FABx Stories Worth Telling


Dancing with Mandela

In 1969 I was a little girl in South Sumatra in Palembang, and my father was CEO of a big company. But at the time, parents would spend time to have lunch with the children. So my dad would go home at twelve and have lunch with us, all the children. And then he would go back to the office. And in my surrounding neighborhood, there were still forests, there were still rivers, and there was still a lot of poor people. There was a beggar who would come from house to house, bringing ragged white sacks, and each house would give him a cup of rice. Not money, only a cup of rice, so maybe he would not be starving. Of course, he would come to our house too. And my mom would prepare a special plate, with a special glass, and special food for my father. That's how we respected our father—special food for him. I saw the tukang minta-minta—the beggar—come and the cook would go with a cup of rice. But then I saw the food on the table, and I thought, Oh, he might be hungry. Why don't I just give it to him? So I put it in a big tin can. I put my father's food there with the rice, with the fish, with everything for him, and gave it to him. And I can still remember his eyes like disbelief and sparkling. That old man, now I still can imagine his face. So he ate there, but when my mom found out, she was confused and furious because there was no food for my father. There was no restaurant. There was no café. She had to cook and said, "You don't do that again because we can give a cup of rice, but not your father's food." I did the same thing the second day. And I did the same thing the third day. On the fourth day, maybe my mom thought this little girl cannot be told. So she told the cook to hide all the food on top of the kitchen cabinet. I was so small. I couldn't reach it, so that food was safe. I had my own lunch. What did I do with that? I gave it to him. And my mom said, "Maybe you don't understand Bahasa Indonesia. Which part is it that you don't understand? Do not give food because we give rice." And I was not sad. I was not angry. I was just feeling like I felt him, and my mom said, "No lunch. It's okay. You can give yours, but no lunch for you." I was not crying. I just walked to the neighbor and, you know, went into the kitchen talking. I had a very, very, a very loving neighbor, Basri. And they fed me. "Have you had your lunch? Come, come, come eat with us." So I had lunch at my neighbor's, and the big sister was a dancing teacher. So after lunch, I got a free lesson in dancing, and I danced. I danced and danced. My mom didn't know about it because she's like, "Oh, she finished her lunch." And that I had then gone to my neighbor. And I still remember that feeling. And I'm happy that I could keep that feeling because then I became an activist. I was the chairwoman of the Legal Aid Foundation for Women and Children. And I also established Kapika, the independent commission against corruption—like the Indonesia Corruption Watch. With the feeling of that little girl, I knew that in my heart, I'm an activist and I had a long career. I was in investment banking. I was in the biggest advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson. I was in first class on planes, in hotels and everything. But I knew deep in my heart I've never stopped wanting to become an activist. That was my story in 1969. And 1999. This is what I want to share with you. I went to Durban, South Africa, for the OECD conference on anti-corruption, so delegates from all over the world were there. I went with Professor Emil Salim, the former Minister of Environment. He became an activist after retirement. And I helped him to prepare the presentation. 1999. We did the presentation with slides so he could do it with his handwriting. And I was the one who suggested him to use slides with his handwriting. And he would talk in the plenary session. The plenary session was the biggest session. There were like 2,500 delegates there. There was James Wolfensohn, at that time the director of IMF. And the president of Transparency International. There was also the CEO of OECD and, of course, Nelson Mandela because it was in South Africa. And Prof. Emil said, "There will be the plenary session. And after that, there will be questions and answers." I said, "Oh, I really wanna ask a question. How do I do that?" "Sit next to me," he said. There would be hundreds of hands. So after the plenary session finished, there would be questions and answers. And "Okay. Who wants to ask a question?" I raised my hand like hundreds of hands also, but Prof. Emil was right. And somebody said, "That girl." "Me from Indonesia?" I was so happy but also shocked. Oh, I better have a good question because maybe they chose me because first I'm a woman. Second I'm from Asia, from Indonesia—very famous at that time because we were the champions of corruption. That was 1999, just one year after Suharto stepped down. I think, Well, this is my chance. So I raised my hand, and they asked, "Okay, who do you want to question?" I said, of course, "Nelson Mandela." I said, "Mr. Mandela, would you share with us what were the biggest obstacles when you became president? What do you think was the most difficult thing?" Because we know he won awards for housing when he put all the people from the slums into housing—he won so many awards. He then said, "That's a good question, Miss Irma Hutabarat." I was so happy. My name was mentioned! And he answered, "I have built schools. I have built housing. I have built infrastructure, but the most difficult thing, and the most important thing to me, is to heal my people. They have a lot of wounds, anger, insults, disappointment, you name it, from apartheid. And it's not easy to overcome that. I can't build this nation if they are not healed because they're not ready. So that's what I did. I sent a psychiatrist, a psychologist, public figures, and the people in each and every village would pay special attention to the wounded person that was allowed at that time." And I realized that he's not only a big name, but he has a big heart. And the evening after that, there was the closing party, the farewell party. And everybody was there. I was there too. And somebody came to me and said, "Miss Irma, what about you? You were the one who asked the question. Would you like to dance with Nelson Mandela?" "Do you want me to answer? Is the Pope a Catholic? Of course I want to dance with Nelson Mandela," and he escorted me and I was dancing. I was dancing. If you asked me how I felt, I saw a very compassionate person—peaceful and very gentle. And I was dancing with him. I felt honored. And I remembered my childhood. I remembered my mom before she died. She told me, "Now I understand you. I shouldn't have punished you because you were a kid. You've got a golden heart. We had lots of food on the table. Why would I punish you?" And that was the nicest thing that I heard from my mom. "And yet you learned how to dance?" She didn't know about it. And I told her that the punishment was like a blessing in disguise. So when I was dancing with Nelson Mandela, it felt like I was dancing with life. And this is the message that I want to give to you all—keep dancing, keep dancing with life.

Dear God, Dear Son

Thank you. Thank you for letting me see you, the deeper imperfect, perfect parts of you, not just the paradigms of the world you were born into. And I gotta say it takes my breath away. And sometimes we speak because we have nothing to say. No words needed, though, because presence is your essence. And essence is your beauty—the only kind of beauty capable of bringing a warrior like me down to his knees. For as long as I can remember, the way that I got love from my mother was when I got good grades. You know, the problem was that I rarely did. In my best year, I was a C+ student. It wasn't that I was dumb or uninterested. It's just that no one took the time to acknowledge that I was different. You know, not like the other kids who sat up straight, did what they were told, and got a kick out of getting gold stars. And it was all good until I turned nine. Then my elementary school, P.S. 211 on the east side of the Bronx, the boogie down Bronx in New York city, started sending home progress reports, basically saying that I was failing. I don't know what got into my mother that night. She must've been contemplating it the whole way home. She stormed into my room with her leather belt and then proceeded to beat me. And she threatened me if I didn't get my act together. And she pleaded me to be more like my sisters Taisha and Clarabelle, the ones who were everything I wasn't. You get beat one time, two times, three times you cry. I cried. You get beat ten times, twenty times, fifty times you learn to block out the pain. Cry? What's that? I got beat a few hundred times. When that happens, you learn to laugh. You learn to build an amor that says, “YOU CAN’T HURT ME.” My mom saw this. So she just started beating me with the metal part of the belt. I cried. It hurt like hell until it didn't. Now, the boy isn't a boy—the boy is a man. And I would be lying if I were here to say that it still doesn't hurt like hell. So God, tell me what's real. Tell me what's fake. Why is everything about you a fricking debate? What's the point of love? Because every time I've shown it, it's only brought me pain. Right after I dropped out of college . . . (College? That was my father's idea). . . I wanted to be a marketer, a storyteller who changed the lives of people through products that I believed in - business being my vehicle. I have my dad to blame for this. When I returned back home from university, one of the first places I went was to visit my cousin. Historically, a safe place for me to be me. It's also where my aunt and my uncle lived. Moments after finding out that I dropped out of college, my aunt looked me directly in the eyes and said, "You'll never be anybody without a college degree." I immediately laughed because I thought she may be right. So God, tell me what’s wrong. Tell me how to feel. One day, I kid you not, I walked out of my house where I was living on the beach, and I go for a walk. While on the walk, I see my outrageously beautiful German girlfriend with long blonde hair in the darkest corner of the beach, cuddling another man, stroking his chest so gently. And I would be lying if I didn't say I wish it was me. I heard they were dance partners. She said it was nothing. I found out months later she cheated on me. So my God, tell me if you’re real, why do I hurt? Why is there pain? Why does everything good always have to fade? I hope it’s cool I’m being real with you. I just want to let you in. My God, I’m calling. Are you listening? Dear Pedro, my child, I'll keep this brief. You need gratitude. Maybe just a sample. There's reasons for my actions, even if I never showed you. I remember when you were five years old and proclaimed to me that you wanted to be free, that you wanted to be a vessel for me. So I gave you the grace of not one or two but three motorbike accidents that left you with permanent tattoos, left you crippled for weeks at a time, so you can contemplate who are you. I gifted you chronic back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain. My son, did you really think that these were coincidences? How insignificant that these moments that you were having a hard time surrendering to now become. Can you remember how that changed some things? How grateful and present and resilient you magically became? My son, do you need me to go on? I can do this all day. Just look at your hands. Three crooked fingers. All the times your hips and knees will lock up for no apparent reason. The too many toe bangs to count, the headaches, the migraines, the heartbreaks, the toxic thoughts, the two emergency surgeries, the asthma, and random blackouts growing up that left you hospitalized for weeks at a time, divinely orchestrated to help you live into your destiny and allowing the infinite wisdom you already have inside of you to pour, pour, pour out of you into a limitless cup of pure potential. Pedro, it's time you woke up. My son, I know you're confused, so why don't you take a seat and let me pray for you. My prayer is that you live your life in such alignment that at any moment, you can hear the words that you have a week left to live, and you would not do anything differently because you are already full. It's why I keep taking things away from you that you think you need to show you where you're not free, to show you where you're not capable to lead. So my son, when I make things hard for you, just know this is me celebrating you. Stop wishing things were easier. Wish you were better. Let the moment take you to a level of depth that you've never been. You are growing from this experience of life if you choose, and to quote Napoleon, "Death is nothing, but to live defeated is to die daily." My child, my prayer is that you bring a sense of alignment into your world that is bar none. That you be the exception. And if things keep coming into your life that are outside of your control, just know I'm giving you a gift. You are growing at a different level of depth than most people will ever go in their life so that you, you could be the person who leads. And I'll let you in on a little known secret. You can't take people to places you've never been. So go and penetrate the world, my son, with all you have to give and allow it to penetrate you back at your deepest core of being because you are so beautiful and you are complete, and you are the beggar you meet on the street and you are inclined to be. And I pray to God that you will be free because I want you to run and feel the grass on your feet. Hi, my name is Pedro and I'm waking up.

Deconstructing Identity Labels

As I appear before you, start to notice what impressions begin to form. What does my attire say about me? The sound of my voice, my stature, my skin color? My name is Nadine McNeil. I'm from Jamaica, where I lived until I was sixteen years old. In 1982 I headed off to Ontario, Canada - first time leaving Jamaica - where I would join a private all-girls Catholic school, Holy Name of Mary High School. There were 325 students. Three were black. Tracey, who was born in Canada, who ran track and field, myself, and my Caribbean sister Jackie from Grenada. And we got teased because we had this singsongy voice. Anyway, our fellow students would often ask us, "Did you live in a hut in Jamaica?" or "Did you wear grass skirts?" A couple of years later, I'm living in New York City. Anyone here from New York? Yeah. So it's rush hour. I'm on the D train, and the train is packed, and we're all like this, and we're right up against each other. And I said something to the woman standing next to me, and she goes, "Bitch get off me. Go back to your country where you came on your banana boat." And I went, "Oh shit." Now what was interesting was that woman and I shared a skin color. So, then I began to understand what the term racialism means. Racialism is essentially a softer version of racism, but there are more nuances that are mixed up in it. And so began my story of internalizing, silencing stereotypes, labels, identity. This would continue throughout my life. And even when I worked at the United Nations, an organization whose premise is founded on equality and inclusion, I would meet these statements and these stereotypes and these limiting beliefs. And then, when I would try to share with my colleagues my experience, I'd get about three responses. One would be, "Are you sure you heard correctly?" The other one would be, "Nah, that's not what they meant." The third one would be, "They must have been joking." So I was gaslit up the yin yang. You know, coming from Jamaica - I'm an only child - I was raised by two married parents. And up until that point, moving to Canada and then New York, I identified with my high school where I lived. The values my parents instilled in me were study hard, work hard, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And for God's sakes, don't get pregnant out of wedlock. So, here we are, 2020 living while black, and we're still having these conversations. There's a tendency to be uncomfortable about having the conversations, but how do we defy, dismantle the stereotypes without the conversations? Yes, I am a Black woman. Sometimes I'm angry. Other times I'm sad. My heart breaks that we're still having this conversation one hundred years after the abolition of slavery . . . or more. So my call to action standing here before you is that we start to pause. Think about the labels that we identify ourselves with, the assumptions we make based on what people look like. Nadine McNeil educated in Canada, the United States, and Europe. My CV arrives across your desk. And then I come through the door. "Oh shit. How do I put these two things together?" This is what happens when we fall into the danger of a single story. A Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, talks about this. And she says the danger of the single story is not so much that it's inaccurate. It's the fact that it's incomplete. So we see someone, we make some decisions and assumptions about that person. We treat that person on that basis, and we've lost a whole opportunity to learn so much more. My repeated experience, no matter where I've lived in the world, is that ultimately we all want to be seen, heard, and loved. Thank you very much.

Exhuming My Story

Two freshly luminous green frangipani leaves clenching one another. I had those memories of playing shadow puppets when I was little. Also, I had vivid memories of cycling with my father, cruising around the village when my feet were entangled. And I do remember my father used a dry banana leaf just to tie up my feet. Oh my God, I was so happy. He did this because he wanted me to be safe and sound because otherwise, I was gonna fall off. In the rainy season, my father dug the ground and made a reservoir, so when the rain fell down, the water was reserved in that reservoir. You know what I did? I jumped in with an exuberant face, totally naked. I can't swim. I was on my father's back. And we swam together. And beside the reservoir, there was a kind of vineyard. Not a vineyard as we didn't have a vineyard on our land. It kind of looked like a vineyard, but I still remember the taste of the fruit. It was sour, sweet, and a little bit salty. And that's how my story begins. So I'm so honored to be standing here to be delivering my own storyline, my story of life. And thanks to Colleen. I think this is not a coincidental encounter meeting Colleen. I also believe in everyone else here. I'm so honored, so privileged to be standing here. Regardless of my shortcomings, I wanna come up with alliance, with a conclusion with all of you here who feel empathy and see the silver lining—the true colors of me. This is me. My name is Gandi. I'm from the small village on the northern side of Bali called Singaraja. My village lies on the northern side of Singaraja city, so twenty-five kilometers from the city. So the vast majority people living there are fishing and farming like my father. He's a farmer. He's the breadwinner in our family. He used to walk hard and spend his whole time in the rice field just to plant rice. As a little child beside my father, I helped him to plant rice in the paddies in order to fulfill our basic necessities. You know what? I'm so privileged. I'm so happy. And I'm so grateful to be living in this sacred and humble upbringing. My mother was just an ordinary housewife. She didn't earn money, but she helped us to grow. She provided food, and she helped alongside my father. You know what? We were living a very simple life where everything was basic. I had an idea to help my parents. I was also a breadwinner in my family because as a child—besides schooling—I had to wake up super early in the morning, around four or five, just to collect the tamarind. You guys know tamarind, right? It falls from the trees. And we sold it. It wasn't not good money, but at least I was so happy because I helped my parents in making a living. In the other season, we also had cashew nut trees. And I went there as a child. "I'm so happy. I'm gonna run. I'm gonna run." So I collected them. You know, the fact is that cashew nuts are more expensive than tamarind and easier to sell because with tamarind you have to break it before you sell it. And I was a happy child with an impulsive mind. I came up with so many ideas, but things go up and down. I have a sister. So there are four children in my family. I have two sisters and one brother. And I'm the last. I'm the Ketut. You know? Everyone knows that the last child is Ketut. I'm Ketut Gandi. So usually, my parents, especially my siblings, were elated with me. But things go up and down. I had to look after my sister, my first sister. She has a mental illness. She's a woman who is not speaking. She lives in silence. She's not speaking at all. She just sits down with nothing to do. So I was a child with a very good energy. I helped my sister. I fed her and showered her, and I was happy at the time. But I had a very relentless life because I had to deal with society's rejection because I'm gay. And they bullied me since I was little. And I had to deal with my family's issues. And I had to look after my sister. I thought it just was so relentless. And what should I do? You know? But in order to settle myself over and over again, I was just like learning, you know, focusing on schooling and studying. So the school sent me to many competitions. I was in English competitions, chemistry competitions, and so on. You know, I'm lucky enough. I never won, to be honest. I was just lucky to have the chance to join those competitions, but I never won. My parents once asked me, "Gandi, what you wanna be in the future when you grow up?" I said, "I don't know." I had, I think, unrealistic dreams, and they directly answered, "You have to be in the army because you're strong. Your body's meant to be in the army." I think No, man. I'm a gay guy. How do I come up with this? This was so funny. And I didn't hear them. I just disobeyed them with those words. So long story short, you know, I'm indebted to those two fruits, tamarind and cashew nuts. I'm so indebted to them because they're my jewels. You know, because of them I lived. I survived. There comes a day, there comes a time, when I do fully realize there I am gay. You know what? As a Balinese, it's really hard. When you are a gay guy, you have to deal with so many rejections especially coming from this society. Because when they know, when they notice that you are a gay guy, they're gonna keep their distance. They're not gonna come to you and say, "Hi." They're gonna go away. So at the time, I was feeling alone. I was lonely, to be honest. I was abandoned. I had a lovely cousin who passed away. We used to be together since we were little, and he passed away. And my brother and sister went away. There was only one, the first sister, with me because I had to look after her. And I was crying a lot. I was hidden, you know. I didn't wanna come out. I didn't even wanna go out. I was focusing on my studying because I was sad. I was crying a lot. So many rejections, and to build up self-esteem is really hard without any support because my parents are very conservative parents where they taught me about living in that cage. You know what I mean? Like we have certain rules that are Balinese and passed down to all the generations. So I had to follow those rules. So I don't have any freedom. I can't liberate myself or free myself. So I was kind of literally stuck and had nothing to do. And when I made a mistake, my parents, especially my father, he punished me with relentless tasks because we were . . . sorry, guys. I don't want to emphasize this, but Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch at the time. Right? And he used to give very relentless punishments. And when my father was a child, he used to be tied with rope and hung on a tree because of my grandfather. So, you know, for around seven hours because he had made a mistake and ants came and just scattered all over his body. So those rules were passing down to me. So I was so tough at the time. I was so strong. But, you know, in order to not just be sad all the time because of my hardships and all the burdens that I went through, I kept praying, "God, show me the way. Am I destined to be like this? To be a gay guy who got rejected from society. Who has so many insecurities. I don't know which direction I should take because I am living in poverty. I don't have people supporting me. I don't know what to do. God, please help me." And then I saw the end of the tunnel, the things I had prayed for—a divine spirit of light. So sacred. It approached me and said, "I'm with you. You don't have to worry about it. I'm embracing you. I'm gonna lift you off the universe." And I was like, Oh my God, this is such profound energy that came into my life. And I had no idea. What is this? I was a seventeen-year-old boy. Okay. I'm gonna be strong. I'm not gonna let myself down. And then, from that moment, I'm stronger. I'm tougher. Sometimes I would imagine myself traveling across the universe and see my other persona lift and support me, support each other. I came up with that idea. This is like a weird story, but you guys get that right? And about being rejected as a gay guy, I don't care about society anymore because I came up with self-gratitude, motivation, and kindness. Everyone who sees me as a queer, that's just your problem. It's not my problem because you have to know that we are full of a variety of colors like a rainbow. We see these people coming from different countries and different upbringings. So I don't care about it. I don't need to emphasize that anymore. I'm strong enough now. Viola Davis once said, "There is one place where the people with the greatest talent are gathered. One place, and that is the graveyard." Yes. Right? "Viola, what kind of story do you wanna tell?" Viola said, "Exhume those stories. Exhume those bodies." And now I'm representing myself exhuming my own stories. Thank you.

Finding Myself In An Airplane Toilet

February 20th, 2016. I'll never forget this date. I'm at the Vancouver International Airport, and I just got my ticket stamped. I'm feeling hopeful. I'm about to start my life over. I'm getting out. I'm leaving Vancouver. I'm moving to Bali. I'm starting over, starting fresh. It's my full reset. See, for the last eight years, I had been getting sucked deeper and deeper into organized crime. I grew up in the area. It was normal, but I wasn't that type of guy. I was fucking my life up. And if I didn't get out then, I wasn't gonna make it out. I could feel it coming. I was with my girlfriend, Leah, at the time. We were making it out. I got onto that passenger bridge, you know, that little weird walkway to get to the plane. And what I saw floored me. It was six border security agents and a police dog. What they saw? An inked out brown boy with a Louis Vuitton T-shirt, diamond earrings, and a Ferragamo man purse with a hot bombshell girlfriend. They looked right at me into my soul and said, "You. Come over here. We've got some questions for you." And I was like, Oh shit. You see, I was way too high to handle this situation. My best friend gave me a bottle of THC weed oil to have a pleasant trip. And I took way too much by accident. He said, "Where are you going?" And I was like, "Ahhh, Bali?” I could barely speak English. He goes, "Okay. How long are you going for?" Meanwhile, while he was asking me questions, I was surrounded by the agents. And one of the agents was poking my pockets so the dog could sniff them. So I was trying to answer questions head-on with this dog sniffing in my pockets behind me. And I looked and was high as fuck. So he goes, "How long are you going for?" And I'm like, "Uhh, two, three months." He goes, "How do you not know how long you're leaving for?" I was like, "Well . . ." He's like, "Are you running away from something?" I was, yeah, absolutely. See, for the last three months, I thought I was under investigation. Things were hot for me. I needed to leave. I was paranoid. I was freaking out, and I thought he could see right through me. I was bombing the situation, and he could smell fear. And I don't know what that dog could smell, but I had drugs on me. See, I was a drug-addicted drug dealer. This was the lowest moment of my life. I was addicted to opiates. I had eight oxycotton in my man purse right there. I had a bottle of methadone in my carry-on luggage. I was going to Bali. I was getting clean. I was done, but I needed enough to get me to that detox center. I'd be sick on the plane if I didn't have it. I was, Can that dog smell this stuff? I don't know. But this guy said, "You're acting suspicious. Let's go to secondary questioning." We're going away from the plane now, off that little passenger plane, back into the terminal. And I'm like, Fuck, this is it. They're not gonna let you leave. This is a sting. This is where your worst fear is. You're done, buddy. You're going to jail. You're not passing Go. So I get to that airport terminal, and that East Van punk kid in me, he was like, Take it like a man, bro. Don't look like a bitch in front of your girlfriend. So I go to that security agent and I go, "Look, man, if this is just for me, let's get this over with," as tough as I could. He looked back at me, and he is like, "Why would you say that? This is a routine check." They pulled over somebody else right beside me. I was like Fuck! Leah's like, "Shut the fuck up. You're ruining the situation." And I was. This other guy was some forty-year-old Vietnamese-looking dude, kind of sketchy looking. So he goes, "If I was to pull your suitcase, what would I find?" And I'm like, "Uhh, clothes." What he would find was more oxycotton and a set of fake identification that I used to rent work spots with. Add fraud to the charges, I would cop right then and there. He reaches out for his walkie-talkie. He's gonna pull my suitcase off. Fuck! I see him reaching for it. If that suitcase comes off that plane, I'm fucked. I'm going to jail. I'm done. I'm not making that flight. No Eat, Prey, Love for me. Just as he is about to punch the numbers, I hear, "Fuck you! You're taking my liberty." The Vietnamese guy's freaking out. The entire airport stops and looks—international departures lounge of Vancouver airport. What the fuck? It's me—sketchy-looking brown guy. Sketchy-looking Vietnamese guy. Hot bombshell girlfriend, six border security agents, dog barking. "Sir, are you threatening me?" says the agent. The Vietnamese guy goes, "Fuuuck yooou!" I'm Damn! The agent that's dealing with us is looking at the situation. This guy gets pounced on by the other cops. The other one's pulling back the dog. He's resisting arrest. The agent dealing with me is trying to figure out what to do. It is a scene. I'm there. "Hey man, we're just trying to go to Bali. Can you let us go?" The agent looks at me, looks at the scuffle in the corner. Looks at me. He goes, "Okay, go." I get back on that passenger bridge. I look at Leah. She's like, "Shut the fuck up and get on that plane." I'm like, "Yes, ma'am." I'm walking back to that plane. The entire stewardess crew is waiting for us at the door. We are the last ones on the flight. Everyone on the plane is seated, ready to go. And what they heard outside was, "Fuck you. You're taking my liberty. Are you threatening me? Fuck you." A dog barking. I walk in. The stewardess takes my ticket. My hand's trembling as I come in. She's like, "Yeah, 84 F all the way to the back in the middle." Fuck. I have to go past everyone looking at me. Holy shit, what the fuck just happened? I have to ask a little old lady to get outta my way cos I'm in the middle. I sit down. She looks at me. "What happened?" I'm like, "No, no, don't, not right now." Waiting for that flight to take off was an eternity. Finally, we lift off. I'm sitting there having a panic attack in that seat. As soon as I hear ding from the seatbelt sign, I rushed to that bathroom. Locked the door behind me. And that's when I had a come to God moment. I almost didn't make it. I almost didn't get here. I was laughing and crying at the same time in a little airplane toilet. I couldn't process the emotions. I almost didn't get this life. I almost didn't get that second chance. I remember I made a promise right then and there on that toilet seat. It was a serious moment! Fighting back tears and laughing, I went to thank the universe. This was divine intervention. This was guardian angels. This was something special that just came down and was like, "You're almost not gonna get it. Here you go." And I had to honor that. I had to thank that moment. "Okay. I get it. I promise I'm gonna be good. I promise I'll make a difference. I promise I'll help others. I promise." Right then and there, I'm gonna make a difference. Just I didn't really know how. I grew up in East Van around thugs. I didn't know what to do. How do I be a good guy? So I spent the next ten months using that addictive personality I had to personal development, spiritual journeying. I did everything possible I could think of to try to get spiritual. I did the yoga teacher trainings. I did the tantra trainings. I did the meditation retreats. I danced ecstatically, really awkwardly. I did the cacao ceremonies, the plant medicines, the mushrooms. I did all sorts of weird spiritual things the guys in my hood would've kicked my ass for. I traveled. I went through all over Southeast Asia, and I found myself in this random Bhutanese Himalayan Vajrayana Buddhism Conference, surrounded by monks. And I still had my Louis Vuitton T-shirt on and the same diamond earrings. I lost them now, thankfully. I was at this conference, and I was still outta place. I locked eyes with a guy across the room. He wasn't really a guy. He was someone special. He had long salt and pepper hair. He wore a white robe. He had big Rudraksha beads. He looked like he could fly. I walked over to him. I sat in his presence, and it was different. He was radiating love. I felt so comfortable around him. He was an Indian guru known as Guruji. And when I connected with him, things shifted. He invited me back to his ashram in India and, when a guru invites you to his ashram, you go. So I rock up at this ashram a few months later. It was a powerful time for me—around a bunch of other yogis. And one of the days, the staff had the day off, and Guruji asked us who could come with him to go buy vegetables. I was like, "Yo, me." I push all the yogis outta my way. “I'm going with Guruji. He picked me.” I was like, "Fuck yeah. Just, yeah. I mean, Namaste." Chill. So we get outside. Guruji has a car. I'm like, Guruji has a car? What did I expect? A carpet or something? I don't know. So we get into his car, and I'm in a fucking white compact car with a guru driving through the streets of India, watching him drive like, Yo Guruji just shifted gears. Guruji just used the turn signal. Guruji just merged into traffic. I was watching a spiritual dude do normal people things. That was cool. We get to this Indian market, and it was hectic. Like ten thousand people, ducks, dogs, chickens, pigs, cows. It was a lot. When I got there, I saw how he acted and how I acted. See, in between dodging piles of cow shit and trying not to lose Guruji in this crowd, I had the most spiritual moment I ever had. See, the way that he rolled and the way that I rolled were different. His presence was that of love and compassion. It was radiating on everyone around him. And I had presence. I had intuition, but it was from the dope game. I was constantly surveying the area around me. Where are the exits? Who's behind me? I'd never have my back towards an entrance. I'd constantly be sizing everybody up. You a threat? You trying to rob me? What are you? A cop? And it was tough. I was filled with anxiety. I was never safe. I didn't trust anybody. He was love. It was as if he floated through the crowd. He was buying cucumbers with love. He was buying eggplants with love. He bought oranges with love. Seeing him do normal people things with this presence, that was spirituality to me. That was the shift. Okay. That's what I want. Yeah. I want to be bringing that energy to people. See, I still had the paranoia in me. I still had the fear in me. I had left the dope game, but the dope game didn't leave me. And it was from that moment I started to shift, and I asked him in his little white car on the way back to the ashram, "How are you so peaceful? How do you manage that? How do you have that presence? And he said, "Love." Okay. Okay. I thought about that for a while. Okay. What does that mean? I was still wrestling with so much from back in the past. And I realized, from then on, I had to bring that love to it. I was fighting demons within me that whole time. And when I brought that love within myself, into my own demons, into the shadows, things shifted. I was able to start creating again. I was able to start doing but from a place of love—loving my shadows, loving the parts of me I hated. From then on, I was able to create four businesses in four years. Start giving. It was a big part of me that just wanted to give. It was cos I found love and peace with myself. 'Cause behind all that fear, that paranoia, that wanting to take, when you send love to it, you end up just wanting to give. So now I was coaching people how to integrate these shadows, but I'm still a hustler. I'm creating hustlers. But now we hustle with heart. See, loving my own demons and doing that work—that's what shifted for me. Our greatest faults, our deepest shadows, our darkest demons can become our greatest allies. The worst things that ever happen to us can be our greatest gifts. I'd be so embarrassed and ashamed to tell all of you that I was an addict until I integrated that. And it became one of my superpowers. If I didn't do that, if I didn't have an airplane toilet breakdown, I wouldn't be here on this stage with this presence, bringing you my love. Thank you.

Following Your Heart's Voice for More Love, Joy and Freedom

I'm sixteen years old. My mom walks into my bedroom. She says that she's worried about me. She says that I need to start eating. And then she bursts into tears and starts crying uncontrollably. And the reason she's crying is because she's seeing her youngest girl, her youngest daughter, disappear in front of her. Now my mom never cries, and seeing my mom so upset, in that moment, something breaks open inside of me. I look at myself in the mirror and, all of a sudden, I can see that the white top I'm wearing, which is supposed to be very tight, is actually just hanging loose on my body. Now I have lost fifteen kilos in a very short time, and it all started because of one simple rule that I made up that I was going to stop eating after 6:00 p.m. in the evening even if I had not eaten during the whole day. Now, this just became one out of many rules that I made up so that I could control my weight so that I could look good. I start seeing a psychologist at the age of sixteen. I meet Christer every Thursday morning. And he shows me, he makes me understand the enormous power that my mind has over my reality. Not only how I perceive myself, but how I perceive others and my entire world. And I become probably the most dedicated sixteen-year-old girl ever that just wanted to learn and grow and heal from within. Looking back, I ask myself, "Why did that happen? How did that start?" And I realized that I started to pay a lot of attention to what others were doing, how I thought I should look, what I should do. And all that I really truly wanted was just to be loved, seen, and heard for who I truly was. So I'm five years old. It's Sunday morning. I'm with my parents in this huge furniture store, but I'm lost. I'm walking, trying to spot my parents, and this tall woman walks to me. She has a warm and friendly smile. She looks me in the eyes. She asks me what's my name? And I tell her. I look her in the eyes, and I say, "I'm Pippi." Now just to be clear, my name is Natalie. But in that moment, my mom and dad instantly knew that it was me because who I thought I was and who I wanted to be growing up was Pippi Longstocking. Some of you are smiling. So for those of you who don't know, Pippi Longstocking is the main fictional character of a series of children adventure stories that pretty much every young girl in Sweden either read or watched. Now Pippi Longstocking—she's different. She definitely does not fit in at all. She has this adventurous spirit. She even has a big bag of gold coins in her attic. So this little girl is financially free. She gets to live the life she wants. She can design the life that she truly wants. Growing up, this little girl—she was my hero. I believe that Pippi had a powerful connection to her heart's voice, which I believe is an energy that we all can tap into—a pulse of the universe—if we just decide to tune inwards and fully listen. And when I was sixteen years old, looking at myself in the mirror, I could see that I completely had lost my connection to my heart's voice. I'm twenty-nine years old. I wake up in panic. My heart is speeding like this. I'm drowned in sweat. And I look at the clock. It's 3:00 a.m. again. I'm having another anxiety attack. And this has been going on for weeks. I'm shit scared, and I don't know what to do. I walk to my bathroom. I flush cold water into my face. And the reflection of who I'm seeing—myself—makes me sad because I don't recognize myself. My skin is telling me that I'm not feeling well. I don't look healthy. I look quite sick. But instead of listening, I get myself together. Four hours later, I'm at work, suited and booted, showing up with my perfect smile. I'm a senior manager, and I'm greeting my staff with this big smile. At work, I'm performing excellently. Everything is great. Everything is really great. It's just that I feel like I'm slowly dying from within. I feel like I have no pulse. "I can, and I will. I can, and I will. I can, and I will." This becomes my mantra during a transition period where I finally decide to tune back into my heart's voice. I decide to quit my job. I decide to sell pretty much everything that I own so that I can put on my big backpack again and go travel the world because that's all my heart wants to do. Fast forward six months. I'm in Rishikesh, Northern India—the capital of yoga. Rishikesh is surrounded by the foothills of the Himalayas. Through the valley, we had the river Ganges flowing freely. Wild monkeys running freely. There's something magical and mystical and spiritual with the whole atmosphere of just being there. I love it. 6:00 a.m. I'm sitting on the cold stone floor in the yoga shala. It's freezing. I'm covered in layers, and layers, and layers of weird clothes I got at the market stands—elephants and crazy colors. I do not look like I would've done in the yoga studio back home for sure. But I feel like I'm belonging. I'm surrounded by yogis from all over the world. They're chanting in Sanskrit. Back then, I don't really understand what they're saying. I kind of sneak peek like this—kind of trying to understand what they're actually saying. It doesn't actually really matter because, sitting on that cold stone floor at 6:00 a.m. every morning, something peacefully begins to grow within me. So yoga and meditation completely change me. And my time in India brings me back to life. Not only am I traveling again, I am becoming Pippi. No rules, no restraints—just me out there feeling free. I'm not rich in money anymore, but I am oh so rich in spirit. I get to see the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I sit for hours to talk with the locals in the countryside. I get completely lost in the wild, lush jungle of rainforest of Borneo. I dance under the stars under the full moon on the beaches in Thailand. I get to connect with amazing people that I still call my best friends today. I get to have the ultimate Eat, Pray, Love romance in Bali. It was magical. My journey of following my heart's voice has been littered with ups and downs. I can't even begin to share all the mess that I've experienced. It's not a linear path. I've fallen down more times than I can even begin to tell, but I always brought myself back up. Things go sideways. During my travel adventures, I lost my luggage more than once. I got robbed. Of course, I got parasites in India a couple of times. And the amazing Eat, Pray, Love romance? Three years later, a painful, painful heartbreak. My heart cracks wide open. Now, I know that it takes something if I say that I want to be happy. And I've learned that my biggest battles in life, going through eating disorders, burnout, painful heartbreaks, among other things, that these battles have been gifts and blessings because they had me look deep into all the BS that I had living inside me for so many years. I had to learn not only how to love and accept myself, I had to learn how to fully love myself. And this is important—not only how to love the sunny side up of Natalie that I felt was actually quite easy to love. I had to learn how to fully actually love all those sides of me that I spent so many years running away from. The things that I didn't really want to identify myself with. The things that I felt were the dark sides that I didn't want anyone to know about. But because I've been committed to fully, fully, fully, not only face all of these sides of me, but to actually deal with it, and to make peace with it—that means that I'm no longer restrained by any rules. I get to decide and make up my own rules. I get to live my life free. I get to feel that I'm alive. I get to define success and happiness on my own terms. And I get to create my own golden coins. So what I really, really needed to do the whole time, as I understand now, was to give myself permission to just be who I am. And here I am today, standing in front of you, barefoot, living in Bali, which used to be such a big dream of mine for a lot of years. Standing here feeling free, feeling alive, and feeling very Pippified. Now I learned that my magic, that our magic, is to be found in the mess. And it turns out that my mess is my golden coins and that this is the currency that I get to use when I tap into my heart's voice and the pulse of the universe. Thank you.

From Being Shy to Being a Yes to Life

When I was young, maybe up until eight years old, I was a girl full of fears, insecurities, extremely shy, and very sensitive. Sometimes I could cry easily, even though it was for a small reason. I was raised up by a conservative family in Central Java. My parents and I lived in Central Java, Yogyakarta, where my parents had a very strict disciplined lifestyle. So as a girl, sometimes I would like to say no if they asked me or commanded me to do something, but I always wanted to please my father and my mother. Finally, I only said, "Okay. Yes," and "Yes," and "Yes." Actually, sometimes I didn't agree with their advice or commands, but that's life. But actually, my father and mother were very careful caring for me, loved me so much and also always dressed me up nice like this—they were very happy but so strict. So, as a young girl, I was always like this. Well, actually, my father, my late father, was a master in silversmithing. So seven years before independence, Indonesia's Independence Day, he was sent by Indonesia—still a colony of Holland—to America, to San Francisco. So for him, it was very exciting going to Jakarta and then going to America, but then there were no planes at that time in 1938. Can you imagine? So going there and back, of course, by boat. Forty days, but he said it was a very beautiful experience, of course. Fourteen months in the United States. Well, he came back, and he managed maybe more than a hundred employees to do silversmithing. So making a teapot or coffee pot or tea strainer or cutlery and a little bit of jewelry. Sometimes my late father made jewelry for me. I didn't say no, but actually, I didn't like it. It wasn't of interest to me because it was too intricate. I like more simplicity, actually, but I never expressed this to my father. Again I always said, "Yes, thank you very much." But then I gave it to my friend, the jewelry, but I never let on. I was just okay, I'll just keep it, but actually, I gave it to my friend. At the time, I was also feeling strange because my father never involved me in this kind of field because Central Java is very conservative. So no ladies or noblemen doing this kind of thing. So for me, I felt like there was no place for me. I couldn't do anything. So I just hoped and hoped that maybe one day my father would make a special decision pleasing me. It comes through when I was nine years old. Finally, my late father said, "Runi, you are so shy and introverted." Then "I think you need to go to not only the elementary school, but you have to do something else. So on Sunday, no break. Sunday morning from nine to twelve, you have to learn classical dance." So I learned from an expert. The expert was the uncle of the King of Jogja. So a good source. So I said, "Okay." "And then in the afternoons at four till six-thirty, you have to join Scouts." "Scouts?" And then, "Okay." I cannot say no, only okay. So as a girl, I was forced to be like that, you know, no break at all, but I always said, "Okay." I did my best. And I tried to be more confident and focused. But I had to go there alone by bicycle then. So every Sunday I was so tired, you know, from morning until evening. But maybe because he gave me like spirit, so the spirits become energy. Energy becomes cheerful. I don't know. But finally, the reason becomes so fruitful. From those dance lessons, I became the best dancer at that time. And my favorite teacher was surprised that sometimes as a girl, I turned, showing my back, and my teacher said, "No, you have to show the front." "Okay." So I always showed my movements from inside and so fully focused. So he liked it so much. So that's why he gave me chances. Many chances to perform dance at many high-end occasions. And then also for Fifi IP guests who came from Jakarta because the Fifi IP guests from Jakarta after meeting with our president, usually their destination was Yogyakarta, then Bali. So in Yogyakarta, they should see the classical dance and also go sightseeing to the temples—Hindu temple, Buddhist temple, etc. So I was surprised I became so famous. And I was young for a classical dancer. So every time I got applause, or sometimes the audience gave me flowers. So I kept the flowers until they dried because, you know, it was so meaningful for me. And not only this. From the lessons as a scout, I became more open-minded. I was capable of conducting a choir. Like this, you know? And then also the drum band and the marching band. I was always at the front, and the marching band was mainly male and only two females—me and my friend. So I was surprised that I became so open and not only this, but I became brave and tough able to face difficulties. I would smile at difficulties. "Okay. Smile." So I become more tough. Not only that, I also started to like flowers, arranging flowers. So when people came to my house, I always showed them my flower arrangements, even though the flowers were just from the garden, you know. And then not only this—I became good with my hands. I liked to dress up my hair with many different styles. So I didn't go to a hair salon. And also with scarves, so many kinds of styles—making scarves elegant or sporty or anything else, I could do it. And then sarongs. Make sarongs sexy or . . . Okay! So I became a different woman . . . not yet married . . . so a different girl. At seventeen years old, I got a chance to go overseas because the last days of seventeen wasn't good in Central Java. So at seventeen years old, after finishing high school, "Okay. Let's go abroad." I got the chance of one month in the Philippines. So in the Philippines, of course, I could visit many cities because I had one month. And I also got a chance to perform at Malacañang. Have you been to Manila? Malacañang is the state palace in Manila—so I could meet the president and first lady. And then back to Indonesia. Only two months. And then I got a continuous journey. It's more exciting. New York. Wow. New York! Are you from New York? So New York for me. Wow. It's the city that never sleeps. Oh, I wanted to see this, you know. So, of course, I was so happy, and there was training before going to New York. I had to learn for one month at a training center in Jakarta how to sit down, how to be behave because I would be sent as like an ambassador—a cultural ambassador. So I had to learn many things. Do you know about the New York World's Fair in 1964? So fifty-seven years ago, I was there. I performed my dances in the Indonesia Pavilion at the New York World's Fair with my other friends from all over Indonesia. At that time I met eyes with somebody. Only this because you know my leader was so strict. So no dating or touching, no. Only this. Yeah, I met somebody, but he knew that I was shy, of course, and also scared of my leader. So we are staying on Long Island. You know Long Island, yeah? So there are four wings. The first wing was for the interior decorators' group and another one was for information aid group. And this was for dancers and also for musicians. So every morning, when I went to the Indonesia Pavilion, of course, I dressed up nicely with a sarong and everything. Within twenty minutes, I have to be dressed up. Only twenty minutes. This, and then this, and then this—twenty minutes. If not, the bus will just leave without me. So I was always passing on the lobby, one lobby only, and I saw that man. Always sitting there and reading a newspaper, and I don't know seriously, but every time I passed by, he was like this. For me it was a nice feeling, you know? But then I didn't see him anymore. It seemed that as an interior designer for Indonesia, he was an interior designer for the Indonesia Pavilion. So maybe because he was finished and then went back home. So I didn't see him anymore. And then, there was a competition among the pavilions from all over the world at the New York World's Fair. And, you know, the Indonesia Pavilion was second after the winner—Spain. Yes. So I was so excited, of course. And then, I performed in front of the very charming leading star Lucille Ball and also singers like Harry Belafonte. After that, my journey to Paris, and there I also performed at the Palais de Chaillot—an opera house in Trocadero. And got the chance to meet our president, the first president, President Sukarno, at the Indonesia Embassy. I was so grateful. And then from there to Amsterdam. I was in Amsterdam maybe ten days. I also performed in front of Queen Juliana. At that time, I met him again. I was surprised. What is he doing here? But okay, I didn't care. And then, I was back home. I had culture shock because in Yogyakarta I felt Amsterdam, Paris, New York, and Yogyakarta is so dark, you know, not too much light. I was stressful. And then I had a feeling. Oh, I have to go from Yogyakarta. And I talked to my late father. I had to continue my study at the advanced place at Bandung. Bandung is near Jakarta. So I entered the Bandung Institute of Textile. You know how it is when entering university. There they dressed me up like crazy, and then I had to ride a bicycle. And I was on the way to my dormitory, and then I met again this man. But he was driving with special sunglasses—trendy ones. Of course. I turned to the right into a small alley. You know, I didn't want to meet him because I was embarrassed, but he was clever. He caught me in the end and, since then, we became friends. And then he said, "I would like to see your parents." And that was in 1965. In 1967, I became his wife. And then, after one year, the first child was born. So he was like thinking, "Runi, maybe you miss something" because I was active, you know, dancing and then just being with the baby with the crying and everything. "What you want to do besides this?" "I want to be a choreographer." "A choreographer? You must be on the stage again. It means you need applause." "Oh." "So, what do you think? Why don't you continue in your father's footsteps?" And then again, I said, "Yes, yes." But actually, I didn't have any ideas. Zero, but because of again my energy and trial and error, and then twenty-five years, forty years later, I'm still doing it. And actually, why I love my husband and love Bali because at the time, 1978, Adrian got a job in the Hyatt Sanur—the renovation of the rooms. And I was appointed as dress designer for the uniforms. And after that, we were thinking, okay, maybe later—we have three children already married—then we have to go back to Bali and move to Bali for good. So that's why now I'm in Bali. And then, on the twenty-five-year anniversary of Runa Jewelry, Adrian gave me a special gift, a museum—officially opened by the governor. And praise the Lord for forty years, I'm okay. I got all the appreciation. A book from the craft council as appreciation. And then thanks. Thank God that I always say, "Yes, yes, yes" to my father and to my husband. And so I feel blessed that now I have been already fifty-three years married. I have three children, seven grandchildren, and maybe in another two months great-grandchildren coming. So I'm so cheerful to be here because this is the best season and the best time to know all of you. And thank you very much, Colleen, you are a very nice lady and also model my jewelry. Very nice. Thank you so much for your trust. Nice to meet you.

From Drug Dealing Back to Myself

So I'm sat there. I roll another joint, even though I'm already brain-dead from the four Tramadol that I had for lunch. My company's falling apart, and I barely slept for the last few months. I haven't been able to pay any of my staff for the second time over the last three months. Some of these staff are my friends. They're people that are close to me. I'm feeling crushed by the feeling of failure that's overcoming me. The first time this happened, I assured them that I was more than capable of dealing with the situation. I felt like I had it under control. The second time this happened, it was abundantly clear that it wasn't something I had under control, nor was I able to stick to any of my promises. My mind's still buzzing. And I'm sat perfectly still underneath the heat of a 400 watt light with sweat dribbling off the end of my nose. The twelve five-foot-tall cannabis plants that are sat in my garage needed some water, and I needed the fucking money from them. It wasn't a good spot to be. I wasn't happy where I was. I also wasn't looking forward to returning back into the house. I took out my phone. I looked at the time. It was close to 10:00 p.m. I managed to ignore all the unread WhatsApp messages that just represented more and more problems going on in my life. I had no desire to walk back into that house at that moment. I would actually rather have stayed in that sweaty, horrible little tent rather than go back into that house and listen to my girlfriend tell me what a useless man I'd become. Despite that pain that I was going through, I slowly picked myself up. I finished the watering process and started slowly trekking my way back into the house while smoking the joint, obviously. As I entered the house, I'm greeted by exactly what I expected. The not-so-patient girlfriend was there, ready to have what was clearly World War III, possibly World War 1,003, by this point. And I knew exactly what to expect. I knew exactly what to go through. It was the exact same argument every single time. Had different variations, of course, but there was the same essence. "You always put your business before me. I'm not a priority." I know. "You're selfish. You're a narcissist." That I also believe I know. (Thanks guys.) I was getting dramatic then. "You need to close that call center. It's a toxic environment. It's not doing you any good whatsoever." This one was a little bit more difficult to accept. I wasn't as clear on this one. The reason being is I was so scared of failure. My ego was so kicked up around this subject. I was so scared of failing in that business. It was so attached to my identity that I absolutely refused to accept that one even though there might have been a shred of truth in it. We've all probably been in that spot. So this time is a little bit different. The argument begins. I'm not even hearing any of the words. I'm in a really still place. And then, all of a sudden, I become overcome with a different type of emotion. I start to feel a wrenching feeling in my stomach that starts to double me over. I start to feel tears well up in my eyes. I couldn't even remember the last time that I'd actually cried. This whole sensation was totally alien to me. I was sat there thinking Men don't cry. This isn't what I should be doing. I don't understand. As I sat there with pain coursing through my body—I had my face in my hands—the last remnants of my ego was dripping through my fingers. And I was sat there just feeling like a scared, upset little boy. It was in that moment that I realized one really, really simple fact. I fucking hated the person that I'd become. I fucking hated myself at that moment in time—everything that I was doing, everything that I was a part of. I'd spent months and months trying to pour buckets out of the sinking ship that I'd been trying to ride that were full of false hope, lies, empty promises. I'd spent years and years trying to acquire things at the expense of people, trying to be the man when ironically, what I'd actually achieved was being further from being the man that I wanted to be every single day. I went from being a coke dealer to running call centers. And it was a really interesting transition. I decided that I wanted to get out of the coke game. And initially, I thought it was because it was the right thing to do. What I quickly realized is it was all for self-serving gain—the narcissism kicking back in again for sure. I realized what was happening. And I tried going into call centers. I got into the coke game because I was interested in money, power, and status. I then moved to the call center game because I was interested in money, power, and status. The strange thing was when I was involved in the coke game, the people that were buying things off me, they really fucking wanted the coke. Like there was no two ways about it. They wanted it. Nice and simple. In the call center game, I very much doubt that the older and vulnerable people that we were selling dodgy insurance products to really needed what it was that we were offering, especially when the products that we were offering were pretty much the same price that you would pay for a new TV or a new fridge. It was in that moment that I kind of realized that legality is not synonymous with morality. And when I sat there in that moment without any of the shiny badges of honor that I had—all of these things that I thought made me successful—all I was left with was myself. I'd spent twenty-eight years chasing after things that really didn't fucking matter, chasing after things that I didn't even like. I was in a really horrible place. I felt broken. I felt lost. But the only thing that was different in this particular moment is that I felt a certain level of hope, and that little piece of hope came from a space of understanding. I knew who I was. Don't get me wrong, I was not happy with who I was, but I was aware of where I was at. So I had a starting point. Just having that starting point to me was a little glimpse of hope. The fact that I was in the place that I was in, that I felt the way that I did, meant that I wanted to be somebody completely different. And this gave me a choice. It gave me a different option. It allowed me to choose people over things. It allowed me to go into a position where I could empower rather than have power over. This simple, simple thing allowed me to start creating the world that I want to and become a person I actually respect. Thank you.

From Granddad's Back to Man of the House

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.
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