Bali - Lost Innocence
October 12, 2002 was to be a day like any other for Nira Rya.
Not much ever changes in Bali, at least not in Nira’s life. He had been a driver in Bali since 1991, and on this day, he was working with one of his regular clients. At 11pm, he arrived at the airport and as he waved his clients goodbye, he felt a vibration – a vibration so powerful his car windows shook. Leaving the airport, he noticed a large smoke cloud hanging over the city of Kuta, where he lived with his wife and four children. Attempts to call home failed - the phone lines were down. This once vibrant city was now in complete darkness.
Parking his car Nira made his way towards the commotion by foot and it was then he heard the word that would continue to haunt him for years to come. “Bomb”.
“Up until this time, I had never known the word terrorist existed, let alone what it stood for” Nira explains. “Bali was a peaceful place. It is a peaceful place. But on this night, evil had entered our shores”.
Dazed and in disbelief at what he was seeing, Nira continued down Legian Street, home to the now infamous Paddy’s Bar and Sari Club. “There was blood everywhere, it was like a sea of blood”. The sound of moaning was interrupted by desperate cries for help. Glass and debris covered the ground and on top of this were bodies, some moving, some not. “I was approached by a man, I think he was Australian. He very calmly asked me to help him and it was not until I looked down that I saw how much he needed my help. He was missing his left arm”. Through the chaos and panic, people had abandoned their cars, which meant that ambulances were not able to enter the area to help the wounded. Without a moments thought, Nira with three other locals carried this man three kilometre’s to the hospital.
“From then we knew what we had to do. We borrowed a scooter from one of the nurses at the hospital and headed straight back to the disaster site. The smell of blood was intoxicating and it was everywhere. Within seconds I came across a local woman who was missing the back of her head. Like before, I brought her immediately to the hospital but by the time I had arrived she had already passed”.
Returning to the disaster area for the third time, Nira joined the other locals in helping to guide the traffic out to allow the ambulances to enter. “There was very little talk between us. We worked hard at trying to bring order to the area. None of us could begin to process what we were seeing. We did what we needed to, we needed to help”.
By four a.m. The fire was finally out and most of the wounded had been moved. Still there was the unimaginable job of attending to the dead bodies. There were 202 people killed on this night. Lifeless, mutilated bodies remained strewn on the road, some on top of each other. One charred couple was found lying in each other arms. It was at this stage, in the dawn of light that the enormity of what had happened started to sink in.
The hospital created a makeshift morgue in the courtyard and volunteers including Nira went about collecting the bodies of the deceased, plus limbs found in the street, and delivered them to the morgue.
Nira arrived home at six a.m. Walking through the doorway, covered in blood he felt the inevitable wave of emotion that had been building finally erupt as he fell into the arms of his wife and sobbed. No words were spoken. What could she possibly say? What Nira witnessed on this evening would change his life forever and challenge his spirituality like never before.
“In 17 years I have never taken a day off work. I work six days a week and Sunday is my day of worship. But this day I could not work nor could I for the following week”
Born into a farming family in the rural town of Chandi Desa in Bali, Nira is the youngest of eight children. Devoted to Hinduism, his grandfather was a famous Kundalini Master who was regarded as a spiritual leader within his community. “For my family, like most Balinese families, our spirituality is the most important element of our life. We love God. We love people and we love the earth. The main premise of our being is to help and serve others and we always believed that Bali was safe from the atrocities that happened in other parts of the world”.
Nira was one of many local Balinese people whose life was irrevocably changed on the night of October 12, 2002. For some, forgiveness would be impossible and the emotional damage never repaired. Following the bombings, alerts were released warning tourists to leave and stay away from the island of Bali indefinitely. For an island that relies on its tourist industry to survive, Bali was sent into the greatest recession it knew imaginable. The economic decline threw the locals into a state of panic and desperation as they realized their nightmare had only just begun.
In Sanskrit, the word or name Bali has two meanings. The first is ‘The one with physical strength’ and the second meaning is ‘Sacrifice’. This strength and sacrifice would never be more relevant than in the days, weeks, months and years after this act of terror. Life as they knew it was over and in its place stood a harsh reality that Bali had been able to avoid up until this point.
Bali has a population that exceeds four million, 90% of which belong to the Hindu faith. The island of Bali however is part of greater Indonesia housing a population of over 200 million, 88% of which are Muslim. Amongst this community the Islamic terrorist cell with close links to al-Qa’ida, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) can be found. JI soon claimed responsibility for the bombings and called it an attack on the west. Due to an overwhelming pressure from the Balinese people and the rest of the world, the Indonesian Government vowed to capture those responsible for the bombings and enforce on them the full extent of the law. On November 9, 2008, Imam Samudra and brothers Amrozi and Mukhlas were executed for their roles in the 2002 Bombings.
Whilst the Balinese noted this event, it was not celebrated. “The execution of those responsible was needed for the rest of the world, but for us in Bali we had found peace long before this event. I had forgiven”. Nira explains.
The Hindu religion states;
‘When someone is wronged, the reflection arises that this too, is the will of God. We don’t need to focus on the one who has wronged us because they were just acting as the instrument of the Divine. Rather we can reflect on what lesson we can learn’.
“In Bali we had lost our way,” Nira continues. “ When I was young we never locked the doors to our homes. We always worked. We helped our communities and we did so with love in our hearts. There was not such a problem with drugs and corruption and aggression as there is now. This was not the Bali that I grew up in. Bali had lost its way. We had allowed the west to influence our lives, and our children’s lives, in a negative way. We took our focus off what is most important in life and became distracted. Our family, our environment and our God; THIS is what matters. THIS is who we were. The bombings forced us to stop and ask ourselves, why has God allowed this to happen to us? This is not about Muslims or Christians or Indonesians or Australians. It is so much more than that. As Balinese we must get back to our roots, to our pure essence and this lies within our spirituality. To seek revenge or allow hatred to control our lives would be the end of us. We are peace loving people and this is how we must stay”.
The willingness to forgive is a powerful transformative capability. For some, there was no question that forgiveness was what was needed in order to move on. For others, the concept of forgiveness felt like a betrayal to the memory of those they had lost.
Hayati Eka Laksmi is a Balinese local and at 20 years of age, became a widow of the Bali bombings. She is also Muslim. Before the bombings, Hayati lived a simple life with her husband, two sons and her Mother. “I was always busy. With two children less than three years of age a mother does not have a lot of time to herself, but we were happy.”
Her husband worked as a fireman and on the night of the bombings he and two colleagues were stuck in traffic outside of Paddy’s Bar. All three were killed instantly. The body of her husband was not identified until seven days after the attack.
“I was deeply concerned the night of the bombings when my husband did not return home at the normal time, but I figured that because of his job, he might have been involved in the attending to the wounded. By lunchtime the following day I received a phone call from the rental car company that my husband had used to say that his car had not been returned.
“After frantically searching for seven days, still unable to grasp the concept that my husband had fallen victim to this act of terror, I finally located his body. He was in a bag numbered 145 lying alongside the bodies of other victims”.
“I was in a very deep trauma” remembers Hayati “ I was unable to tell hallucinations from reality. My sons were two and three at the time and they also were suffering”.
Not only had Hayati lost her husband and her sons their father, but also she was also now responsible to provide for her family financially. The local community rallied around to help her but they too were in crisis. Many of which were without an income.
The Balinese government offered counseling to those affected by the bombings and desperate for help Hayati participated and then went on to continue as a counselor helping others. She underwent six months of counseling to overcome her grief and to help her sons carry on in life without their father.
Hayati has little sympathy for the Islamic extremist group JI who claimed responsibility for the bombings. “They undermined the image of Islam. For a long time after the bombings and still sometimes today people look at me differently. I can see the fear in their eyes as they identify me as Muslim and I want to scream out to them ‘I too am a victim! I lost my husband!’
Some questioned if it were possible for Hindus and Muslims to live side by side again, even though many of the bomb victims were Muslim. An undercurrent of fear and suspicion had lay in the hearts of all Balinese.
“What the bombers did was not jihad, but jahat (evil)."
Whilst Hayati is unable to forgive, she is able to not allow her pain to consume her and define her future. “I have no revenge for those who killed my husband because you can’t bring someone back to life through revenge”.
Once Hayati had addressed her emotional needs and those of her children, she then turned to her community and assisted in creating a support network for others affected by the bombings. As well as this, she has become an active speaker for SAVE-Sisters Against Violent Extremism, the world’s first counter-terrorism platform. This global network of women is dedicated to ending violent extremism and exposes the human cost of terrorism.
Hayati used the event of October 12, 2002 as a springboard for her own personal evolution and empowerment. “Initially I thought that it would not be possible to live a happy life like others, but losing my husband forced me to look within and find myself”. Six years after the bombings she started to wear a hijab, the head and neck covering worn by Muslim women. “ So many Balinese women felt that they should hide their devotion to Islam for fear of judgment. I wanted to show people that I was proud of my faith and for them to recognise that I was a kind and honorable woman who was not to be feared.
From the outside, it seems Bali has recovered from the tragedy of that fateful night. According to the Bali Tourism Board, visitors are returning and tourism is now stronger than it was before the disaster.
Katrina Allison has been coming to Bali for 20 years and in 2006, she and her partner relocated permanently to Ubud. Ubud is in the center of Bali and is known for its art gallery’s and healing centers. Katrina opened a yoga studio in the heart of Ubud and says that there is no place in the world where she feels safer.
“I was in Legian on the night of the bombings. We flew in from Melbourne the previous day for a 2-week vacation. We were in bed sleeping when the bombs went off. From our villa we could hear the commotion; there were sirens blasting, alarms were going off and people were screaming. Our villa was open plan with many of the rooms without external walls; the smell of smoke was intoxicating. My strongest memory of this time was the look of fear on faces of the Balinese. These people are normally very happy and live a carefree existence. The communities in which they live are there to support them if needed. Their faith brings them much comfort and peace. Life in Bali is a joy. However the pain etched all over their faces showed me that life as they knew it was now over”.
Katrina was right. Bali was once a place where people freely came and went. All outsiders were welcomed warmly and their decision to come to Bali was never questioned. Now, the Balinese are suspicious of anyone who may wish to integrate into their communities, in particular those coming from the mainland.
“When we moved to Ubud we had a meeting with our community leader and he asked us many questions about why we were moving here and he also wanted to know what out position was on JI and the 2002 bombings. We have been here now for nearly 7 years so we are known, but initially, people were weary. That’s just how it is now”.
A shrine has been built where Paddy’s bar once stood with the names of the 202 deceased. The Sari Club is still a vacant lot; the local government bought the land, however to date there is still some debate as to what they should do with this space. In the interim, the land is being used as a car park.
“As Hindus we believe that if your life is taken before its time, souls struggle to move on. Our faith tells us that humans are reborn according to their karma so it is so important that all souls rest in peace.”
“In the north/west corner of this vacant lot is where the kitchen of the Sari Club once stood and where several Balinese people were trapped and killed on the night of the bombs” Nira explains. “Many locals claim to still hear the screams of the people killed that night coming from that corner. They are the screams of the lost souls, unable to move forward”.
Throughout the history of time, man is challenged by unexpected loss.
The Paddy’s Bar and Sari Club bombings impacted the lives of not just those who were injured or those that suffered loss. It impacted the entire island of Bali. Some still see the acts and its outcome as unforgivable whilst some believe forgiveness is vital to recovery. What everyone can agree upon, however, is that after October 12, 2002, Bali would never be the same.