Mugging for the camera

Each time I arrive on the building site I get a hello and a wave from at least one of the many workers. Usually from quite a few. And when I raise my camera phone I tend to get a thumbs-up reaction, as a friendly imitation of my daily thumbs-up to the workers.

Today one of the workers signaled that he wanted me to photograph him. He had a few friends watching him and so he made an effort to overcome his shyness when appearing in front of a foreigner. I really appreciated his efforts and the photos tell the story:


A Drop of Kindness, a Well of Gratitude

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” — Scott Adams

I’m becoming more convinced each day that the real benefit of travel, or expat living, or even tourism (although it’s a challenge to slow down enough as a tourist) — is the small everyday kindnesses shared among people who essentially are strangers.

In the following example, we have recently become friends (but only days ago — strangers) with our housekeeper. Kadeh is a young Balinese woman who cleans the four rooms where we rent. She is diligent and friendly and a genuinely lovely person. She also gets paid below the standard wage, from a Balinese owner, and her husband has to work in a town that’s too far away from their home. Fortunately her two kids are taken care of by her extended family and village and so Kadeh can see her children at the end of each day. She also, like many workers in Bali, works six days a week.

Photo: the author, his wife Shelly, and Kadeh, our new friend

One day Kadeh was talking with Shelly and somehow during the conversation Kadeh mentioned that she hasn’t gone shopping in ages. She neither has the extra time nor the money. And so I asked Shelly if she would take Kadeh shopping. After she chose one item (a blouse) for about 55,000 rupiah ($3.78 USD) Kadeh said she was done. Shelly said to pick another item. Then Shelly, with some convincing, helped Kadeh pick a third item (a total for the three items of $10 or $11 USD). At that point Kadeh became emotional and said it was too much. We were being too generous.

Those who make compassion an essential part of their lives find the joy of life. Kindness deepens the spirit and produces rewards that cannot be completely explained in words. It is an experience more powerful than words. To become acquainted with kindness one must be prepared to learn new things and feel new feelings. Kindness is more than a philosophy of the mind. It is a philosophy of the spirit. — Robert J. Furey

The next morning Kadeh thanked me and cried. We hugged and I mentioned that I was happy to help out.

Shelly and I have done some other, modest giving to the workers on our building project and the reaction is the same: a tremendous amount of gratitude for what, to most foreigners, is a very small amount of money.

The reality is that when you spend time in a developing country you realize that the majority of the world lives very modestly, and for the most part, happily. To participate in it, to get some joy from it, to change yourself a bit, reach out with a warm smile. See the other as an equal, in the sense that we are on the same planet, orbiting a blazingly hot sun in a terrifyingly cold universe. The stranger handing you your lovely beverage at the boutique cafe most likely cannot buy one for herself.

You don’t have to do much. Just be a small drop and let the ripple flow.


A very special Balinese experience

Our builder, Wayan, is a leader in his local village and twice a year hosts a Balinese ceremony.

(Photo: Wayan to my left, his partners, and the site foreman – in a striped shirt)

Wayan invited Shelly and I to a post-ceremony celebration of music, dance and Balinese cuisine at his home. It was a privilege to be a part of his extended family. Everyone was generously and genuinely willing to open their hearts to us.


A small celebration for the construction crew

The construction crew is an extended family, from Bali. They work seven days a week and camp out on the property in very modest conditions. They work incredibly hard and yet they do not complain. They do require time to go back to their villages for ceremonies of various types, but otherwise they work reliably and formidably.

Shelly and I decided that since phase one is complete and the concrete floor slabs are in place, we would treat the crew to food from the vendors at the beach. On Sundays the locals come to relax and there’s a half-dozen or so food vendors to keep the crowds happy.

In general the client (such as myself) doesn’t interact with the building crew. And I am naturally limited because the crew doesn’t speak English. The process for communication is that I talk to the builder (who can speak limited English), who then talks with the crew foreman, and from there the work gets done.

Shelly and I also bring food treats and old clothes to the crew every now and again, and I’m the type of client who likes to visit the building site daily, to see the progress and learn the details.

So treating the crew like regular folk and appreciating their contributions was something that we wanted to formally acknowledge at the beach gathering.

The heartwarming moment for me was when they told me to stop spending money on them. At that point I has spent about 300,000 rupiah ($20 USD) on bakso (meatball and noodle soup), grilled corn, martabak (veggie mini-pancakes), drinks, etc. The crew knew I wouldn’t say no if they kept eating and drinking. But they didn’t want to overdo it.