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Putu, Iluh, Komang and Surya are a group of very strong women helping people from other countries to establish a business in Bali. With their successful lives, their families and friends have come to depend on them. Their western style of working like a bule – a foreigner, has not affected their traditional Hindu way of life. On the contrary, they are devout in practicing their belief, despite becoming outsiders within their community when they break the rules. Life has not always been easy and although they have their dreams, new hurdles keep coming.

Being a Balinese Hindu woman means being disciplined every single day, taking care of business, of the family and of the ceremonies.

Putu Suarniasih, from waitress to villa manager & broker.

Putu Suarniasih, 33, remembers from a young age how her family opened their doors to Javanese people coming to Bali for the first time looking for a job and she wanted to carry on this good work.

“My parents supported me in my basic tourist education in Amlapura, East Bali, a 30 minute drive from Amed. To save travel costs I stayed with a family there, but they treated me like their babu, a maid, and I had to work very hard, even on a Sunday. When my parents found out they helped me to find some other girls to share a room with so I could continue my study in the city,” she explained.

By the time she was 20, Suarniasih had started as a waitress in Hotel Uyah, one of the first hotels in Amed, where she quickly outgrew her position. As she was good at making contact with guests and solved problems efficiently, she was swiftly awarded several promotions.

Mother and son weddinganniversary

Putu and her son Gede dressed up for her 5th wedding anniversary.

When guests fall in love with Bali, she is very helpful with allowing them realise their dreams of staying and doing business in Amed.

“After sorting out all the necessary information and papers, I first became the manager of Villa Sinar Cinta. After years of experience I now also manage two other villas and have started as a local broker. This entails helping people in Amed who want to sell their land, as I know my way around the legal system and can help newcomers with their properties,” Suarniasih explains.

Everything starts with Gede, I do everything for my son.

Recently, Suarniasih finished building a second home next to her family’s compound; Manis Homestay will be for her son Gede, who is now twelve years old. The land was recently given to him by his paternal grandfather. Putu regretted becoming the second wife of her Balinese husband so she decided to divorce him after a couple of months, but by that time she was already pregnant.

“Gede was born on August 8, 2002 and I still remember when the trouble began and I had to fight to keep him. The family of my ex-husband wanted to take my son away and I remember the exact date very clearly because the next day the bombs went off in Kuta. As desperate as I was to keep Gede, I ran to the beach and threatened to throw him into the sea, but thankfully by way of compromise I was allowed to keep him,” remembered Suarniasih.

Often other Balinese women turn to Suarniasih for advice on how to be a single parent or how to find a foreign husband.  Five years ago, she married a Norwegian man so Gede now has a stepfather who treats him as his own.

“If I chose another Balinese man, his family would never accept my son. At first my mother was really upset with me when I married a man from a foreign land, because she was afraid that I would move to Norway and leave my family behind. This, I will never do,” she said.

“I would really like Gede to have a good education. With the help of a sponsor from the USA I was able study at University and graduated as a teacher a few years ago. Gede wants to be a teacher in the future so I need to stay independent, earn my own money and support him.”

Ni luh Kardiani, from selling home made cookies to warung owner.

Ni Luh Kardiani, 35, came to Amed from Abang, a small village near Amlapura, when she was 16 years old.

“I was born near to the slopes of Mount Agung,” she said as she laughed very loudly while customers walked into her warung. The coastline of Amed is cluttered with warungs and restaurants, but Kardiani did the unthinkable as a local newcomer and within just a few months of opening she managed to get Warung Ole to the top of the Tripadvisor list.

Standing in front of her restaurant she invited people in telling them to try her food and if they didn’t like it they didn’t have to pay.

“My customers all tried and loved my food and they keep coming back again and again. I only use fresh and natural ingredients, especially local produce from Bali,” explained Kardiani.

Iluh owner Warung Ole

Iluh welcoming customers to come in and try her food at Warung Ole.

During the time I spent talking with Kardiani, her younger brother called to tell her that their mother’s health was deteriorating quickly and very sadly she died 4 days later.

“My mother was very old and when she married my father who was much younger; he was her second husband. No one believed that they could have children but their strong faith prevailed and my brother and I were born. My father was a farmer and he loved animals and tried to help others as much as possible – he is my inspiration in life,” Kardiani noted.

To pay for her transport to school she got up every morning at 3am and sold her home made cakes at the market. When she was 16 years old she started as a trainee in the kitchen and soon after, she was employed in one of the restaurants on the beach in Amed.

After 18 years of working long hours with multiple duties, she decided it was time to realise her own dream. She met the owners of Freediving and Yoga in Amed, who were looking for a new business space and they convinced her to go in with them and work together. With a loan from the bank Kardiani leased a piece of land and built a property. Now she has her own restaurant and she rents out an office – and a meeting space to Freediving and Yoga, who in turn recommend that their new customers eat at Warung Ole!

“When I was a little girl I wanted to be a nurse but my parents could not pay for my education. My hope now is for my children to receive the education they need, while I teach them to save for their own future. My son Gede works at my warung whenever he can, so one day he can study to be a doctor,” she announced proudly.

Komang Sulastini, from architect to property developer.

Komang Sulastini, 31, is one of the few female architects in Bali who graduated from the University of Udayana. She has an office in Denpasar with two of her former classmates and her friends all call her a workaholic, but to her, working hard is a normal way of life. As the youngest child with two older brothers she was very lucky that her parents never pushed her to do anything she didn’t want to do. Although everyone in Indonesia is expected to be married by the age of 31, this isn’t an issue at Sulastini’s home.

“I love drawing, but my biggest dream is to become a developer. My idol is Mr. Ciputra who is the most famous developer in Indonesia. Did you know that with government assignments there’s an agreement in Indonesia, that if you develop for wealthy people you also must develop for poorer people too? That’s what I like to see, better quality housing for everyone with no danger of flooding or any other problems,” Sulastini said.

She has her own properties in Tabanan and Sanur where she rents out rooms and she also works a freelance broker for land and housing.

“My mother taught me how to negotiate. Whenever I have a meeting with local people I bring her for good luck; she always begins with the small talk and my clients like her,” said Sulastini.

“Making money is not my main goal in life. My father told me to increase my knowledge and to build on contacts already made, money can always be found,” Sulastini’s father is a retired engineer who worked for The Bali Beach Hotel in Sanur.

Best friends wedding

Komang (right) at the wedding of one of her best friends.

When she started working as a junior architect she gained a lot of experience working with her seniors and also with the Dutch architect, Hans Witt. The best lessons she learned were to be on time and to have discipline.

BaLi is ironically called Banyak Libur’ by insiders which means many holidays, but people visit because Bali is beautiful and many newcomers love it also. Her best tips on doing business in Bali are:

  1. Learn Bahasa Indonesia, if you want to do good business here.
  2. Please respect our culture. We have ceremonies that make us unique and there’s always a solution for getting the work done on other days.
  3. Draw up an contract and double check all your business details.
  4. Don’t think cheap is good! If you pay in peanuts you get monkey! Find a good contractor by looking at samples of his work and checking with his previous clients.
  5. Prepare for rubber time. We call it jam karet as in time can be flexible. If you need it in three months start preparing six months earlier.

Ni Nengah Suryaningsih, from babysitter to one of the first ever beach vendors.

Ni Nengah Suryaningsih, 48, was one of the first vendors on the beach in Seminyak 25 years ago. She has seen many changes here after leaving East Bali when she was a young girl.

“My grandmother was a good businesswoman on the market near my village, Pidpid in Karangasem. When I was 16 she told me to go away and look for a future in another place, as she could not see me living on the farm taking care of the animals,” remembered Suryaningsih.

“So I went to live with my uncle in Lombok and also did school there. After two years I moved to Tabanan where I worked in the Bata shoe shop and with the money I earned, I paid for a six month English course. I then went to Kuta because I was told that with all the tourists arriving there I could get a good job,” said Suryaningsih.

“In Kuta I took on as many jobs as I could get. I was babysitter to a German lady’s child, then I met a man from Seminyak, we married and I began to have children of my own. As a mother and wife and with all my duties for the local community, I could not work for a boss anymore so I started my own warung on the beach in 1991.”

“At that time the army controlled all business and I got my licence from them. Now I have the licence from the local banjar community. At first the beach was empty, no hotels, no restaurants, but soon the new hotels came, new rules came and they tried to push me out,” she said.

Surya Seminyak Beach

Surya in front of her ocean in Seminyak.

After 15 years of marriage everything began to fall apart for Suryaningsih, she gave her husband everything, including a car, money and most importantly their three sons. He eventually left her for another woman and she did not cope well with this. One night a group of women came on the beach to pray to the Gods under the full moon and saw her lying on the ground.

“They said, ‘What are you doing? Don’t throw your life away. You are not the only person in the world to be hurt. Scream to the ocean what you want.’ I remember thinking, I don’t want to be a loser, so I stood up and screamed to the ocean: ‘I want to be a winner’,” Suryaningsih exclaimed.

“Not long after this a new guest came from Holland and he kept coming back again to look for me on the beach. We fell in love and we married 8 years ago and we now have a son Daniel, who is 7 years old. We raise him as a Hindu and also my new husband is Hindu.”

Although most of Suryaningsih’s sons are already adults, she still watches over them. Her oldest son was involved in a very serious motor accident and was taken to the hospital. She sold as much as she could to pay for the hospital bills. That’s when she realised that it’s important to have insurance and now works part-time for an insurance company to give her some extra income and also to have insurance for all the family members.

 We are not poor, we are not rich, but we are happy

“Life has to be an adventure. When I married my second husband my mother did not agree because she was afraid I would leave my family behind. I’m still here on the beach near the ocean, where everyone can find me every time they come back to Bali. Here they can enjoy my warung, sleep on a sun bed, drink fresh coconut juice, enjoy my food and watch the wonderful sunset at the end of the day,” said a content Suryaningsih.

What we learn from East and West?

When asking the women what they have learned from people from other countries, they all said the same thing, “being on time and be disciplined.” Looking at their lives and the choices they have made it’s clear that they already had the drive to become winners. Being a Balinese Hindu woman means being disciplined every single day, taking care of business, of the family and of the ceremonies. As charming and polite as they can be, don’t be fooled by first appearances because once challenged or threatened, they will show they are very streetwise and strong.

What is the downside of tourism and progress in Bali?

Putu: “People who don’t work in tourism have to pay high prices for food which used to be much cheaper. Life can be especially hard when they are poor or unemployed.”

Iluh: “The coastline of Amed is getting really full with buildings and it’s not as green with nature as it used to be.”

Komang: “In Bali, we say you have to have good and bad, these are two sides to the coin. We are making more progress than the other Indonesian islands but we still have to teach equal rights for men and women otherwise how can we progress as a country?”

Surya: “There is more crime and more people are using drugs in the Seminyak area. I’m afraid to go out in the evening alone.”

  • Martine Laurens

    Wow, I’m impressed by the stories of these very strong and creative Balinese Women. How inspiring!