In Need of Refuge: The Other Side of the Volcano

Culture | Written By, Ayu Sekar | March 22nd, 2018

 

While visitors in the south brave Bali’s holiest mountain, the volcanic, Gunung Agung continues to engage, fascinate and terrify visitors and Balinese alike.

Gunung-Agung-(5)

But in fact for visitors, their lives are little affected by the volcano’s activity as there is not much effect except a possible rare delayed flight and even that is not happening right now.

Yet while most Balinese just get on with their daily lives, taking things as they come, others have been affected so strongly, that their entire lives have been disrupted. But behind the tourist façade, other stories are unraveling, of the hardships endured by many of the local people living in and around Mt Agung.

Gunung-Agung-(11)

Many villagers live in villages perched precariously on the holy mountain, close to the summit where there very lives could be endangered if there is a major eruption. As a precaution, the government has given orders a few months ago, to move them to places lower down the slopes out of the 12 kilometre range of the possible danger of flowing lava. After all, more than 1,000 lives were lost in the 1963 eruption.

The evacuees or “pengungsi” (as they Balinese call them) from Tanah Aron, a small village high up on the slopes of the mountain, have all been given refuge at the Bali Aga Village of Tenganan. The village centre or Wantilan has become a huge dormitory that accommodates the whole village of 400 plus souls, with each family allotted about ten square feet of space, enough for sleeping and sitting. They are put into a very passive situation, where for the past six months they spend much of their time waiting.

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They wait for food, for news of their eventual return, they wait for money, for news of their animals, many still stranded up the mountain, they wait for meals to be cooked by teams of villagers, they wait for favours. They wait for their lives to return to normal.

While the situation is not perfect, it would seem that the pengungsi in Tenganan are amongst the luckiest. To be stranded in such a beautiful village is not a total hardship, but having one’s life disrupted, certainly is. Tenganan is much nicer than most of the camps, and they at least have a little space outside and room to move around in beautiful surroundings.

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Some of the older folks have even brought their best roosters to the village to keep themselves occupied. The children can attend the local school and some of the women are weaving the traditional Tenganan Kain Ikat. One woman is making bags from recycled items to sell at the local market, and everyone is in need of money.

But still, it is not the same as being at home.
All the 400 plus villagers are located in the village Wantilan, were each family gets around ten square feet of space where their belongings are stacked neatly against the walls, and they all sleep together in the centre of their family space.

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Boredom is a common problem and the pengungsi welcome visits and donations of food and snacks, anything to add a little variety to their semi captive lives.

It is a tough situation and it may continue for a few months more yet. Not knowing how long the situation may last adds to the strain, and after all, it is not like an actual disaster, where everyone rallies around to help. The disaster is that there is no disaster.

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Apart from these camps scattered around northern Bali and even one in Ubud, at Robin Lim’s wonderful Bumi Sehat Hospital and birthing centre, there are other organisations doing great work. In Sidemen, Barbara and Wayan, of the wonderful Sidemen cement tile fabricators, have been providing refuge for cows and other livestock from up the mountain. BAWA have been taking food for the poor dogs who have been stranded as their owners and families were evacuated from the mountain, leaving all the animals behind.

Another local group has also been feeding dogs regularly going to villages right at the top of the mountain, braving everything to make sure the animals don’t suffer too much.

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If you would like to make a donation, you can visit Tenganan or a different camp and bring some things – food, clothing, toys, or more conveniently, for the price of a fancy dinner, you can send a donation that will make a difference. Or stop by the very active Kopernik organisation in Pengosekan. http://kopernik.info/project/mount-agung-emergency-response

Or to Bumi Sehat – they are both doing excellent work
http://www.bumisehatfoundation.org/donate-to-the-mount-agung-relief/

www.imanangel.org – you can check this website for more info.

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Ayu Sekar

Bali Safari

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