It was Taaeba Fattah’s account of her March trip to Bali with her mother, Nadia, and friends Sheila Szklanny and Leslie Wilks that turned us on to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love bestseller that’s enjoying a new surge of interest due to the Columbia Pictures film of the same title starring Julia Roberts and premiering Friday (13).
Images of the Fattahs and friends grace these pages, and the personal experience they told us about their visit impressed us.
Yesterday, I plodded through Gilbert’s (partially funded) year-long sojourn to three countries in search of mind, heart and body (not necessarily in that order) refreshment. She finds nourishment eating through Italy and praying through India, but she really scores in Bali, as much for finding a love-mate as for reconnecting with a soul mate, the elderly healer and reader Ketut Liyer.
Unlike the miles of women across the world who have begun to retrace Ms. Gilbert’s footsteps in hopes of finding self and an orgasmic happy ending, Taaeba, an equal opportunity employment specialist; Nadia, an arts consultant, and educators Sheila and Leslie are inveterate travelers; for them, the happy ending is the travel: they’re not getting away from something or in a state of seeking something – although they love to shop.
“I love learning about other cultures, enjoying changing landscapes,” says Nadia. Which is exactly what they were doing when the Fattah ladies first met Sheila and Leslie several years ago on an Egypt-bound cruise ship. It turned out that Sheila and the Fattahs live within blocks of each other in Brooklyn, the place they call comfort zone. It’s been “Have Passports, Will Travel Together” ever since. (Leslie lives in North Carolina.)
Since then, the Friends have racked up a combined hundreds of thousands of miles on train, bus and plane, traveling roundtrip to Morocco, Tunisia, Costa Rica, Rome, Florence, the Phillipines and Hong Kong. Last year, they all visited Senegal – just after Taaeba and Nadia returned from Cartagena.
Next year, Nadia is pitching for a group trip to Bahia, where she’s visited at least five times. “It’s multisensual, great people, good food, nice breezes, wonderful to wake up to.” A graduate of Pratt Institute, Nadia reveals she has traveled since her early teens. She now visits galleries in different countries and is a collector of fabrics from different locales.
The ladies arrived in Bali, March 28,and stayed 8 glorious days, before departing for Taiwan.
When the ladies arrived, they wanted to go into the villages – away from the tourists – where the people live, the food is homecooked and the culture is active and real. Taaeba told Our Time Press that when she and the ladies are traveling with a tour group, they always separate themselves, create their own itinerary and go off on their own personal tour for a different experience. The results: they wind up seeing more places, having more exciting adventures and meeting different people, unfettered and unencumbered. In Bali, they were part of a group of more than 100 people – but not for long.
The tour guide happened to mention that Julia Roberts had just filmed Eat Pray Love days before, and there was a medicine man she met in Ubud. It dawned on the women they could obtain their own personal readings from Bali healer Ketut Liyer, central to Gilbert’s true-life story. They hired a livery and without any prearrangements or an appointment to meet with Ketut, they set out for his residence, determined to get their readings.
Once they arrived, an hospitable and gracious Ketut made himself available. Yet, at the time, no one could foresee that Ketut would receive a special reading, too. From Taaeba.
“It was meant to be – the trip to Bali and the visit to Ketut,” said Taaeba, adding,”My grandmother loved ladybugs and a very rare deep-orange colored one, positioned itself outside the rear window of the cab, passenger side,where my mother (Nadia) sat, and accompanied us all the way from the hotel to Ketut’s abode. We saw it as a lucky charm; my grandmother was with us.
“We entered Ketut’s sanctuary through an ornate brick gate, and walked past structures, statues and an altar, then through a mini-botanic garden of lush plants and trees,” recalled Nadia. “At first we did not see him. He was sitting on the porch partially obscured by the sweep of tree fronds on the porch of his villa. He sat to the left, and smiled as though he knew us.
“Since there were two or three others ahead of us, we wandered around, and saw all the spaces in his house. There were exotic birds and monkeys throughout his compound.”
After the reading, Ketut asked Taaeba, through his broken English, if she could read passages from Gilbert’s book in which his name appeared. He explained that Eat Pray Love had not been translated to Balinese, so he hadn’t read the book. So she opened it to a page that featured him prominently, and began reading to him. She says he looked shocked – pleasantly so. “I spoke slowly and noticed that he smiled broadly whenever I mentioned his name. It was quite an engaging moment.”
Taaeba asked if he would sign her paperback book. “I thought it would be fascinating to have his autograph on one of the pages that fascinated him. He signed his name on Chapter 75 in the book, which begins “So this is how it comes to pass” — where Gilbert starts her Bali journey in earnest.
“He did not have a concept of ‘giving an autograph.’ It appeared he had no idea just how immensely famous he is, although he says business has picked up since the filming.”
Just before Taaeba commenced to read passages, she beckoned to her mother to take still pictures. Nadia actually videotaped it. In a future issue, Nadia’s images of the Bali landscape and the Liyers’ home will be featured along with Taaeba’s recommendations as to where one can go in Brooklyn for a gloriously inexpensive and rich Bali experience.
Taaeba sees Gilbert’s book as having relevance to everyone. And, like Gilbert, she assesses that home ultimately is something carried inside of us. “I saw real beauty in the people there. They fascinated us, and they were fascinated by us. They are used to seeing the stereotypes presented by television and videos. We did not fit those images.
“And there was something else. My perception of poverty has changed because of this trip. What is poor? And who is really poor? I know there are some who are suffering, although we did not see this in Bali.
“On the whole, these people are very rich – in their culture and in their values. All of the children smiled regardless of their situation. They are not a material people; there’s no real technology. Everything is natural. They go to markets for their food. They daily eat fresh fruit and vegetables. Nothing canned or frozen. They are wealthy, no one starves.
“Something happens when we tourists arrive with our ‘culture.’ We create a want for things the host country or village does not need. Sometimes . not all the time . with tourism comes greed, violence, transfer of diseases, illnesses. Sometimes, we disrupt perfectly natural cultural foundations.
“In some ways, Bali is ahead of us. Soon the world will go back to basics – which is where Bali is, right now. For the short time I was there I see Bali offers us a way of ordering our lives. We certainly can learn something from the people there, the least of which is how to make sense of where we are in the world.
“Ketut, they say, is between 90 and 100. He is ageless, and he has such a beautiful handwriting. He is not weak. He is a thinker. He has good humor. We learned so much from him, and I do believe he learned from us, too.”