Nyepi marks the new year in the Balinese calender, and its arrival has never been more well-timed in this time of social distancing and isolating. Nyepi is a day of self-reflection, and everything that can interfere with that is banned. So during Nyepi everyone in Bali, Hindu or not, needs to stay home and follow the restrictions: no fires, no electric lights, no work, no entertainment, and, importantly, do not leave the house. Today is a day of rest for ourselves and the earth.
Staying quiet and meditating doesn’t come natural to all. Just now, when my kids played noisily I warned them, only to be met with rolling eyes from Linde. ‘I don’t believe in Nyepi,’ she declared, and when I mentioned respect, and the banjar guards patrolling, she shrugged. ‘What will they do, arrest us?’
Normally, internet and mobile networks are switched off all over the island, and I am not sure I was glad or disappointed when both seemed to work fine this morning. With the current global crisis I could have used a day without any news. A day to retreat with my family in the safety of our home and relax. Our day today won’t be much different from the ones we had the past week. To protect both ourselves and the Balinese we decided to self-isolate a week ago. Initially it felt very surreal, as we noticed the world going on as normal outside. But slowly Bali started to catch up with us, as the government banned large events, and bars and restaurants closed one by one. Isolating isn’t easy for the Balinese, not only because many don’t have the savings to support staying home, but also because religion is such an important part of their lives, particularly at this time of the year.
For months they have been working at their Ogoh Ogoh, large statues of demons in all shapes and colours, that would have been paraded around the island yesterday. The Ogoh Ogoh serve to purify the environment of any spiritual pollutants emitted from the activities of living beings, especially humans. So when the government, wisely so, banned the parades, this was difficult to accept for everyone; surely purification is needed now more than ever. I have to admit even I was disappointed, for months I have been following the progress of the statues, being made in every neighbourhood. Even as an atheist, I can not but admire the dedication and creativeness the Balinese put into their religion.
And now, today, Nyepi. A day of silence at home seems to be exactly what the world needs, and the governor of Bali agrees by edict: Nyepi will last two days this year. A smart move, as the day after Nyepi, New Year’s day, involves a lot of visiting and a kissing ceremony where single youths get together and – kiss. After those two days, life will have to resume to some kind of normality, but what that will look like, no one knows. The situation changes by the day.
We will stay home a bit longer. We are thankful for our comfortable house and pool, for the GOJEK drivers that are out there and tirelessly deliver our orders. For all those working to keep the world running. For the medical staff that puts their own life on the line.
For now, I am enjoying the sound of my kid sweeping leaves, and try to make my greatest worry of the day the matter of how to keep them silent.