October 12th is the 11th anniversary of the Bali bombings.
It was a moment in time that forever changed the lives of many, including myself. It forever changed the energy of Bali.
On this day, 202 people—mostly young people on holiday—lost their lives just having fun on a Friday night. They came from 23 different countries from around the world. Three were from ‘origin unknown’ as their bodies were too burnt to be identified.
The first bomb, strapped to a suicide bomber, went off at 11:05 at night in Paddy’s nightclub. It caused people inside to flee out into the street, where 20 seconds later an enormous device inside a parked Mitzubushi van outside Kuta’s most popular night spot, the Sari club, exploded, designed to cause the greatest devastation.
I visited the site the morning after to lay flowers and came away grief stricken and speechless—a rare occurrence for a natural chatterbox like me.
Where the Sari Club had been, there was now just a deep hole.
I’d visited the club frequently through the years, bringing by baby son to dance and meet friends. It was a popular place. There but for grace, go I.
The area, fringed by singed palm trees, smelled of burnt human flesh and rubber from peoples flip-flops as they ran for their lives from the flaming debris. The manager of the hotel I was staying in, a young English guy, never made it out. It took them three days to identify his remains from his dental records.
All over Kuta, there was an eerie stillness. The usual cacophony and tangle of traffic on Jalan Legian, Kuta’s main street, was non-existent. I have never seen a Balinese person cry, but now everyone had silent tears streaming down their faces.
Back at my hotel people wanted to do something to help. Aside from the dead, who were being put into hotel refrigerators as the morgues were full, there were over 240 people severely injured, mostly burns and limbs blown off, and Bali simply did not have the infrastructure to deal with a catastrophe of this scale.
Suddenly, in spite of the veneer of Westernisation, the Hard Rock Cafe and all the MacShites, you realized you were in a developing country. There was one ambulance; the main hospital simply could not cope. Hotels nearby were offering their swimming pools to lay still alive victims in to ease their pain until they could be flown out to Singapore or Darwin.
What was most needed was blood and plasma. Bali did not have enough of a supply. Makeshift blood donation centres were set up and we all lined up put out our arms and said ‘help yourself’.
There were not enough clean needles, but this was not a concern at a time like this.
Fast forward several years and I am in Kathmandu on another buying trip for the clothing business that I run. I get very ill, raging fevers, and when I fly home I go straight into hospital on a drip. They do not know what I have.
I have many blood tests and it is discovered that I have hepatitis C, a blood borne virus that attacks the liver. I have probably been carrying this since I gave blood in Bali all those years earlier.
My fevers are not connected; I also have Scrub Typhus from an insect bite I got in Nepal.
This is how the Bali bomb changed my life forever. Things like this make everything else, all those little problems and niggles fall into perspective.
I have had successful treatment for my hepatitis, the virus is gone; the dragon is slain, but memories of all those kids out for a fun night on holiday still haunt me. The geno-type of hepatitis C that I had boasts an 80% cure rate. Nowadays there are even more successful treatments with fewer side effects. In my case, the treatment was worse than the illness, a hard-core course of chemotherapy; six months of self-administered weekly injections and daily tablets, notorious for their side-effects. It left me drained and unable to get out of bed.
Post treatment, and back to my old vim and vigour, I go back in Bali on the anniversary of the bombings.
I go to lay flowers at the monument they have built on ‘Ground Zero’. The Sari Club site is now a car park, but I can still feel the ghosts from 11 years ago. I can still smell burnt flip-flop and flesh in the air.
Tourists gather at the site, drunken Australians here on a two week bender, groups of head-scarfed women from Java, huge groups of excitable Chinese tourists. It is a highlight when visiting Kuta, a tourist attraction. They laugh and joke and take photos of each other in front of the monument.
But I just stand there with silent tears flowing down my face, like the Balinese, remembering the night Bali lost its innocence.
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Ed: Renée Picard
Photo courtesy Carli Susu
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