We have left Ubud and landed on a little crescent of blackish volcanic sand and still, blue ocean at the eastern tip of Bali. The short walk from our thatch-roofed villa to the water’s edge is complicated only by the intense heat of the sand and the stark white hulls of jukung, the traditional fishing boats that are the mainstay of this tiny village of Lean. Only during the hours abutting dawn is the beach clear and cool, the boats then in silhouette against the morning horizon.
At around 7 a.m., as the fishermen begin to return, the women gather on the beach to load the nets and tubs of small silvery fish onto their heads and carry them home. Groups of men lift the boats back up the beach, and vibrant sails are rolled up. Stragglers from next door’s ragtag flock of chickens peck under the hibiscus hedge. ‘Bok-bok!’ exclaims Ivy.
Meanwhile, the children from the neighbouring houses play on the beach. Aged from toddler to pre-teen, they play in groups of mixed ages, boys and girls: soccer, collecting hibiscus buds, building roads in the sand for toy trucks. Occasionally, when a wrestle becomes too vigorous, the nearest adult will call out and the offending child will acquiesce.
I love watching these exchanges. And yet after a week of doing so I am still to figure out which children belong to which adults, or even which siblings belong together. What seems more pertinent to this little patch is that the children belong to the village, and that everyone, from older children to adults, takes responsibility for them.
I’m in the middle of reading Jared Diamond’s The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? and just today was struck by his section on allo-parenting: that is, parenting by those other than the biological parents – grandparents, aunts, older siblings, other villagers. The advantage of having an abundance of allo-parents in small-scale societies such as here in Bali means children are free to roam the village under the protective eye of caring adults. If they wander onto the road someone will guide them from harm’s way. If they are hungry someone will feed them. If their parents are busy, there is someone who will keep them for the night. For a family like ours, living away from extended family (even when we’re not travelling), the lack of allo-parents in our lives feels like a big hole.
Even aside from food and protection, these additional carers provide role models other than ourselves; social influences that might make up for our individual failings. And they take the burden off the mother, who can still work – whether it be within the home, the paddock or the office – while sharing the enormous responsibility of child rearing with others who also love her children.
It seems to me that this village approach to raising children flourishes so wonderfully here in part because the Balinese place such a high value on children. From their birth as divine creatures, children are shown love and respect. They are the soul of the community. Even visiting children – ours – are welcomed with indulgent smiles.
Miss Ivy, for one, loves it. Everywhere we go she is waved at, sung to, whisked from my arms and smothered in kisses (actually, she’s developed a vigorous head shake to ward off some of the more serious smooches). The sing-song sound of ‘Hello I-phee’ echoes in our wake. Both she and I will miss it when it’s gone.