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Last Updated: Friday, 10 October, 2003, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
Bali learns to cope with shock
By Becky Lipscombe
BBC, Bali

Sunday's first anniversary of the Bali bombing will be a peculiarly non-Balinese event.

Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, will lead a remembrance ceremony, but his Indonesian counterpart, President Megawati Sukarnoputri will be absent.

The stark contrast in the way the two countries handle the anniversary reflects profound differences in their respective cultures. They may be neighbours geographically, but in the way they grieve and remember their dead, they are worlds apart.

Ibu Wayan Mupu and her son, Made
Some Balinese are only now facing up to the trauma of the attacks

In Bali, there is no tradition of commemorating death.

"What the Balinese do instead is a single cremation ceremony," says the Governor of Bali, Dewi Beratha, "to ease the soul of the dead in his or her way to the life after death."

That cremation ceremony took place last November, and, according to Balinese tradition, it marked the cut-off point in mourning those who died.

"After the ceremony," says Dewi Beratha, "the Balinese try to forget the sadness, but stand-up for a better future."

Coming to terms

But for many Balinese, the traumatic events of last October have lingered long beyond the cleansing ceremony. A survey conducted in March, of 2000 people living within a kilometre of the bomb blast, found 30% suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

Dying is nothing in Bali - we die because the Gods want us to die - it's not the end, it's just another phase of your identity
Dr Denny Thong

And even now, a year after the bombing, more and more cases of PTSD are being recognised.

"We are still finding people suffering from a delayed reaction," says Dr Denny Thong, a consultant psychiatrist working with the International Medical Corps (IMC), an organisation which has been helping local people overcome the psychological effects of last year's tragedy.

"People have known there's something wrong with them, but they couldn't put their finger on what it was," he said.

Ibu Wayan Mupu has only in the past few weeks started coming to see a doctor at the IMC. She was living in a house just behind Paddy's Bar when the bombs went off.

"I kept being startled by silly things, sudden noises," she says. "Eventually my neighbour suggested I come here, with her, to speak to people who understand what's happening to me."

Cartoon from booklet produced by IMC/Surya Dharma
Cartoons help people understand what is happening to them (Photo: IMC/Surya Dharma)

The IMC in Bali has devised a series of cartoon booklets and traditional style dramas to help people recognise the symptoms of PTSD.

Elisa DeJesus, IMC's field manager in Bali, said the idea is to highlight symptoms related to trauma, such as nightmares or flashbacks, and explain conditions like PTSD and depression.

"We want people to understand that these are ordinary responses to an extraordinary situation," she said.

Performed in Balinese, the dramas use a traditional comic style to present various stress or trauma induced situations - for example a child behaving badly, or a parent acting irrationally - and to suggest the causes of that behaviour to an audience not well-versed in matters of psychological well-being.

The dramas have been extremely successful. One performance in the centre of Denpasar, Bali's capital, attracted 700 people. And after each showing, more and more people are coming forward for help with stress related problems.

"The worry is that the people we've helped so far are just the tip of the iceberg," says Elisa DeJesus. "The problem now is getting to people who live in the villages, and don't have access to good communications."

Dr Denny
Dr Denny: There is a need to restore order

As well as spreading the message, traditional Balinese customs are playing a part in the healing process. And Dr Denny adapts his Western-style training to take into account local traditions.

"We have fatalism, the religion and the beliefs, and this can assist in the mourning process," he said.

Dr Denny encourages people to continue with the rituals they have observed all their lives.

"When something terrible happens, we Balinese feel we are guilty - the Gods must be angry at us - what did we do wrong? And that feeling makes us strive to put things back into order, to find harmony again," he said.

Just because the Balinese are not commemorating the bombings in the same way as Bali's visitors are, please don't get the wrong idea, Dr Denny said. "The Balinese are still human beings, they're sad, they feel loss, they get angry.

"But dying is nothing in Bali - we die because the Gods want us to die - it's not the end, it's just another phase of your identity," he said.

The BBC's Jonathan Head
"This anniversary is bringing back all the pain"

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