Then, one day, everything took a turn for the worse.
It started on a nice morning when Connor and I went to a yoga class. I was wearing my favorite necklace that his parents gave me on our wedding day. It was a gold sand dollar that Connor's grandfather had hand-made, engraved with my mother in law’s initials, and gave to HER on HER wedding day. It was a family heirloom and I was incredibly moved to receive such a thoughtful and deeply meaningful gift. I cherished that necklace. That morning, I took if off during yoga so it didn’t hit me in the face during downward dog. I zipped it in a safe pocket in my bag (where I had also put my keys). After class, I decided to wait to put the necklace back on until I got home - so nothing would happen to it. I walked outside to my motorbike and went to pull my keys out of my bag. As I did, I saw that the necklace had caught on the keys and watched in slow motion as it flung out of my bag and flew into the air. I watched as it plopped directly through a small opening in the wooden plank walkway and into a disgusting sewage stream. My heart sank into my chest. Connor looked at my face and asked what was wrong. For a moment, I couldn’t even verbalize it. I finally was able to say the words, and we were able to get some locals to help us rip up the wooden planks. I spent the better part of the next hour digging through trash and sewage, searching like a crazy person for the necklace. But after what felt like hours of searching, the stream continued to flow and I knew my cherished heirloom was gone for good.
I was devastated and overcome with guilt. I broke the news to Connor's parents with a heavy heart. Thankfully, they understood. It was a difficult moment, but I looked at it as a lesson. Even though this necklace was incredibly meaningful, it was still just a "material" item. I thought that I had rid myself of all meaning I attached to “things” before coming to Bali, but obviously I still had more learn. I spent some time reflecting on this and realized that we spend so much of our lives attaching our identify to “things” – our houses, our cars, our jobs, our clothing, our jewelry, etc. When you strip it all away, who are you? Who is the real you without anyTHING shaping your identity?
After the necklace incident, we decided to lift our spirits by planning an adventure for the next morning. We woke up at 5am to take a 45 min road trip to hike to the top a waterfall at sunrise! The first 40 min of the drive were pure magic. Connor and I rode tandem on a motorbike and I remember feeling the wind on my face. I felt so incredibly happy and free. We were about 5 min away from the waterfall when we turned a sharp corner. It had rained the night before so the roads were slippery, and there was quite a bit of loose gravel on this particular turn. In addition to riding behind Connor on the bike, I was wearing a heavy backpack full of our camera and swimming gear. As we turned that corner (going just a bit too fast), the weight we had on the bike combined with the slippery road and loose gravel all came together in a perfect storm. I felt us go down (again, in slow motion) and then POW!
We broke the fall with our heads (thank god were both wearing helmets) and I think we both blacked out for a few minutes. When I finally came to, I remember hearing a sharp ringing noise and seeing blood EVERYWHERE as Connor was screaming “fuck!!!” over and over again. I regained feeling in my body and limbs and realized that besides some cuts and bruises, everything was intact. I then screamed at Connor, “are you okay?!?” He just kept saying “fuck!!” (I think he was in shock) and my mind went to the worst. I thought he had broken bones, a concussion, or couldn’t walk... I was freaking out. A few amazingly kind locals saw the accident happen and stopped traffic on both sides of the street to make sure other cars and motorbikes didn’t run us over. Another came and moved our bike off the road, and another helped Connor and I get up and walk to a small driveway nearby. Then, incredibly, yet another man pulled over and insisted that we allow him to give us a ride to the hospital free of charge. We spent the next few hours in a Balinese emergency room.
When the doctors and nurses finally finished with us, Connor had six stitches in his chin and we both walked out of the ER covered in bandages. The accident was scary, but we were INCREDIBLY lucky to walk away from it with only a few "Bali Kisses" as the nurses called them. We actually left the hospital and decided to still go to the waterfall! Why let a little accident stop us, right?
(We are turned away from the camera in this photos because we are covered in bandages on the other side! Haha)
Despite the scare, the accident reminded me of why I came to Bali in the first place. The hospitality and generosity of the Balinese people throughout the entire experience truly blew my mind. The nurses and doctors were some of the best and friendliest I had ever had. The crash definitely shook us a bit, but we left feeling completely grateful that nothing worse had happened.
So here I was with a few bumps and bruises and missing one cherished necklace, but still feeling grateful and happy to be in Bali. The next day, though, is when I really got pissed off!! Some friends had told me that Bali was about to have a two week ceremony where many shops and banks would be closed. I brought a limited amount of USD with me and thought it would be smart to exchange all my USD to Indonesian Rupiah before this two week shutdown. I had exactly $600 USD to exchange (this is a lot of money in general but goes a LONG way in Bali) and went to a money changer in town with a good exchange rate to change the money. (Quick side note - the exchange rate in Bali is 13,300 Rupiah to every 1 US dollar, so if you can image, I was getting about 8 million Rupiah during this exchange). Counting this amount of money was time consuming and confusing. After an hour of counting and recounting the money with the clerk, I decided to put away the stack of bills and organize it when I got home. I took off on my motorbike, stopped quickly at a roadside stand to buy some bandanas, and then headed home. When I got back, I pulled the money out and re-counted/organized it in the safety of my house. As I counted the money, my heart sank yet again as I realized HALF of it was missing. I racked my brain to retrace my steps. Had someone pick-pocketed me at the banana stand? Had it dropped out of my bag while I was on the motorbike? Nothing made sense, and I felt incredibly defeated. With no steady income coming in, $300 was a huge loss, especially after the events of the previous few days. I began to question everything. Why were all these incredibly shitty incidents happening to me?
The next morning, I woke up with knots in my stomach, a high fever, and was essentially living in the bathroom. I discovered I had a bad case of “Bali Belly” (aka food poisoning) and spent the next few days in bed. A week later, with persisting symptoms, I went to the doctor’s office and was put on a cocktail of (somewhat suspect) Indonesian antibiotics.
It had been the week from hell. I was feeling down and questioning everything about the move to Bali. On top of it, I wasn't able to leave bed because I was weak, nauseous, and shaking. I did find out, during my hours in bed reading countless local and expat Bali blogs, that money exchange “scams” are quite common across the island. The clerks essentially do a fast-handed magic trick in which they count your money repeatedly, distracting you while they slip half of your bills back under the counter. Case solved! If I hadn't been so sick with Bali belly, I would have marched back to that money changer and demanded my money back. But I was barely able to get out of bed, so I just chalked it up to a learning lesson.
(This was my first meal after being bed-ridden for a week. Connor dragged me out of the house to eat pizza with him. I am in full pajamas in this photo! haha)
ANYWAY, I generally believe in signs, so naturally I started wondering if it all meant that I wasn’t supposed to be in Bali. Was it all just a big mistake?
I met with a friend after regaining my strength and told her about my week from hell. She just smiled and told me about the Bali “test” and how it's actually quite a common phenomenon when people first move to Bali. She put me in touch with a few people she knew that had had similar situations when they first arrived. They told me that “Mama Bali” often likes to test people in the early days of moving to the island. Many people experience bad dreams, marital issues, theft, accidents, Bali Belly, etc. during their first few weeks.
When I asked these people what I should do, most of them surprisingly gave me spiritual advice. One person suggested that I ask "Mama Bali" permission to be on the island and express to her my true intentions. At the time this sounded a bit silly, but I was willing to try anything. I decided to let my guard down and embrace my spiritual side. I went to a water temple, practiced an ancient cleansing ritual (that I found online), and literally asked Mama Bali permission to stay and made my intentions clear.
(First experience at a water temple near Ubud, Bali. Asking Mama Bali permission to stay in Bali and being clear on my intentions.)
I also started a practice of mediating and journaling every morning. This, honestly, has become one of the most profound things that came out of the entire experience. My morning self-care routine has truly changed my life. (There is so much to say about this topic though that I am going to dedicate an entire blog post to it!)
Long story short - the combination of all of these things worked! Every day after that, life in Bali got a little bit better. As time went on, more and more blessings began to come my way. I had passed the test.
The entire experience taught me that shit happens. It's inevitable. BUT, we get to choose how we deal with it. One way is to let it scare you, swallow you, and force you to give up. The other way is to look at those moments as lessons (as hard as they may be at that time). After reflecting upon it, you'll usually realize that those are the moments that define us. They shape us. They show us what we are capable of. They bring out our inner warrior. Shit = growth.
I guess the lesson is to persevere. If you can learn and grow from shitty experiences in life, you'll realize the inner strength you have inside. Suddenly things won’t be so scary. You'll learn that you are capable of whatever life has to throw at you. It might not be fun going through it, but never give up. Look at every experience and figure out what lesson lies within it. And learn. And grow. And then go out in the world and kick ass.