I was staying at a B&B in the middle of a rice field on the edge of Ubud in Bali. It’s not far from one of the touristy streets but you can’t drive there and instead must use a narrow path that is also frequented by ducks and roosters and a steady line of women carrying rocks on their heads. Some motorbikes use it too, causing you to squeeze to one side to let them pass.
There’s some construction happening in this rice field and the one beyond and materials are carried in on the heads of women. They’re not paid by the hour, so I’m told, but by the truck load. So they start early and never seem to stop. I tell a taxi driver that this bothers me but he says they’ve been doing it all their lives and their necks are very strong.
Every time I pass the women I wave hello and once when I see two of them shoveling a fresh load of rocks into their pans I ask if I can take a photo. They laugh and say okay and I take a quick snap. A couple of days later I pass one of these women and she lets me know she would like some money for the photo I took. It is late in the day and she looks exhausted and I am surprised and just pass by.
Earlier that day a man selling newspapers had ripped me off. I didn’t even want a stupid paper and at a weak moment agreed to buy one and accidently gave him the wrong bill, which was 10 times the actual price. He didn’t miss a beat and quickly talked me into buying a different newspaper and for only half the price (which was actually five times the value). As soon as he left I realized what I had done. So I was not feeling too thrilled when the woman whose photo I took now wanted to be paid, especially when the picture hadn’t turned out because their faces were shaded.
The next morning who should I meet but the newspaper seller who was overjoyed when he spotted me—the idiot who had given him a week’s salary the day before. He was so nervy that he said he would give me the same deal again! I just kept walking for I had a mission. On this my last day in Ubud I was going to buy treats for the women who carried rocks on their heads. And I would pass a few bills to the two whose photo I had taken as a way of telling them that I knew their load was too heavy.
The saleslady at the little shop suggested I buy lemon ice tea so I got 12 cold ones and hurried back down the path to hand them out. I had to walk quickly to catch up with the line and each woman seemed delighted when she took the little present, yelling out to the one ahead to wait up and get one before I ran out.
But the women in the photo weren’t there.
I left Ubud not knowing if my women were up ahead and heard about me giving out drinks and wondered why once again there was nothing for them.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2012