Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Streets

This morning the garbage truck came, accompanied by a pack of dogs. The garbage truck is a pickup truck which conveys the raw trash who knows where. Or perhaps the attendants sprinkle the stuff along the way, like the sandman sprinkling sleep during the night.

The recycling service follows. This is a man with a wheelbarrow.

People who live in Bali, who are born in Bali and never leave Bali can only know the world as a very hot place, by day and by night, a place that smells sometimes of incense, sometimes of rancid little piles of trash, of standing water in the street gone toxic amid the flowing stream of exhaust from motor bikes which have never in their lives known a visit to the DEQ, for there is of course no DEQ; nor sanitation service other than the local ditch, no street sweepers other than the elderly ibu caring for her warung, or the daughter, or the man who carries his careworn broom like a briefcase from storefront to storefront, pitching in for a coin, 200 Rupiah, both nothing and everything.

The front pocket of my son's backpack bulges with such coins, which he uses to buy milk and chicken and rice at school.

In the back alleyways, from the sagging mouths of the hovels, baking in natural brick ovens topped by tin rooves come children, hands outstretched. You cannot always say yes. You cannot often say it. You give a little girl what's left of the bottle of Fanta you were drinking and off she runs, clutching the prize as if it were a home run ball in the stands of a baseball stadium as she seeks to outdistance the inevitable pack of thirsty compatriots.

In the pasar, the street market, people crowd in shoulder to shoulder, bargaining for the best, bargaining to beat both the seller and the buyer to the deal of the century--fruits, vegetables, chicken parts, wings and legs and feet; fresh cooked bakso, ayam goreng, mie goreng, and rice, rice, rice, rice--yellow, white, brown, orange; rice with curry, rice with hot chilis, rice with soy and rice with eggs.

In the meantime all the hundreds of little trays are dutifully carried to the gods by beautiful young girls. These trays, this food, this aromatic incense is placed before the house entrance or upon the temple platform; at the corner of the road or at the feet of the idol; and morning and evening the air itself is thickened and sweetened as if with syrup, for the breath of evil also ever lurks, in the empty mouth, the shrunken stomach, the destitute corner, in the palm of want--and so we add perfume, this sweet smell, well pleasing to the gods.

No comments: