On my second day in Indonesia, I was handed a phrase. I wasn’t quite sure how to dissect it, or whether it had any implications that would affect me, but after four weeks, I began to understand its meaning. “Her currency is people.”
We were standing in an open kitchen, wrapped in the heat of Canggu, looking across a long wooden table at a young expatriate from London. The phrase was spoken over freshly made toast and breathed in reference to someone we hadn’t met yet.
The expatriate leaned back in her chair and said, “Her currency is people.”
The four words were meant as a descriptor of a woman named Ninie, who would be housing my friend and me for the next few months.
Ninie grew up in a household full of Chinese and Dutch culture and was raised in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. She is an established textile designer in Asia who has grown her business through word-of-mouth promotion alone. She has long, dark hair, a face characterized by her round glasses, and a smile that can change the room. She has friends on every continent except Antarctica, and ventures to new countries every few months. Her villa acts as a shelter to stray travelers, and she extends the term “family” to all who enter.
Hers was our temporary home. I went to Bali to work on an adventure marketing campaign that was pushing the traditional bounds of charity and marketing, but I learned much more. Although I still viewed this venture as a potential way to help people, I learned that you don’t have to go on elaborate motorcycle rides through remote villages and deliver vaccines in order to give back. You can simply share. You can give — without counting, without keeping score.
We had been staying at her villa for just over a month, and I had not only been exposed to some of the best meals of my life, but also to evidence that honest, open, generous people have the ability to change the world.
We are taught this in our innocent years, believing that kindness has the ability to shape everything around us — seeing smiles as a sort of superpower and sharing as one of life’s greatest joys. This belief is commonly left at the door as we are ushered into the “real world,” and we learn to see kindness as a catch. I say this as a reminder that these are rare things to find in anyone past the age of four. When you encounter them in the hard reality we have grown accustomed to, it’s difficult not to be moved.
Ninie had chosen to step beyond the familiar facade of generosity and rest in this place of genuine giving. She chooses this every single day. She shares her home, her food, her possessions, her community, her knowledge, her secret hideaways, her everyday joys, her story, and her island. She views everything she has earned as something to share with those around her and is filled by the role she has granted herself.
Ninie’s currency is people. She has taught me that this is not a means to use people as an exchange, but to see them as valuable.
She has challenged me to live the life of a giver, and it is not an easy task, but it is something that I continue to carry with me every single day. In everything I do, I want to view human interaction as the reward.
We should all strive to do the same.
All photos were taken by Kacie’s travel companion, Alexandria Duke. Check out more of her work on Instagram.