The Incredible Life Story of Nila, Owner of Sari Organik, an Organic Farm right in the Heart of Ubud
Sitting at a table in the open air bamboo construct that is Sari Organik’s Bodag Maliah restaurant, gazing out at the breathtaking natural scenery, I wait patiently for Nila – founder and owner of the innovative organic farm situated so close to the center of town that if you listen carefully you might just be able to hear the words “taxi” and “transport” – to finish up a meeting with one of her employees. In the midst of setting up her company’s third location, a restaurant and central food processing location in Penestanan, Nila undoubtedly has a lot on her plate. However, this is not a woman who is afraid of hard work. Despite simultaneously keeping tabs on her farms and restaurants in Ubud and Kintamani, personally teaching her staff to run the business from the ground up, and monitoring a batch of Salak (snake fruit) wine, Nila is nice enough to spare me a couple hours of her Saturday morning to tell me her story. She hopes to put it in writing herself one day, and hopefully this teaser does justice to what truly is a fascinating tale.
Balinese Childhood https://rupiah138.xn--6frz82g/
Nila was born in a small village in Kintamani, a lush area surrounding Mount Batur in the north of Bali, called Bayun. Her father was a part-time farmer, part-time blacksmith, growing what he could to help feed his family. They lived hand to mouth, and Nila was restlessly unsatisfied. From an early age, she saw the difficulties in the traditional Balinese village lifestyle.
“When I was young, I didn’t want to be Balinese, I didn’t want to become Balinese, and I didn’t want to marry a Balinese man.”
Her dream was to leave Bali for Java and earn enough money to support her family. To do so she first had to save up for the bus and ferry tickets; a daunting task for a 12 year old with very little education. She left Bayun for Singaraja, where she took whatever work she could find. A weaver, a pembantu, a mechanic’s assistant; she was unafraid to tackle any task and became somewhat of a Jill of all trades.
Jaunt Through Java
After a couple years, she had put away enough money to purchase a bus and ferry ticket to Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia. All alone in East Java, she had no job leads. But Nila is a woman guided by intuition. Before she even arrived in the city, she had received a job offer.
“I met a very nice Dutch man on the bus. He asked me if I could take care of a pig, and I said sure, no problem.”
Upon their arrival at his home in Surabaya, Nila was taken upstairs to the second floor of his three-story house.
“I was very surprised because I’d never heard of anyone keeping a pig indoors before. Then he walked me to a crib and showed me his infant child. I was so confused, but I took the job anyways.”
At the time, Nila spoke very little English. The man had said the English word baby and she had heard the Indonesian word for pig, babi. Being unafraid to meet any new challenge, she happily agreed to take care of the pig for him. Luckily for her, the job turned out to be much more enjoyable.
“I worked for the Dutch family for around three years, and my salary was 7,500 Rupiah per month, which, back then, was a lot of money. I was able to save most of it because I lived with them and they provided all my meals.”
She sent most of it back to her family in Bali, but it still wasn’t enough to make a major impact. She took what little money she had left and bought a bus ticket to Malang, a large city nestled in between several volcanoes to the south of Surabaya, to live and work with her uncle in a small mountain village nearby.
“Back then, there weren’t many doctors in small villages in Indonesia. I worked as an assistant to a doctor’s assistant, and I enjoyed the work. It feels good to help people. But I knew that if I was ever going to make enough money to help my family, I needed to go to Jakarta to get a high paying job.”
Working with her uncle helping people in Malang was therapeutic, but it wasn’t lucrative enough to lift her family out of poverty. Nila knew that Jakarta was the only place where she could earn enough to truly do so. After sending the remainder of her money back to her family, she couldn’t afford a bus ticket, so she negotiated an agreement with the bus driver.
“I travelled all around Java with the bus; I helped with the passengers’ luggage and the driver let me travel for free. I ate on the bus, I slept on the bus, I lived on the bus. Whenever we stopped at a restaurant, I cleaned dishes and did whatever work they needed me to do in exchange for food. It was a hard life, but I’m a tough woman, I was able to handle it.”
Jakarta at Last
The long, circuitous journey across Java left her in a bus station in Jakarta broke and alone, but not dispirited. From bus dweller to bus station squatter, Nila kept her chin up and worked as hard as ever, despite living amongst peers who took quite divergent paths.
“Many people lived in and around the bus station. Most of them were thieves, beggars, drunks and gamblers. But there was a big market right next to the station, so there was always work, and I never once thought about stealing. The criminals were my friends, and they didn’t understand why I wouldn’t even steal something as small as an apple, but I told them that as long as I was capable of working I would.”
Life isn’t easy for anyone living on the street. This holds especially true for teenagers. Even more so, this holds true for women.
“The streets of Jakarta were dangerous for a young girl like me, so I pretended to be a boy. I always wore a scarf around my neck and head to cover my adam’s apple, and even though my hair was long, I was able to fool people into thinking I was a boy. I didn’t want anyone to know who I was, so I made up a new name too. I called myself Bali.”
As a child she didn’t want to be Balinese. Instead, she had become Bali.
“I lived in the bus station for three years, doing odd jobs for the warungs (small shops or restaurants). I still didn’t want to spend any of my money though, so I ate whatever food they threw away. When they cut a mango, if there were any leftover pieces, I would eat them.”
Once again proving to be a master of thrift, Nila saved up enough to rent a room with a friend.
“My roommate was a ladyboy, and I was a girl pretending to be a boy. We got along very well.”
Stranger than fiction is the first thing that comes to mind.
One day, Nila wandered upon an international restaurant, and had the urge to work there. She went in and asked the head chef for any available job, telling him that she could work in any part of the restaurant.
“When I lived in the bus station and worked for the warungs, I watched them cook all the time. I learned just from watching. I told the chef that I knew how to cook, and that I was also willing to clean, waitress, and do anything else that he needed me to.”
He asked her for a resume.
“I told him that I was speaking my resume to him right there. He scoffed at me and said that I couldn’t work there unless I had a written resume. The problem was that I didn’t know how to read or write.”
Constantly on the go, working long hours, and living on the street, Nila hadn’t yet been afforded the chance to become literate.
“I was very angry at the chef for not giving me a chance, and upset with myself for not being able to write, but I wasn’t discouraged. I went straight to the market to find materials to use to learn how to read and write. But I still didn’t want to waste my money, so I picked out pieces of paper from the trash and started learning from them.”
Fortunately for Nila, her new roommate was more educated than she. With a little bit of help and a tenacious desire to work in that restaurant, Nila was able to write up a resume in three months.
“I bought three pieces of new paper, wrote my resume on it, and marched straight back to that chef and thrust it in his face. He laughed at my writing, insulted me by calling it chicken scratch, and told me to go away.”
Undeterred, Nila fought for the job she knew she deserved, and was more than capable of performing.
“I started yelling at him. I told him, I can cook, I can clean, I can waitress, I can buy ingredients in the market, I can do whatever you want me to. He didn’t believe me and yelled at me to leave again, but then the owner of the restaurant came in. He liked my intensity, and gave me the chance to back up my claims. His favorite dish was cow-tail soup, and he said if I could make it then I could have a job.”
Now, I don’t condone the dismemberment of cow-tails, but Nila’s ability to impress this man on the spot with no cooking experience other than watching warung chefs in the bus station market deserves praise.
“I said to him, ‘show me where the spices are,’ and he brought me to the spice rack in the kitchen. They were all pre-mixed spice blends in packets and I didn’t know what to do with them. This was my first encounter with processed, fake food, and I didn’t like it right from the start. I asked the owner if I could have 10,000 Rupiah to buy fresh herbs and spices in the market, and he obliged. I came back half an hour later, gave him his change, and cooked him up a delicious cow tail soup. He hired me after the first spoonful.”
Nila worked every job in the restaurant for six years. She learned how to run a restaurant from top to bottom. Soon after starting work, she started living in the restaurant.