NYOMAN Rencini sits on the floor of her kitchen, waiting for the night. The single adornment on the wall is a picture of Rencini’s daughters, aged 21, 16 and 13. They are beautiful in the Balinese way, smiling shyly. Life and a bomb, however, have vaporised any shadow of Rencini’s own youth, replacing it with a weary anxiety.
We reach her tiny home by dodging traffic on a road clogged with motorcycles, trucks, cars and petrol fumes in the Sanur area of Bali’s sprawling capital, Denpasar. We squeeze between makeshift eating houses and trail down a lane far from postcard Bali, dust and stray dogs ghosting at our heels. Babies squall, barefoot children drift by.
Rencini’s kitchen is also her dining room and sitting room. There is no table, no chair. At night it is the bedroom of Rencini and her daughters. They drag a mattress out of the only other room because the roof trusses have sagged, the tiles have shifted and tropical rain sluices in. Rencini is fearful the roof will fall and she won’t allow her girls to sleep beneath it. She is wise. Two days later, part of the roof collapses. She has no idea how to pay for repairs.
Here is the other side of paradise.
In a parallel Bali, surfers carve the waves at Kuta and tourists enjoy massages among the beach boys kicking soccer balls across the crowded sand, waiting for a tangerine sunset when the ocean glows gold. In the villas of Seminyak, Westerners loll cloistered from the hustling traffic behind high walls, slipping in and out of their pools.
At Nusa Dua, the wealthy pad between luxury hotel rooms and the beach, there to sip cool, long drinks decorated with exotic fruits. At Sanur and Jimbaran Bay and settlements all along the coast, new hotels and villas rise above the ocean, and within the rice-terraced and jungled inland the markets do brisk business in Balinese craft and artworks and travellers thrill to the intricate dances of feather-footed spirit people.
It is as if, now, nothing happened on this tropical island 10 years ago.
It did, of course. The shock waves of it still ripple through the lives of many Balinese, all but invisible to the millions who come each year chasing the sun and the vague knowledge of an exotic spirituality behind the ambiguously smiling eyes of those who serve them cool drinks and sell them cheap leather and DVDs.
The terrorist bombings of Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club on crowded Legian Street in Kuta shortly after 11pm on Saturday, October 12, 2002, were a catastrophe for the families and friends of the 88 Australians who perished and the scores more burnt and injured.
The bombings also blasted away any conception that Australians were immune from terrorist attack. This was, after all, Australia’s backyard playground, the cliche went, and subsequent statements by the terrorists and a message purportedly from Osama bin Laden made it clear Australians were among the primary targets. Balinese, after all, were banned from entering the Sari Club unless they worked there or were escorted as guests by Westerners.
Yet among the 202 dead were 38 Indonesians, most of them Balinese, and many more were disabled and disfigured. October 12, 2002, was their catastrophe, too. And as the hideous reality of the carnage set in and mingled with the fear that this might be the beginning of more horror, the tourists who held together Bali’s economy melted away. Businesses went bankrupt and closed; investors fled, restaurants and luxury hotels sat all but empty and tens of thousands of Balinese workers lost their jobs.
Rencini lost her husband to the Sari Club bomb, though labouring on the rice harvest in a faraway village, she didn’t know it for weeks.
Rencini’s husband had gone to Kuta to earn money driving for a restaurant, but had suffered the appalling misfortune of crashing his vehicle into the police chief’s car. He was ordered to pay the impossible sum of 15 million rupiah (about $A1500) in compensation. Rencini hadn’t heard from him or received any money for seven months. She thought he might be in jail. Much later, she learnt he had walked straight into the blast outside the Sari Club. He was decapitated and his body burnt beyond recognition, identified eventually only through DNA. Without his body, Rencini had to arrange a ritual cremation and rely on neighbours to pay for it.
The loss of her husband is why, 10 years later, even though the tourists have come back in greater numbers than ever and the construction industry has resumed at a frantic pace, she and her daughters share a single mattress in a tiny room each night, and why Rencini spends most of the dark hours trying to eke out a living peddling food on the street.
As the evening approaches, she hauls out a little motorcycle, fixes a plastic container to the back, visits a cheap market and purchases her wares: nasi bungkus (rice, shredded meat, tempe, noodles and sambal wrapped in banana leaves), a few packets of peanuts and crisps, a thermos of hot water, sachets of coffee, bottled water. She weaves her way to the docks of the port town of Benoa and seeks out her customers: seamen, dock and warehouse workers, drivers, port authority night staff, police.
“I feel bad,” says water policeman Agoes Hari Sanjaya. “She has kids.” He spends 16,500 rupiah (about $A1.60) for a rice dish, chips and coffee. “Yes, the government should really pay attention [to bomb victims],” says fellow officer Nyoman Tinggal, handing over 18,000 rupiah ($A1.80) for his meal.
“They all know I am a widow of a Bali bomb victim,” says Rencini. “I’ve been coming here for more than two years. They don’t treat me special because of that, but they do treat me kindly. We are all here struggling. This is a man’s world; I am a woman. They protect me.”
By the end of the night, Rencini has earned the equivalent of $A4.50 after costs, less than half the price of a cocktail at a tourist hotel bar.
She is one of numerous widows, fatherless children and survivors carrying injuries on their bodies and in their minds who are the hidden victims of the Bali bombs. Each has dipped into a near unimaginable well of resilience to survive, often assisted by the good hearts of strangers.
IN AN airless room on a street in Denpasar, five women — three Hindus, two Muslims; each a widow with children — labour over sewing machines producing garments to order. Adopta Co-op their business is called. It was established on seed money and training provided by a modest Perth couple who have retired in Bali. David and Moira don’t even want their surnames published. They simply want to grant dignity and a future to women who lost their husbands, Balinese taxi drivers, most of them, who were searching for a Legian Street fare to feed their families when the bombers’ car blocked their path and blew them to pieces.
One of the women, Wayan Rustini, says she and the other widows are proud to run their own business and to organise loans when orders are slow, putting the money back when things pick up. David and Moira still hover, helping with a little marketing and advice, but Wayan and the others are self-sustaining now, which David says was always the plan.
One of the widows, Endang, hobbles about on crutches. She blames depression for the loss of her ability to walk, but laughs as much as the others.
Wayan keeps a photograph of her husband taped to her locker and her memories in her heart. He had taken to driving a gypsy cab just three days before he was killed.
Soon after, she says, her dead husband’s older brother claimed the available charity and ordered Wayan and her two daughters, aged seven and three, to leave the family home. A sewing machine saved her children from starving.
Balinese women have no inheritance rights, and Wayan’s story is familiar. Rencini, too, suffered the indignity of being left destitute. Her late husband’s family reclaimed her home, leaving Rencini and the girls to seek the roof of her elderly mother.
WAY across the sweltering urban streets of central Denpasar, Ayu Sila Prihana Dewi wanders the elaborately carved compound that houses her extended family, nursing her four-month-old baby daughter, Meyra.
Ayu was 21, a cashier at one of the three bars in the Sari Club on the night of October 12, 2002. The ranks of her cheerful, thirsty customers took the brunt of the blast and she awoke on the floor, lying on spilled ice. She was trapped beneath fallen furniture, voices all around screaming. She thought a riot had erupted.
A bartender named Arnold dragged her from her entrapment and they ran, the grass and bamboo roof above them in flames. She found herself on the burning street, hysteria all around, but says she felt as if alone; not a sound, no feeling of pain. It was only later in hospital when she realised she had a deep cut to a wrist and third-degree burns to the arm she had used to shield her face. Her recovery was slow and painful. Shrapnel had entered her flesh beneath the burns and her arm wouldn’t heal until an operation removed the metal five months later.
“I don’t know why I survived,” she says. “Maybe God still loved me.”
Ayu couldn’t face a window, watch TV or sleep alone for a very long time, but soon realised others were doing it harder. She gained work as a social worker with an aid group, the International Medical Corps, consulting other victims of the bombings, overseeing their medication for psychological damage. She spent time with people so traumatised they could not go to the lavatory alone.
The children of the dead and injured were her main concern. She persuaded them to draw pictures and was disturbed to see so many scrawling blobs of black: burnt cars, stick figures lying about. The work, however, healed Ayu’s own mind. It felt worthwhile to be helping others. She steeled herself to testify against the terrorist Amrozi, but felt too upset to offer evidence in the case against his co-conspirator, Samudra. Both were executed. She wishes there had been a harsher penalty. She would have liked them both to be tortured to death, she says.
Ten years on, Ayu is strong enough to go with The Saturday Age to the site of the Sari Club, now nothing but a dusty car park, to make a ceremonial offering at a small shrine there and to stand with her baby for the camera in the precise spot she occupied when a bomb changed her life. She believes the site should become a memorial peace park rather than revert to yet another club. The owner, however, is determined to develop. “If it becomes just another entertainment establishment, the story of what happened will just fade away,” she says.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.