She steps off the plane, desperately not wanting it to be evident to all that this is her first taste of freedom- her first real adventure.
Eyeing a crowd while trying not to make eye-contact is a difficult task at the best of times, but even harder when you’re not sure exactly who you’re looking for, or even if they’ll be there!
Aware that if she gives away any hint of fear or vulnerability she will be swooped upon by Bali’s merciless, ill-famed scam artists, Kaz decides (with a gulp and a somewhat shaky resolve) that her best course of action is to put her head down and just walk. “Walk till you get past the crowd, away from the focus of attention,” she tells herself.
Compliant as always, herself walks, head down, about two paces, when suddenly she hears a familiar voice calling her name! Wishing for a moment that it was daylight so she could hide her eyes behind sunglasses, Kaz rolls her eyes at herself, has just enough time to tell herself she’s being ridiculously paranoid and looks up bravely- right into the face of Bonnie, her best high-school buddy, and the last person she expected to see here at this hour, in this crowd, on this island, at Denpasar airport!
Though they hadn’t seen each other since they finished high school five years previous, they’d stayed in touch every once in a blue moon. During high school they’d always caused a riot. Looking now into the laughing eyes of her friend, wondering if Bonnie had changed as much as she had since school, Kaz suddenly knew that, one way or another, this trip was going to be one unforgettable experience.
Her mind in a complete spin, she didn’t even have time to ask Bonnie how she’d known she was coming before they were in a taxi, making their way to “Poppies”, Kuta’s backpacker haven.
Once they arrived at their destination and checked Kaz into a room for the night, Bonnie whisked her away out onto the busy street (still bustling by candlelight, even in the middle of one of Kuta’s all-too common blackouts!), and into “Warung 96”, a nearby restaurant, to have a midnight feast of banana pancakes and mango smoothies.
Only then did the pair have a chance to catch their breath and have a full conversation. Bonnie dove in first, getting straight to the point. “So Kaz, I take it you’re not here for the standard resort-style holiday?” She had a curious twinkle in her eye, but Kaz chose to ignore it and answer honestly. She knew at that moment that if Bonnie hadn’t changed since high-school, this would be when they would part company. But she had to let her old friend know where she stood from the outset.
“No mate, you’re right- I’m not. I’m here to meet up with a woman named…” Kaz couldn’t finish her sentence before Bonnie beat her to the punch. “Tina! Yeah I know! I came for the same thing. She works with street kids, eh? I read about her on the net and couldn’t get it out of my head. Work was getting to be so tedious, and I’m not into the life I used to love so much. I needed to see a different world. When I read about Tina and her crew, I knew I had to come here, and do this.”
Kaz agreed; they were pretty much the same sentiments that had brought her here. When it became evident that Tina had indeed got her message and that Bonnie was the one she’d sent to meet Kaz at the airport, the pair couldn’t get over the irony!
They used to be known as “Bonnie and Clyde”. They were famous in their circle for their love of fun and light-hearted approach to life. But now things were different. Life had since dealt both of them some pretty hard knocks, and after waking up from carefree adolescence, pain and heartache enabling them to identify with a different crowd, both had taken a keen interest in humanitarian work. Though currently stuck in ordinary office jobs, they both dreamed of somehow making a positive contribution to their aching, dying planet. And here they were, “Bonnie and Clyde”, together again but for a completely different purpose.
“Yes indeed…”, Kaz thought to herself as she lay smiling in bed later that night, still amused at the irony of it all; “This is going to be the experience of a lifetime.”
The next morning Bonnie wasted no time, whisking Kaz away as soon as she’d eaten breakfast to another part of Kuta where they were set to meet up with Tina. It wasn’t more than a couple of blocks away from all the hustle and hype of the backpackers’ district around the Poppies Lanes and Jalaan Legian, but it was literally like another world. Unlike “tourist Kuta”, where travellers were in abundance, this place was quieter, the faces of the locals not so friendly.
The harsh realities lived by the average Balinese family fairly smacked the Aussie girls in the face as they walked past tiny one-room hovels, where sometimes six people huddled on the damp concrete floor. Passing down a narrow alleyway, it was a mission not to splash human waste from the gutter up your legs as you tried to circumnavigate the filth. This was not the Bali of the tourist brochures.
They found Tina sitting on the doorstep of one of the tiny “homes” with a frail old grandma. After introductions were made, Grandma held something out to each of the girls; a woven bracelet. They soon learned from Tina that Grandma made hundreds of these things every week and gave them to the street kids to sell. “Better than the stuff their big brothers want them to sell,” Tina added, one eyebrow raised in an “if-you-get-my-drift” kind of fashion.
Already moved to the core, both girls fought tears as they waved goodbye to Grandma, and Tina led them further into the slum.
Next they met a group of the street kids who Grandma looked out for. They were awesome! The girls were instantly drawn to these lovable ratbags, having fairly recently been ratbags themselves! Their smiles were contagious, and seemed incongruous with the surrounding misery and squalor. Soon the whole group was walking again, this time out of the slums and back to a busy street. Tina led them to a long driveway off one of Kuta’s busy roads. At the end they found themselves somewhat surprised to be in the courtyard of a church.
“This is where our most important work happens,” Tina was explaining. “Twice a week here at this place we bring the kids and teach them English. We know that it is one of the only ways we can really help them find a way off the streets and into a good job.”
“Who teaches them?” Bonnie asked.
“Well, that’s the problem. There is only us- I mean, only Balinese. And our English isn’t very good. I know you girls are only here for a short time, but this is where we were hoping you would be able to help us. We need native English speakers to help the kids learn better. Will you do it?” Tina’s eyes were almost pleading, and two Aussie hearts were breaking.
Lost for words, Kaz could only stand and wonder why on earth she’d thought to only come for a couple of weeks. “As if you can do anything really useful in that kind of time span!” she scolded herself inwardly. Meanwhile, Bonnie answered for the pair of them.
“We’d be honoured, Tina. Whatever we can do to help. Where do we start?”
The second week of the girls’ Bali experience was rapidly drawing to a close. It was their second-last day. Although they hadn’t spoken about it with each other, both were wrestling with their consciences that day. It wasn’t until they sat down to dinner with Tina that evening that both had finally come to a decision. They both started talking at once, and then (laughing raucously as usual) Bonnie told Kaz to go ahead.
“Tina I was wondering…” Kaz was a little hesitant, since the subject hadn’t been raised at all in the entire two weeks. Tina’s smile, however, and the ever-present, cheeky twinkle in Bonnie’s eye, encouraged her to go on. “How would you like a full-time native-English-speaking staffer on board?”
Before Tina could get a word out, Bonnie interrupted with, “Um, make that TWO! I so was going to say the same thing! This is too funny!” All three of them sat laughing for a good while. No more words were needed. The radiant joy in Tina’s eyes was answer enough.
“Bonnie and Clyde” were together again, though this time their adventures were destined to be far more rewarding than any they’d had before. This time, they’d cause a riot in the status quo of Kuta’s slums!
Read more articles by Karen Jimmy or search for articles on the same topic or others.