Probably the least inspiring place on beautiful Bali is Kuta Beach: Highly touristic with all side-effects as a deplorable result; a polluted beach, red burnt and drunken Aussies in a Karaoke Bar, prostitution, no room for authentic culture or nature – and the continued fear for another bomb attack that would undo Bali’s current source of income and identity. And then these vendors - omnipresent! Young children, teenagers and mothers with children selling plastic toys, refrozen ice creams, illegal cd and dvd’s, helmets (what would I need a helmet for?) and henna tattoo’s. "No, leave me alone" – the overheated tourist would scream almost desperate. But they will keep following you. “Hello Sir, look, look, cheap, cheap!”
Sal, an Italian born in Belgium, and Francien, a Dutch lady from Moluccan background spend several months per year in a very basic guesthouse in Kuta. These sellers on the beach are actually the reason why they keep coming back for almost 20 years. They have become their friends and family over the years.
“It is all in the way you look at people” explains Francien. When I came here 20 years ago for the first time we celebrated new year on the beach. There was a group of young boys sitting together, wearing old clothes, but having a lot of fun - they could be my sons. When I looked at them, I became curious. I wanted to hear their story. So, these boys, 8 to 10 years old, told me how their families had sent them from neighboring islands such as Lombok to Bali with the mission to earn income for the poor parents and siblings. Vending lighters, banana’s, scarfs made them feel proud, because they could fulfill their expected role as oldest son in the family. At the same time these street vendors were vulnerable, with the beach as their home, the sand as their bed and the sky as their roof. Sal and Francien have since spent every day in Kuta with these boys. Helping them earning more money and sometimes supporting them financially. Literally building up homes for them – repainting the walls of their shelters when needed. Being a father and a mother to them, caring for them, seeing them and listening to them. Now these boys are all grown up men, with their own little family. Proud that they can run their own little shop, offer a home to their wife and school for the children. And still supporting the family back in Lombok. When Sal and Francien walk around in Kuta beach they will also be stopped by street vendors every minute, but they will be called ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ and they will get a big hug and fried banana’s for free.
For Sal and Francien the months back home in the Netherlands are spent saving and fundraising for "their children" on Bali. Family and friends contribute. As a ‘thank you’ for this Sal and Francien sent around a new years card every year. “I hate to say that last year I chose that one picture of the crippled girl in an orphanage for the card; but such picture will convince people to donate – and it worked. This year I want to do it differently. I hope to find a way that I can share the hope, the proud and the dreams of these men and their families. Again: It is all in the way you look at people!