On Saturday, July 23rd, at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, I had the not so rare privilege of becoming a Bali highway and byway statistic. I reckon it’s about time, after having lived on the island more than a year and a half now without collecting any distinguishing ordeals or injuries. While others I know have managed to gather various honours of long-time residence--the rabid dog bite, the petty theft, the wily scam--I myself had so far remained nothing more than an anonymous bystander, warming the bench, so to speak, for those more heroic players on the actual field of experience.
But no more.
For at 2 o’clock on that fateful Saturday I joined the ranks of the more fortunate when I found myself suddenly airborne, catapulted over the handlebars of my motorbike by the force of impact caused when another bike rammed full speed into mine from behind.
It’s not an experience one can enjoy or savour at the time, for it happens too fast. It’s rather like when your feet fly out from under you on a wet surface (a particularly popular feature of the common Balinese terrace). The next thing you know you’re on your back, probably groaning, wondering how you got there. It is only afterward that the experience can be appreciated, filled out and fleshed in, reconstructed in detail.
How did I do that, you wonder? I had not realized that I was so agile. How is it that a man who has enough trouble just standing to his feet from his bedside in the morning manages in this miraculous moment of accidental vehicular interaction to actually fly through the air, defy the law of gravity, do a back flip in the sky and alight again upon the unkind pavement (no net, folks!), skidding to a halt on his elbows, back, and rear end, while his bike--that mode of conveyance to which he had a split second earlier been master--screeches to a halt in a shower of sparks like a derailed locomotive, just short of amputating ankle and knee?
“What did you do?” the young girl who had rammed me said, launching into the familiar attempt to cloud the waters (for she has no money, you see; no insurance, no helmet, probably no driver’s license either).
Perhaps 53 Indonesians emerge from nowhere to minister to the now weeping girl, while bule tourists turn and walk the other way, or slip into something more comfortable, like a nearby shop.
It has become a bit of a Bali sport, hasn’t it? Wind surfing. Jet skiing. Handlebar vaulting.
But I do not intend in any of the above to make sport of the serious problems that exist on the streets and thoroughfares of Bali. One has either to laugh, cry, or do both.
“Roads of Death” was the term used in a recent edition of The Bali Times, which reported a mind-boggling total of 758 deaths during the months of March, April and May 2011--eight fatal accidents a day. It is a matter of overcrowding, we are told, a matter of increasing tourism and therefore increasing vehicular congestion, stagnant to nonexistent plans to ameliorate the situation, a toxic mix of ignorance and carelessness on the part of many motorists where the rules of safe driving, or indeed the value of human life are concerned, along with the crowning shame of disinterest and inaction that typifies the non-responsive attitude of the local police force, whose officers seem clearly more interested in lining their pockets with the proceeds of easy roadside bribes than in bothering those who daily circumvent not only the law but the most basic precepts of common sense.
In my case, I escaped with a few scrapes and bruises. I picked myself up, retrieved my battered yet functional bike, and was on about my business of the day. Not all have been so lucky. In fact most recently seven hundred fifty-eight souls have not.