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Unseen workers of Bali: People who ensure your trip is Insta-perfect

Sydney Morning Herald - October 4, 2019

Amilia Rosa, Denpasar – Every year, millions of holidaymakers flock to Bali for its white sandy beaches, lush green paddy fields, cultural wonders and friendly people.

To create that picture-perfect holiday, many labour behind the scenes. These unseen workers of paradise earn just a trickle of the holiday dollar.

While holidaying, thousands enjoy the white sands of Kuta Beach. A group of locals have been keeping a two-kilometre stretch of Kuta Beach clean for the last 10 years, starting early in the morning before the tourists wake up.

Wayan Sarta and 14 colleagues from the village of Kuta were first funded by Coca Cola a decade ago to clean the beach daily.

"We used to start at 6am, but now we start at 7am and work eight hours a day. Coca Cola paid us $100 a month and Kuta village added $30," said Wayan Sarta.

"I have two children, 17 and 15 years old, $130 a month is nowhere near enough. We eat tempeh and tofu most days, the occasional eggs and – if we're lucky – chicken. When money is tight (which is all the time), my children's school fees get paid late."

The minimum wage in Denpasar, the most affluent and expensive area of the nine regencies in Bali, is about 2.5 million Rupiah ($250) per month. That figure is lower than the minimum wage of 4 million rupiah ($400) in the province of Jakarta, but relatively high compared to other Indonesian provinces.

Rent for a single room in Denpasar and the surrounding areas starts at about $40 to $70 a month and the cheapest nasi bungkus (a single-portion takeout meal wrapped inside banana leaf or paper) costs about 50 cents.

Made Riani, another Kuta Beach cleaner, said: "We get to care for nature while working. It's good, but we would like it if we can get health protection. I hope the government or Coca Cola can hear us. My colleague stepped on a nail a few months ago [and] she had to pay 500,000 rupiah ($50) for the hospital bill. That's a lot of money for us."

Armed with just rakes and gloves, they manually clean the beach. It is not an easy task when the wet season flushes rubbish from the waterways onto the beach and winds blow it back, covering the sand.

"The work is pretty light these days. But soon, the wet windy season will start and for four months rubbish will cover the beaches," says Wayan Sarta. "The government sends another 1000 workers to help the 15 of us clean."

Tourism is Bali's major employer, creating entry-level opportunities for the young, but at the unskilled end of the spectrum, remuneration is minuscule.

Arriving at the airport, many tourists are greeted with a warm smile and "Welcome to Bali" by a girl who places a frangipani chain around their neck. The necklace will soon wilt and the girl will soon be forgotten as tourists rush to start their holiday.

Wayan Ani from Karangasem in the north of Bali is one of the frangipani girls, working at Ngurah Rai Bali International Airport. She earns $35 a week, working every day.

"All we have to do is smile, place the frangipani necklace and say, 'Welcome to Bali'. I like working here, it's relaxing," says Wayan Ani. "Every day, we would welcome hundreds of tourists."

"I am not married, I live with my boss; what I earn is enough for me," she says with a smile.

Some of the tourists Wayan Ani greets will make their way to luxurious villas and hotels adjacent to, and increasingly encroaching on, brilliant green rice fields surrounding towns such as Ubud and Canggu.

The views of the lush fields are a major selling point for these establishments, but the farmers working the fields earn less in a year than the cost of one week in a mid-level villa.

74-year-old Wayan Roja from Canggu knows only farming, like many generations of his family before him. He manages a 5000-square-metre rice field that is overlooked by a luxury villa complex and restaurant.

"I've been a farmer since forever, just like my parents. I don't own the land, I just work on it. We share the profit after each harvest. One third for the landowner, two thirds for me. I come up with the capital for the crops [seeds and fertiliser]. I could earn $600 to $1,000 every harvest [every three months].

"How could that be enough? I grow vegetables, chilli, spinach in a side garden. Anything so I don't have to buy it."

With the rapid development in Canggu, it may be a matter of time before the owner sells the land Wayan Roja works to make way for another group of villas or a boutique hotel.

The unseen workers of paradise are often the first casualties of its change and success.

"I don't know what I will do if the owner sells or builds on the land," says Wayan Roja. "My children will have to support me. I don't know if they can feed me or not."

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/unseen-workers-of-bali-people-who-ensure-your-trip-is-insta-perfect-20190925-p52uzm.html