Lost in Paradise

Lost in Paradise
Gili Air, Indonesia

Gili Air, Indonesia

Gili Air, Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia: This is my address for the next few weeks. In a sense it is as though I have come home; in another sense, it is as though I never left. And in yet another way – and this is the part that’s taking the most getting used to – it’s like Ive never been here before.

It should come as no surprise to me that life on the island is changing quickly. When I first discovered this place I somehow knew I had stumbled onto a rare gem; that’s part of the reason I purchased a plot of land here. But now to witness whats happening first-hand – to see the harbour front obliterated by dive shops with infinity pools and organic seafood restaurants offering free WiFi, and to hear the song of the birds stamped out by the staccato bursts of hammers and the whine of saws – it makes me sad. In just 18 months since I said goodbye to my paradise and returned to life in Canada, tiny Gili Air has turned into a buzzing hotbed of commercial development. Entrepreneurs are crawling out of the woodwork, anxious to snap up whatever scraps of premium real estate that might remain (virtually none) and secure their slice of The Next Big Thing. The glacial pace at which the islanders once moved has all but vanished as they scramble to keep up with the demands of developers with big ideas and big bank accounts.

I’ve attained something of a celebrity-like status amongst the locals for having purchased land in such an ideal location on the island, at such a good price. The word that is often used when they are speaking to me is, `lucky`. When they call me now, they don’t call me by name. Instead it is `Surga Cara` – Cara`s paradise – the name that is painted on the sign that stands sentinel in the middle of my property. My little patch of scrub grass and coconut trees has at least doubled in value since I signed on the dotted line not 2 years ago. Lucky, indeed.

I am trying to remain quiet and objective and focus the positives; yet I carry some guilt and sense of responsibility as well, for being a contributor to the very scenario that taps into my sadness. They bought; I bought. Am I really so different from any of them?

I hope so. I will let them do their thing, erecting bungalows at the speed of light, while I watch quietly from the side. When the locals ask me when I am going to start building, my response is `pelan pelan`- slowly, slowly – and they think that’s a good idea. `Too much, too fast`, they confide, as they look around us at what’s going on. I’m seemingly one of the few who’s not in any rush. For now I will let the cows graze and the frangipani bloom.

On the upside, I am filled with joy to see all my island friends again. Nobody knew I was coming, and surprising them has been a delight. We are genuinely happy to see each other, though they are disappointed when they learn that I’m staying for `only` one month this time. The warmth of their welcome touches me.

Here on Gili Air, the roosters still crow around the clock and the call to prayer from the mosque loudspeaker still pulls me up out of my sleep in the pitch black of 4 am. The fishermen putter out in their little wooden boats at the crack of dawn, as they have done for generations, into the sea that is still impossible shades of undulating blues. The volcano Agung jags up in the middle of the horizon; will always loom there. The sun’s rise and fall still blow my mind.

At the root of all of these conflicting emotions, it gives me comfort to know that while it may be undergoing a facelift, Gili Air`s DNA cannot be changed. I might be feeling a little lost, but in my heart of hearts I know that this is still my paradise, and nobody can take that away from me.

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