Meet Anibal Oprandi. The Community Development Practitioner, who arrived in Bail as a missionary and then fell in love and eloped with Putu Arnany, a beautiful Balinese from a strict, extensive and pious Hindu family.
Tell me a little about yourself, Anibal.
I am an Argentinean married to Putu Arnany since 1979. We have four children and four grandchildren.
How many years have you been in Bali?
I came to Bali in June 1967, but I have for work reasons been in and out of Bali for the past forty five years.
Where were you before coming to Bali? What brought you here?
I was studying; I obtained a Masters in Philosophy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, then a second Masters in Sociology and Cultural Anthropology in Washington D.C. I came here through an organization dedicated to relieving human suffering.
Your approach to poverty, starvation, disaster, and human misery in general have not only won you a strong following all over the world, but you became a living model of how the West should present itself to the rest of the world. What is your actual profession and what occupies your time at present?
I have been a Community Development Practitioner ever since I left my studies at university. I worked for Plan International in several countries as Director and Country Representative. Lately I have done much work in Human Resources Development; my last post before retirement was in Pakistan where I spent five years. I still do occasional consultancy work in the area of community development program evaluation, reflection on performance and human resources development. I am a member of the Rotary Club of Bali Taman and this gives me the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience in community development projects.
You said you are married to a Balinese since 1979 – what is your philosophy of life regarding your relationship to a person and her family with social and cultural differences?
In the first place I cannot deny the fact that we have differences in terms of character, traditional backgrounds, religion and professional activity. I am more inclined to interpret things rationally while my wife more through her senses and her feelings. I was brought up and educated in a western way of life and my wife in a non-western way. She is Hindu and I am Catholic. My wife is in the garment business with her batik shop, Batik Popiler II, and I am in the socio economic development sector to alleviate poverty. Regardless of these and other differences we also complement each other in terms of relationship values and attitudes which we share towards each other and others.
It is often said that the gap between the ones who have and those who do not have is growing exponentially. What is your opinion on this?
Statistics clearly show that the world is facing serious social, political and economic problems. Mankind must urgently do more about the growing gap between the rich people and the disadvantaged people by allocating more resources to empower people to find ways and means to cope with their lack of basic necessities of life such as proper housing, educational opportunities, job security, adequate medical care, human rights and efficient, effective governance.
Do you think that the efforts and approach of governments, international organizations and business corporations are creating effective change?
To some extent, yes. There are many examples of sustainable development programs; however more has to be done in preventing the poverty crisis affecting people in many parts of the world. There are instances such as disaster relief when assisting organizations need to simply provide basic relief assistance. When dealing with socio-economic development aimed at the improvement of the quality of life of people based on the existing knowledge from critical areas of the world, the approach should be in preparing the people themselves to deal with disaster crisis by empowering them so they can take responsibility and be prepared. Socio-economic development and environmental sustainability are very important. Critical consideration must be given to respecting the natural ecosystem and developing sustainable energy systems which puts less carbon in the air.
What do you mean by environmental sustainability?
It is people’s capacity or efforts done locally and worldwide to maintain natural resources by promoting energy conservation, by making more use of renewable energies and by simply improving the environment as stated by the United Nations 2012 in the “Year of Sustainable Energy for All”. Towers for generating aeolic or aeolian energy, the power of tidal currents, solar panels, etc. are among some examples of renewable energy.
What are the most critical areas of development that need greater attention when providing assistance to developing countries and what can be done about these problems?
I think sociologists and political analysts agree on at least three major critical areas affecting developing countries: quality of governance, human rights and corruption. I do not think there exists a single magical solution to overcome these problems. It will require years of great effort and resources aimed at educating everyone to create a strong civil society, which in turn demands a responsible, transparent government.
I was told you are also a ‘thinker’. What is your opinion on the ‘Godless Particle’ or ‘God Particle’ in relationship to the recent announcement of the finding by the European Centre for Nuclear Research [CERN]?
CERN’s efforts (money, manpower, materials, time, etc.) on searching for knowledge on the subatomic particle are extraordinary. I think their investment is about $US 10 billion on the Large Hadron Collider and all that this entails. I cannot say much about its significance from a physics point of view, but I suppose it has practical consequences for the advancement of scientific knowledge. I am a bit more surprised when I hear or read comments that refer this discovery to God as the ‘God particle’ or ‘Godless particle’ implying that this particle can ultimately explain the existence of the universe and everything in it. I have my doubts that any true scientist would associate this discovery with God. Philosophically speaking, there is a long way to its significance in terms of what applies and what does not apply to God. I see this development as evidence of how much we still need to know about the existence of the universe, life and all that these realities entail.
I see religion as the acknowledgement of and relationship to an absolute being. Different religions have different ways of explaining the ways and means to relate to that absolute being. Religion should ultimately nourish the freedom of the spirit; it should help us find meaning in life and support values such as love, respect, unity, sacrifice, compassion, honesty and justice in all relationships, with no room for ambivalence, that is to say, simultaneous conflicting feelings about making a choice in our relationships to God, other humans and nature. I also feel that the religion’s tenets should correlate with scientific findings and advances about human life, matter, and universe. It is true that science is still in progress and many of its truths are provisional, but it is also true that some findings are unquestionable and we can no longer ignore them in our religious conceptualizations and practices.
How do you define the role which culture plays in the development of the individual and in society?
Our minds and hearts, which are shaped by the society in which we live, can either be oppressed or liberated by cultural forces – it depends on the quality of these forces and our reaction to cultural pressures. Margaret Mead stated that “the ideal culture is one in which there is a place for every human gift”. If the culture does not incorporate new insights into and understanding of reality, it might suppress gifted voices, become static, and no longer evolve into a positive force in society.
Anibal, as a person whom, as the Indonesians would say, “Has eaten a lot of salt”, what is your advice in this life of rapid and continuous changes? Your wisdom please!
“We reap what we sow”, if we are selfish, can we ever expect others to be responsive towards us? “We often do not see things as they are; we see them as we are”. If we go on in life drifting rather than steering our own course of life, with no inner direction, self-confidence, and determination, can we ever expect to be happy with ourselves and others?
And finally, what is your hobby?
Cactuses. Why? They serve me as inspiration. I observed that a cactus will only grow to a certain size in a small pot but the same cactus can grow much larger in a bigger pot. Doesn’t this suggest that we humans also need the proper space and environment to grow and develop? I also experienced that if you treat a cactus with care, you do not need to worry about being pricked by its thorns. Doesn’t this suggest that we humans also need to relate to others with respect if we expect respect in return? Cacti can go on for a long time without water and nutrients because they rely on their inner capacity to sustain themselves in adverse circumstances, which suggests that we humans are often under trial or affliction and need to draw strengths from our own selves to keep our minds and spirits from giving way to discouragement and other negative feelings. Do not allow your circumstance to determine your outlook on and approach to life!
Meet Anibal’s wife, Putu Arnany Oprandi, devoted partner of 33 years and owner of Batik Popiler II.
Nany, how did you first meet your husband?
The first time I met Anibal was at our shop, where we still make Batik and custom designs today. My friend Murni (from Murni’s Warung in Ubud) came by to fit a dress that my aunty was making for her. Murni came to my shop with her girlfriend Bronia Witorz, Anibal drove them to our shop but he remained outside waiting for them in the car. Her friend Bronia went out and brought Anibal inside the shop. We kept looking at one another; I believe it was love at first sight – this was in 1974!
You are both from such diverse backgrounds. How did you deal with that?
It was not easy. I was the only daughter of the head man of an important and large Balinese family, so large that it almost constituted an entire banjar. When my family found out about our close relationship and that Anibal was a westerner and from a different religion, I was put under family guard and grounded! No telephone, no communication and watched constantly. It was equally difficult for Anibal as he had to cope with his own personal issues and work responsibilities. He quietly left Bali and his mission and waited for me in a small room at the Hyatt in Jakarta. My first attempt to escape failed. With the help of our friends I finally met Anibal in Jakarta and we flew to Singapore where we tried to have a civil ceremony but it failed. We then went to Rome and tried to marry and it again failed because I could not obtain the necessary document required by Italian marriage law. Finally we did so in London. Anibal got a job with an international development organization which placed us in Ecuador.
It must have been overwhelming for you; coming from traditional Bali to travel Europe and then be in South America. What were some of the challenges you faced?
Travelling as such was not a problem because I had enough experience travelling abroad, but we did have to start all over again in terms of social and lifestyle adjustments. Perhaps the most painful situation was being disconnected with my family in Bali; fortunately I was once in a while able to chat with my mother on the phone and this was a great comfort to me! I could not afford and take for granted many things as I did before in Bali being the only child in my family. In addition I had to learn Spanish, socialize in a Latin American culture, and deal with pregnancy and the birth of our two first children. Anibal’s family in Argentina was very nice to me but I had to change my name from Putu to Nany because Putu sounds very close to an indecent word in Spanish! We did have our challenges in our relationship but our love and commitment kept us strong. Anibal continued his work helping others and we eventually moved back to Indonesia and now live in the family compound where I continue my batik business, Batik Popiler.
I saw your batik centre. You still do everything by hand, in the traditional manner. Has it been hard to maintain traditional techniques in a modern Bali?
I am lucky to have gifted artisans and there are many people who seek out genuine batik. It is important to me that this art is continued in the traditional manner. At Batik Popiler we have very high standards yet are flexible in using ancient techniques to produce modern products. We do clothing also so one may have traditional textiles in innovative clothing designs.
You have a large family and a thriving business. What has kept you strong throughout life?
I believe to do whatever I do with honesty, respect for others, and find solutions to problems no matter how difficult they may be. I also find happiness in giving not only when this is comfortable but when it requires real sacrifices. I follow my heart and stay committed to human, family and friendship values that are important in life.