I have lived in Indonesia for about a year and a half, working as an English Language Teacher. I come from New York City and lived in East Java for a year before I moved to Bali about six months ago. While living in East Java last year, and spending the holidays away from home for the first time, I decided to go to Bali. It was this experience that greatly influenced my decision to not only stay in Indonesia, but also move to Bali.
Ever since I could remember, I loathed the atrocious winters of New York City, regardless of the fact that the city is pretty magical during the holidays. From the exquisitely decorated Bloomingdales, to Rockefeller Center, and for the real New Yorkers the strip of superfluous Christmas lights screaming from Italian owned mansions in South Brooklyn. So, it was a bit odd for me last year, when I began to miss the cold weather as the holidays started to approach. It was my first Christmas away from home, and although I had always dreamed of spending Christmas on a tropical beach, I was finally able to appreciate the beauty of having a white Christmas.
It was my plan to spend Christmas 2012 with a few different groups of friends from Java, but at the last minute, everyone’s plans changed. I immediately felt extremely homesick. But I said to myself, “Anna you’re from New York, you’re friendly, smart and will have a great time no matter what.” After fervently searching for a hostel, at the last minute, I came across one online called Granny’s. The name intrigued me. I read that the reasoning behind the name is because we all miss our grandmothers while travelling, and this hostel wanted to create an environment for everyone to feel at home. I had a gut feeling that Granny’s hostel would be the perfect place for me to spend the holidays.
Granny’s was owned and run by a Norwegian family, whose idea became a success in creating an atmosphere for all travellers to feel right at home, regardless of where they were from. When I got to Granny’s after a treacherously long bus ride from Java, I was welcomed with warmth and smiles. To this day Granny’s is still a place I often frequent and has become a second home to me during my travels.
The Norwegian family had two young children, whose grandparents were visiting for Christmas as well. The first night I spent at the hostel was a memorable one. A communal table outside became filled with family members and guests alike. People were wrapping Christmas gifts, drinking, smoking, joking, playing card games, singing and laughing. After having relaxed, I started talking to one of the staff members, who is now not just a friend, but also a brother to me. My new friend smiled at me and said, “Anna, welcome to the family.” I felt relieved and thankful at my decision and thought, “If I couldn’t be with my family for my first Christmas away from home, I was grateful to celebrate it with another family, and also with other travellers away from their families, traditions and foods.”
I was mildly aware of the fact that certain Western European countries celebrate Christmas on December 24th. So, the night of what I always considered to be Christmas Eve, was in fact Christmas for many of the guests (this also became a hot button, yet humorous debate between myself and many of the others). A BBQ was prepared for everyone, and as we were washing the fruitful meal down with some drinks, the family was inside exchanging gifts by the tree. We started drinking together, sharing stories of home, talking about our travels and explaining why we weren’t with our families. We also started discussing how it was strange celebrating Christmas in a tropical climate. One of the guests was from Austria who was travelling to the Philippines right before the holidays and decided to spend Christmas in Bali. His younger sister joined him, so they could be together for the holidays. As we were talking, he said something so true and so funny.
“It’s just weird being in a tropical country during the holidays, it doesn’t seem natural. I mean you’re walking through a mall and hear Barry White’s It’s Going to be a White Christmas, and you’re sweating with palm trees around you. Really? A white Christmas here?”
That comment awarded him with a big laugh from all of us coming from cold parts of the world.
Most of us travellers were young, under the age of thirty, with a few exceptions. For some reason this sparked my curiosity. I realized that young people needed to fulfil their desires to explore, travel and create new experiences. Leaving behind family, especially when so far away, and for the first time is strange, yet bittersweet. I come from a strong and traditional Greek Orthodox home in America, and the holidays are always big, filled with a lot of food, family, friends and extensive church services. It wasn’t until after my experience last year when I realized that there is nothing wrong with young people wanting to leave home in search of creating their own traditions. This seemed to be a common theme amongst most of us that evening. We all of course missed our homes, but we knew that all of our past holidays kind of blurred together as one. But Christmas 2012 was one of the most memorable Christmases for the majority of us.
Granny’s is talented in creating a communal atmosphere as well as a home for everyone who comes. After sharing memories, languages and cultures we created a new family for each other. The local people I met at Granny’s, as well as the westerners, remain some of my best friends in Indonesia. This strong sense of community was the biggest factor for my decision to move to Bali. At Granny’s I have a home and a family, which is something invaluable to find while travelling so far away from your original home and family.