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From Granddad's Back to Man of the House

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You will be enthralled listening to Gede Arya Sabayu relate the story of his childhood. Born into a poor but hardworking family in the wrong part of the village, Gede describes the work he had to do as a young child. This is not a sob story—Gede explains his lifestyle with humor and positivity. When he wanted a bicycle, his family had a way of motivating him. “You can make this cow fat, and we will sell it.” Gede speaks about graduating, going to Denpasar, and the events that led him to create sustainable work for himself and others within his village. As his grandfather used to say, “Life is a mystery.”

I'm about four years old. I remember that time. My grandfather woke me up very early every morning, and he'd tell me, "Gede, go and wash your face. We will go soon." After everything is ready, he took the equipment he had—hand knife, dirty rice bag. That was all our equipment every morning. We were going to the jungle and the rice field after that. He leaned down and told me, "Gede, jump on." As a four-year-old kid, he always put me on his back. Sometimes he put me on his shoulders to make me comfortable. As a kid, that's the only dream that kid has. We went into the jungle, played in the mud, played in the water. But that's not how the story will begin.

Along the way, we passed many other farmers—young farmers and old farmers. Along the way, my grandfather always told me stories of his life, how he lived, how he struggled to keep the family alive with hard work—physical work. And at that time, I really wanted to know the purpose of him telling me these things. It seems like he wanted to tell me very early. He said I wouldn't always be on his back. And "Life will not be easy for you soon when you grow." And I realized quickly, too, that I will not always be there on his shoulder or on his back. I saw many people working and working at the age of seven years old, eight years old. I know I will be there soon doing those things. And the reason why my grandfather always told me about life, about being strong physically, about working with the hands, about putting everything on the head and being responsible for your family.

Time flies so quickly. When I was six to seven years old, all changed. All things turned to me then. Seems like what I'd imagined a few years ago happened very soon. I saw myself needing to wake up every morning. So I realized something very important—why my grandfather always woke me up so early. He wanted to train me to not always depend on people to wake me up. So I got used to waking up every morning so early, taking my hand knife, taking my rice bag. Exactly the same as he did.

So as a kid, I went to primary school, and every kid had a bicycle. I asked for the same to my father and my grandfather. The way they treat me is so different. "Gede, you will have that, but you need to do something. I will give you one cow to take care of. And then one day, when you keep and take care and treat this cow well, you can make this cow fat, and we will sell it. And some part will be used to buy your bicycle." So us kids were motivated, fully motivated every time, every morning before going to school—not going too far from home because we are living in the forest in the countryside of our village.

So there's so many sources of cow food we can get. I got that cow food, gave the cow food, gave the cow a drink. Of course, speaking a little bit with the cow! I said, "Cow, grow quickly so I can ride my bike by your sacrifice. So now you are my boss because I'm sacrificing my time every morning for you. And one day I will sell you to get my bike, so I can go to school with it and save my uniform. So I don't use my feet and wear out my shoes because the time is coming." I have just one hour or forty-five minutes to get the food.

You know why I must go that early in the morning? Because when I'm back from school, I'm not doing the same as many other kids in my village. There are two parts to the village. There is the center. And then the outside of the village or the countryside. I'm not one of the kids who lives in the center with a parent who can provide everything because tourism has come since the 1960s to our historical village. So I'm living behind the door, born from a low-class farmer. So that's how it goes.

After I'm back from school, I need to take off my uniform very quickly. My mom says, "Gede, you know where your father's working?" "No. Where, Mom?" "In the corner of the village, two kilometers from here. Change your clothes. Run. Help your dad." I even didn't get lunch. You know what my father's job is? He's Spiderman.

He's a coconut climber and harvester since a very early age, like me in my story. Every day of his life, he climbs many coconut trees on people's land and property. Drops the coconuts. And then my role is after school I bring some food for him. We have lunch together there. And then the new story begins. So my role is to collect all the coconuts he drops with his friend from the trees. Picking them up one by one and then putting them in a place where he orders. The job is not done yet. The place where we harvest the coconuts is almost three or four kilometers inside the jungle. And then in my village, there were no highways as we were an old village. So they parked four kilometers away. And then the next job is to collect those coconuts and carry them to the truck.

Don't be shocked, guys. Now you realize why I'm not tall like you guys. I got pinched a lot by coconut grass in my head and on my shoulders. So night comes. In that time, I wasn't sleeping with my parents. Our house has a very small space, and we don't have so much room. We have several rooms and a kitchen with a fire stove, still using a wood fire. And it burns every night to keep us warm. I was sleeping with my grandfather in the kitchen. So we took the coffee wood every afternoon and burned it, as coffee wood gives constant fire and warmth for the room. And then, every night before we slept, he always put his right hand on my forehead and started the story to forget the big day we had—all the work we'd done. So he always told me about how to struggle in life, how to keep my spirits up, how to keep motivated. "Look straight, find what you want to reach in life."

But in the same time, I always said to my grandfather, "I'm a young and small kid, seven years old to eight years old. I'm a normal kid." I'd compare myself to every other kid in the village. Some other kids had good bicycles. When they went back home, they played with marbles. They played other things. They played what we call Tactic or they used sticks made from wood. I'd ask my grandfather, "Why are you forcing me to work? Why are my parents forcing me to work?" I know that it's with a good purpose. But you know how he replied? He holds me by my forehead strongly, and he said, "Gede, don't blame anybody for what you feel now. Don't regret any of it and how life treats you hard today. It will impact you in your future. Maybe you are not as lucky as other kids today not having what they have got easily. You're doing hard work since an early age. And that will have a very good impact. You are the one who will carry on this family in the right way. You will be strong in your knees and carry all the problems of this family on your back. And you are the one who will be changing the family situation in the future."

And that same conversation day by day, every night the same. When I'm complaining those words are coming. Until one day, I stopped complaining and just did it because I know that they're coming every time. And I know that's for the good of me. He always said, "Life is a mystery. When I'm gone, you will grow. And you will realize and say thanks when I'm in heaven." That he always said, every time we went to sleep.

Time flies. 2011. I graduated from the Vocational School of Tourism—amazing for a kid living somewhere with no phone, nothing. Just playing with the cow, speaking with the cow every day.
Sometimes I met my friend just for a few minutes before my grandfather called me. "Gede, take a shower in the river. Don't speak with your friend. We have something to do."

So I had all those plans in my mind of how to escape from this situation and change my family life. By going to Denpasar. You know, it's not the USA. It's not Europe. But it was a big thing for me at that time. So I say, 'Denpasar.' It's my European version. You know why? Because the kids living in the forest, in the countryside of the village, in the same situation as me were thinking of going to Denpasar because it's the capital where all the money is, where all the hotels are, where we can get sources of living to change our family life. But new things are coming. I'm facing two big problems. How to go. And my mom's permission.

Normally other parents will say, go, but in this case, I'm Balinese, and I don't have a brother or sister in this family. So I'm the only young guy. I have a cousin, but he married early and never went to school. Actually, he stopped going to school. So I am the one who graduated well in that time. And my mom always said, "There are so many fields to work in the village. Why do you need to go to Denpasar? There are so many people can get jobs around here. Why you need to go there?" I know the reason why my mom said those things. Not to hold me from going or stopping me from escaping from this village. She wanted me to stay with her. She had a big fear. That the only one son she has, who will be responsible for the family, will leave her and maybe a fear of the city because she never went. She was uneducated.

And she was thinking I would lose my way in friendship. Maybe take drugs or have to get married early because of a mistake with a woman. That often happens now in Bali. But I said to my mom, "This is my dream. I want to chase my dream, changing our family situation." And then suddenly, a few days later, I get a call from my friend Made, which changed all the story. He called me in the morning. "Gede, you still want to go to Denpasar?" I said, "What?" "I will go in two days. Are you in?" Okay. Now the real challenge is coming. What I needed to say. And I said to Made, "I will use my gentle voice with her. I will go." And I said to Made immediately, "Yes, I will go."

Stepping up to my mom's room, she sits in conversation with my dad. And I said, "Sorry, I'm interrupting. Mom, this is gonna be the last conversation we have about this argument. A friend called me, and I need to go to Denpasar in two days. All the papers required, all my clothes are ready. I will go." My mom looked me in tears, and she said, "Okay, I cannot hold you back anymore. If that's your dream, as long as you can keep yourself safe, you can go."

And the tears story is coming. Everybody knows we are coming from the low-class of farmers, but the good thing is we are really good in family relations. I didn't have money to help my friend to buy the petrol. So my mom took her small savings from her candy box to give to me. My auntie gave money to me. My uncle came giving some money. And then my grandfather gave me some money. And the one who's strong and the tough guy in the family, my dad, which I never expected. He was crying. Yes. He always treated me hard, like, "Gede, don't let that go. Take that, do that." But in that time, he's crying. In that moment everybody gave me a big responsibility by giving that money. And I believe in their mind, "This guy will change the family and give that money back in a different amount."

I carry that responsibility as I have all the basics; I'm strong after working, have good shoulders to carry any problem. A top childhood taught me to be strong in my personality, strong in mentality and physically, to hold any problem, to carry any problem.

Finally, we went to Denpasar. Lively. Not that friendly yet. For a jungle kid, it's not easy to get a job in the city. We needed a connection, someone we knew. Trying from one hotel to the other hotel. The power of patience. They refused in many places. And I said, "No problem, Made. We will try." Made always complained like, "Oh Gede. This is so hard. Let's go back to the village." "Wait, we sacrificed so much to come here. We had so many arguments before we came here." And then one day a friend called me, another friend. "Gede, there is a big company opening recruitment for employees." And I said, "Where?" I wrote by hand and brought my papers.

Then Quiksilver, in collaboration with Savrical Bali, built a big store in Nusa Dua and hired me in the warehouse for three months. I worked so hard, and a new recruitment came for a sales promotion boy. I'm climbing. I got that position. I worked so hard. And I got a quick promotion from my boss, but life is still a mystery. Four years seven months, or almost five years. After all those feelings I get in the city, I feel this is my life. I got friends. I got money. I paid off debts of my mom's from the lender by sending money every month. But June 2015, everything began. I think this is the reason why my mom never liked me going to Denpasar. I got a call from my dad. My mom had a big problem with her health.

And I'm the only one guy. Like he said, I will be responsible. Like my grandfather said, I will be responsible for the family. In that time, I'm facing the biggest decision of my life. What do I need to do now? I'm happy with my life in the city. You can imagine for a young kid who went from jumping to seeing clubs, many women from other regions. I did not see them a lot in my jungle. Honestly! I saw so many Australian girls. I was even working with them. Listen to my language. You can imagine where I could find them in my jungle!

So this is a big problem at that time. These are the people I love most is the problem. There is no other woman I love more than my mom with all that she sacrificed for me. I need five months to think. I don't sleep well. My work capacity is going down. My boss asked me "What happened, Gede?" I said, "My mom is sick. I love my job, but I love my mom." So finally, with the support of my friends, they said, "Anytime you want to come back, the door of this store is always open." So I decided to go back to my mom. And then I imagined since I've been in the city, I needed to prepare myself to go back to that jungle, but that's not hard for me. It will not be so hard. That's where I began my childhood.

I went back to the village. Everybody looked at me with my new Quiksilver T-shirt, Ripco shorts, Havaianas sandals. And you know what? Some Balinese joke with us when we're back from Denpasar. "Hey, boss, when you go back?" "No, I'm not going back. I will stay. My mom is sick." The first week was so hard. What to do? I'm here. All my skills don't work here. I tried to find a job nearby. That's still hard. Everybody's got the same problem as me.

So one day I'm standing in the big door to the village when a guy from Holland approached me. His name is Harold. "Hey, young man. Can you tell me what is behind this door? I see just a jungle. Is it a cemetery?" "No, that's where I live. If you think that's a cemetery, I'm a zombie. "You wanna come in to check?" "Yeah, I'm interested. I want to see." I said to him, "You will like this place. The center is just eight hectares, and the rest is nine hundred hectares, sir. We have rice fields. We have people weaving. We have people making baskets." And in that time, he told me, "You are doing a good explanation, and you have such good English. Where did you learn?" "I practice. I never did a course or anything. Even listening to something in bed is so hard." So I said to him, "What do you think?" "You can do something with it if, as you say, you don't have job." So this is what my grandfather said. Life is a mystery.

So I started thinking about what Harold said and then created something, which I'm still doing today. So I built a trekking activity which explains all the history of my village, which is the oldest village in Bali. It exists since the eighth century, and then a new mystery appears. So the trek I'm using is the one I used to hold the coconuts, to bring grass on my head for my cow. I'm using that same track today for trekking.

So since I was a kid, my grandfather always said, "Life is a mystery. We never know what will happen." So whatever I've done as a kid, I can use for something in the future. So for the trek, normally I'm climbing, I'm working hard, with a heavy weight on my head. Now I'm using it to earn something. I even teach some of the young community to do the same trekking as me, and then we do it. I train them to do the same to earn money, train them in English, build their confidence. And we can do it. We are not just kids in the jungle. We can do something.

I'm therefore beekeeping with my cousin in the jungle, which I'm doing today as the next story. And then something happened really big for myself. I was elected to be the Youth Community Leader in my banjar because of all my ideas—everything. I'm not proud of myself for that, but the people are proud with what I'm doing. So I said to them, "I'm not leading you. We will share the direction, how to do everything. I am not a leader who gives you orders. Let's find direction together."

So we created something. We created trekking activities speaking a lot about the equality between the outsider and the original who lives in the center. Not all people like me, honestly, because I speak a lot about that. I'm really happy with this thing going well. The honey is going well. I'm helping my cousin with marketing to people that start to come to the jungle, tasting our honey, buying our honey, doing basket workshops, got enough hours coming. And then we never imagined that would come, this big, epic story. For Bali. Everybody in this room knows we got a big hit. We hang on and depend a lot on tourism. I cannot lie about that. So at that moment, I start thinking again. What to do?

A few weeks later, my friend from Canada—her name is Suzanne—she often comes to Bali and really loves Bali and been to my bee farm, which I'm developing with my cousin, calls me. Life is a mystery. She tells me, "Gede, I remember your honey has a medication purpose and an old historical Balinese medication with a natural base. Why don't you join with the things I'm creating together with my beautiful friend, Colin, with my inspiring friend, Made, and Steve—Stephen McCluff. And then I said, "Yes, I will join in with your purpose."

I went back to my ancestors' village nearby Slove of Monagune, where my grandfather originally came from. Every time I go back there to pray in ceremonies, I see so many people have these hives, these black beehives. So I said to Suzanne, "Yes, I will be involved in this Togetherness Project with the spirit of togetherness and make an income sustain an income for my community in this village and my ancestors' village.

I went to Ubud to speak with Steve and Colin and brought some product and put this beautiful stuff in Bags of Hope. The coffee from the north, the recycled bag from North Gianyar. There are some herbs from my friend Futu. They are beautiful weavings—the process of which had been laying down for twenty-five years and woke up because of COVID-19. So we are in the same team with the spirit of togetherness.

And then, after a few months working, this thing goes well. Many people came to support and remembered all about our purpose. So this is what I say. Life is full of mystery. We never know when we are doing something hard in the past, it can create something beautiful for our future and supply strong knees, a strong back to hold everything, to show to people that we can.

I can feel a togetherness spirit in this room. You are very kind to have me here, and I hope this pandemic will pass soon, and we will meet in a different situation—in a good situation. Let's keep the spirit of togetherness, and let's spread it. Hold each other's hand. The solution is there. Life is good when we are together. Thank you so much. I'm Gede.


if you're looking for something to transform your life then they should do FABx. ~ Hoda Monika Agah
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