Life in Amed Under the Shadow of Mt. Agung by Maya Lola Horowitz

I have such mixed feelings about writing this article. I love Amed. I love my friends in Amed. I love the community that welcomed me earlier this year. I am American, and after 29 years in Paris, I came to Indonesia last November for what my now all grown up kids call my Mommy gap year.

I love the peace in Amed. I am not eating nor praying nor loving. This sleepy coastal town in East Bali has flourished as a hub for divers and tourists who want a different experience than most of the rest of the island. Restaurants, hotels, dive shops coexist with a very traditional Balinese community made up of farmers/fisherman and now young business people that, despite the influx of industry versus farming, has held onto their traditions and their roots. That development began some time ago but has increased exponentially in the past few years.

I have been welcomed into this community. Created fast friendships with locals and  expats alike. Started to free dive which has been life changing. Who would have ever imagined that I would be thrilled to live this simple life? And I have been. Such an overall chill place. Smoothie bowls arrived in Amed just this summer.  I can even now get a great cappuccino but Amed still maintains the absolute authenticity that it always has.  There is even a new wonderful organic resort where the restaurant marries the cooking skills of one of Amed’s best local cooks and her Spanish business partner.

My mom came to Amed to celebrate her 80th birthday in August. Hard to imagine that just six weeks ago we were tooling around the gorgeous Karangasem region on my scooter. I was so happy to share my life in Amed with her.

And then Gunung Agung. Level 3 alert. The recent top floor construction where I have been staying was shaking with the earthquakes. People were torn with how seriously to take all of this.  Cultures colliding. Science versus religion. Prayer versus preparation.  And while Amed is a “safe town,” my place literally looks straight on Gunung Agung and I am just about 2.5 km beyond the 12 km zone.

I decided to leave. Unlike many of the people I care so deeply about, I do not have a business there. My family is not there. My attachment is purely emotional. So I came to Ubud for what I thought would be a weekend and then had the intention of reassessing. My thought was that I could be of a whole lot more help sitting behind a computer with my phone and my head clear raising awareness and donations outside of Bali than I would be sitting in Amed.

Agung hit a level 4 alert the day after I left. Many of those who teased me for leaving, left themselves. Tensions were high.

Jump to a couple of weeks later. I have since sent for the belongings I left behind. And I am still in Ubud.  A friend of a friend loaned me her place in the rice fields. Ubud is merely 30 km from Amed and yet, it is as though barely anyone is aware of the 150,000 internally displaced people in the past two weeks. 500 camps. Some official. Others not.  And yet, life here seems to be status quo as I gather it is across most of the island. Except for those in the camps. And those with businesses in Eastern Bali. And those working tirelessly to respond to immediate needs like food and sanitation in these camps. And longer term solutions for when it happens – if it happens.

The speed and depth of this crisis is chilling.

A few days ago I got a message from my a dear friend – a sort of Amed “matriarch” in the “patriarchal” society which is Amed. She owns one of the long standing Warung’s in town.

« Amed is die, nothing to do. I don’t know what I can do for our family. No work, no tourist.. I been crying, I would like to sall what I have but people bargain very cheap. Please make Amed Like before honey.. I need job. »

All this in just a few short weeks. And no eruption.

In reality, nobody knows if this eruption will be tomorrow, in six months or never at all. But Level 4 out of 4. People speak with certainty but there is none. Unless there is.  And this is part of the tragedy with regard to donations. No sensationalist images of natural disaster and yet – it is an absolute disaster already. Amed has become a ghost town. Tourists have fled. Many businesses closed after merely ten days after the level 4 alert.

Those who stayed got closer. The one positive thing out of all of this I must say is the sense of community that I have seen flourish. Facebook groups and Whatsapp messages abound. And rallying to help prepare        for when it happens. If it happens. Brochures about poisonous gas, “how to” videos on preparation, and evacuation plans. It is just so surreal and I am insanely sad. No matter what happens, Amed will pay dearly for this perhaps false alert or maybe tragedy.  Please consider making a donation. They need our help.

Amazing organizations like Agung Siaga have popped up to help those people both for immediate needs and also long term planningwhich is what the issue is in Amed.  And  despite the fact that Amed has a great deal more money than some of the farming villages on the side of Agung,  investments and financial stakes are proportionally higher.

The past weeks have been about preparation. About education. About cultural sensitivity. And while a few weeks ago I was focused on hitting my freediving goal of 25 meters, today I walk around with a volcanic ash mask and goggles in my bag and talking about how to tape up a house with plastic – just in case.