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Pre-Dawn in Sambangan


It is pre-dawn in Bali and I am stirring slowly in our home in the foothills of Sambangan. First comes several solitary cries followed by a crescendoing chorus of roosters, in some unknown hour, a resounding, echoing loop near and far. They are accompanied by the crickets, geckos, frogs and early-waking birds all producing the ambient noise of the dawn.

To the North East, I can see the first, pink outlines of surf clouds, faintly illumined by the waxing palette of the sky. Their contours will sharpen and deepen over the coming minutes. Stars are slipping imperceptibly back into the void. The mango trees by the entrance are sharply backlit by the blue pastels behind them and the silhouetted palm trees, dotting the rice fields to the north, sway gently in the breeze, like great pinwheels planted in the earth by some giant child.

There is an old woman singing, but you have to listen for it. Or maybe it has to find you, because there is a surprise when first hearing it.

I have been up with the roosters. I stretch, wade through the mosquito nets of the bed, and turn off the fan. The Nepali tea I made yesterday has been cooling in a pan on the stove all night and I pour a cool mug of it, diluted by half with tapwater, before heading outside. Kneeling under the table, I fetch and light two sticks of incense, close my eyes to take a slow, sandalwood breath, and place them in a tall, thin vase filled with red and green shoots and flowers from the garden.

We have more, and more kinds, of fruit than I can possibly eat in a day. I hoist a great, green ball of a coconut along with my Ghurka service kukri from the kitchen and walk down to where our front steps meet the grass. The 12 inch blade is curved and weighted in the middle, giving it good heft when chopping into the top of the pulpy coconut. Cloudy water dribbles out from its center as I chop four cuts in a square and then pry off a top. I have gotten better at this with practice. I’ll split it later for eating, but right now I drain the contents into a ceramic cup. There is enough for two. Stepping inside to the kitchen, I brush off the blade with a kerchief and dip a finger in a plastic water bottle filled with vegetable oil, rubbing both sides and honing the blade with a steel file before sheathing it. Things rust easily here if you let them.

With a bit more light touching the corn and rice fields next to the house, I can make out neighbors who could have been tending the fields for hours already. They bob deliberately under straw hats with what large potato diggers. Now that there is enough light to make out all the different shades and varieties of green here, it adds texture to the picture of human labors.

The purist in me says that the laptop should feel out of place in this scene, but it doesn’t. It just is part of things.