Surviving the Festival

My last week in Ubud has come to an end and, surprisingly for something I was dreading so much, I don’t want it to be over!  This week has probably been the most emotional yet: stress, adrenaline, happiness and, of course, a healthy dose of tears.

So, the Festival. It was amazing!! I felt like I had been prepping for a school play – all that work and stress for five intense days gave a similar kind of high, and definitely a slump afterwards.

I was based in the Box Office the whole time, looking after the merchandise and selling tickets when things got busy. Definitely right up my street – selling tickets, selling t-shirts, chatting to excited festival goers. Although, for some reason, I always got delegated the difficult customers. Do I look like I can deal with disputes? NO! But everyone else seemed to think I could talk to the terrifying people – it was so scary! And very stressful – how do shop assistants survive?

By far the most stressful day was Friday. I couldn’t stop shaking, although I think this was actually due to a very strong cold coffee at lunch. It didn’t help that I had two ‘almost crashes’ on my scooter, scraped my leg a bit and had to walk through the Padi fields putting up signposts for a Special Event alone with creepy Indonesian boys cat-calling me from a building site. It was terrifying – picture a narrow path with steep drops on both sides and sheer slopes that had to be scrambled up. I thought I was going to slip and be lost forever. Probably not one of my best decisions to do half of the walk alone, but Irina (my ‘Bali best friend’) had driven me up as far as she could and we couldn’t leave the bike. Luckily this meant she met me on the other side as well.

Still, Friday also meant the arrival of Mummy and Amaala. Baba had arrived earlier in the week. In cool independent eighteen year old speak, the arrival of parents means free meals, being babied and picking up stuff you’d left at home and discovered you needed. In Maleeha speak, it meant hugs and non-stop talking and being ecstatic to finally see them again! Although it was a bit annoying that I had to work all the time and so didn’t get to spend that much time with them. In fact, in some ways, seeing the family but not really having a lot of time made saying goodbye even harder. All I want it to curl up at home and have a hug whenever I want – just for a couple of days!!

Being exhausted also didn’t help with the sadness of saying goodbye.

On Sunday I went to a talk with Hyeonseo Lee, a defector from North Korea. It was probably the session I was most excited for – hearing how she escaped North Korea, how different her world was to ours, what growing up there was like.

I slept through it all.

Honestly, I can’t remember anything except trying to stay awake. It was like I could hear the words but they didn’t make sense and, although I kept trying to wake up, I spent half the talk asleep much to the amusement of everyone around me. I can’t believe I missed it!

On the upside, I did stay awake in the talks by Mohsin Hamid and Mpho Tutu, Desmond Tutu’s daughter. Both were incredible – Mohsin especially. Everything he said was weighted and intelligent and clear – he spoke with such insight on the refugee crisis and extremism that it was hard not to be moved.

In the end I only managed to get to about one session a day, all of which were fantastic. Most of my time was spent manning the fort in the Box Office and hanging out with all the volunteers, some of whom are from Jakarta – more friends!!


Unfortunately, all too soon, the Festival was over and it was time for crazy dancing at the After Party, goodbyes at brunch on Monday and a relaxing pedicure and massage with Irina and Ace.

And of course saying goodbye to Irina Monday evening.

When you’re all on your own in a different country, you make friends so quickly and so intensely that saying goodbye is ridiculously hard. For two weeks, I spent every waking moment with Irina – we went to work together, ate dinner together, did stuff at the weekends together. In just three weeks, we were easily as close as some of my school friends after one year. And now she’s gone back to Berlin and who knows when we’ll meet again!

It has to be one of the hardest things about this gap year – making friends for a couple of weeks, having to trust and rely on them completely and then saying goodbye and knowing you have to do it all over again. And I still haven’t said goodbye to Ace and Cherrie, my other ‘Bali best friends’. Luckily they’re from Ubud so I can come back anytime.


So, definitely one of the most emotional weeks ever. I can’t quite work out whether I’m happy or sad or how I should be feeling. And now I’m starting all over again in Sumba! I’ll be volunteering at a hospital run by German nuns – it’s definitely going to be a fascinating experience. But very different to tourist filled Ubud! And there might not be wifi (what will I do!). So look out for my next post as soon as I can post it – it’s going to be good.

Sampai jumpa.


One comment

  1. tjkhan95 · November 3, 2015

    You are nailing the randomness of a gap year life…hospital run by German nuns?…. Good luck with the rest of it and just enjoy it as it comes 🙂 it must be exhausting but who knows when you’ll meet so many people in such a short time again?! Tamanna xx


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