GT of Month Rukiya McNair of Bali
By Chantal Blake
When Rukiya McNair dove into life abroad, there was little that could’ve held her back. She left behind her job, car, possessions, and love interest to pursue a year overseas in Jakarta. Her last paycheck bought her plane ticket and her relationship with Indonesia began in 2007. Life on the archipelago was at times fascinating and frustrating. But somehow, seven years later, she returned with her family though opting for the more scenic Bali over the urban jungle of Jakarta. This time around she didn’t leave behind her job—she transported her fair trade and handmade fashion boutique, Culture Cloz, and plans to open doors for business on September 1st. With a newly found network of support and renewed sense of vision, Rukiya offers her insights to others considering the move to Indonesia.
What was your first impression of Indonesia?
Well, I taught English in Jakarta for a year and that was my very first experience with Indonesia. I’m not crazy about Jakarta and it took me a while to get used to things, but what made the experience for me was the friends that I made and the people I met. I really like teaching and I like Indonesia in general. It’s beautiful with a great diversity of people and landscapes like volcanoes, rice patties, lakes, oceans, etc. Traveling around Indonesia is also very cost effective when compared to the United States.
How does Indonesia compare to other places you’ve lived?
I’ve lived in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the continental United States, so one major difference is the lower cost of living. Also, the peaceful atmosphere, the diversity of landscapes and the ability to travel to other countries so easily. From Indonesia you can visit Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and other parts of Southeast Asia. There is so much to see and do here. In Bali alone, you can go snorkeling, horseback riding, see cultural dances, travel to neighboring islands, visit temples, relax on the beach, take cooking lessons, attend jewelry making classes, hike volcanoes, go dolphin watching and, of course, there’s plenty of opportunities for yoga, meditation and more.
What motivated you to relocate your business from Pittsburgh to Bali?
Well, the truth is that Pittsburgh, much like other cities, is going through a gentrification process. Where my store was located was affected by this. As a result, I was uncomfortable with the way myself and the local residents were treated by the police in particular. As a business owner I did not feel safe nor did I feel comfortable having a storefront in the East Liberty area. I moved back to Pittsburgh so my children could be close to my family but my business suffered because I wasn’t happy there. Ubud, where I am now, is different than Pittsburgh and is an especially great place for entrepreneurs. A lot of expatriates start businesses here, including men and women of color. Everyone has their own thing going. Most of them own businesses via the internet or work remotely for different jobs.
How have you been received as a family of color in Bali?
Local people are curious, so the experience has been what I expected it to be. To be honest, most of the negative treatment we receive here is from Caucasian expatriates and tourists. Regardless, I’m happy and my children are happy here as well.
Were there any unique challenges you faced opening a business in Bali?
Just your typical paperwork—nothing too different from the United States. You have to register your business and establish it. So far, everything seems very similar but my business is not fully open yet. In the Brothas & Sistas in Indonesia group I started, there are other business owners like yoga instructors, consultants, and fashion designers but I don’t know any others in retail like myself. When it comes to business, the people here don’t see my color, they just see an American with American dollars.
Would you recommend Indonesia as a welcoming country for other people of color?
It depends on what part of Indonesia. Jakarta? Absolutely not. But Bali? Sure! For families, it’s a wonderful place because there’s so much to see here and on the nearby islands. There are 17,000 islands in the archipelago and people live on several thousand of them. Here in Bali, you have western amenities, decent clinics and hospitals, and you can find things that you’re used to from back home. There are also many attractions like the Monkey Forest, Bird Park, Safari Park, etc.
What advice would you give to new or soon-to-be expats in Indonesia?
My first piece of advice is to learn the language because that will help a great deal. People seem to open up when you speak Bahasa Indonesia to them. Like going to any place, be open-minded and don’t be afraid to try new things. There’s so much to see and do here. You can go surfing, horseback riding, so just try. If you have children, leave your stroller at home and make sure you pack your baby carrier, sling, or wrap. The infrastructure is not made for strollers. Much like moving anywhere, try to be open to new experiences.
What does your future look like?
In the next five years I would like to have up to three more global locations for Culture Cloz. In the process, I hope that my children will learn to love themselves and their place in the world, while learning to accept others as well. We are looking into moving back to the Caribbean or to Africa within the next two years, so the journey will surely continue!
Chantal Blake is a Jamaican-American writer from New York City. A frequent traveler since birth, she married a fellow nomad and has been living abroad since 2008. Her writing has been featured online and in-print and covers themes of family travel, veganism, and migration. Follow her work at WayfaringGreenSoul.com