Goat on a Stick

October 9, 2009

Amazing! And incredibly long. That’s the only way I can describe the full moon ceremony we attended. Nothing could have quite prepared me for the experience. When we arrived, Joya, Jo, and I were the only Westerners there. We were followed everywhere by curious kids, stared at by locals, and examined head to toe.   It’s a bit unnerving to be studied so closely, but the locals greeted us with big smiles and were simply curious.  All were extremely friendly and nice and more than eager to laugh at my horrible attempt at speaking Indonesian.

A bali temple

A bali temple

The ceremony itself was quite the ordeal, with offerings of food, incense, and flowers everywhere. I can’t even begin to explain the scale. Very unlike church services in the States, the whole community used the ceremony as a sort of social hour and rather than being focused on the priest or any one individual, everyone mingled, talked, and laughed and kids ran around playing. All the while there were blessings going on and music playing and people dancing in the street. Kids were surprisingly well-behaved and it’s the first time I’ve been in a social setting where kids weren’t crying, whining, or screaming out of control. Maybe it’s a reflection on our society? Who knows.

What caught me by surprise was the length of the ceremony. I wasn’t really ready for a 4+ hour ordeal. I was very tired from the flight and generally overwhelmed by the strangeness of it all. It’s shocking how exhausting it is to learn a new language and new customs and to be surrounded by unfamiliarity at every turn. I thought some food might help, so we took a break to walk across the street to a vendor’s table to grab a bite to eat.

Placing offerings

Placing offerings

I was grateful to be here and so excited to soak it all in but I was exhausted and trying hard to stay upbeat.  All I wanted was to hear some English, eat some peanuts, and just relax for a bit. Instead, everyone continued asking me in Indonesian all sorts of things I didn’t understand. Then the satay came out. I hear Joya casually ask, “What is it?” The vendor said something I didn’t understand and Joya exclaimed “Goat on a stick!” According to Jo, the expression on my face was priceless. Normally I wouldn’t be phased by goat on a stick, but when you’re exhausted and just wanting peanuts, goat on a stick is hardly a comfort. Inexplicably, my stomach turned on me and I could barely get through the food. Peanuts would have made the world go ’round at that point.

After eating we went back to the ceremony and found out it was just getting started. Blessings and prayers hadn’t even happened yet. So for the next few hours I tried to sit still, a near impossible task for me made even more difficult by a reeling stomach, a squished body from a tight corset, and jetlag. I didn’t understand anything happening in the ceremony and yeah, I had to go to the bathroom really, really badly too! Damn all the water I drank trying to get the goat down. It’s awful to be part of such an amazing moment and have your mind elsewhere. I tried to focus but could only think of bed.

Then suddenly the priest started directing a prayer.  Everyone became quiet and hundreds of people all sat together in eerie silence. One by one, everyone would pull flowers from their hair ornaments or hats, hold them up in front of them, and do a blessing. It continued several times and I sat in amazement. Suddenly I wasn’t so worried about the bed. I just sat and observed and the air was filled with an incredible energy.

I do admit though, that I was overjoyed when everyone got up and the ceremony completed. Chatting with Joya later I found it comforting and hilarious to find out that she had a similar meltdown on her second day. Despite the length of the ceremony, it was fascinating to experience it. It made me really see how people here live. There is a lot of waiting. There is a lot of behavior that Westerners would probably see as undirected. We’re all so driven on getting from point A to point B and we’re all such an A-type personality culture that going to a ceremony like this is eye-opening. Especially when Annie said that they have ceremonies like this every few days.

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