People Who Live in Grass Houses...

An author remembers her experiment in Third World living in Bali, where she felt "colonial" seeking a cheap nanny to watch her "sponge."

In Thursday's Home section of the Times, they published an article by the fiction writer Charlotte Bacon, who fondly remembered her experiment in Third World living in Bali. It was titled "Lessons of a Grass House." She went to Indonesia for idealistic reasons - "to develop a school that was based around a curriculum of sustainability" - but was forthright about her liberal guilt:

It was a fantasy that strongly appealed to me. Growing my own lettuce in volcanic soil. Creating a community of teachers and students. Having my children learn another language and experience a vibrant part of the world. Hiring someone to give me a hand with the children so I could find more time to write.It called on the spirit of 'Walden,' an intentionality of living, blended with a darker dose of the colonial: I could hire help for very little and not spend all day attached to a sponge.

That's not exactly a sentence that reads "loving the working mother routine." (Her daughter Thea was a tot at the time, to look at the family picture.) She wasn't the only trendy liberal there. Bacon also grew tired of the other expatriates, including "more self-styled yogis and reiki masters than the world could sustain or even need." The "darker dose of the colonial" resurfaced:

Many, many times people looked me deeply in the eye, placed a hand on my shoulder and whispered intently: 'Aries.' Or 'Capricorn.' Or 'Scorpio.' (No one ever got it right; I'm an Aquarius.)

Poor Bali. Everybody landed on the Island of the Gods expecting it to amaze them with its peaceful people and their philosophy of spiritual balance. It was a tough awakening when visitors realized the island was highly developed and plagued with dirty beaches, plastic bags, motorbikes and mosquitoes carrying dengue fever. 'Eat, Pray, Love' is an attractive notion, but 'Eat, Pray, Leave' might be a more likely reaction.

Yet I did love it, every scrap of it.

Bacon's husband, Brad Choyt, explained that the school they were starting was not only praised by Thomas Friedman, it was radical:

...what we are doing in Bali, in many ways, is very radical. Building a school with environmental ideals out of bamboo is not something that I would have ever imagined doing in my lifetime. However, in another light, it also is the only solution that I can envision for making the world a better, greener place. I believe that deep, meaningful change has to start with learning that will cultivate a respect for the environment and give students the tools they will need to become stewards of the natural world.

The "Green School" has spawned more than a few media profiles. Speaking of an appetite for the exotic, Bacon's wedding to Choyt was also chronicled in the Times 15 years ago - it was performed by "Suhrawardi Gebel, a Sufi [Islam] practitioner".