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Meeting Wayan from Elizabeth Gilbert’s "Eat Pray Love"

The book Eat, Pray, Love topped the New York Times bestseller list for a year. Author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her quest to ‘find herself’ after a devastating divorce. Spend four months in Italy eating fabulous food, four months in India meditating in an ashram, and four months in Bali finding love and joy. I read Eat, Pray, Love just before my trip to Bali.

Wayan was my favorite character in the book. She is the owner of a small healing shop and restaurant in the city of Ubud. Elizabeth Gilbert is riding her bike in Ubud and falls hurting her knee. She goes to the store for an ointment to heal her wound and ends up befriending Wayan and his cute and irrepressible daughter, Tutti. Wayan has left an abusive husband and finds it difficult to survive alone, as divorce carries such a strong stigma in Balinese culture. Wayan is often forced to relocate her business from one rental site to another and therefore has trouble keeping enough established clients to be financially successful. Elizabeth Gilbert appeals to her American friends to donate money to buy Wayan her own store. Gilbert didn’t take long to collect $ 18,000. Before leaving Bali, Gilbert sees Wayan set up in a two-story, mortgage-free building.

It is not difficult to find Wayan’s shop. Gilbert’s book says that it is a few doors down from the Ubud post office and that is exactly where my friend Kathy and I found it. The hand-painted sign on the front invited us to give ourselves a massage, learn Balinese dance, buy medicinal plants, eat a healthy vitamin lunch, or heal from whatever ailed us. Huge pots in the front yard of the store held various herbs like ginseng, jasmine, and aloe vera. Each pot had a sign telling you what diseases that particular plant could help cure.

We walked inside. The restaurant had three tables. Wayan joined us and, after accompanying us to the only available table, asked us if we had come to eat or be healed. We told her we were hungry after a morning of wandering the shops and galleries of Ubud, so she and her assistant started bringing food to our table. They grated turmeric and mixed it with ginger, honey, and water to make a delicious juice. They brought us three types of seaweed, each with a different flavor. We ate melon and tomato with unique spices served on banana leaves. We ate rice and salad. As each dish came to the table, Wayan would tell us if it was good for our stomach, kidneys, heart, or love lives.

Wayan said that for just a small additional cost we could have a healthy body check at the end of the meal, but she was very busy when we finished eating doing body checks for a group of French women seated at another table. I noticed one of them had a French copy of Eat, Pray, Love tucked into her bag. The book has been translated into more than thirty languages.

Since Kathy and I knew that our husbands would already be waiting for us at our hotel, we decided to leave. We say goodbye to Wayan.

One of the things I like to do when I travel is read a book set in the country I am visiting. It makes the place come alive for me. I don’t always have the opportunity to enter the pages of books and meet one of the characters that I have read about. Happily I was able to do that in Bali.

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