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Behind beautiful pictures: do the locals enjoy it the way people do?

Meet Bo'a beach, a hidden gem in Rote Ndao, East Nusa Tenggara. White sand, clear water, and a quiet atmosphere (yes, it's rather empty and you will barely meet any other tourists - for now). You can enjoy the beach however you like. A perfect place to spend your day off and post some pics on your Insta feed, right? Indonesia is blessed by bountiful resources and beautiful places (even though "most" global citizens thought "Indonesia = Bali"). You can find endless pictures of people smiling on their selfies in various tourism places all around the country. Unfortunately, in some places, the locals could not really smile as brightly because they are still struggling to make ends meet.


Hello, Bambang here! Today I want to share one of my experiences in a community development project. It's not a continuation of my previous 2 posts. I know I promised to continue the series, but worry not! This story is still related to sustainability. I have this sudden urge to want to go snorkeling... taking a nap on a hammock under the shade of palm trees... but I'm stuck at home! So I figured writing this story might help my yearning for going to a beach. In January 2020 (before the pandemic strikes the globe), I joined a short project in Bo'a Village, East Nusa Tenggara. Apparently, the village was quite famous among global surfers. It's not as popular as Bali, but the waves were challenging enough (or so they said) and it's not crowded with people. The tourists can... connect more with nature. There were more international tourists than domestic ones that visited Bo'a. Despite this, the locals were (are) struggling economically. This just doesn't make sense for me, at least at first. One of my jobs there was to map out the challenges faced by the locals. It's not exactly my forte, but oh well, it's a good chance to learn new things. So, why not (?). After doing some digging by interviewing some people, I realized that the situation is very complex. Keep in mind that, again, the things I want to tell you are highly anecdotal. Don't expect meticulous cross-referenced, peer-reviewed research result and the likes. BE WARNED! The first issue comes from the geographical factor. Indonesia is an archipelagic country. Developing small islands pose great hurdles, especially in logistics and infrastructure constructions. This is what happened in Bo'a. To access good quality healthcare, the locals often had to travel to Rote (the center of the island, 3-4 hours by motorbike), or even crossing the sea to Kupang (the capital of the province, 1.5 hours by flight). Once you're struck by a slightly serious health problem, then you'd better be prepared to spend a lot. On top of that, there were still frequent blackouts. You could expect it every 1-3 days, and it might last for almost half a day. It was (is) quite a big deal because it also affected how quickly the food perished. The local's diet consists primarily of seafood, so sometimes the males had to go fishing (even though they were not mainly working as fishermen) to keep the stoves on for a single day per trip.

There was a single unit of hybrid solar-wind power generator for the village. But... guess what? Yup, it's not really functional. The generator is not maintained and monitored well. It took several weeks just to wait for the technicians to fix up a problem to only then be broken again in a couple of days. Can you see a lot of money wasted on the picture below? Ugh... I can feel the frustration.

The next set of problems stem from education and quote-unquote "unregulated capitalism". Most of the locals were blue-collar workers. The lack of knowledge related to tourism, management, and entrepreneurship kept them stuck as low-income households. A majority of the men worked as construction workers and seasonal fishermen. The women also had very limited options of work: doing dishes, laundry, or cooking. There was only a handful few (mostly males) worked as guides on tourist resorts, but that's it. There was no local-owned resort on Bo'a, and most of them belonged to people of foreign nationality (non-Indonesian). Where does the money go from the tourists? The resort owners. The locals themselves had really no choice over the matter. At the end of the day, most of the locals had to work several jobs, yet that will only make the bare minimum wage (about IDR 2 mil / USD 140 a month). They are blessed with the beauty of nature, but their lives are not as beautiful.

"There are 7 tourism resorts here now. 6 of them are owned by foreign people (non-Indonesian). We don't know the process. Suddenly, they already have ownership of the land. There might be over 3,000 hectares of land owned by them. Oftentimes, they bring along workers from outside. All the while the people here are still struggling economically. We could not do much."

This is more or less the excerpt of the call between me and the Bo'a village chief (whose identity I rather not disclose) last January. Now that I revisit this memory, my heart breaks again. Partly is because of the harsh reality of the world. The other part is on realizing that this might not just be a single-story: this story might be the same for another part of Indonesia. I think I have to wrap up the blog now. I̶ ̶s̶h̶o̶u̶l̶d̶ ̶h̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶j̶u̶s̶t̶ ̶c̶o̶n̶t̶i̶n̶u̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶e̶r̶i̶e̶s̶.̶ ̶N̶o̶w̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶S̶u̶n̶d̶a̶y̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶g̶l̶o̶o̶m̶y̶.̶ I honestly can spend more time talking about this experience, but it will be a very long blog post. So, see you next Sunday!

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