In the middle of the night on September 21st, 2016, a fire broke out at Ricky’s Beach House. The cause of the fire remains unknown, but it sent the beloved Rastafarian-themed guesthouse up in the flames, burning the building to a crisp so that only its shanty, charred frame remained.
Fortunately, no one was hurt in the fire, but losing the beach house was a huge blow to Ricky and the young Indonesian guys who helped run the guesthouse. Nestled in the remote Indonesian village of Nagari Sungai Pinang, Ricky’s Beach House was an eco-tourism project and an economic engine for the entire village. But the monetary loss was inconsequential compared to the spiritual loss, because the real value of Ricky’s was in the warm, inclusive atmosphere it created for travelers. Every night, guests from all corners of the globe would gather under the tin roof while Ricky and the guys did what they do best: play music. Through the beat of a drum and the strum of a guitar, even the most reticent traveler would find their inhibitions shattered. Engulfed in a haze of happiness, travelers would sing along to songs that seem to transcend the barriers of language and culture, laughing and exchanging travel stories as if they were lifelong friends. Without TV or internet, these communal jam sessions were the nightly ritual, creating a micro-community where travelers could candidly and authentically connect. This was a very special place where strangers turned into family.
After the fire, Ricky and the guys didn’t give up. Trusting in friendship, loyalty, honesty, and love (their words, not mine), Ricky’s Beach House was rebuilt in a nearby location, but what was left of the fire remained. I was visiting Nagari Sungai Pinang for the second time last May when my new friend Albina, a lovely girl from Siberia Russia, said she wanted to show me something. I followed her to the former Ricky’s Beach House, and up a set of dilapidated stairs. Everything on the second floor was destroyed by the fire – the roof, walls, and furniture – except for what Albina wanted to show me.
On the only remaining wall panel was a crumpled-up canvas that had miraculously survived the flames. On it was a short statement about family that gave me goosebumps:
It’s as if this canvas was meant to survive the fire as a gentle reminder that even when bad things happen, the love of family endures.
In rural Indonesia, family is everything, and the definition of ‘family’ means much more than just blood relatives. The village of Nagari Sungai Pinang is communally run with an egalitarian ethos, which bonds the community like a family and ensures that everyone takes good care of each other. Because this is their way of life, the people of Nagari Sungai Pinang are exceptionally welcoming, accepting travelers into their homes with open arms and sharing what little they have. These people do not have hot water or iPhones, but they do have an overabundance of love, which ripples and radiates throughout the entire village.
The same philosophy inspires Ricky’s Beach House, where everyone is treated like family from the moment they arrive. For most travelers, including myself, this approach to life and love is a novelty. Coming from a culture where people tend to be competitive, self-serving, judgmental, and fearful of those they don’t understand, being showered in unconditional love by relative strangers isn’t something I was used to, but now I find it incredibly healing.
I think it’s sad that the US, in general, suffers from a stubborn, collective narcissism that makes us adverse to learning from other cultures. We seem to think that because we’re “the greatest country in the world”, we couldn’t possibly learn anything from an impoverished country like Indonesia. But acknowledging and emulating the good in another culture doesn’t invalidate ours or make us weak, it makes us enlightened. No country is perfect, but if there’s one thing we can learn from Indo, it’s how to take good care of each other. Human connection and the sense of belonging is an essential human need, and so many people are deprived of that in our country, despite our overly-luxurious lives. All politics aside, many of the mass shooters of the past decade have had one thing in common: loneliness. If we all focused less on ourselves and more on spreading kindness, exercising altruism, and celebrating love, it would help us become more resilient, trusting, and joyful, just like the guys at Ricky’s Beach House.
I think of Nagari Sungai Pinang and the family I found there every day, with the words of Albina echoing in my head: “Even if we’re 10,000 miles away from here, we can have peace in our hearts knowing that places like this exist.” And that’s exactly what I hold onto each and every day.