Our adventure in Bali started from the moment we landed. After a sleepy morning flight from Jakarta, we headed straight to Ubud for its one and only local library and learning center. The car ride went off to a wonderful start as we dashed right into the island without much traffic. Along the way, there were rows and rows of penjor –bamboo poles with offerings hanging on their ends, on the side of the street as a sign that the Galungan holiday is merely a couple of days away.

Tucked in a narrow street filled with little shops and quaint cafés is an entrance painted in Blue with the sign that says “Pondok Pekak” on top of it. It looks every bit like the lovely traditional Balinese houses with several little huts in one complex. The place feels very intimate yet also has a lot of open spaces, with porches on many of the huts.

The entrance of Pondok Pekak.

Being a massive bookworm, the first thing I checked out was the library. The bookshelf just outside of it contains a wide range of books that are in Bahasa Indonesia, from fiction novels to travel books. The collection inside is even more impressive; there were rows and rows of various genres and fields of study that I wished I had time to check out one by one. The diversity of insightful academic papers, be it on Balinese culture or on pressing global issues like mental health, is delightfully rich. Some of these readings are very hard to find (Believe me, I’ve tried!), and it brought me such joy that the people here have access to this kind of knowledge.

I had the privilege to sit down with I Made Sumendra, the founder of Pondok Pekak, and talk about the reasons behind this establishment. He and his late wife had a shared idea of the great importance of learning and knowledge in the community, and founded the library to provide that platform for their neighborhood. The library grew more popular among visiting expats, so they had to find a way to get the local youths involved. Thus, the library expanded into a learning center, where kids can also learn traditional arts, such as dance, music, and wood carving, in addition to cultivating their reading interest.

The young Balinese dancers in practice!

We also spent the afternoon chatting with the music and dance teachers of Pondok Pekak, in which I ended up being roped into a traditional Balinese dance crash course. I’d had a taste of it on a different trip to Bali last year, but this time, I had the teacher’s full attention… which was great and terrifying at the same time. I stood right in the center of their small stage and learned the basics, surrounded by middle school girls who seemed more than capable of doing it in their sleep. They demonstrated the stances and the moves, and everywhere I turned was a great example in different angles. As I put every muscle in my body to work in attempt to recreate the same movement as clean as possible, I felt a newfound respect for these dancers; the amount of hard work and determination that they put into it is off the charts! The brief time I spent covering the basics was challenging, and they didn’t even bat an eye.

The dance teacher, Ketut, offered me to stay and dance along for their rehearsal. But, as much fun as that would’ve been, I graciously sat this one out and chose to watch the real dancers in action. These talented ladies gave us a preview of their performance at the village hall later that evening, complete with the men accompanying them on the gamelan. If that was anything to go by, I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for that night!

As it turns out, not even my fatigue could stop me from being completely enthralled by the performance. It had been a long day and my lack of sleep was starting to take its toll on me while we waited for the performance. However, when we got there and sat down as a solo male dancer with a barong mask took the stage, all the weariness faded away. He then exited the stage to make way for two dancers, then one, then three; each sequence lasted about 10 minutes. It sounded like a long time and one might think I’d be nodding off, but truthfully, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it even if I wanted to. Each movement seems so subtle yet defined, speaking a thousand words in the story they were telling. Every swish of the hand, every blink of an eye is purposeful, and with swell of the gamelan, we were enraptured in their captivating interpretation of their traditional saga.

The performance later in the evening.

The trip was very insightful to me, in the sense that there was so much to see and yet so little that I’ve seen. As an Indonesian, it was quite strange to view Balinese culture, a major part of Indonesian culture, as something that was widely unfamiliar. Most of its cultural aspects weren’t alien, but I only knew it in brief passing. To be welcomed by their community and allowed a glimpse of their lives and their culture was truly a great privilege and a wonderful beginning to a whole new learning experience. This is but a taste of getting to know my country and its peoples better, and I can’t wait to learn more!

Go Global Indonesia provides volunteer opportunities for people all over the world to immerse themselves in the Balinese local culture by learning traditional Gamelan music instruments, and Balinese dance for one month.  You will also help Pondok Pekak develop and run their community library, as well as organize activities to increase reading interest of the local youths. For information about the Volunteer Opportunities in Indonesia with GGI, contact [email protected].