Padangbai, Bali – Indonesia
The taxi drivers were always calling to me even though they saw me everyday on the streets. Eventually I would actually need the services of one of the drivers.
I needed to reach the other side of the island and the I was going to need the help of a driver for part of the trip. I approached the group of drivers and told them where I wanted to go. They quoted me a price. Of course, the first price is always ridiculous. It’s the standard in Indonesia: everything must be bargained. So we went back and forth for a while. I pitted the drivers against each other so they could bid on my trip. Without too much hassle, I eventually got the price I wanted.
The next day I left for my destination. The driver met me on time as promised. His English wasn’t great but it was good enough for us to converse to some degree.
“Where are you from?” He asked me.
“Canada.” I replied.
“Ohhh.. Canada. Rich country.” He replied and gave a smile.
“Yeah.. I guess it is.” I replied sheepishly. I felt a bit ashamed to say I was from a rich country. At home, we often talk about being rich in comparison to low income earners. But of course, to Indonesians, Canada in general is all rich.
“What you doing for work back home?” He asked me another question.
I told him I had left my job back home and wasn’t working right now. He nodded in acknowledgement. I felt a tang of guilt as the words came out of mouth. I have always recognized that traveling is an extreme privilege. One that is most accessible to first worlders. Not only do I have that privilege, I even have the privilege to leave my job, to go travel. And I can do this when millions of others would do anything for a job. A guilty conscience creeped in.
Our conversation moved to his family and life. I learned that he was one of the few Indonesians that didn’t smoke. He said he does it for his family. He needed the money to support his family and to be in good health. I admired that, especially when nearly all Indonesians smoke… and they tend to smoke a lot.
I learned about how much money he needs to support his family. About $8/day. That is a lot considering in the low season he doesn’t get a job everyday. He may be lucky to get a job every few days. He had 2 children and a wife. His wife didn’t work and I forgot to ask why.
“Life is difficult in Bali. Lots of people struggle. ” He said it with somewhat of a resigned smile. People. People like him.
We made a few other comments as my thoughts digested what he told me. This was the most prosperous part of Indonesia and I bet the majority still struggled. Despite the money tourism has brought, millions of people were fighting for the piece of the pie. As annoying as getting harassed by taxi drivers and other sellers is, I can never get too annoyed at them. They just want to get ahead like the rest of us.
Simple conversations always help bring things in perspective; everything from the privileges of life to the opportunities of the future.