Papa Bagus

The small studio is half hidden under more vines and bamboo and I open the French doors and part the cheesecloth curtains to the side. I don’t really know what I’m in for but being open-minded I’m pretty up for whatever might come my way. I’m here for a consultation with a traditional Balinese healer. The other night Kat’s testimony was so compelling that I implored Adriana to see if the healer can find a time to fit me in. A short solid man not much older than myself, though I’m really only guessing, greets me. Softly spoken, his English is much better than my Indonesian. Pak Bagus, or Papa Bagus as the retreat managers refer to him, is dressed simply in a once-white t-shirt and blue batik print shorts with the standard bare feet.

“Why are you here?” he asks simply.  I choose not to dwell on the more philosophical sides of the question but briefly tell him about my diverticulitis last week. Basic words and some hand gesturing later he nods and directs me to lie down. I place my iced water on the side table, untie my sarong and lay face down on the massage table. He places his hands on my back at different intervals and blows gently upon my skin. Soon the pummelling and kneading begin. Without any massage oil, his hands soon warm up even more from the friction of his movements. Over the next two hours, I am alternatively poked and prodded, stroked and manipulated sometimes to the point of discomfort. I can’t decide whether he’s trying to work the bad stuff out or work the good stuff in.

Occasionally I draw in a quick breath when he works on a painful spot. He’s quick to explain that my outer thigh muscles are tender because they correlate to my stomach infection. “Big infection” he repeats time and again. These spots have been tender for quite some time and I know our body bits are all inter-connected but it’s reassuring when these things are reinforced. I roll over at the requested time and the procedure is repeated. Muscles are held first, breath blown then long firm strokes followed up by massage and manipulation with oil. For the first time in my experience, all the massages I am receiving in Bali my stomach is getting its fair share of attention. Papa Bagus is no exception.

I’m glad of this as his ministrations certainly ease some of the tension in my belly. He closes his eyes and his lubed up hands explore, press and release sections of my abdomen. “You tell me if pain” he says and I nod enthusiastically. As he holds firmly in the certain spots just above my pubic line, I feel sharp twinges on my lower left side. I tell him straight away. He nods but doesn’t really let up the pressure. This happens a few more times and I wonder why I’m supposed to mention the pain. Most likely as a distraction technique, he asks me about my family – children, husband and so on. I answer without going into too much confusing detail. He tells me about an Australian group he was dealing with last week and I interject with “It’s my first time in Bali actually.”

“Why?!” he exclaims.  I quickly apologise and explain that I was never interested in the beach and Bintang style of holiday and I didn’t understand what else this island had to offer. I make sure he understands that I recognise my folly and will endeavour in the future to dispel this belief amongst anyone I meet. I wax lyrical about Ubud and its stunning natural beauty, the artisans we’ve seen, the friendly generosity of the people we’ve encountered and the incredible food we’ve eaten. I hope I’ve convinced him that this will not be my last visit to Bali.

Like a rotisserie chicken, I’m oiled and turned, seasoned with spices and turned again. Meanwhile he expounds on his unique skills set “Astrology, astronomy, massage, healer, ceremony “. He pauses for no doubt dramatic effect “magic..”. I leave this last one in the air.

When my time has elapsed, I slowly sit up and find my sarong. Straightening my dishevelled underwear he adds a few last minute prescriptions. “Massage. You need massage in Melbourne. Who can do that?” I reassure him that there are plenty of places I can get massages. He also does his best to explain that I need to work on my gut bacteria. This actually isn’t news to me as I’ve been suffering the last few years every now and then especially with fermented products. Digestively speaking, I’m definitely still very much a work in progress.
I thank him, palms pressed firmly together in front of my chest fingers skyward as is the custom. I slink off back to my room before I have to encounter anyone.

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