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A Week Later, Balinese Gather to Pay Homage to Bombing Victims

Hundreds hold vigil at blast site. As authorities probe possible Muslim links to attack, locals vow to preserve island's religious balance.

October 20, 2002|Ching-Ching Ni | Times Staff Writer

KUTA, Indonesia — A week before, they had to shout to hear one another above the partyers at Bali's most famous tourist hangout. Saturday night -- same time, same place -- all they had to do was whisper.

Everybody could hear the pain in the air, spoken or not, especially the once happy-go-lucky young Balinese who had their hearts shattered along with their peace of mind in this tropical paradise.

"I just want to cry, but I can't. I just want to blame somebody, but who?" said Gede Sandi, 25, as he sat on a curbside after a vigil here marking the worst terrorist attack in Indonesian history.

Exactly a week earlier, more than 180 people died after a car bomb tore up the popular Sari Club and gutted the neighborhood around it that once epitomized night life in this vacation dreamland.

Hundreds of people have been drifting to the site to place wreaths and say prayers. Flowers are piled so high that they've almost buried the bombed-out Aloha beachwear store next to the hole in the ground where the Sari Club used to stand.

The smells of death and flowers mingle in the sea breeze. Candles flicker in the darkness, shedding faint light on the remains of the departed: blackened hiking boots without mates; scratched motorcycle helmets; a ripped baseball cap; deformed bar stools; an LP; a pair of blue baby's sandals.

By day, the area is part of a crime scene, off limits to ordinary people who want to pay their respects. By night, it turns into a public cemetery, as vigils hum under the watchful eyes of armed guards.

"This place is like a ghost town," Hermy Novianti, 19, said in hushed tones. "We used to pass this way almost every day."

"It's 100% different," said her friend Ledina Natalia, 20.

Indonesian officials said Saturday that they will open the entire street to the public Wednesday, including the site of the bombing.

Some Balinese want that to happen so people can see the devastation, rebuild and move on. Others want to know when justice will be meted out.

"In my heart, I want to punch them, whoever did this," said Made Wardana, 22.

"I want them to be put to death and have the whole world watch it on TV. But if we did that, we would be no different from the bombers," Sandi said. "The Balinese people believe in karma. Maybe we'll get our revenge in their next life."

Meanwhile, the young people here turn to one another for consolation and vow to live by example. They know investigators are focusing on Muslim extremists with connections to the Al Qaeda terrorist network. They know that's a potential threat to the delicate religious harmony on this fabled resort isle, the only Hindu enclave in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

But they trust their friendship more.

"He's my best friend," said Harmanto Anton, 30, a Muslim, as he put his arm on the shoulder of Sandi, who is Hindu.

Somehow, the tragedy and their close call seem to have brought them closer. On the night of the blast, this group of friends planned to head to Paddy's Irish Club, across the street from Sari's. Both were packed with foreigners, great spots to make friends and practice their English.

The friends were supposed to meet up at midnight. The explosion happened around 11:30. One of their buddies passed by the area earlier and was killed.

"I hate the people who made the bombs," said Sandi, sitting in a traditional Balinese sarong next to his friend, who wore a white embroidered skullcap. "But I don't hate the religion. He's Muslim. I'm Hindu. We have Bali together."

The world, however, may not be so kind, or so willing to distinguish good from evil.

Wardana said that last weekend, he had just been hired to work on an American cruise ship. But after the bomb attack, he no longer has the job.

"There were 180 candidates from Bali," he said. "But after what happened, they said they would not take any more Indonesians."

The rest of the Balinese economy, too, is taking a beating. To locals, Kuta used to stand for "Kampung Untuk Tourists Australia," or "Village for Australian Tourists."

Many Aussies love vacationing in Bali so much that they consider the island their own backyard.

Now, most seem unable to leave fast enough. They suffered the most casualties in the bombing. Many bodies still lie in the morgue, unidentified and unable to go home.

And more and more foreign tourists are heeding the calls of their governments to abandon Bali for fear of more attacks.

Even as Saturday's memorial ceremony continued past midnight, rumors of bomb threats at nearby hotels sent people scurrying. Real or not, the threats signaled that Bali's holiday from the world's troubles is over. Nobody here feels safe anymore.

"As long as they don't find the suspects, tourists will never believe in Bali again," Sandi said.

But the young people keep on hoping and praying, to their separate gods, for peace and prosperity to return.

A few steps from the bomb site, at the foot of a mountain of flowers, a promise is made by the folks from the land down under, signed by Annie, Baggio, Kiarney and Shada, from the central coast of Australia:

"We will be back next year and will never stop visiting Bali."

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