I’m going to Bali! It’s as if the pandemic never happened. Except it is – and it hurt us all differently | Brigitte Delaney
I’m going abroad! To finish!! After two and a half years of staying there, it’s time to travel again. OK, I’m just crossing the metaphorical road to Bali, but still, I’m leaving the fortress.
The international departures terminal is empty except for the check-in queue for Denpasar, which is dense and slow, like trying to digest a bowl of birch.
I take my place at the end and get to work on practical matters. A friend told me that I needed an international vaccination certificate, so I downloaded the Indonesian app. Some of them are in Bahasa Indonesia and are difficult to understand. It has a bad rating on the App Store. I’m not surprised at how clumsy it is!
I try to upload my vaccine certificate but there is no link, so I upload a screenshot and spend the next 30 minutes entering my details. I show the men waiting behind me the Indonesian app. “You need to download this, upload your vax certificate and fill in all fields.”
The hours pass. By the time the three of us arrive at the front, the plane is ready to board.
But where are our international vaccine certificates? We show them our Indonesian apps.
“No, not those!” airline staff said. “You need the one attached to your Medicare app.”
The men shoot me a murderous look.
“Sorry!” I say.
The check-in clerk has to pick up my phone and manually download the Medicare app, but I have less than 10% battery and can’t remember my password.
Meanwhile, the men panic at their own counters. “But I had four vaccines!” said a man.
The clock is turning. Download complete.
“To run!” said the clerk.
My bag is scanned and then removed for verification. Nope!!!!!
Liquids? Nope! Do they think I never stole? Do they think I’m an amateur? Do they think I’m not Match adjusted?
The gloved man unpacks my things. Then he finds this and hold it up. A can of cold brew coffee. What’s it doing in there? Why did I pack a cold brew?
“I’m sorry. We’ll have to throw this away.
My back is by clicking. I have a cough. Nope! I run. I am late. I travel! I run along a stationary treadmill, breathing hard like a witch. I’m back baby!!
There is a different atmosphere on the plane than usual. People are nice, nice. They help each other pack their bags, swap seats so their friends can sit together, showing strangers pictures of where they’re going. A young host lends his charger to a group of passengers, and at the end of the flight, they all exchange numbers and meet in Uluwatu.
People are going on vacation – perhaps for the first time in years – and it’s the trip they’ve been dreaming of, the elixir to get through the long lockdowns, the dream that is now real.
We arrive late and the air is hot and smells of exhaust fumes and flowers around the bend. My driver talks about a big ceremony, once every 25 years, which lasts all week. We pass temples, with people spilling onto the roads; people on motorbikes, men in white and gold suits and women in long dresses belted with a wide belt. In the dark, driving down familiar roads, it’s as if the pandemic never happened. But of course he did.
I ask Balinese people I meet how they have been for the past two years.
Wayan has worked in tourism for three decades – he works in an area close to Ubud Oval. He can do a great Australian accent. He’s spent the pandemic working on infrastructure projects, which he says has been hard on his body. Decades of driving people to airports hadn’t prepared him for manual labor.
Wayan’s brother Made worked on a chicken farm and had to sleep outside with the chickens and hated every minute. Then the price of chicken feed went up and the owner went bankrupt and he got a job building a road just outside Denpasar. Both jobs paid just enough for food.
Ketut is a third-generation tourism worker, and when visitors stopped coming to Bali in March 2020, he had to decide whether or not to continue with his marriage. His family needed money for food, so he used his marriage savings to support four people for the indefinite future. In the end, he had a small wedding but had to borrow money from the pawnbroker in his village, which he still owes but does not earn enough to pay back.
I go home and talk to a friend who lived in Bali. She says she wishes she was Balinese during the pandemic: “They have a religion and a family. They watch over each other. We only have the government. You get your $750 per week. You won’t starve, but you don’t have the other safety nets – family, community, ritual, belief.
Many Balinese were struggling existentially during Covid. Starvation was a very real possibility for some. I didn’t know if it was really possible to compare the situations of the two countries. I flipped the question for an awkward moment. If a Balinese had asked a random group of Australians how they were coping during the pandemic, they might have found a different kind of gloom: increased demand for mental health services, people drinking too much and without the positive counterbalance of socializing, a steep rise in loneliness, the quiet desperation and fuzziness of Zoom meetings, closed playgrounds, 11am press conferences, broken businesses and not knowing when it would end .
The whole world has suffered in the last two years, but what is amazing is how different and specific each country’s experience and suffering is, and in addition everyone’s the experience was for them.
Each person’s suffering is unique and terrible – both understood and yet not understood by others.
Milan Kundera wrote in Immortality that suffering is the most specific thing a person experiences – more specific than thought.
“The basis of the self is not thought but suffering, which is the most fundamental of all feelings. As long as it suffers, even a cat cannot doubt its unique and non-interchangeable self. In intense suffering, the world disappears and each of us is alone with himself. Suffering is the university of egocentrism.