Monday, March 14, 2011


At sixteen I became a political refugee and was evacuated out of Indonesia to The Netherlands.  My family lived in Borneo and could not get out.  I had been going to school in Jakarta and was lucky to get on one of the first transports for refugees.  After a three-week journey by sea I arrived in the port of Rotterdam the day after a snowstorm.  Never in my life had I seen snow before and never had I been so cold, either.  I had no winter clothes.  Everything I owned I carried with me in a small bag.  The culture shock was immense. 

Since then my life has been punctuated by numerous moves and journeys, from place to place, country to country, always keeping some kind of refugee feeling.  There was a time early on when I had a backpack ready at all times with the most necessary items for my two kids and me.  I also refused to own anything that would not fit in the trunk of my orange VW Beetle.  Freedom and mobility were what mattered.

It wasn't until Phil presented me with a piano, a nine-foot couch, a big TV console, and a king-size bed, that I realized that it was okay to own big and heavy things.  It was even okay to own something unmovable like a HOUSE!  What a concept!!!  I realized that freedom and mobility do not come from refusing to own big and heavy things; they come from the willingness to lose everything over and over, including your life.  And so began my spiritual practice of Hello & Goodbye.

When the tsunami warning came Thursday evening, I did what comes naturally to me.  I became a refugee again.  Gathered the most necessary items in a backpack and said goodbye to the rest.  The difference this time:  my backpack was on wheels and contained our laptops!

The same day of the tsunami, we got the news that the lease of our apartment would not be renewed as planned.  Apparently the owner's family is coming to Hawaii for four months and will need to stay at our place.  We can have the apartment back again after they leave.  Ha ha, just like that!  As if we're a board game. 

I have to tell you, we LOVE this place. We love living in this small circle of a neighborhood with the many friends we've made in the short time we've been here.  We love living outdoors, eating out on the lanai, walking to my garden, walking through Kapiolani Park, walking under the full moon...  I find it suddenly impossible to say goodbye.  I've barely said hello.

So I create wild scenarios for making it work:  How about traveling around the mainland in an RV for four months, go to Europe, go back to Bali... or find another place in Waikiki for four months, then come back demanding a guarantee of at least a two-year lease for our sacrifice...  Any possible way to hang on to what we have now.

But what about letting it all go?  People in Japan lost everything in the earthquake and tsunami.  Who says there's such a thing as security?  Who says we should stay where we are?  There is only change. 

I have to laugh when I find Annie Lamott's quote: “Most things I let go of have claw marks in them.” 

And so, I scour Craigslist and make appointments to look at places, all kinds of places, knowing again there are no guarantees, no security... and blessing the gift of being a refugee. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


My neighbor Marilyn wanted to get a "tune up" from her Chinese herbalist who has a shop in the China Town Cultural Plaza Shopping Center.  It had been ages ago since I'd been there, so I immediately tagged along, opportunist that I am.  And what a fun expedition it became.
Aside from the rows of jars with strange and exotic substances, ever-present abacuses, multiple statues of fierce warriors, old men with long white beards, Kwan Yins, and fat happy buddhas, I also spied things like a mortar and pestle, a humongous cleaver, and ceremonial spears.

The herbalist patiently listens to your presenting symptoms, checks your pulses (for your comfort, a little pillow is placed under your wrist), looks at your tongue, and writes down his prescription of a dozen or so “herbs,” meaning shavings, roots, twigs, seeds, and who knows what else mysterious dried and wrinkled stuff….

He carefully measures out each ingredient with hand-held scales, sliding them onto five square pieces of white paper (one for each day).  When all the ingredients have been collected, the same paper is then used to wrap them into five individual packages.  The price is $12/package x 5 =  $60.

·         In the morning, soak the contents of one package (plus two thumb-size pieces of root ginger) in 4 cups of water for 20 minutes.
·         Bring to a boil on high heat.
·         Turn heat down to medium until only one cup of liquid is left.
·         Drink the cup of liquid one hour after a meal.  Save the concoction for preparing your evening drink.
·         For the evening drink, add 3 cups of water to the previously boiled herbs.
·         Repeat the steps above.  Drink the brew one hour after dinner.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


 "Hush" - Mixed media collage
Elsha Bohnert (2011)

Today is Nyepi, Balinese New Year, celebrated by 24 hours of silence and darkness.  No fires, no lights, no cooking, no TV and radio, no airplanes, no driving or walking out on the street.  Everybody stays inside, including the tourists, to take a break from the outer world's distractions.  Except for babies and animals who don't know about rules, the otherwise bustling island settles into an eerie and blessed quiet. 

As I'm writing this, my downstairs neighbor suddenly starts up his vacuum, another neighbor clangs her pans, a helicopter roars overhead, the ice cream vendor jingles on the scene, someone splash-bombs into the pool, and someone else explosively starts up his car.  All of it simultaneously in rapid succession!  This concatenation of noise is highly unusual.  We live in the quiet end of Waikiki and our place is all snuggled up to a dense and lovely grove of palm trees. Birds and the wind through the trees are usually all I hear.  But now it is as if just writing about a whole day of quiet calls forth all the demons of noise.  Funny how that goes.

"No Nyepi Brain" - Ink on scrap paper
Elsha Bohnert (2011)

It's quiet again.  Outside, that is.  Inside my head not so.  No Nyepi in my brain. But that's okay.
Nyepi or no Nyepi.  It's all good.  Now hush, no more talking today.