A 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the sea south of Bali the other day. Its our third since moving here 6 months ago. It did no damage and no tsunami warning was issued but the mere fact that we felt it, serves to remind me of how fragile we all are. That, and the current covid-19 pandemic gripping the world.
At any one time I have 2-3 blog posts on the go in varying stages of completion but I’ve put them on hold tonight to hitch my ride to the coronavirus wagon. As the seriousness of the pandemic began to sink in, my first question was ‘are my children’s lives at risk from this?’ quickly followed by ‘are our lives at risk from this?’ The collective ‘our’ being me and hubby. A few panicked google searches later and I came to the conclusion that even if me, hubs and the kids contracted the virus, we’d most likely be ok. Not that that’s a reason to go out and start licking door handles but it initially quieted my racing mind. However the world response hasn’t been about protecting the healthy, its been about protecting the most vulnerable so we’ve made some changes. Hubs 40th birthday holiday celebrations have been postponed, we pulled Arlo out of nursery (the week we did, they closed the schools anyway) and we’re ‘social distancing’.
For the most part, Indonesia is still a developing country and Bali, behind the luxury resorts and exotic Instagram posts, is largely poor. Hospitals take MasterCard and if you can’t pay, you don’t go, covid or not, so – and I’m not going to get into the politics of it all – I think its a fair assumption that given this fact and the reality that the country is made up of over 17,000 islands, many without hospitals and corona testing kits, coronavirus must be more widespread here than we know. Especially in Bali, arguably Indonesia’s most famous and popular island, and crowning jewel in its tourism crown. It’s hard to get a measure of the situation here. The streets and beaches are eerily quiet. No-one is panic buying but hand sanitiser has disappeared from shops and pharmacies everywhere. And a face mask is this seasons must have accessory. But yet it still feels like business as usual on the surface because the Balinese believe they can pray it away. And that’s not me being a dick with this last comment. They are deeply spiritual and they truly believe that will save them from the sickness of men.
The first confirmed death in Bali from covid-19 earlier this month was a British tourist. Hubs flies in and out of Bali all the time for work and he can attest to the fact that they are diligently screening people and sanitising surfaces all over the joint but for this poor lady to have died of covid on this island, she either came in with it (which doesn’t put much confidence in the border screening tests) or she contracted it here (which doesn’t say much for the reporting of cases and calls those screening tests back in to question since covid-19 was only confirmed here upon her death). However, until today they are still reporting no local transmissions. That’s just not possible. Unless the praying is working. We’re watching coronavirus unravel societies across the world and despite the insistence that Bali is safe and putting aside the ‘we’re healthy, we’ll be fine’ attitude, I don’t want to contribute to passing the virus, which may or may not be among us, about the masses, who may or may not be able to afford the treatment that could save their life. So that’s point number two in the ‘Reasons for Social Distancing’ column right behind ‘we don’t fancy taking our chances, fuck you very much covid!’
For every direct corona worry I have about me, hubby or the kids getting ill, I have several indirect ones. The Great Toilet Paper Famine of 2020 hasn’t reached us yet (bum hose win!) but hysteria has been growing in the capital, Jakarta, as people begin panic buying and the government are talking about locking down the city. Thankfully in Bali, its yet to get that bad but if things change, an Andrex shortage is the least of my worries. Indonesia is the 4th most populous country in the world and you can’t drink the tap water. We have an Aqua water dispenser in the house (think office water machine) which we buy 20L bottles for and if things start to get crazy, clean water would be my first concern. We always keep a few bottles in the house. We’re up to 5 now. You can survive for only 3 days without water, but up to 3 weeks without food…a bit melodramatic I know but the UK is fighting over piss paper so let me have this far more legitimate concern.
Indonesia has now closed its borders to 8 countries entirely, including the UK and is denying on arrival tourist visas to all. The British Embassy is calling last orders on British citizens to return to the UK on the last few flights that are leaving in the next day or two. Like the rest of the world, we are worried for our extended families but if any member of our families back in the UK falls ill from coronavirus or anything else for that matter, we won’t be able to get to them. Before the World War Z lockdown scenarios were put in place across the globe, I could hop on a plane at a moments notice if the need arose but now with all the border restrictions and quarantines in place, if something happened to a loved one 7000 miles away, the fear of not being able to be with them is very real, no matter how far fetched it may seem.
Like many Indonesian families, we have staff to help around the home with cooking, cleaning, garden and pool maintenance. In the short time we’ve been here, the lovely couple that work for us have become like a second family. We attended their daughters wedding, their 5 year old is like a big cousin to Arlo and they WhatsApp me in the middle of the night after an earthquake to make sure we’re ok, so we have agonised over how to handle their presence (if any) at home during this pandemic. They are Balinese Hindu. They regularly attend prayers and mass gatherings. If we’re trying to protect ourselves and society with social distancing and staying at home, are we undoing our efforts if we can’t control the source of bugs under our roof? But we can’t just send them away. There are no government hand outs here for the poor or unemployed. If we ask them to stay away, what will happen to their family with little or no income? The Balinese are enterprising and we’ve seen a sharp rise in the number of fisherman on the beach as many return to the land while tourism slows so I don’t doubt they’d figure it out, but this is the very time where we need to be looking out for each other. So they’re staying. We’ve set up a little makeshift hand washing station at the gate for when they arrive each morning and bought lots of bleach and antibacterial sprays to keep surfaces clean from all our germs, theirs and ours. We’re still paying their full salaries but we’ve restricted their tasks around here to be ‘less involved’. Pak Ketut is working outside as usual but in the house, we’ve asked Ibu to continue going to the market and cooking, only. We’ll clean. I don’t know if this is a wise course of action or an indulgent, naive one but its the best we can come up with for now. However, if someone coughs, they’re gone!
Something that is worrying us as much, if not more than the virus, is the risk of social unrest. Ramadan is just around the corner and people would usually be returning home to their villages except the BNPB (they are Indonesia’s organisation for the prevention of disasters) have created a ‘state of emergency’ until 29 May. It’s a bit of a grey area, where at the moment, it seems the government is asking, not telling, people to stay put but if it becomes law, people fear riots. Bali is a Hindu island so we have less to worry about than say Jakarta, but there are plenty of Indonesians here from other islands that will want to leave Bali to visit their family at this time and Indonesia is not a nation of people that will just bend over. They are like the French on steroids. I think we’ll all be holding our breath for the next few weeks. But maybe that’s no bad thing while covid walks among us.
As if all of that wasn’t reason enough to empty my gin shelf, the rainy season is drawing to a close and the mozzies are bad so dengue fever has been a concern. We spray the rooms, the kids, ourselves and burn spirals to try to avoid bites which may or may not transmit dengue. For the most part, the hospitals here don’t have a first world standard reputation and if they start to get crowded with coronavirus patients, that standard could fall so my usually very free range kiddos are being reigned in slightly to keep them out of a hospital where, in the current climate, an admission could make them more ill. However, on the plus side, the quinine in tonic water is said to help prevent mosquito bites so I’m knocking back the G&T like its the end of the world. Every cloud and all that…