Letter From Bali

David Mendoza, a longtime advocate of human rights and freedom of expression, settled in Bali several years ago. He works with local craftspeople in Ubud and exports clothing and crafts to the U.S. He emailed AlterNet this message following the bombing in Kuta on Saturday night.

Generally, I avoid calling Bali "paradise." But, it often seems quite near to it on many levels. Yesterday and today, it has become a very different place and will likely not ever be that place it once was again.

On Saturday night I was near the end of an evening with friends, having dinner in a restaurant/bar in Ubud, where I live. It was about 11:30pm and we saw police at the front of the restaurant, which opens onto the street. The manager was very flustered and said there had been bombs in Kuta, about 45 minutes south of Ubud, on the beach.

My friends and I looked at each other and thought this might not be correct information. As we drove through Ubud toward home, we saw police checkpoints at the main road entrance to Ubud. In retrospect we were likely a bit stunned already, because it didn't seem real.

By Sunday morning in Bali, there was plenty of news. Nyoman, who works with me, arrived early because he had heard about the bombs on the radio and wanted me to know. My Balinese neighbors began to arrive with looks of shock and disbelief, needing to know from me what was happening, what would happen. I began to get calls from friends in the U.S. and Mexico. Sunday was a day of talking on the phone with friends in Bali, checking the Internet, wandering around the garden, staring at the peaceful view, talking on the phone again.

Some of my Balinese friends expressed their concern for me and wondered what this would mean for Bali. Would I leave? Last night a friend and I decided to go back into Ubud to have dinner at a restaurant in order to show support for the business and not be afraid. We went to one of our usual favorites called Terazo. On the way into town we saw many military and police on the streets, in front of every restaurant and at the main intersection in front of the market. The restaurant had customers, and more arrived. We overheard conversations about Kuta and the bombs. The owner, who is Balinese, arrived. He joined us and told us that he had just come from a meeting and that a blood donation site would be set up in Ubud. He said he had spoken to many hotel managers who said their guests were checking out.

Today I spent the day on Monkey Forest Road hustling blood donations from tourists. The hospitals desperately need "western" blood types, as Asian blood types tend to not match westerners. Many Balinese had gone to donate blood but their blood could not be used except for the Indonesians injured in the blasts, of which there were many. A volunteer/donation site was set up in Casa Luna restaurant in Ubud for food, money and clothing. In Indonesian hospitals food must always must be provided by families, so the injured and their friends and families had little access to food. Donated food and water were being loaded into vans to take to the hospitals.

The tourists on the streets that I approached for blood were almost all willing. One woman, a nurse on vacation from Holland, had volunteered the day before at the main hospital, and when I approached her for blood she burst into tears and mumbled to me about her time there yesterday.

The clinic ran out of needles, a lot of blood was collected and it will begin again tomorrow morning at 9am. People asked if I thought it was safe to stay and if they should maybe leave. Before, I always reassured them that Bali was safe. I could only say, I hoped so, and that I thought Ubud was safe but I didn't know anymore.

The location of the bomb is one of the most crowded on Bali. It’s packed with tourists and local Balinese and other Indonesians who sell cigarettes, water and food on the streets in front of the tourist spots and work in the discos and restaurants, or just hang out there on Saturday nights. People live in the back of their shops and there are private Balinese houses and boarding rooms for workers tucked between the bars and restaurants. There are small shops that sell food to locals next to shops that sell souvenirs to tourists. It is a densely populated area. One entire block was destroyed. Not just the discos where the bombs went off, but the shops, restaurants and houses surrounding them. The fire finished what the bombs didn't.

Balinese TV is not as timid as U.S. TV. The images from the hospital, were for me, unwatchable. There are handwritten signs outside the hospital that say: "Young girl in intensive care, 11-14 years old, face burned, in coma. Caucasian." And "Girl in intensive care, about 5 years old, 130 cm., fair skin, reddish brown hair. Caucasian."

One could presume that these children's parents are also in hospital unconscious or are dead. These children were not in the disco, but perhaps walking down the street with their families or in a nearby restaurant eating.

The Balinese are all in shock. They are Hindus who make offerings to their gods several times a day. They do not know what to do, how to help, what to expect. But their future is not likely to be very good or easy.

Everyone here is impacted by tourism. Families in faraway villages who work in rice fields have children and grandchildren who work in areas like Kuta and Ubud and bring money home to their families. The Balinese who work in tourism use their income to buy food and clothing in their local village shops and pay their children's school fees.

And I must point out that many non-Balinese Indonesians live and work on Bali from Java and all the other islands, many who came from places like East Timor in search of work and money, many fleeing other places of conflict. These people often send money home to their families on other islands. There are many Muslims on Bali and there has always been a harmonious atmosphere here.

The only possible good that can come from this is that maybe the Indonesian government will at last pay attention to terrorism and the terrorists everybody knows are present here. They can no longer deny or blame the U.S. for inventing terrorists. Even three days ago, one day before the bombs, the U.S. Embassy issued an alert about the possibility of imminent attacks but the government denied the warning. This threat represents a tiny percentage of Muslims here and until recently the mainstream, moderate Muslim majority has been hesitant to speak out.

I received an email from the U.S. Embassy today recommending that Americans leave. I am not a martyr but I do not plan to leave. Lots to do, my village is safe, and I don't plan to go to any discos. But life here is already different. I am aware of a certain awareness on the streets, people being cautious, looking around in a way that didn't exist before. Would I feel safer in the U.S.? In Washington D.C.?

Sunday will be a national day of mourning. Today I saw some newly erected bamboo flagpoles outside people’s shops and homes with tiny flags at half-mast -- flags from the U.S., Australia and Indonesia. Then, each day the reality of what happened will begin to take form. Bali will never be the same again.

If you are interested in helping there has been a relief fund set up in Ubud to provide money for medical supplies and care for the survivors and to buy clothing and food for people who lost their homes, belongings, livelihood and even family members. A small amount of dollars buys a lot of rupiah here. If you would like to make a contribution, please email the amount you wish to send to davidc@dps.centrin.net.id, and make a check out to David Mendoza and mail it to: Tim Tomlinson, 1519 Third Ave. #203, Seattle, WA 98101. I will make clear when I give your donation that it comes from "Friends of Bali in the USA.”

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