As I sat in the house of a newly wedded couple I had known for all of 30 minutes, I looked around and couldn’t help but feel comfortable, even ‘at home’. I had been to Bali many times before, but something about this trip was very different. I had been in Bali for around 11 days when I met Made Suwana, a man from BAWA (Bali Animal Welfare Association) the place I was documenting for The Kindness Effect.
After spending my first day with BAWA visiting local schools and vaccinating animals, Made and his colleagues invited me to a traditional Balinese wedding. Two of the BAWA staff were getting married and I was “more than welcome” to join in the festivities. At first I didn’t think that I could possibly go to this event, as a complete stranger to these people, and at least in Australia I’m sure that’s how most people would react. But Made and his colleagues promised me that I was more than welcome and that it would be good for me to see the real Bali and experience real customs.
On the morning of the wedding, I dressed appropriately and respectfully by ensuring my legs and shoulders were covered and I was promptly picked up at 10am by Made Suwana on his motorbike.
“…Made I’m in a dress and heels, I can’t get on the back of that motorbike!” I exclaimed.
“Of course you can,” he replied. “You’ll be fine, It’s really not such an issue! It’s only up the road to meet the others, then we will get in a mini van.”
When we arrived at the mini van, I was lovingly welcomed by Kadek Satria, Bagus and his wife, Ibu Riana and Agung. The drive to the wedding was 4 hours, but it was filled with laughter, great conversation, singing and prayer. When we finally arrived at the wedding I was feeling relaxed and happy and I felt like these people I had only just met were in some way my family. In fact, in all my travels to Bali over the years, I have always seen the Balinese people as incredibly warm, welcoming and loving.
While not many of the guests spoke English, except four of the BAWA staff members, and I definitely didn’t speak Indonesian, we still managed to communicate all afternoon. Something about this day made me feel as though despite our communication barrier and our obvious different ways of life, we weren’t all that different.
After eating amazing home cooked food, everyone settled into their usual afternoon rituals. The old women were playing cards, the men were drinking coffee and smoking, the children were running around bare-foot chasing chickens and Made Suwana and I sat and conversed about life and other wonderfully spiritual topics.
Made Suwana (pronounced Ma-day Su-wana) is an incredible man with an incredible story! He is a past teacher and a current educator at BAWA, an artist, husband and father, animal lover and proclaimed ‘black sheep’ of his culture. He told me how him and his wife ran away together to get married as their families didn’t approve because they were from different classes (how romantic). Before Made met his wife, he battled with alcohol and other addictions for many years. He says his childhood and adolescent years taught him many things and I got an insight into these, in the 3 days I spent with him. In turn, I shared my story about my upbringing and family, and he opened up to me about his past as a teacher and his views on education.
“To be a teacher, is to pass on a message and to challenge your students. It’s not to instruct or order, or tell them what they need to learn, but to challenge them and hope that they grow and open their minds and in turn teach themselves and others around them”.
As the discussion continued we discussed religion and faith, humanity and pain, laws and cultures and above all we talked about people. We spoke about the fact that there are so many ‘ways of life’, so many different religions, different cultures and customs, different expectations and yet we are all connected somehow. He told me that he was very different to the usual Balinese person, because he wasn’t religious and didn’t believe in one God, but rather he believed in science and evolution. He said he still prays and his wife and children still practise, however he believes that something connects us all and it’s not religion or science; it’s something much simpler.
Made said to me…
“Tell me, do we all have red blood?”
“Yes”, I responded.
“If we are cut, do we all bleed red blood?”
“Yes”, I responded again.
“Then tell me something, aren’t we all the same?”
“Yes”, was my refrain.
After spending more than a week in a country that is completely different to my home and my way of life, one might be tempted to think that I may have answered in the negative. But, I couldn’t because this trip (among many others around the world) and this brilliant man that I had the privilege of meeting taught me something most of us fundamentally and too often forget.
Appearance… yes we are different. Views on life and how to live it…yes we are different. But all that stuff is just surface level.
Underneath it all we are all humans, part of something bigger than all of us and we owe it to our fellow humans to be a kind person, in every sense of the word.
After all, we all bleed red blood.
Myself with the one and only Made Suwana.
**To read more information on BAWA, the work they do and how you can help, jump over to http://bawabali.com