A Savory Local Smile

Bali, Indonesia

The fireball of Balinese sun was slowly beginning to retire to her slumber, simmering out over the lush greenery of the tiny Indonesia village I was in. I watched the sun as I wandered through the broken roads— her rays intertwined with the burnt orange of the ornate, shrine-like residences that reached into the sky, their figures- with their bulky carved hands and smiling faces, their large chiseled eyes and mischievous grins— stretching towards the sun, as if to hail her for her hard day’s work. And for some- the almost leering ones- seeming to awaken from the cool air, electrified for the night’s mischief.


I, on the other hand, was most assuredly lost. I’d been roaming the streets in what I would’ve liked to believe was a methodical manner— but was more comparable to a lost puppy— especially, once I realized that I’d started following a smell that had wafted up some 5 or 6, broken street blocks ago. 

Then, on an open patio, radiating out from the belly of a full wok, there it was- that smell. Possessed, I gravitated towards it, until I found myself stretched onto my tiptoes get a better look. I’d been so succumbed to the aroma, I hadn’t even noticed the woman whose hands were responsible for it— ‘till the bang of dice and roaring laughter from the table some 7 feet away jutted me from my trance. A group of rowdy local men- gambling the time away while they waited for the food responsible for my intoxication. 


I looked up, sheepishly, to find the kind eyes and broad gentle face of a local woman. I laughed nervously, pointing to my camera and then to her wok- as if that was some pardon for my awkward behavior. She understood and stepped back, turning the wok towards me so I could snap a photo. Smiling, I raised my camera to point it at her too, in question. A shy laugh came from her end, but then she looked at me and beamed, proudly- one of the purest, most beautiful smiles I’d ever seen.


Afterward, she went to serve the men, then indicated at the small bar for me to take a seat. Graciously, I grabbed one of the wobbly, brown stools and sat. She made bowls for both of us and joined me. We sat, in the silence of some inexplicable comfort akin to that of old friends, listening to the men play and watching as the final licks of the evening light feathered out over the horizon and the last of the ornamental creatures came to life.

I still had a while to go before I’d find my way back, but that was the beauty of it. Sometimes, the only thing better than being lost in a foreign town- is being found.