Sumi is the Cook and Housekeeper at Villa Tiga Wasa. Quiet, soft-spoken, shy, diligent and hardworking. As I observe a barefooted Sumi scurry about the kitchen, I realize just how petite she is. Since I am not a particularly big person myself, and am not use to looking down on people to make eye contact, I say “Sumi you are very small!” I try to keep my voice lowered as I have learned from the French that Americans have a world-wide reputation of being loud. I think this is of even more importance to note now, interacting with the especially soft spoken and gentle Balinese culture. “Yes,” she says with a giggle. “Sumi small.” About a week later, I come across a tape measure in the drawer and ask Sumi if I may measure her to see how tall she is. She laughs agreeably. The Balinese are a very accommodating people and I don’t want to offend her, so I am careful to ensure that her body language agrees with her words. Sumi, it turns out, is only 4 feet 7-1/2” tall!
Every morning I greet Sumi with the biggest smiling “Good Morning Sumi!” I can muster. She always smiles back in the same manner. Sumi doesn’t speak much English. I speak no Balinese. Despite this, we have managed to communicate well enough with her. So far, no major disconnects. Except for the time I saw a coach roach in the empty beer bottle box in the kitchen. Okay, I was looking for it, since previously in Bora Bora we had a problem with roaches in empty beer bottles, even though they had been rinsed. I moved the beer bottles around and there he is! I put a bottle directly over him and ask Sumi if we can move the box outside, showing her the violating pest. She has a bit of a confused look on her face. Later I noticed the box is still in the kitchen, but Sumi has removed the offending bug. I decide to simply move the box outside. It’s the only time I’ve seen a cockroach in the house, so far. We’ve used some sign language and made some physical demonstrations with our hands and apparently, they’ve all been mostly understood. This is important, since Sumi does the majority of the grocery shopping which is especially helpful to me.
I start meal planning in my head for Sunday, the day staff is off, and notice that we do not have any fruit left. I want to communicate this in a way that gives Sumi options on what to purchase, without being overly specific. It’s difficult. She knows we like watermelon, pineapple, oranges and apples. I try to convey that I like ALL fruit – and I do. But, we end up with watermelon, pineapple, oranges and bananas. Not a big deal. Americans are spoiled by the amazing amount of variety at the supermarket (like berries of all kinds). The Balinese banana is a staple. They are small and sweet with a much softer texture than ones in the US. I prefer them over US bananas and can use them in a breakfast smoothie with yogurt; they are perfectly sized – handy. I remind myself how grateful I am that the Villa has a blender! A toaster too! Not kitchen standards in all parts of the world!
The Villa is located at an elevation of just over a thousand feet and about 15 minutes down a winding, narrow road from Lovina which sits directly on the Java Sea. There are no major food chains in Lovina, just lots of small Warungs (like cafes and / or convenience type grocery stores) and open air food and veggies markets in many different locations. This means you really need to know where to go for what, and make multiple stops along the way. Fresh produce must be purchased very early in the morning as most of the just picked produce sits in the open air. It is also extremely useful that Sumi is familiar with the local produce varieties. For example, I pull a couple rather large oranges out of the fridge the other day. They were quite hard. Fortunately, when peeled and sectioned out, they are sweet and tasty! And while I liked them better than say even a Florida orange, I would have passed them up at the market due to their rock hard feel.
Did I mention Sumi is a good cook too? On most days, we now ask that Sumi only prepares either lunch or dinner. Three good sized meals a day is too much for us, it gives Sumi a break and provides more personal time in the Villa for us. On occasion we do request breakfast, because the banana pancakes are a nice treat.
We have asked Sumi to prepare meals in the same way in which she typically cooks for her own family. This means that there is rice at every meal, eggs either boiled or cooked like an omelet with veggies inside (like bean sprouts and spicy red peppers), and slices of cucumber are always served on the side of the dish. Meat is chopped into very small pieces, or dishes are vegetarian. It has been interesting to learn that Balinese cooking involves using all of one’s taste buds! Every meal includes all six flavors: sweet, sour, tangy, salty, spicy, and astringent. I assume the “astringent” is why cucumber slices come with every meal. Salt and pepper are never on the table.
So far, our favorite dishes have been Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Lumpia (Indonesian Spring Rolls) and Banana Pancakes! While the Balinese appear to like many things sweet, like tea, desserts are not a major consideration. And our villa kitchen, like most tropical homes, does not have an oven. So, baking is virtually impossible. Not enough of the right kinds of cookware to even attempt it in the microwave.
Due to Sumi’s shyness and the fact we do not share a common language, we have missed the opportunity to get to know Sumi on a more personal level. We have surmised that Sumi is single, lives at home with her extended family and appears not to drive, as we notice she is always dropped off and picked up, and perhaps walks at times. We enjoy watching her scamper about, bare-footed and smiling, and we have so appreciated the many wonderful meals she has prepared for us.
I take a break from writing this to step into the kitchen and think about a light meal I might prepare tonight, only to discover that Sumi has left rice warming in the slow cooker. Great! Fried rice for dinner. We’ll make it a little saltier than Sumi by adding a lot of soy sauce and make our egg scrambled, instead of boiled. I might try adding some of the date honey molasses like concoction I purchased at the Carrefour in Singaraja as well; originally thinking it might work well on banana pancakes in place of maple syrup.
I step outside to get a feel for the temperature which is dropping. Yes, doable to sit on the deck and do some editing. It’s been a hot and humid day – high 80’s with a “feels like” factor of almost 100. Then I see the hand of Sumi again…a couple throw rugs drying on the railing. Excellent! I appreciate not having to think much about housework and laundry. Life is good. I think I’ll sit by the pool and have a glass of that “expensive” wine we purchased at Carrefour! 😊