Thursday, September 30, 2010

Let Your Light Shine by Heidi Buyak

What if you could go to any exotic place you could think of, for free.  
Would you go?  What if you couldn’t think of any exotic place to go to?
Would you stay home? 
I met her at our door wearing short shorts a tee shirt and bare feet.                                          
She was wearing a beyond vintage A-line brown “tweed” polyester skirt the kind of fabric that was shiny on the back and wouldn’t breathe if you cut holes in to it.  On top she wore a beige long sleeved high necked Victorian blouse.  She was also wearing panty hose.  Like sausage casings with her little piggies trapped in a pair of vinyl beige pumps. She kept the shoes on, though it was clearly our custom to take them off. 
Panty hose on Guam? She must have brought them with her. No one wore panty hose on Guam.                        
It was never below 90 degrees and so humid it rained every afternoon like throwing up when you have a migraine. 
I hadn’t seen an outfit like that since the ninth grade. 
It was in style then in 1979 when I was fifteen living in New York in the cold.
She came with her husband who was a pilot with my husband. 
The happy couple commuted from their spread in Colorado where they owned a mountain. 
So, every three weeks they’d fly out and stay at the hotel for two
while he flew his line and then they’d fly home.
My husband invited them to our tenth floor apartment. 
We took them out on the lanai and showed them our view of the Philippine Sea. 
And then came back in and sat on our hand carved rosewood furniture.
I had just come back from a trip to Bali. 
A friend of mine flew out from California and we went and spent a few days on Bali. 
The whole place assaults you. 
The air is clove cigarette smoke.  Your eyes burn as much from that, as from the pollution or the bright sarongs worn by the men and the women. 
The people are rich in art and spirituality, but poor in things. 

Unfortunately because they are poor in things around every corner you hear, “you buy from me, you bring me luck, you my first customer, braid your hair?”  On and on until you’ve said ‘NO’ so many times you’re ready for parenthood.  And the food could make your eyes water too as my friend found out when or drivers cautioned her that the sauce was hot.  So she blew on it and popped a table spoon of it in her mouth.  Tears streamed down her face as she fanned her mouth.

Since I just got back I thought it would be nice share my photo album of the trip.      

We saw the Mother Temple which I liked so much I can still see it sometimes when I close my eyes. 
We shopped in Ubud with its amazing batik artists and silversmiths. 

One day we fell in with this Australian architect, who was trying to get a grip on his recent divorce.
With him, we toured the most expensive resorts you didn’t need a helicopter to get to. 

By ourselves we went to the monkey temple and were shocked when one monkey mounted another one right next to my friend sitting there.  I don’t have that picture, except for the one in my mind.    

In one day of driving around saw a complete funeral.  In the morning it was the colorful procession on the back of an elephant.  In the afternoon it was a pyre and then at sunset, ashes returning to the sea for rebirth and reincarnation.    

Bali might be dirty and unorganized but that contrast with all the beauty and fantastic art and food makes it a stunning assault on the senses.  Who wouldn’t want to go?

So, there we were she and I huddled shoulder to shoulder, sitting on my dragon and phoenix bench couch handmade in China by Buddhists, flipping through my photo album. 
The men were talking about flying and ignoring us. 

One picture I showed her was of a beautiful woman walking down a dirt road wrapped in a gleaming emerald green sari balancing a pyramid of brilliant oranges on her head going to temple.  The sky behind her was a roiling gun powder blue black.  It was the kind of picture that no matter how bad a photographer you are, it still made you feel worthy of National Geographic, the subject matter was that perfect. 
It was the next picture however that really perked her up.  An empty gravel road after a festival, wet from rain.  Bamboo stalks with their leaves left on, lined the road and had been left to go blonde in the sun and were gracefully arching over the street.  I liked it, not a great picture, but it had that morning after look and feel.  She liked it too because she pressed her soft pale and sweaty finger onto it and said,
“You know what that is?”
Well, I didn’t but I was interested.  
She was suddenly so animated.  
Maybe she was one of those eccentrics that just stopped buying clothes when she stopped growing.  
So that she could spend all her time reading comparative theologies.  I was so hopeful. 
The men stopped talking.  Her husband beamed at her with pride.  
I thought,
“Wow, this might be good”.
“No, I don’t.”  I said.  Maybe I was wrong about her.
“They’re Evil.”  Of course they are. 
I paused for a breath hoping she had more but that was all she had and that was all she said. 
Carefully, slowly so as not to startle her I shifted away from her.
“Really, I didn’t know that.”  I said politely eyebrows up.
She nodded with arrogant pursed lips, like she had just taught me something.
Silence was starting to form a black hole in the room.
“Have you ever gone on any trips with your husband?”
“So…. What do you do when you come out here with him for the two weeks, or so?”
“I stay in the hotel.”
Still not believing, I asked,
“So, you never go on trips with him?”
I asked her,
“You wouldn’t want to maybe go see Bali?  Sometime?”
“Oh no! I would never go there!”   I thought I’d shown her some nice pictures.  
I thought she was enjoying them. 
She made me feel as if I’d just shown her home porn. 
“Really?  Why not?” 
This is what she said….
“Because places like that are full of heathens.”  
Well there you go. 
The answer was so obvious. 
What was I thinking, showing her such offensive images?  
I mean how can you argue with that? 
Well, you can’t so I didn’t.  I just said,
I sat there for a second and just drank her in. 
I never wanted to forget her, the most unimaginative, incurious person I’d ever met.
Her cheap delicate gold sprayed cross glinting at us as it hung over her outdated beige high-necked ruffled shirt that matched her hair, skin and reflected her personality. 
Her husband’s glazed eyed stare, smiling and nodding right along with her as she set us all straight.
Her fear and judgment made me uncomfortable.  Her Christianity was not mine.    

Suddenly we were captives in our own apartment.  
Tribal Chuukese love sticks in one corner a carved Buddha in another, nailed down onto our traditional Chinese furniture, the painting on the wall of the flying monkey god of Bali laughing at us. 

There was some more preaching on their part about some church they found with like-minded people.   How easy it was for them to preach to us. We were safe and stunned into silence.         
We just nodded politely until they decided that we had been set straight and left.      
When I recovered from their ‘preach-attack’ I remembered,
“Let your light shine…. So that others may see your good deeds….”
Or, you could stay home.  


  1. oh, the strangeness of uncomfortable people!!!

  2. I would LOVE to see your pictures of Bali !! I promise not to wear a victorian blouse with brown tweed :P