It’s 3 pm and the sun has a gentler fingers as it touches the body and soul. Clouds gather and a soft wind rolls in from the beach. My afternoon nap was blissful. But now its time to head down to the green tables under the trees for my massage. Raka, my masseur has come to greet me and lead the way. Under the shadow of trees on the beach front are 10 massage tables and a group of women laugh and chat or sleep in the shade on their tables. It’s the low season and business is hard won.
Little shops selling wood products and cheap Bali clothing line the path that snakes its way for 8 kms. along the beach front here in Sanur. The women are versatile in their skills and implore the passing tourist..” please look in my shop..nice sarong…dress?” or perhaps “a quick foot rub or massage….. very nice…” Some are more inventive…….. An older couple shuffle past. Overweight and wearing skimpy bathers. Clearly they are not happy. Their sour faces need no language to see they are having an argument. As they pass the massage benches one of the young masseuse says something quietly in Balinese. The women laugh. I ask Raka what she said. Raka sheepishly whispers ” She said you should buy wife new dress from my shop. Make her happy.. and make us happy.” We all laugh.
My body feels like the twisted gnarled trees found in the gardens at the resort. I’ve started my intensive walking and a dawn yoga class has left me cosmically connected but aching…too much too soon… my enthusiasm for getting healthy needs to be tempered! I feel like a beached whale as I hoist myself onto the table under the trees. Raka is petite, 5 foot something little and with small bony hands. This should be interesting……. She gets to work and those nimble fingers have the power and strength of a Serena Williams serve. My $10 massage is an other world experience. Muscles respond to the deep felt touch. They stretch and whine and reshape as she works her way along my back and neck. Raka is perhaps in her early 60’s and she is a master of her skill. My neck seems to have found movements long forgotten. The pain in my lower back has left town and after an hour with only my head left to do she suddenly stops and says ” I’m sorry I must go. This woman will finish your massage.“
I sit up confused and the other masseuse stands by me. Raka goes to a nearby tree where an old man is sitting in the shade. By his side a walking stick. He’s trying to get up. Raka talks gently to him and rubs his back. The other masseuse tells me, “He’s not well….” Raka returns to me at the massage table to finish the massage. She is apologetic. I assure her all is well and we can finish now. She insists on finishing the massage and explains that the man under the tree is her husband. Last year at 62 years old he had a stroke. He can walk but needs her help with everything now. He’s been sitting patiently under the tree for 2 hours while Raka did the 2 massages that were booked for the day. But now he’s uncomfortable and would like to go home. ” He used to teach Kung Fu and ride his bicycle everywhere, but he can no more.” she says. It’s the first time that I see her smiling face look sad.
We finish the massage and I pay her and arrange to see her again tomorrow. Same time. Green tables.
Walking back to my luxury hotel I think about life in paradise. Raka earned $20 today from the 2 massages. A good day in the off season. There are no pensions, public housing or social welfare payments. She pays medical insurance which costs $400,000 rp a month. That’s $40 Australian. Some days she has no massages in the off season so that’s a lot of money. The family is the social welfare system. And when tourists don’t come to town, times are tough. The hustle for business is annoying to westerners and but an essential part of daily life for locals like Raka.