A subtle reminder from Pak Made

By Charu Agarwal

Taking a break from indulging in the egocentric melodrama of my life, I decided to push my laptop aside and amuse Pak Made, housekeeper of the beautiful villa we were renting in Ubud.

Whenever he comes by, he never misses an opportunity to pull up a chair next to me and start a conversation. I often tune him out because I’m always busy being busy on my laptop.

Pak Made looked confused. “We don’t understand how foreigners spend all day in front of their laptop. Their life depends on wifi connection! How can they make a living sitting in front of a laptop? For us, earning money means doing hard physcial labour,” he said while flexing his muscles.

How interesting I thought. I never realized how ‘different’ we must all seem to some of the locals in Bali. It’s easy to forget that the world does not appear the same to everyone. Each of us live in our individual versions which we have regarded as the ‘right way.’ In my version, working on a laptop was hard work. In Pak Made’s world that was just ridiculous. Work was hard labor. At that moment, I realized the importance of stepping out of our little world to understand how others view the world.  

As projects lead for MAD, I spend a lot of time searching for communities in need of help. As I attempt to learn about the issues facing communities living in poverty, I’m starting to realize that it’s so easy to assume we know what the ‘disadvantaged’ need in life without actually making the effort to converse with them to really understand their ‘world’.

Very often, we make assumptions on how to ‘fix’ their problems completely on second hand knowledge. We conveniently assume money will solve all problems when the truth is there is a complex combination of factors which keep people poor. As we dig deeper, we are left amazed at how false some of our presumptions have been.

Pak Made reminded me about the importance of stepping back and getting down to the good old-fashioned way of having conversations with people. For a moment I had allowed myself to forget that each and every one of us are different in our own unique ways. One mindset or solution does not fit all. It reaffirmed the importance of visiting disadvantaged communities on my own to understand the nature of the problem as opposed to just reading about it because it’s easier.

Without explicitly stating it, he subtly reminded me that although as people we are all the same (in the end, we all just want to be happy and to be loved), our circumstances and life experiences vary greatly. You can’t possibly help someone, empower them or alter their life trajectory without first understanding them as individuals.