From Behind a Closed Door

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Last night as we prepared to sit down to dinner there was a commotion in the hallway. 


The apartment across the way, which has stood empty and desolate for days, was suddenly buzzing again.


A group of men all dressed in white filed through the door. Someone in a suit stood by, his back to the wall as if on guard, his thumbs tapping emails suggesting industrious authority and officialdom.


They closed the door, and I went back to the stove. I was busy with a steaming pot of pasta, but the kids were again drawn to the hallway, eager to investigate whichever novelty might land in their habitat. They let themselves out into the hall. 


From behind the closed door, we could hear a low hum: chanting and singing, something obviously spiritual. I joked that maybe they were trying to cast out some spirits.


Later that evening, my husband came home. He reported that there was indeed an exorcism next door. Some unwelcome ghost had taken up residence in the vicinity, and a group of religious leaders spiritualists were called to expel her.


Mostly I think this is ridiculous. I mean, to consider that a multi-million dollar business is spending time and money and manpower on this sort of exercise when there are real problems to tackle, well — laughable. And I did laugh about this. (Until bedtime when the lights were off and all was still and then there was shrieking laughter in the hallway and I nearly peed my pants.)


But, also, and I think this: Indonesia is very much attached to the old ways. While the country is primarily Muslim, local spiritual practices are flavoured by animism. Spirits and ghosts live together with stories from the Book. A religious leader might pray to God and then make an offering of flower petals to the dark Queen of the Sea. 


Here, curses are real life. Religious leaders must be consulted before an old tree is cut down. Illness is caused by wind in your bones. And, it seems, ghosts must be excised, even from Western five-star hotels.


The thing is, we’re in Indonesia. People here live together with ghosts, and spirits, and God, and Science. To discount this belief would be insensitive. 


And anyway, this way of combining old and new, the spiritual and the tangible, this way of taking bits and pieces from here and there, cultures bumping up against each other, and not clashing, but melding and marinating to create something new, well that’s beautiful, really, and part of the whole reason that I do love this place.