Desak Purnami is 24 going on 25, and came to Ubud to earn a living six years ago. Beginning from the insecurity of a teenage village girl from the mountains in Bangli to becoming a self assured young woman who is capable of dealing with everyone she now encounters, local or foreign, in real life or on social media, she expresses herself in a straightforward and refreshing manner. Rio Helmi gets her take on the latest six years of her life in Ubud:
RH: What age were you, Desak, when you first came to Ubud?
DP:I came to Ubud when I was 18, going on 19. I had just finished high school (SMA).
RH: Did you come to Ubud because you had the offer of a job, or were you just trying your luck?
DP: At the time I had a job offer from my ex-boss who came from the same village. He had a silver shop in Ubud although he lived in Tampak Siring. So while I was working there, I went back and forth for the first 3 months.
RH: How did you feel when you first settled in Ubud as an outsider? Did you feel accepted by the community?
DP: Well I had a good feeling because I was going to be able to work and make my own money. But I was also a bit dazed because it was my first time out of Bangli and my first experience of living in someone else’s house. What I most miss is waking up and sitting in front of the wood fire stove [paon] in thetraditional Balinese kitchen to “ngidu” alias warming up the body. I still miss this today.
RH: What was the ‘bitter’ side of things at the beginning? Were you ever frightened? Did you ever feel like running back home?
DP: What was not nice was when the shop where I worked had to be closed down because of it was sub-let after only 2 months. So I had to find a job all over again. I then applied for a job at clothes shop owned by a Canadian expat, but on the very day before I was supposed to start work, the person went and cancelled the deal instead, on the pretext that she could not accept someone who was totally new to the job and had no experience. So then I was at lose endfor almost 3 weeks, a boarding house kid with no work, money running low, no savings, and worst of all, I became ill. At times like this, I was really very close to losing it. But I was determined not to go home until I found some work. In the end, the person who had formerly almost became my boss changed her mind and called me up to work in her shop. I only worked there for 2 and a half years because there were some things that I found inacceptable, mainly because I did not like the behaviour of my co-workers. Apart from this, there was not much opportunity for self-development. So I decided to stop working there. Over the time I had been working there, the pressure was so bad that I lost almost 10 kilos. Luckily I had family back in my village that gave me moral support. But materially, I was actually already independent and paid for all my own needs from when I first started to work. So my parents did not need to take care of me in that way, and in fact, it was the other way round, I was the one who was trying to help them financially, even if it was not much.
RH: What was the “sweet” side of things during this time? What made you stay on?
DP: I met someone who made me happy and up to now I feel at home in Ubud. Hehe. Before, people often used to make fun of me because my Bangli accent was very thick, but I am someone who is quite quick to adapt, so I never really had too many problems interacting with people around me, whether tourists or people from around the area, although there were occasions when I got nervous. But with time, I overcame this and I now have enough self confidence to cope with any situation.
RH: What do you feel about expats in Ubud? You are often quite critical of expats in social media. Is this because of what they say, or because you find their attitude generally irrevelant, inappropriate for Bali?
DP:: When it comes to expats, I feel that there are some that are really committed to helping locals and who try and maintain mutual respect, but there are many who are only freeloading here. I don’t believe that social media is solely reserved for expats to voice their opinions. I don’t like people giving work to Balinese people while finding it inacceptable that there are traditional ceremonies that frequently oblige their employees to take time off work. To the best of my knowledge, employees normally exchange their days off for another day, or when really in a tight fix, they readily give up their jobs in order to carry out their communal duties.
RH: How do you now see the situation in Ubud, principally between Ubud / Balinese people themselves? For you, is there any difference between Ubud people and other Balinese people?
DP: I do feel that Ubud is full of expats these days, and most businesses are managed and owned by foreigners, whether legally or illegally, it is hard to say. The difference that I can see is that Ubud is of course much more advanced in the economic field and the buying power of their community is much higher in comparison to Bangli, where I come from.
RH: Overall, according to you, do Ubud people themselves have the ability to solve the different problems that have cropped up: the traffic, garbage, etc, or should they work on it together with people from “outside”?
DP: These kinds of social matters such as garbage, traffic, etc. I think are complex issues that call for the self-awareness of the community itself. But it would be very good if both sides, both locals and outsiders could work together to overcome such problems.
RH: Do you have the desire to leave Ubud for career reasons or further education? If so, do you have any idea of what it is that you are looking for?
DP: There are so many things for me that I have gotten from Ubud, that I have not even had the idea to leave this “bule village”. But I do have some simple aspirations; I would like to be more independent at some stage and become self-employed. Perhaps this is still only wishful thinking. With regard to education, I consider all that I have experienced up to now as my personal teacher. And I am not closed to future opportunities.
RH: What kind of changes would you most wish for Ubud? For Bali?
DP: Personally, I very much hope that Ubud will someday get back to the full ownership of the people of Ubud (in the case of businesses and shops, and also land) and that Bali will keep its integrity, principally so that the land and the ricefields are not all transformed into houses with high walls and cement foundations. I actually dream of a day when it will be the Balinese people who employ foreigners, whenever the day should be, there is nothing wrong in dreaming, is there?