How to build a Balinese kite

 [words and photographs by Narina Exelby]

Sometimes it’s the most simple moments that bring unexpected joy.

Like taking that first sip of the perfect cup of chai tea, or finding a cowrie shell on a quiet beach, or feeling the uncontained happiness as a group of little girls launches a kite they’ve just built. It’s moments like these that have the power to make the rest of the world disappear and, in that time, make you utterly content with where you are.

We didn’t set out to build a kite, that afternoon we walked through the village. We were going to the beach. But Dila, Risma, Halfi, Sunariyah and Sulis, had other plans. They adopted us, and Lucia, as their new best friends, and then they taught us how to make a Balinese kite:

1/ Take an afternoon walk to the beach, and bump into a gang of little girls who decide, within a heartbeat, that they want to be your friend.

 2/ When Dila, at 10 the oldest in the group, says that she knows how to make a kite, ask if she could teach you. She’ll need to ask her dad to make the bamboo and string frame first, so arrange to meet the girls the next day. You’ll need to buy plastic (two colours), string and mosquito-repellent coils (incense sticks also work) from a tiny shop over the road, the girls tell you.

4/ Notice how Dila’s dad has built the structure. It’s made from three strips of bamboo: a strong centrepiece and two slightly thinner pieces of bamboo that are tied onto the axis just over a third of the way down from the top. The thinner pieces are pulled into a curve by tying string to their ends, and fastening it to the axis. Reinforce the structure by attaching the curved pieces of bamboo near their apex to the axis.

5/ As a team, lay the plastic out and measure how much you’ll need to cover half of the kite (one vertical half of the kite will be red, the other half yellow). Cut the plastic about two centimetres larger than the kite.

6/ Break off a piece of the mosquito coil and light one end. Fold the plastic over the string and bamboo structure, and fix it in place by melting the plastic. You do this by lightly touching the plastic with the burning coil, then pressing your finger onto the plastic to seal the join. There might be holes, but that doesn’t matter much.

7/ When half of the kite is complete, pose for photographs.

8/ Repeat the process on the other half of the kite.

8/ The gang may decide they’d like to name the kite after their newest member. They know from experience that the best way to write a word onto a kite is by cutting the letters in reverse. It may take some time for them to decide who will have the honour of cutting the letters and sticking them onto the kite.

9/ Cut a long piece of plastic – its tail – and melt it to the bottom of the kite.

10/ Wind at least 10 metres of light string around a plastic waterbottle. Cut a piece of string the length of the axis and tie one end to the bamboo at the bottom of the kite. Tie the flying string onto the axis just below where the bamboo crossbars meet, and then attach the bottom string onto the flying string. Make sure your knots are strong.

11/ Carefully carry the kite to the beach. This should be a group effort, with much jostling for the honour of carrying the kite. With a kite this big, beware that the afternoon doesn’t turn into an experiment in hang-gliding.

12/ Decide who’s going to be chief pilot, and then prepare for take-off, and then let your masterpiece fly….

Kite 14

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