Bali: A deserted, scarred island tries to cope with its grief

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The Independent Online

They come every day to the site they call ground zero, a steady stream of locals bearing little offerings of rice, fruit and flowers in banana-leaf trays. They kneel down, they pray, and then the weeping begins. They weep for their lost loved ones, for the foreigners so cruelly slaughtered, and they weep for Bali itself.

They come every day to the site they call ground zero, a steady stream of locals bearing little offerings of rice, fruit and flowers in banana-leaf trays. They kneel down, they pray, and then the weeping begins. They weep for their lost loved ones, for the foreigners so cruelly slaughtered, and they weep for Bali itself.

The ceremony, duplicated in every town and village around the island, is aimed at cleansing the site of bad spirits. The religious ritual is a comfort, but it is difficult to foresee a time when the gentle Balinese will be able to put the events of last weekend behind them.

The economy, so dependent on tourism, is in ruins; the hotels in Kuta, the main centre, are three-quarters empty, and the shopkeepers open only for something to do. But the sense of devastation is more profound. Grief hangs over this beautiful place, along with the stench of death. Bali is an island with its heart torn out.

For 70 years, the place has been synonomous with a tropical paradise. Kuta, where a car bomb outside a nightclub killed more than 180 people last Saturday, is over-developed, but most of Bali is unspoilt. There are mist-shrouded volcanoes, sculpted rice paddies, lush jungle and long sandy beaches.

That Bali should be targeted by terrorists seems especially hard, for the Balinese are a peace-loving people who are proud of their tolerant traditions. The first buildings to greet visitors on the road outside the international airport are a Hindu temple, a mosque and a church, all side by side.

The Hindu-majority island has not been entirely immune from violence; up to 100,000 Balinese were killed during anti-Communist witchhunts that swept Indonesia in 1965 after an attempted coup against Ahmed Sukarno, the post-independence leader.

But Bali has escaped the ethnic and sectarian strife that in recent years has scarred areas such as Kalimantan, Aceh and the Maluku islands. Its charms attracted artists and anthropologists in the 1930s; modern tourism began in the 1960s, when surfers discovered its superlative waves and a new airport was built.

The situation now facing the Balinese is grave. Up to 70 per cent of their economy relies on tourism, through hotels, restaurants and handicraft industries. Now the tourists have left, and the travel warnings from Western nations – advising their citizens to leave Indonesia – make it unlikely that they will soon be back.

Dozens of businesses near the Sari Club, where the bomb was left in a mini-van, were destroyed or damaged. The air is full of the sound of hammering as owners hurry to complete repairs. Others were untouched, but no one is buying.

"It's been very, very quiet," Luisi Ana, standing in her empty shop, Leony Handicrafts, said. "Since the bomb, we've been making 60,000 rupiah [about £4] a day. Before it was at least 600,000. I'm worried because there's not enough money to buy food. I'm scared too, of the ghosts. There were so many dead bodies."

Many locals have other anxieties. Like the tourists who caught the first flights out, they fear that terrorists could strike again in Bali. But unlike the tourists, they cannot flee. This is their home.

Indra Trevor's second child, a baby girl called Hanna, was born in Kuta's Graha Asih Hospital at 9.30pm last Saturday. Two hours later, the bomb went off, and the hospital was soon full of the dying and the wounded. They were strange circumstances to bring a new life into the world, and he is afraid. "I'm very worried about something else happening," said Mr Trevor, whose family owns a wholesale business in Kuta. "They could strike again at any time." The atmosphere is tense, and dozens of hoax bomb threats have been received by the airport and hotels.

The bomb – planted outside a nightclub that admitted only Western tourists – was clearly aimed at foreigners, but it took the lives of numerous Balinese. One village near Kuta lost eight men, all working as taxi drivers. Despite their tragedies, locals have spent the week apologising to the few remaining tourists for the carnage. It is heartbreaking to hear.

Some elders believe the targeting of Bali was a sign from the gods, a warning that people have lost respect for their culture and religion.

Other Balinese are still trying to make sense of events. Nyoman Nuarta, a local sculptor who is planning a monument to the victims, said: "How can people do something like this here? Everyone loves Bali. Terrorism is outside our concept. It's not in our philosophy."

Mr Nuarta said anger was not the way that Balinese coped. "Deep down in our hearts we hate what happened, but we don't want revenge. We believe that if I hurt you, I hurt myself. We are very introspective and that's the best way."

He added: "Please help us. If everyone leaves Bali, the terrorists will be happy. That's their aim. Please let people know that Bali is not like that. We love peace. We're very open. We never dreamt of terrorism. Bali is in such great pain."

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