From Bali to Holland… With Love

One October morning, Jebeh Nyoman Yanti walked along Sanur Beach, as she did every morning with her friends, looking for customers to bring back to the market stalls. Little did this 20-year-old Balinese beach-seller know that this would be the day that would change her life forever.

We live in Holland, and on that wonderfully fateful day when we met Jebeh on the beach, we were enjoying our second holiday in Bali. Jebeh smiled at us but she didn’t stop. She told us later that she’d been on her way to get some breakfast and then something, “Maybe the gods”, told her to go back. Sparked by an equally astonishing intuition, my wife and I decided to invite the Balinese girl to a restaurant. My first question to her was, “What is your dream in life?” Jebeh replied, quite simply, “I want to study”. My wife and I looked at one another and knew without words that this was going to be the day that would also change our lives.

Over the remainder of our holiday, we befriended Jebeh. We were struck by her outgoing personality, intelligence and thirst for knowledge, and we swapped addresses. When we returned to Holland we exchanged numerous letters in the post and arranged for Jebeh to telephone us, ‘call collect’, every month. Long talks followed, despite the fact that Jebeh’s English was limited. We returned to Bali the following May, bringing a second-hand laptop to encourage Jebeh to correspond with us by e-mail. It was surprise visit, but to our amazement Jebeh was waiting for us at our hotel with flowers, having dreamed the night before that we were coming. The goal of this holiday was to discuss the possibility of educating Jebeh in Holland; we had already made enquiries about a four-year ‘International Hospitality Management’ Bachelor programme at CHN University in Leeuwarden, suitable for foreign students and conducted in English. We had shown copies of Jebeh’s school certificates to the principal and had been told she was almost certainly capable, but would need to pass the IELTS (International English Language Test System) to be eligible.

Jebeh’s parents were proud that we wanted to help and take care of their daughter. They survived on a meagre income from their small warung, selling cigarettes, beer, soft drinks, cake and snacks. They didn’t even have a fridge and had to bring blocks of ice by motorbike in order to keep the drinks cool; they certainly couldn’t afford any education fees. Meanwhile, to us, middle-aged and with no children of our own, the brave-spirited Jebeh was already beginning to feel like a daughter.

We paid for Jebeh to take a three-month English course in Bali with eighteen other local students. In between her studies, she fulfilled her duties at home, waking at 6 a.m. to do her share of the housework; while at the same time maintaining her beach job and doing an evening stint at the warung, and she still managed to come top of her class. Two months later she passed her IELTS test with sufficient marks to be accepted on a preparation course in Holland which, if successfully accomplished, would qualify her for university.

The arrangements were made and twenty months after we’d first met Jebeh, I flew back to Bali to collect her. I brought with me a VCR player for her family, so that I could send them home-video tapes of her progress. This beautiful Balinese family filled the table with food and made me very welcome, and then they all came to the airport to see Jebeh off to her new life. It was very emotional for everyone, but I promised that my wife and I would bring Jebeh back to Bali every year for a holiday.

Although nervous, Jebeh was amazed by her first plane journey and the banner and balloon reception at Amsterdam. She now had two-and-a-half months to get used to life in the tiny twin-villages of Oppenhuizen & Uitwellingerga, where we live, before beginning her course. At first she found the food very strange, she didn’t like cheese and only enjoyed eating bread with chocolate. Nevertheless, the plucky twenty-two-year-old embraced her new challenges, and proved to be very good at adjusting to wearing shoes, drinking tap water, riding a bicycle on the specially-designed cycle-paths and stopping at red traffic lights. She was touched by how friendly everybody was in the village, and fascinated by the black and white dairy cows that were milked and fed by machines. She appreciated the dishwasher and relished hot baths. Jebeh did her nine-month preparation course with twenty-three other foreigners; only five of them passed. Jebeh was the only one accepted for the International Hospitality Management course and won an award for being the best student. Meanwhile she had to adapt to her first cold winter, she learnt to ice-skate on the frozen canal, went skiing in Austria, and enjoyed the warmth of the traditional wood-burner. During Jebeh’s first year of International Hospitality Management she passed all the modules and was the only one in her group to achieve the ‘propedeuse’ (certificate for the foundation year). A few months later, she learned that she had earned a scholarship of two thousand euros. Only two students got this, Jebeh was the second-best of nine-hundred international students. She can hardly believe that she is doing so well in a course that appears to be one of the finest of its kind in the world, studying subjects that include tourism, retail management and teacher training.

Ever mindful of her roots, Jebeh has also been involved in fundraising efforts for the education of children in the remote Balinese mountain village of Cegi, from where her father originated. This also initiated an exchange programme between the children of Cegi and the Dutch children of the Oppenhuizen & Uitwellingerga Elementary School. The youngsters exchange stories and drawings, and Jebeh translates their letters, thereby creating awareness about the simple and harsh lives of the Balinese mountain children.

Jebeh’s Balinese smile cheers all of the customers at the sports complex where she works part-time. Her earnings have enabled her parents to complete their new house and she is paying for her younger brother’s education. She is fluent in English and Dutch, and speaks the Frisian dialect while regularly impressing us and our friends by preparing sumptuous Balinese feasts.

We cannot now imagine life without her, she is so self-assured. Our Dutch friends often ask her what it feels like to have two families, and she always replies, “Great, I’ve got a lot of love”. Sometimes she still gets scared that she might disappoint us, but she could never disappoint us because we can see just hardworking and ambitious she is. So far, there have never been any misunderstandings or disagreements; she brings so much joy and happiness to our house. If we had to do it all over again, with a snap of our fingers, we would.

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