AM on Nyepi to 6 AM the next day - fasting, not using electronics, and doing self-reflection.

It's also forbidden to go outside. Except for traditional guardsmen, who patrol around with flashlights checking for disturbances in observation of the holiday, Bali's normally roaring streets are completely deserted.

Before Nyepi, there were a few days full of rituals unique to Bali's brand of Hinduism. One involved making an offering in front of the house, then marching throughout the entire building smudging the air with burning wood, and banging pots and pans in order to drive out any lingering demons or otherwise unpleasant presences in the home.

After that, the entire neighbourhood seemed to pour outside to see the parading and subsequent destruction of ogoh-ogoh, paper mache representations of demons which sit by the sides of the road, giving passing motorists the stink eye for days before the holiday.

Once night fell, the ogoh-ogoh were carried through the streets by groups of tipsy Balinese boys, followed by a raucous band playing percussion in maddening beats, and crowded in by hoardes of Balinese and foreigners alike, all of us dazzled by the ceremony and utterly compelled to join in the parade.

At the end of the night, the ogoh-ogoh were all destroyed by the boys, who spun and shook them until they groaned and toppled over themselves. Although usually burned the same night, the village we followed decided to burn them the day after Nyepi, which was the next morning. Walking home under the buzzing yellow street lights, giving a piggy-back ride to one of the kids who followed us to see the parade, I was never more excited at the prospect of waking up to an absolutely lazy day.

Nyepi, however, turned out to be more than just a lazy day. It was a day to discover the beauty of just sitting and being, of talking to everyone I was with, of getting henna and playing with the kids next door who left their house just to come and hang out with the new bule neighbors. And, cliche though this may be, you really don't know what you've got until it's gone: Nyepi gave me a new appreciation for AC, my iPod, the ever-constant background drone of the TV.

My Nyepi henna, courtesy of Avery

In a holiday jam-packed with trips to the beach, breathless walks in holy sites, and reveling in the incredible selection of familiar Western foods, Nyepi was a breath of fresh air. It reminded me of the importance to just take a second, every day, to stop and think, and to wonder at all the things around me. And most of all it taught me that silence can sometimes be just as powerful as words, that observation is instrumental in action. It's just a balance that needs to be struck.

And now enjoy some random pictures of my various adventures in the Island of the Gods. 

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I'm Sara, the freckled bule, one out of eight of the coolest people in the world. I spent a year in Indonesia as a KL/YES Abroad student but now I live in Boise, Idaho. Welcome to my bloggity blog.


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