Written by: Matthew Sigel
Up until this summer, I thought a four-hour flight to visit family was a very long time to travel, but after nearly 40 hours of traveling, I was fortunate enough to find myself across the entire world. Three flights, three countries, and two continents later, I finally made it to Bali, Indonesia. Just the thought of traveling to a new country away from homemade me nervous, but across the entire world was unfathomable. The incredible journey still leaves me in awe.
Immediately after arriving in Bali, I could sense the vast cultural differences. Walking towards baggage claim and customs, I felt the friendly and religious environment I was entering. Calming Indonesian music, nurturing herbal scents and sentimental religious chants filled the air as I struggled to drag my luggage across the airport. With each step forward, my stress and exhaustion were suddenly transformed into excitement as I encountered a completely new world. Even the meticulously designed street curbs with alternating sections of black and white paint shocked me as we boarded our traditional Balinese streetcar. Such simple differences embody the detail-oriented lifestyle that the Balinese embrace. As we drove towards our accommodation, I kept my eyes glued to the window, admiring everything before me. Looking out at the different patterns of traffic, transportation, and architecture, I realized that not only my adventure but also my life-changing experience had begun.
I was fortunate enough to experience such a beautiful country not as a tourist but as a guest. Our accommodation, Gangga Blessta, was more than a place to stay, it was a community to be a part of. Directly immersed in the surrounding culture, our medical outreach program wasn’t just a task to cross off the itinerary, it was an incredible gift. I find it overwhelmingly surreal that our home health visits and elementary school lessons will make an everlasting impact on the local village and help the Indonesian government. No gift may ever be as rewarding.
After a full day of preparation, I was assigned to measure and record height, weight, blood pressure, and teach children handwashing techniques. Partnered with our Bali contacts, we coordinated with a local guide, were given instructions from local medical students and helped by a translator to break the language barrier. I swallowed my fear, tried to shake the nerves away and opened the entry gate of the first home.
I will never forget the first home. I was greeted with warmth and respect as I entered. In response, I did my best to recite the basic Indonesian greetings I had learned as I unpacked my equipment. I slightly loosened the nozzle, and hissing air released out of the blood pressure cuff as I listened for a pounding thump. The dial began to slowly descend. Passing 200 to 190 then down to 180, a faint thump emerged as the pointer hit 170. I sharpened my attention and gazed intently at the gauge, listening for each following thump. The pointer neared 130 and suddenly a more intense and rapid thump confused me and my recording was ruined. I looked up to ensure my hand was accurately pressing the diaphragm of the stethoscope over the brachial artery, but I made no mistake. I realized the new sound was my own heartbeat, racing and drowning out the patient’s. Breathing heavily, I stepped back.
I took a moment to calm my nerves. Looking around, I realized I had entered this home not only as a stranger but also as a foreigner, not familiar with their language, culture, and community. The situation frightened me, but to my surprise, I was met with utmost respect and appreciation.
Looking back at my racing heartbeat, it was not from my nerves, but from pure excitement.
This intimate experience revealed to me the value of witnessing one’s lifestyle and living conditions first hand. By living among the Balinese and being a member of their community, I was able to understand and better help the people. The service project I was lucky enough to be a part of confirmed and heightened my passion to study medicine and public health. My small part in helping this community showed me even small contributions can make an impact.
While conducting the home health visits, I learned and embraced a holistic approach to medicine. I not only considered body and mind, but also emotions, spirit, and lifestyle, just like the principals Balinese live by.
Beyond the breath-taking scuba diving, gnarly surfing, and unreal wallpaper-like views, the most incredible part of my experience was learning and embracing tri hita karana – the three core relationships of Balinese life. Forming a triangle, they connect the relationship between a person and God, a person and their surroundings, and a person and their humanity. These three factors of life create beautiful harmony. The philosophy places value on nature, religion, and human connection. While in Bali, all three relationships were clearly evident and wonderful to experience. As my trip came to a close, I promised to incorporate tri hita karana into my own life.
Traveling through the jungle, walking through various herbs, swimming in the Indian Ocean, and observing all of the wildlife, I made deep connections with the beautiful nature that surrounded me while making everlasting friendships with my group. We arrived as individuals, ready to explore and depart on adventure, but left as a family. As we left one another at the end of our experience, we never said goodbye, but instead, until next time.
By living among such a virtuous and religious society, I fostered a new appreciation for my own spirit which I intend to hold onto as I continue my journey, no matter the place, always onward.
Om santi santi santi om Bali ↭ may peace be with you and us all.