Drew Butler

Finding gratitude in difficult situations

August 29, 2016

Yesterday started out like just about any other day in Bali. You wake up, make some breakfast, make some coffee, chase the baby around, and then load up on the motorbike and decide where to go for the day. Unlike other days up till then, we decided to go a little further out and head down to the beach in Canggu, specifically, Echo Beach.

None of that is really the point of the story, though.

To fast forward a bit, we rode for about an hour, got slightly lost, but ultimately made our way to an amazing beach, where we got some sun, played in the water and sand. We had lunch, walked around a bit and let Bear play with some fish in a little pond in the middle of an amazing little cafe.

On the way home though is where we ran into some troubles.

In the United States, when you’re going somewhere somewhat far away, you generally take the main road or a highway. Here in Bali, it is quite different. Most of the roads are very small, with one lane going each direction and traffic runs considerably slower. So distances that you think of in minutes in the US, become much longer.

The other thing is, many of the roads are unmarked and feel more like side streets in many places. Really, this is a country where most of the roads were created around the villages, as the villages needed and then were later connected. Because of this, going to someplace big from someplace else big that is 15 miles away isn’t a case of “go down X road, turn left on Y road, and Z will be on your right.” Instead, it is a complex journey that requires 10-15 turns down roads that are poorly marked and in some cases look too small to be a road you’d consider going down.

I’ll start by saying that none of this is unsafe, just that the American way of thinking about navigating simply does not apply here. It is not easy to simply pull out your phone every once in a while and say, “I need to turn left in about 100 meters at street A.” You need to have a deeper understanding of things and really stop and ask a lot of people, “which way is B?” and then just do that over and over again until you understand the roads.

That was one of the lessons from yesterday. Here are the rest.

On the way back, it was immediately apparent that the amazing sunshine we had enjoyed all day was coming to an end as clouds began to cover the skies. It had already been a tough afternoon, with Bear seeming tired and grumpy, not to mention I wasn’t entirely happy either. Then on the way home, it seemed like nothing could go right.

First, we had trouble finding gas (or petrol as it is called just about everywhere else). In the many places we’ve been to here, outside of city centers, it seems very common to purchase a bottle of gas and just pour it in your tank. This weirds me out, so I kept driving past the 100 stands offering gas like this, hoping to find a pump. Luckily, just as we were going into the deep red, we found a single manual pump operated by a small shop that helped us fill our tank and we were off.

Next, it seemed like I couldn’t make a single correct turn. We’d drive for 10 minutes, I’d stop to look for directions on Google Maps and curse as the GPS just seemed way, way off (protip: GPS basically doesn’t work here, or at least not in a reliable way.) After awhile Lauren just started asking people “which way Ubud?” to which people would point us in a direction, and we’d go. Every time we’d stop I’d pull out the phone, curse at the GPS, “I just need to know where we are!?!”

It felt a lot like the movie Stargate (not the show) where in order to dial home, you needed to know your origin point and they spent the whole movie trying to figure that out. Yesterday felt like us spending all day trying to figure out where we were so we could figure out where we were going. Long story short, we ended up driving way out of our way. Oh, and I forgot to mention, it was pouring rain.

Finally, we turned around, turned down another road and it seemed like we were going the right direction. To counteract my driving for too far without asking, I basically just started stopping every few minutes, or whenever I’d see someone, in order to confirm we were going the right way. It was raining, we were wet, but we were at least on our way in the correct direction.

Then, on one last stop to check our direction, they pointed the way we were going and I merged back on the road, only to find my back tire was sliding back and forth. I hit the brakes and pulled to the side. We hopped off to take a look and it seemed like maybe a water bottle had been caught in the wheel, so we dumped that and jumped on again with the same result. This time, I checked the tire itself and it was flat. Pouring rain, on the side of the road, surrounded by mostly rice paddies with a couple of small restaurants, I turned the bike around to ask for help.

The first people we talked to were the ones who had just pointed us in the right direction. Unfortunately, they didn’t speak any English, so couldn’t understand much more than “Taxi,” to which they pondered a moment and said no. We waited around for a minute as a helpful person who had just stopped for a bite to eat, who spoke a little English, tried to help and translate, but it seemed to be going nowhere. She wanted us to follow her to Ubud, thinking we were just lost. And as grateful as I am that we could have had someone guide us, we were stuck.

At this point, all I wanted to do was leave the bike for the night, get a car, and get home. I could deal with the bike in the morning. That didn’t seem to be happening, so we said thank you and I walked the bike a little bit up the road to what seemed like a bigger restaurant (the other place wasn’t much more than a stand on the side of the road) where they might be able to help.

It took a moment to explain what was going on. They didn’t speak great English, but they knew enough to know we had a broken bike, and that I was hoping to leave it, get a taxi home, and get it the next day.

At first, it seemed like they might not be able to help, but amazingly they started calling people to enlist friends and family to help us. Maybe it is just because we’re traveling with a baby, but everyone just wanted to reach out and help us. No one seemed put out either, even though they were obviously going way out of their way to help.

What happened next was just amazing and we are so grateful.

First, they offered to take the bike to a mechanic for us that night and we could pick it up in the morning. Next, they called a man, who we still don’t fully know the relation, but he showed up with a jeep-like vehicle and offered to drive us the rest of the 30+ minutes home, in the now torrential downpour.

So we left the bike, with the key, in the hands of total strangers. All the while, every bit of American in me was screaming, “don’t do it, they’ll cheat you and steal your bike.” But I ignored that voice and left it anyway.

Then we got a ride home with the kindest man, who apologized to us the whole way for not having a better car or A/C. His car was a 1982 Suzuki 4x4 and while definitely not the kind of car I would expect were I to call for an Uber, given the circumstances, it was amazing and dry and warm. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.

In the end, we made it home safe. Lauren tried to hug the man out of appreciation, which he thought was a bit strange (I guess they don’t do that here.) We ended up walking to dinner that night, but we were home, in our neighborhood, so we didn’t mind.

This morning, I hired a local taxi to take me back to pick up the bike and sure enough, they were there at 10 am as promised. The brother took me on the back of his motorbike down the street to the mechanic and there my bike was. Tire fixed, ready to go. I tried to give them money for their help, but everyone refused it. The only money I paid was for the taxi back this morning and 10,000 IDR (less than $1 USD) for fixing the tire.

This is a situation that had it occurred in the rural parts of the US, I can imagine may have gone much, much worse. Instead, we were greeted with a sense of community and social responsibility from everyone we encountered who took it as a matter of personal pride to protect and help us. It was truly inspiring.

We’re taught in the US that everyone is out to get you. That the world is unsafe, especially the world outside of the US. The longer I’m away, though, the more I see the flaw in this logic. The more I experience, the more I see the fear that has been so nurtured and perpetuated by our news media for what it is. For years I’ve heard people lament when they hear I don’t watch the news. I’ve always thought I was better off to not hear the horror in its contents because, in my opinion, it is mostly a manufactured view of the world. One meant to drive ratings and create a sense of xenophobia through distrust in the outside world. Now that I’m out in the world, I believe this even more strongly.

The more I’m out here, the more I see the inherent goodness in everyday people. I’m grateful to have this opportunity. I’m grateful to have had such amazing people help us out of the kindness of their hearts, in what felt like such dire circumstances. In retrospect, all of it was minor, and all of it was a reminder that we’re all just people and that at the end of the day, we should all reach out to help the small family, with a baby, caught in the rain with a flat tire.

I’m grateful that Bali never built a wall to keep people out. That we’re able to live here, even if for a short while. So we can experience and understand that the world is such an amazing place and that the people in it are equally amazing.

Drew Butler

Written by Drew Butler who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY building useful things. You should follow him on Twitter