WRITER DESAK Yoni was born in the early 1970s and grew up in a small village near Ubud. She has lived, loved and learned in Australia and Bali.
Her cross-cultural training included two decades of living between the two islands and earning a Masters degree from an Australian University.
Since her return to settle here, Desak says she is able to put theory into practice here in Bali.
Desak’s new novel “Reflections of my Soul – The Story of a Balinese Woman” is based on her experience of love, marriage and sex.
The book highlights challenges that arise between different ways of life not only in faraway lands but also amongst the rapidly changing cultures of Bali.
Inspired Bali sat down with Desak to hear her reflections on love, relationships and traditions in Bali and the west.
What messages about love, sex and/or marriage did you grow up with in Bali?
Love grows once we live withthe person long enough and reconcile our differences,learn to accept one another and live everyday withoutany specific plans, just slogging along through asimple life.
Messages about sex – I grew up without any talk about sex. It was a taboo topic. There was no sex education at our schools.
(I’m not sure whether the schools offer sex education now in villages.) Growing up in the village, I learned that sex was more like a wifely duty to fulfill whenever the husband wants sex or having sex simply to have kids.
It was a man’s world in a patriarchal society in small villages of Bali. Men were getting their satisfaction from home and elsewhere.
The wife was to accept that extramarital affairs were normal in villages. Wives were even expected to agree to polygamy.
People were very open about who was having an affair with whom, as long as the affairs didn’t end up as a marriage.
Most wives tended to accept their fate in my village neighborhood.
What was your parents’ model of marriage and love?
My mother was more concerned about her duties as a Hindu woman than her marriage and love life.
Being from a poor family, she used to say, “I have two kids now. I’m happy as long as my husband feeds us.”
Mom and Dad used to fight a lot, as my dad would have an affair and spend his money on the affair instead of us.
If only the money was staying in the family, mom would not complain about an extramarital affair.
Now that my parents are old, I think they seem to be happy. Dad seems to focus on family, such as their grandchildren (my sister’s kids).
Mom is quite happy with day to day duties as a housewife such as taking care of cooking, offerings and ceremonies.
Love is devotion to her god. In their model of marriage, the husband is free to do whatever, as long as he brings food home for their children, ceremonies, and so on.
What were your mother’s teachings about love and sex? How (if at all) did she talk with you about these matters?
We don’ttalk about these things openly.My mom always said, “Let yourhusband have his way, and stayquiet for the sake of the kids.”She only ever talks about love towardsthe kids, never about lovetowards the husband.
I have neverseen my father and mother beingaffectionate towards one anotherin an open space. Balinesepeople don’t hug (my parents’generation especially), let alone kiss in front of otherpeople.
There is no emotional expression of love thatI can see. We often see other emotions like sadness,happiness and anger being displayed in the familyand surrounding neighbourhood.
My parents neverhold hands in front of me or my sister or anybody. I preferwestern cultures with lots of emotional expressionsof love towards one another.
We can hold hands, kiss in public, and be affectionate to our partners/husbands.
How have other members of your family coped with the developments in Bali around love, marriage and relationships?
There are a lot of challenges for younger generations like my little sister as she has been overseasbut continues to live in the village with my parents.
She has seen lots of western movies and westerners beingaffectionate towards one another around Ubud.
She wants to be affectionate towards her husband, but theyalso want to maintain culturaltraditions and respect in the village.
It is a huge difference from my life, as I no longer live with my parents but instead in my own private villa in the middle of rice paddies, away from villagers.
What has been your experience with extramarital affairs? HIV/ AIDS? Domestic violence?
Extramarital affairs alway createfriction for any marriage. Life isdifficult enough with all the usual daily activities, commitments,work that each individual has todeal with.
When a husband/wifeis seeking love elsewhere, thenthe marriage is broken.
There isno longer a bond in the relationship; the attention is being divided; the money is being divided; then the worry of catching HIV and trust disappearing.
It is very hard to keep the marriage together in onepiece.
It is one fight after another, which often turnsinto violence and rage, which is very bad for the children to witness.
It is dangerous for all involved and certainlyvery damaging for everyone’s mental condition.
The neighbours deserve some peace as well! Whenthere are extramarital affairs, then the marriage bondis no longer a solid commitment amongst two people with the same goals.
How do you or your generation cope with these differently from your parents and their generation?
Mygeneration is less accepting towards their husbands’affairs. Balinese women have careers and are ableto look after their own children financially.
I see a lot of them put up a fight in court these days to win the rights with regard to their children and their right to be respected as human beings.
Balinese women in my generation are becoming more independent and educated.
We’re working on compromise instead of simply following orders from men.
In my parents’ generation, there was no such thing as divorce. If the woman dared to leave, then they would never see their children again.
In some cases, if she was going to leave her husband’s family compound, her own original family would never accept her back.
What was the woman supposed to do, other than accept her fate? In my mother’s generation, most women couldn’t even read or write.
How has your understanding of yourself and your place in the world evolved?
We certainly have the strength tocontinue growing and understand the human dilemma.
I realize we are complex and evolving creatures.There is no way we can all conform to traditional culturalnorms.
Returning to my roots and revisiting my childhood in Bali certainly gave me some clues regarding my choices in life.
Looking at my mother’s blind devotion to spiritual and social matters helped me realize that I’m so lucky to have choices by being both an insider and an outsider at the same time.
I can live in both worlds in Bali – traditional and modern at the same time, each and every day.
I discovered forgiveness. I forgive myself in a lot of ways and forgive people around me and have a deeper understanding of why things are the way they are.
I have become more patient, less angry with the world and with people.
I feel less burden on my shoulders knowing that no matter what country we live in, there are always struggles to deal with.
“Renditions of My Soul – The Story of A Balinese Woman” is available from Ganesha Bookshops (3 branches in Bali: Ubud, Sanur and Kuta) and can be purchased from their website, Ary’s Bookshop – Ubud, Kafe – Ubud, many Periplus location, Books & Beyond (2 branches Ubud and Kuta).
An online version is also available from www.smaswords.com.