The ethereal blonde and the coddled daughter who one day slammed the door to the giant corporation and unsuccessful marriage. She bought a pair of pink flipflops for 3 dollars and a ticket to Bali – the island of happy people – where friendship is one’s only wealth. She’s found a goal and a man of her dreams. A conversation with Grażyna Ograbek, a happy woman who makes hers and others’ dreams come true.
What was your life “before” like?
You can say it was pretty typical. A job in a giant corporation, good salary, high-ranking positions, house, children, family. I was completely immersed in my career, I was coming home late and going on business trips. I cannot say my life was boring, it was the opposite, interesting and full of ambitious challenges. I felt appreciated. However, I had the feeling that I was just a part of a machine that was working for someone and was dependent on that person’s moods. I didn’t feel secure despite the financial protection.
You are living in Bali now. How did “the child of a corporation” end up in a dream fairytale?
It was a pure coincidence. I got divorced. I met my current husband Piotr who is connected with Bali professionally because he teaches diving. Most of all, however, he is head over heels in love in this island and its people! He took me on a first trip to Asia and showed me what it is like to live at the end of the world. That was an extraordinary experience, thanks to which I made a decision to change my life and start it anew on the island of gods.
Have you ever thought “How am I going to make a living?” How did you come up with the idea of organizing wedding ceremonies in Bali?
That was the first question and first apprehension that came to my mind. How were we going to make a living? At the same time it was one of the toughest decisions to be made: how to cut myself off from a monthly salary and face the unknown. Again, Balinese gods and goddesses were watching over me. Our Balinese friend who had been running a tourist agency for years invited us to cooperate with him. We decided to spark Poles’ interest in this exceptional island. When it comes to wedding ceremonies…again, a coincidence! My friend had asked me to organize a wedding in Bali. Thanks to his support and belief that we’re going to succeed I designed the first ceremony on the basis of which a remarkable photo journal was created full of charming, joyful photographs with curious backgrounds: a beach, sea, exotic flowers and beautiful Asian bridesmaids. When we let the world see the pictures, a lot of young couples started desiring to make their marriage vows in this particular way. The offers poured in. The organization of wedding ceremonies has become my new job.
So you took the kids and left just like that?
I saw no other way! Luckily, the Polish education system came to my rescue. Hardly anyone knows that Poland is the only country in Europe that offers home schooling by means of the Internet until matura exams! However, parents or other family members engaged in this process shoulder heavy responsibility as they have to make sure children sit down and study. In my family, we’ve divided subjects between ourselves so that I have humanities, my husband has the sciences and my mom has Polish. She’s proved to be the most professional teacher because three times a week at specific hour she would teach Polish via Skype! But studying at home is not enough. You have to collect all coursebooks for a given school year and a child has to write quarterly tests on every subject and send them back to Poland. Then, once a year, during a holiday break, a child has to come to Poland to write the annual test organized by the Polish Education Office. Once the exams are passed children receive Polish diplomas with their grades listed and get promoted to the next grade... or not. My boys passed all the exams, even though it was not easy for them because they simultaneously attended the international school in Bali. After coming back to Poland they didn’t waste a year and were able to go to the next grade with their colleagues.
So you live in two different worlds.
We’d been living in two different countries and cultures for three years, mainly because of our children’s education. Then, we decided they had to gain education in their country and that we couldn’t burden them with two separate education systems. Half a year we live in Bali and the other half is spent in Poland. Our children study in a Polish school. Still, we do our best to see each other as often as possible, boys spend holidays in Bali and I fly to Poland for a month during the part of the a year we spend separately. It turns out everything can be harmonized.
Your new house is nothing like a room in a Warsaw flat…
Yes, that’s true. First of all, it’s enormous and open. Most of the time we spend outside the house and use it only for sleeping and eating. We’re surrounded by astonishing tropical flora. I spent one day decorating my garden! I bought plants and tufts of grass! After a couple of hours the garden was enchanting with its exuberance and colors. Everything is growing here in leaps and bounds!
What is special about this island?
Its culture, religion, and art. These factors stand for uniqueness of this island. Everyone is an artist here, sculpting, painting, drawing, acting. Balinese people are famous for their wonderful handcraft – galleries filled with original objects are everywhere. Except for this, Bali possesses everything other tropical islands possess. I guess you could say it’s a perfect island. It has beautiful beaches where you can relax and its waters boast some of the most appealing diving spots in the world. There is extraordinary, tropical flora; there are mountains where you can practice trekking; volcanoes you can climb; rapid rivers perfect for rafting; marvelous national parks full of exotic animals. The island also feeds and provides for its inhabitants by giving them vegetables, rice, and coffee. But there is something else Bali has while other islands like Mauritius, Hawaii or Maldives do not. Bali has a soul and its own philosophy. Tri Hita Karana is a Hindu philosophy according to which a human being should live in harmony with God, nature and other people. If it hadn’t been for Tri Hita Karana, Bali wouldn’t have a soul. And this is the secret which creates this magical and unique atmosphere that transforms Bali into a one of a kind place!
Who are the people who decide to get married in Bali?
All nationalities from all over the world get married here, more and more Poles. A ceremony takes place here every day! During the first year I’d organized 10 weddings for Polish couples and in 2014 I did 20. There are lovers coming from France, Czech Republic, Hungary, UK, Japan and, first of all, the neighboring Australia.
You also got married on a Balinese beach…
A wedding on a beach was a dream of mine and it came true!
You wrote a travel guide to Bali. You must have been travelling a lot, visiting places and eating in restaurants, I imagine.
I’d got to know Bali by the time I received the proposition to write a guidebook. We’ve been organizing sightseeing tours for countrymen from the very beginning and that’s when I got to know the island, its charms and secrets. This knowledge enabled me to write a guide. Also, the help of my friend with whom we run a tourist agency was invaluable. He is a Balinese priest with a vast knowledge of religion, customs and ceremonies that make the sense of life. He used to explain to me Hindu intricacies, meanings of symbols and rules of living according to a lunar calendar. Now, eating in restaurants? It’s Balinese reality. The food in restaurants is so cheap that cooking at home isn’t simply worth the trouble. Besides, every street provides you with a multitude of places serving international cuisine. One day we eat in a Thai restaurant, the other in a Balinese one and yet the other in an Italian or a Mexican one.
How is life in Bali different from life in Poland?
First of all: the sense of time! In Europe everyone is in a rush, hurrying somewhere, chasing something. Nervousness hovers in the air. In Bali, time goes by slowly. Special attention is given to work, hence, answers to emails usually come after 2 or 3 days. A lunch break is sacred. At the very beginning I used to get furious at it but as time went by I’ve learnt to live with it.
The second difference is a smile you can see at everyone’s face. Not only in Bali but in whole Indonesia people smile. Even if they are strangers they grin at each other in a warm smile or rise their eyebrows to exchange greetings. I return 20 smiles when I walk along a road in my village that is 300 meters long. In Poland, the road in a housing estate I’ve been living on for 15 years is 800 meters long. It means I should return approximately 50 smiles. Unfortunately, I return none.
The third difference is the attitude towards possession. To possess, not to be – that is the western world. What matters in Bali is life itself, interpersonal relations, time spent together. Living here I’ve learnt that I don’t have to surround myself with expensive things. I’ve also got rid of the urge to go shopping and participate in a shopping rush. Flipflops for 3 dollars and a comfortable backpack will do.
Are comebacks to Poland difficult for you?
Comebacks make me really glad because I miss my sons terribly. Temperatures are the only difficulty. Unfortunately, we always come back to Poland at the end of November. This year it took me a long time to get accustomed and I hadn’t’ left the house for almost three weeks. Despite the fact that temperatures give me a hard time I’m very happy I can live in these two worlds. In Bali I have my family, friends, house, paths, place. I don’t want to leave it because everyone has to have his or her own place on earth. I am the lucky one who has two such places.