January 27, 2011 at 6:26 PM (crafts, life, people) (, , , )

I’ve mentioned my friend/assistant, Nik, before.  But I didn’t really tell you about her.  Well, now I will:  she is absolutely amazing!  And being Balinese makes her even more so.

The first thing you need to know is how very difficult it is to find a Balinese craftsperson who actually does more than one single thing;  a woodcarver, for instance, may carve only statues of Ganesha (the Hindu God of Knowledge) — for his entire lifetime.  Why?  Well, if you were to ask him, he would tell you that is the knowledge/skill that was passed down to him by his father, and his father’s father, etc., etc., and that is what he does.  The same goes for most painters, artists, weavers, carpenters, stonemasons, etc.   So trust me when I say that to find someone who will even attempt something new is a rare treasure.  (It’s not their fault, and I’m not trying to give a negative impression about them — it’s simply a fact).  My personal theory on that issue stems from the very tightly-knit communal lifestyle of the Balinese/Indonesian cultures – but that’s another whole story which I post about in my other blog.



This is Nik. I give her materials, and she gives me creations.




So Nik is essentially a true “diamond in the rough”, just learning to spread her wings, use her imagination, and create!  When I met her two years ago, she came to interview for a job in our shop.  She was quite personable, and seemed eager to learn new things.  We knew she certainly had the potential to be special, as evidenced by the fact that she and some friends already own and manage their own shop.  The four ladies had worked together (here in Ubud) for a global brand name outfit, but opted out with the severance package when regional managers wanted to move them to a different store on another part of the island.  So they pooled their severance money and opened a shop selling traditional Balinese dress  (that shop is still up and running).   Needless to say, we hired her.

Initially, we just wanted to find out if she was interested/curious enough to learn all the background information about our products. … you know, the materials used, little stories about different pieces, how to use them, and so on.  She had it down in three weeks — she could tell anyone everything about any given product.  I started to show her how I made some of the ornaments and she wanted to try!  Her attempts resulted in successes.  After that, there was no stopping her.  Every time I’ve introduced her to a new technique, design or idea, she runs with it.  And the best thing is that she and I are on the same wavelength.  Which is not to say that we produce the same output.  Where I approach things with a Western mindset, Nik comes at it from a Balinese viewpoint.  Sometimes we meld and blend the two.  We work well together, and it gives me great pleasure to provide learning opportunities for such a wonderful and giving friend.

A bit of Nik’s personal background is in order here, too (with her permission, of course).  Her father is a rice farmer (but didn’t own his own land), so the family was quite poor.  Btw, poor in this part of the world is not unlike the poor one sees in Africa.  There were many days when she would come home from school and go work in the ricefield with her dad so she could catch some dragonflies in an attempt to stave off the hunger (this is true stuff here).  Her parents could not afford to send her to school (they must pay to attend), so at the tender age of 6 this remarkable young woman got a job to learn woodcarving.  In this way, she put herself through school and graduated high school.  (When we met her, she was working to support the family and to pay for her two younger brothers to attend and finish school).  Nik somehow always understood that she must take every opportunity to learn, and so was a voracious reader – books, magazines, newspapers, brochures, whatever .. if it was in print and she could get her grubby little hands on it, she read it.  She now speaks Japanese, Chinese, German and Dutch conversationally; Indonesian, Balinese and English fluently.

You know, I could probably go on for far too long telling you about my friend.  But the truth is, so many people  don’t understand what life is like for the indigenous peoples of third-world countries,  and Nik’s life story is not unique by any means.  What makes her so special to me is what lengths she has gone to to rise up out of the ashes of utter destitution.  She is self-reliant, incredibly resourceful, intelligent, truly caring and totally sincere.  She lacks the polish of the young sophisticate, but her gentle and loving soul positively outshines most.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: