In Indonesia if you are the fourth-born child, your name is Ketut. Just like that. Families are often four to six children, so naturally I met a lot of Ketuts. One Ketut in particular made a huge impact on me. I woke up one morning when I was in Bali a couple of weeks ago and went straight to the bus station to try to catch a shuttle to meet up with Ladies Hazel and Harriet from last summer. I bought a ticket for the next available shuttle for four hours later, and immediately started chatting with the friendly men who ran the card table on the side of the street that sold bus tickets.
They were very entertaining but I soon noticed a boy sitting on the steps a few feet away. He looked about 17, was wearing glasses, and was surrounded by books. He introduced himself as Ketut and explained to me that he was using his vacation time to study as much as possible. Ketut has six brothers and sisters, and has had to work on his family’s rice farm seven days a week since he was eight to help keep his family afloat. Eager to learn from a young age though, his mother helped him learn English in the hopes that he would someday receive his high school degree and land himself a better job. He had been studying deep into the night his whole life for the test that was now only months away, and just talking about it got him shaking with nerves and excitement.
Ketut told me how as a young boy he had to force his body to drink the contaminated tap water so he could hydrate himself for free, how he has never had his own bed because he had to share with his little brother, how studying by candlelight was his only option.
He was in the city visiting his brother who worked at the bus station, but he suspected his father wanted to give him some labor-free daylight to study. I talked to Ketut for three hours that day. When describing his life he laughed, he smiled, we had such a great time together. He never sounded sorry for himself. He was just describing his life, and was so excited when I continued to ask questions. When I tried to give him 20 dollars, he refused over and over again.
Right before I had to leave I asked him how he remained so joyful and positive when his life seemed so stressful and difficult. He replied to me, “Katrine, in my life, there are two choices. Be happy, or be happy.” He said this and gave me the biggest grin I have ever seen. Ketut has influenced my life more than he’ll ever know Every single one of you influences dozens of other lives every other day. A smile is contagious. One positive comment can change another person’s whole outlook for the day. Don’t wish for a task to be easier, wish for yourself to be stronger. Here’s to you, Ketut.
-Lady Katherine Collier