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A Visit with Ketut Lier - Medicine Man

Michelle Larson

by Michelle Larson

Ok, so I am a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love….one of my all time favorite books. Well, anyone who has read the book knows that she takes this glorious year off and spends 4 months eating in Italy and learning to speak italian, 4 months praying in an Ashram in India, AND 4 months in Ubud, Bali, where she, falls in love. Since I am here in Ubud and, like I said, love this book, I decide to re-read the last chapter just to refresh my memory of her spiritual and otherwise exhilarating, experience. There are a number of wacky and woo-woo characters that she runs into in Ubud, all of which are incredibly intriguing to me, but one of which I was so interested in meeting that I inquired with the hotel staff if they knew him.

Ketut Lier is a medicine man, palm reader, painter, wood sculptor…extraordinary all around human. Elizabeth describes him as old, somewhere between 65 and 110, he is not really sure; mostly toothless, joyously happy man who sits on his porch and helps people all day long, everyday. He makes magic paintings that cure ills, herbal concoctions mixed with special prayer for any number of ailments, fortune telling for foreigners, he performs wedding and cremation ceremonies, and on and on…he is a very busy guy.

Elizabeth met Ketut two years before on an assignment writing for a magazine about spas in Bali. (Nice assignment.) I want to be this girl when I grow up, only she is younger than me, so as the Hindus believe, maybe in my next life. Anyway, when she met him on that first trip she asked him how to get closer to God. To have God with her always, while still enjoying the pleasures of life. He basically told her to stop thinking with her head and think only with her heart. While reading her palm he told her a bunch of cool stuff, then he told her that she would come back and spend three or four months living with him and she would teach him English and he would teach her everything he knows about God. This is what spurred the idea for the book. Her experiences with Ketut two years later when she returned to live in Bali for four months was profound and deep. So, I was delighted when Sujana at the hotel said, “Yes, I know Ketut Lier, when would you like to go see him?” Yay!!!

I was giddy with excitement to meet this mystical man. So an hour later, there I was being dropped off in front of Ketut’s home, not far from the hotel. Elizabeth describes the sign in front of his house as saying, “Ketut Lier - painter.” Well, now it says, “Ketut Lier - painter, wood carving, and added in small, Medicine Man.” I guess I was kidding myself thinking that I would meet this man and recreate Elizabeth’s enlightened awakening with a magical potion for 250,000 rupiah ($25). I thought his porch would be packed with local villagers seeking help with sick babies and need healing for bad birthdays, but instead, there was one woman from Holland that he was sitting with and two people from France waiting before me, each with their tattered copy of Eat, Pray, Love in hand wanting the same answers for life’s intriguing dilemmas as I did, with an autograph to boot. The holding area for the people waiting to see him was about 10 feet from the porch where the readings are performed. Within ears shot, especially since Ketut, being hard of hearing, speaks quite loudly. So, halfway into the reading of the Dutch woman, I eaves drop, in a way that seems that I’m just daydreaming. Ketut is delightful and flattering with her, they giggle and he goes on. After about 30 minutes he invites the next in line to come to the porch where he sits on a woven straw mat that looks quite old with stacks of notebooks and other odds and ends behind him. He is wearing a t-shirt that looks like a souvenir from Jakarta with a gold silk scarf around his waist and a yellow and brown batik sarong, with no shoes. Again, only because of course, I can’t help it; I listen to what he tells the woman from France. Humm…it’s sounding a little familiar. Then a French guy goes up. He came with the woman before him. And again, it sounds like a recording with only a few small revisions to compensate for the difference in gender. My heart is sinking a bit as I sit in the heat with about 90% humidity, dripping with sweat while I wait patiently for my moment with Ketut. For the last 20 minutes I decide to find a spot in the shade a little ways away, not wanting to hear any more as my excitement is withering. I feel a bit like Ralphie, that kid in A Christmas Story that waits eagerly for the postman to deliver his Little Orphan Annie secret decoder that turns out to be a stupid commercial for Ovaltine.

So, its my turn and I’m thinking this old guy has got to be tired. I ask his assistant if he needs a rest before I go up, and he asks. Ketut says, “No. No. I am fine. Come. Come.” Up on the porch I am enveloped with the charm and cuteness of this little man. He says, “Sit. Sit.” and I do. He puts his hand on my knee and says, “How you know me?” I say, “Well, like most everyone else in the world, I read the book.” He reaches back and picks up his white hard bound copy that is dirty with finger prints, missing the glossy wrap, and shows it to me. “Yes, I think many people read this book.” He shows me where his book is signed by Elizabeth inscribed, “To Ketut Lier, my friend and teacher. Love, Liss.” Then he tells me how sad he is that he can’t really understand the book because he reads very slow in English. He finds the chapter where his name is written many times and he shows me, pointing to his name. “See, this is me, Ketut Lier, Ketut Lier (turning the page) Ketut Lier, that me.” “I know,” I say. Then he starts to read the first sentence on the page, sounding out each word very slowly and then he gets frustrated. “I think you are very famous now.” “Yeah maybe.” He says, “but I not feel good in my back. It hurt me everyday. I tell my son and my granddaughter, but no one can help me.” I said, “Well maybe you need to have some back support while you sit on the porch all day.” He just looked at me like I was crazy. “Yeah.” He says, “I don’t know.” “Where you from?” He asks. “America.” “Oh, I have many friend now in America.” “Yes, I know. Liz is from America in New York, but I am from the other side in California.” “Oh, never been to USA.” He says. “It you first time to Bali?” “No.” I say. “My second time.” “Oh, why you come see me alone?” I told him that my boyfriend stayed back at the hotel. “You not married?” “No. I say. I was married a long time ago, but now I have a man, but we are not married.” “Oh, you will get married. The first guy not your cup of tea, but other guy, he your cup of tea. You be together until die.” “Ok, good.” I say. Then he puts his hands on my face and says, “You very pritteee.” (He said this to all of the other women too and told the man he was very handsome.) Then he said, “You eyes are very good for me. You ears are very good….oooh, yes, very good ears. It good for me. You nose….it is very goooooda and you lips it very good…sweet like honey…you understand? All face, very good! You be prittteee you whole life. You understand?” He smiled with his big mostly toothless grin and then he took my left hand in his and he looked at my palm. “Oooh…yes, you life line is very good. Very long life. You live 100 years.” He said, with a smile and a decisive nod. (He said the same to all of the others, except the guy only got 99 years…ha.) Then he said, “Ooooh yes, you money line is very strong. You will be rich, very rich. You make lots of money. You no forgot me.” Then he laughs. (Again verbatim to everyone else.) “You influencer. When you talk people listen to you and want to follow you. You understand?” (Same, same.) Then he asked me what I do for work. I said that I am an artist for advertising and marketing and a photographer and I do some writing. Then he said, looking at my palm again, “You do many kind of job, on computer, with creative, many thing you can do. Very good for you. Make you lots of money.”

Then he asked me if I had children yet. I told him that yes, I had two boys ages 16 and 19. He turned my hand to the side and said, “Oh yes, you have two children, both are boys.” (Yeah, I just told you that.) Then he asked for me to put my legs in front of him so he could look at my knees. “Yes, very strong, no Arthritis.” Then with the other knee, he wiggled my knee cap around a bit, “Oh, good, you no Rheumatoid.” Then to my back. I lifted my hair and he looked at the top of my back and said, “Oh yes, very nice, like fragrant flower. You understand?” I didn’t, but said I did. “Ok.” He said. “I think you have good life. What you do for work?” I noticed a little forgetfulness, but this guy could be 100, so I understand. I told him again what I do and he says, “Oh yes, you be very rich. Don’t forget me.”

I tell him that when the Eat, Pray, Love movie comes out he is going to have a line wrapping around Ubud to see him. “And when you get rich, rich, rich, don’t forget me,” I say. He laughs. He tells me that Julia Roberts came to visit him, but he didn’t know who she was. He actually plays himself in the movie. Ubud is all a-buzz about the filming that was done there a few months ago. I heard that the producers paid Ketut 4 million rupiah for his part (about $4,000). That is a lot of money to him. I asked him if he was looking forward to seeing the movie and his expression changed and he said, “No, I sad that I can’t follow. My English is not so good.” I said, “Oh, I’m sure you will get a copy of the movie with Indonesia subtitles, where the words will run across the bottom of the picture.” He looked very confused and said, “No. I no good read.” “Well, you can just watch and be happy. You already know the story. You were there.” He doesn’t seem to understand me. So, we take a photo together and he smiles and says, “Let me see!” He seems to get a kick out of seeing his image on the viewfinder. Then he looks and says, “Oh, no, you very prittee, me very ugly, no teeth.” “No.” I said. “You are handsome.” He waved me off saying, “No, no, you kidding me,” with the cutest grin.

We both stood up to say goodbye and we warmly held all four of our hands together and made a small bow at each other. I thanked him profusely for his time and he said, “Ok. See you next time you in Bali. Tell your friends in USA to come for palm reading.” “I will.” I say. “Bye. Bye.” We waved at each other and as I walked through the front gate I looked back and he was still standing there waving and smiling at me.

He did seem to have a script, but you know, he really was delightful…sweet as sugar with a little spice mixed in. A bit playful and flirty, curious and childlike, with wise eyes that said he knows the secrets of the universe and if I had more time he’d be happy to share. So, maybe it wasn’t the spiritual experience I had hoped for, but I certainly left smiling…maybe even smiling in my liver. (If you read the book, you’ll know what I mean.)