Thursday’s afternoon wind hurries the seasonal rain clouds past Gunung Agung. Ibu Rempi looks across the river thickened with lahar since tell tale plumes of volcanic ash were blasted up to 4 miles high on Saturday from its sanctified, incandescent crater.
In the calmer days following, credentialed observers seem to be of two minds: tending towards conservative and tending towards convinced.
Reportedly, the peaking and current quietening matches the last eruptive cycle of 1963 which was initiated by quaking and smaller eruptions before the devastating explosion that killed, by some accounts, 2000 villagers living on the slopes that Ibu Rempi is gazing upon in remembrance.
Whether the stratovolcano repeats itself decades earlier than prophesied or whether it is pacified, there is no looking away for those who continue to live alert in Bali, for the stratovolcano is re-active and as naturally commandeering as it ever has been.
Ibu looks out and speaks of the river below and how it was like a line of liquid fire, dividing her village from those fields fatally inundated by the violent volcanic output when she was a little girl. She points towards the mountain and insists that all the houses and villages from the river upwards are empty now, as all at risk have been safely evacuated. She attributes her survival in 1963 to the grace of the gods. And once she knows that I have heard and understood, she wants me to know how the survivors all suffered and fared.
She guesses she was around five years old. Uppermost in her memory is that she was finally taken away to Denpasar for many moons, as the aftermath was impossible to overcome without rescue. She clearly remembers the severe lack of food, the absence of rice primarily. And her face scrunches up in displeasure to recall the astringency of the inner stems of banana tree that became their staple. When they arrived in Denpasar, she says they had wheat and milk, foods so foreign and therefore likely indigestible, that there is still some surprise or confusion in her face to think upon and share this memory anew.
Ibu Rempi stands as if her body and ground belong to one another. She only moves from her place when work calls her on. I linger as the sky clears. I look long at the mountain and at the valley below. The fields which were once scorched and caked are today verdant and bristling with life. The river that once over loaded with volcanic debris to break its banks and suffocate creatures and plants, is today rushing again with lahar, still studded with the greater boulders of past cycles.
Story: Thursday 30th November
Photos: Free The Quest