Back to Ongoing Journey Index Page

Posted: October 20, 2002 - Bali: Humanity at its worst, then its bravest.

I received this letter from Laurie Billington. Laurie, who is an American married to a Balinese man, also includes some suggestions for contributions if anyone wants to help.

Hi there-

I am getting many, many e-mails inquiring about our well-being and the situation here in Bali. I am sending this as one of my spam 'missives' simply to expidite the answering process as much of the info is the same. Sorry about that and I will continue to answer individual messages as I can.

First of all, my loved ones and friends are all fine. Been a rough week though. As you know, details on the Bali bombings are coming out like molasses. News is very inconsistant, often inaccurate and biased. I watched a special on CNN International Monday night ("TERROR IN BALI"...ack! Well, at least they refrained from calling it 'TERROR IN PARADISE'). I was appalled that not a single mention was made of the Indonesians involved...the hundreds injured, dead or missing...nor their volunteer efforts. ALL interviews and data, and most visuals (which the exception of scary military shots and a few doctors) were focused on white foreigners as if they were the only ones there... either as victims or volunteers. The rest of the 'special' was actually a sales pitch to convince the viewing audience that this is clearly another Al Qaeda plot. Therefore I suggest people looking for news on this, seek ANY other news source rather than CNN...such as Australian-based which is pretty up to date and less biased.

The basics which you already probably know is that 3 bombs exploded in Bali around midnight on Saturday night. Two in Kuta across the street from one another, not totally clear if both were car bombs or not. The smaller one near Paddy's nightclub and the larger near the Sari Club...both buildings are gone and many more are damaged. These were the two which killed and injured so many. The third was near the US consolute's office in Denpasar and resulted in minor damage. There are around 190 known dead, hundreds injured, and hundreds more reportedly missing. Only about 40 of the dead had been identified as of Tuesday and even those names have been retracted and are being rechecked. Forensic teams from Australia and possibly other countries are now involved and identification is becoming more systematic and should start getting more clear soon I would guess. The missing list is complicated and sketchy as it includes some of the known dead, some that were found alive in various hospitals, some treated and released, many seemingly duplicate names with spelling differences, as well as people who were reported missing by worried families around the world who have since surfaced. There are many working to clean up this list as well. Up to Tuesday these lists were being gathered, maintained and updated by volunteers based on hospital records, hot-line phone calls, etc....not an easy job but getting sorted out and updated as quickly as possible.

In terms of my own experience and thoughts....I actually heard the 3 explosions here in Ubud (30+ km away) and thought it was distant thunder. Got the news at 4:00 am Sunday and spent the morning helping to organize rare blood type donors in Ubud (which I am one). That group jumped into a couple of cars and headed to the government hospital (where most of the victims were taken) to give blood and help out. It was crazy down there, they certainly were not prepared for a tragedy of this scale. Immediately lost most of my group into the chaos so went to find something useful to do. Spent most of the time alongside many others trying to organize the volunteers, compiling and checking lists of the patients, the missing and the dead, comforting victims and whatever else landed in my lap. I then spent a number of hours helping a group of young Australians trying to locate a brother and 5 other friends. The 5 were found in the morgue (but have not yet 'officially' been identified) and the brother is still missing and assumed dead. That was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

On the other hand it was incredible to watch the volunteers rally and organize around this. People from all over the world, representing many countries and all religions working side by side to do what needed to be done...restaurants, hotels, guides, translators, counselers, students, tourists, expats, visiting name it, they were there. People jumping in and doing the job no matter what it entails...from comforting the living, to photographing and identifying the dead...a horrible job. I can't (read: won't) even try to describe the 'morgue' situation except to say that there were almost 200 bodies (or what is left of them), crammed into 3 rooms and a porch, and a serious shortage of ice. (And this is where people were coming to look for and identify loved ones.) This situation has since been remedied a bit with the arrival of 5 ice trucks from Java and Australia and the formation of an international forensics team to organize the situation.

After many hours in chaos our small group finally hooked up again. Here are a few of their experiences which I want to share: One American woman (who doesn't speak Indonesian) was holding the hand of a seriously burned and injured Indonesian woman in ICU. She did not know what else to do so spontaneously started singing, which she continued until the woman finally fell asleep. The patient was awakened when the nurse came in and changed her drip. Her first request was could that nice foreign woman please come sing to her again...which she, of course, did. Another woman went from bed to bed with her handphone making calls to concerned families all over the world. Yet another friend spent 4-5 hours in the morgue helping to count and identify bodies. God bless him for taking on that job. Those are just 3 stories from one small group but there must be thousands more by now.

It felt really good to do something (anything) but the emotional backlash is finally hitting me. I can't get the image of this young woman's determined face, as she stepped over bodies and inspected charred wrists for her brother's watch, out of my mind. I keep getting teary, then feeling guilty for being so self-indulgent when she was so incredibly strong. It's been horrific and depressing and sad. In addition, another friend of ours (Made and I) died Monday morning. He was taken to a private hospital during the night for complications in an on-going illness...not a doctor in the place, presumably because they were all at Sanglah hospital, and he died without receiving medical attention.

The whole experience has shaken my little universe, although I long ago gave up the illusion that Bali was particularly safer than anywhere else in the world these days. It has given me a vivid, and permanent picture of both the worst and the best sides of humanity, a picture I certainly did not ask for, I'm not sure I want...and will hopefully learn to embrace someday. It has also helped me to re-evaluate some priorities including the need to be more proactively working towards peace in the world. Not sure what that looks like yet.

What I know to be true at this moment is that this kind of violence must stop. No one should ever die at the hands of other humans in this or any other way. We don't know who did this. Fingers are being pointed all over the place. The US government, of course, favors the Al Qaeda/radical muslim theory. The Indonesia government appears to be jumping on that one as well...don't forget, there had been bombings all over Indonesia for years before 9/11 and the international 'war on terrorism' those days it was an internal political issue (NEVER a religious one) and the ousted 'New Order' regime and military were the favorite suspects. Other speculations include conspiracies (CIA and the like), while others are convinced 'elements' in Indonesia are using the "war on terrorism" as an excuse to destabilize the country and bring back an authoritarian government. These are just a few of the favorites and all have pretty interesting arguements (based on political, economic or moral motivation). I wonder if we'll ever know for sure.

What I AM certain of and increasingly concerned about is that there are those who will exploit this to further their own agendas and justify other acts of aggression in the world. This is simply unacceptable. Violence is escalating in the world and the answer is NOT further violence. This message needs to be spread far and wide.

Although I already knew it, this has only affirmed my conviction that 1) fear is an illusion, but a very useful tool as it immobilizes intellect and obscures intuition, 2) that love and compassion are much stronger forces than fear (as witnessed at the hospital and streets of Kuta this week), 3) that violence only begats more violence, 4) the only possible solutions to the current world problems MUST be peaceful ones, based on diplomacy, dialog and mutual understanding and respect, and 5) that this can only start with me.

I have gotten hundreds of messages from both friends and strangers alike, looking for information and asking what can be done to help. Here is some info:



To give U.S. tax deductible donations to the relief effort in Bali, please send your checks to:
Bali Hati Foundation
c/o Mr. Max Lloyd
401 El Caminito
Carmel Valley, CA 93924

Please make checks payable to Bali Hati Foundation. A receipt for your donation will be mailed to you. Bali Hati Foundation is legally registered in the US under the umbrella of The National Heritage Foundation. Thank you very much for your support.

In addition, my personal suggestion is to put this into a global context and do something to change the direction the world is heading. I believe we can change things. Transform the fear in the world into compassion, understanding and peaceful action. This can be done in so many ways, from full on political activism to something going to the nearest hospital, finding a stranger in pain and alone, taking their hand and singing them to sleep. I am so, so sad.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -- Margaret Mead

Blessings to all- Laurie

Pondok Pekak Library & Learning Center
East Side of the Football Field
Jl. Monkey Forest
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Phone: 62 (361) 976194

Pondok Pekak Library & Learning Center Vision (excerpt):
"....To provide a supportive environment where culture, religion, gender and ethnicity are sources of learning rather than sources of conflict; and where people from different backgrounds can explore, not only the diversity they represent, but also the similarities they share. To offer the opportunity to better understand, not only the values, beliefs and world views of others, but also their own. To affirm the need for balance on the planet earth and the fundamental unity and interconnectedness of all things. To encourage more empathy, compassion and respect for each other and the world we share."



Introduction - Home Page - A Brief Bio



The Book - Why I Wrote the Book? - The Proposal - In Search of an Agent

The Writing - The Editing - Cuts - Reviews



More Than One Way - Servas - Trust & Serendipity - Connecting - Family

Practicalities - Physical Challenges



Ongoing Journey (Dated Entries from Rita) - National Nomad Tour Itinerary - Discussion Group



List, Photos, Descriptions & Links to Order - Bio for Kids




 © Copyright 2001 Rita Golden Gelman, All rights reserved.