Life On A Kampung:The Real Bali

We had to return to the padi field yesterday to shoot some more film. This was not, I hasten to add, part of the original plan as we had both hoped that what I had captured last Sunday would have been good enough to use. Bearing in mind that we had to hire a driver for the day to get us there, pay 20 villagers a days wage for their troubles, the Irishman hadn’t reckoned then on having to fork out for a second day of filming. The thing is that I, Me, (monkey to the organ grinder) made a fantastic film last Sunday but unfortunately most of it was of my muddy feet, the grass and blue sky. Irishman as you might imagine, was not in the least bit amused.

I know bad workmen blame their tools and all that, but if I’m allowed to defend myself here I should just like to add that I was working with a new camera (with no instruction manual because Irishman had foolishly left it on the plane) whilst at the same time try to direct 20 Balinese padi workers (many of whom only speak Balinese) with my 150 words of Bahasa Indonesia (100 of which are the names for the numbers 1-100). Last Sunday’s experience, great though it was, was a little like trying to herd cats as everyone in the village wanted to take part in the film, nobody understood a word I was saying and the whole thing if I’m totally honest with you, got totally out of control. Pure comedy rather than the serious ‘art film’ that it was supposed to be.

So, back we went yesterday. This time Wayan’s husband, Kutut hitched a ride with us as he hadn’t seen his Mother for 6 months and it was to her kampung that we were headed again. The 2 hour drive north from Sanur, took us through tiny villages and hamlets and along the way we watched women in temples strewn with bright coloured flowers, piles of banana leaves and fruits, sitting weaving baskets and busily preparing the blessings and decorations for ceremonies that will be taking place this week. The Sunday sky, was filled with threatening rain clouds and kites, flown by boys  in the fields as we passed by.

The car bumped down the long dusty track towards towards the padi fields and within minutes, word had got out of our arrival and around 50 people turned up all wanting to be part of the action. Sadly there was no way that all of them could be part of the film, much as we would have loved to employ them all, so I quickly had to select the 15 that I needed and get on with the job in hand. Despite the looks of disappointment on the faces of the 35 hopefuls that didn’t get picked, they gamely stayed and watched with amusement what we were doing, whilst happily tucking into the large box of sweets and drinks that I had bought along.

After we had finished filming, we were invited to visit the kampung, which was a 10-minute walk from the padi field. This kampung is in total isolation, slap bang in the middle of nowhere. Miles off the beaten track by the side of the jungle, it is so remote that I doubt we should ever have found such a place if it wasn’t for the fact the Wayan had told us about it and said how beautiful it was.

We followed behind the villagers as they led us down to their village and as we approached the kampung, it felt as if time had stood still. There were no cars anywhere, just chickens and bantams, scratching and pecking away at the sides of the unmetalled road, whilst men and boys sat on their haunches in the dust, proudly showing off their fighting cocks, and woman toiled ceaselessly, scooping newly harvested rice off sheets on the ground into sacks ready to go to market. Old ladies, their weathered faces, deeply etched with lines from a lifetime spent under a tropical sun, stooped by their doorways, one hand behind their back the other holding a sapu lidi carefully sweeping the dirt from the steps.

It is only in the last 10 years that the kampung has had it’s own water supply. Nowadays each house has a pump but before they were installed, villagers would have to walk over an hour to the nearest spring to fetch fresh drinking water, which then had to be carried back up hill in a bucket on the head. When Wayan married Kutut 16 years ago, she managed just one week of married life on this kampung before she threw in the towel and headed back to her own village close to Sanur. ‘It was too much, too hard for me’ she said. ‘Life is very difficult there and very hard work. There is no transport, no bus, and no taxi. I had to do all the washing in the river then carry it wet up the slippery steep slope back to the house to dry. I had to do all the cooking then, and with no shops everything had to be found from the fields. Every day I had to do this on and the 7th day I just wanted to go home’.


These days it seems that little has changed except there is now just one tiny warung selling cigarettes, soft drinks and a few basics. The villagers have no choice but to be self-sufficient, and they have to rely almost entirely on what they can grow for themselves. If the harvest is bad they risk losing everything. Each family keeps a pig to fatten and if they have enough money, a cow, which lives tied up in a shed in the padi, fed on grass cut with a scythe from the narrow strips of land no more than a foot across which divide the padi fields. Six days a week, the children walk to school, one and a half hours there and back, without any shoes as the ground is rough, and shoes are expensive and break easily. If it rains they use a banana leaf as an umbrella. Some, like Kutut, are forced to leave the kampung as young as 7 years old, living away from home in any employment that will enable them to make much needed cash for the family and allow the family one less mouth to feed on a daily basis.

To be so warmly welcomed into the lives and homes of these villagers has been a great privilege for us and a very humbling experience. Their unfailing good humour, hospitality and kindness, has allowed me to take photographs that perhaps I should never have had the chance to take and allowed us both some insight into the real Bali, and the truth of Bali away from the rich tourists and resorts.


7 thoughts on “Life On A Kampung:The Real Bali

  1. Dear Lottie,
    Oh how I can relate!! I’ve been spending time installing a labyrinth near what must be one of the smallest kampungs in Tabanan where there’s an authenticity and richness that is often hard to find in Ubud…
    Thank you for sharing this story and photos.. hope the filming went off this time without a hitch and results were good!


    1. Thank you and yes. I think we got enough stuff on film to make something that isn’t just entirely of grass! A labyrinth, that sounds interesting! I’m glad you can relate to this, it is a world away from the crass commercialism and tourism that most people only get to see when they visit Bali.


  2. Amazing and touching post, Lottie. I was literally gulping your words, laughing at the beginning of your post, and by the end, nearly in tears. What a fascinating world you a living in! Your respect and care for the people and animals comes through in both your choice of words and your brilliant photos. Go you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s