So who am I talking to? Hannah Black-Wijana
Originally from: Born in New York, raised in The Isle of Man
Arrived in Bali: 2005 as just a youngin’
Home in Bali is: in Silakarang, about 10 minutes south of Ubud
What made you move to Bali?
I was working as the assistant art director for a magazine in New York and realized that if I was going to carry on it was going to take up the whole of my 20’s trying to scrabble my way to better and better positions. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted so I started looking at volunteer programs all over the world. I knew basically zero about Bali but it was tropical and there was a school looking for a volunteer art teacher so I applied.
You ended up marrying a local, but did you always plan to live in Bali?
Not at all. I saw Bali as a starting place and wanted to travel the world being a backpacker for as long as possible. When I met my husband I was on my TESOL course so I could teach English anywhere. I planned to use to teaching to fund my travels.
How did you both meet?
I’d had a Balinese boyfriend for the first few months I was in Bali and swore off them forever after him. But a friend of mine who was also a volunteer met my husband and said that I had to meet this gorgeous (tall) volleyball player from her boyfriend’s village because he was perfect for a little rebound fling. Little did she know we would be married 3 months later…
What is a typical day here for you and your two children?
It’s pretty much like living anywhere except the sun shines a lot. I drag my daughter out of bed at 6am and make sure she washes behind her ears and all that good stuff. She gets picked up by a driver for school at 7am. I get my son up and ready for school and either me or my husband drops him at school at 8am.
After school runs I usually come home and work on any copywriting work, blogs, do my social media planning etc. A few days a week I either take an exercise class or go to the gym. I often meet up with friends and have lunch or have work dates somewhere in Ubud. I couldn’t live without all my friends here. We really need to support each other, especially those that understand mixed marriages and the frustrations of living in Bali.
The afternoon school run is at 3.30 and my daughter gets home around then as well. Then it’s homework, snack, playing out in the village, cooking and all that totally normal stuff.
The weekends are more fun. We often have reviews to do for The Bali Family Guide or we like to hang out on the beach with friends.
Tell us about your food experiences living here:
Food has changed so much since I arrived here! I used to live on Indomie and nasi padang but now there is so much choice it’s almost too much. My mother in law laughs at me because my favorite Balinese dishes are the simplest, cheapest ones like sayur urap, cah kangkung and ferns cooked with coconut. I love a great nasi campur…can’t beat it!
I don’t eat pork, which causes total bafflement in the village because they are such massive pork eaters here.
It’s wonderful that there are so many amazing cafes and restaurants here now and the food is so healthy but for me it’s crazy expensive and I like to try to eat local and cook at home.
What do you think about the locals?
The Balinese people are some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. They are so easy to go with the flow and let their spirituality lead them which is so wonderful to see when ‘westerners’ question every single little thing. However, I also find so many hypocritical elements to them it is really frustrating sometimes.
For example, everything in Balinese Hinduism is about balance but Bali is at tipping point in so many ways. Money is becoming all-important and it’s very easy for the Balinese to look the other way at the consequences of more tourists because they think their lives are improving with more money and material things.
What are you enjoying most whilst living here?
I love the sounds of the gamelan at night, the smell of night flowering jasmine, the fact that my kids are surrounded by other kids from all over the world. And I really love sambal matah.
What have you least enjoyed so far?
I don’t love always being the foreigner. I like to blend in and not be pointed at or called tourist all the time. Living in the village pretty much everyone just treats me like they do everyone else but as soon as I’m out I go back to being another tourist in Bali.
What do you miss back home?
I miss my mum and dad and being with my sister and her family. Being away from them is definitely the saddest thing about living so far away. Thankfully we have facetime and can be in touch lots but it’s definitely not the same as being there with them.
How has it been being part of an expat community? How have you blended both communities?
This is a really interesting question because I don’t always see myself as part of the expat community. I suppose I dip in and out but I find a lot of places far too ex-patish for my liking. It used to be a bit different when most ex-pats were those married to Indonesians but now there are way more families moving to Bali things have shifted. It’s not that I don’t like hanging out with ex-pat families, I just feel it’s easier to relate to mixed families that are in the same boat as I am. To be honest I find a lot of ex-pat families love Bali more unconditionally than those in mixed marriages!
What is the best thing you have done while you have lived here?
This might be a strange answer but the best thing has got to be having both my babies at Bumi Sehat. If you don’t know it, it’s a small clinic in Ubud founded by a midwife called Ibu Robin. She is a huge advocate for natural birthing, water birth and community care. I can’t imagine I would ever have had the opportunity to give birth in such a way if I’d been in the UK or US.
If you had to describe Bali in three words what would it be?
Infuriating but irresistible
What tips do you have to those looking at making the move to Bali:
Don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s the perfect move. There are so many wonderful things about Bali but it can chew people up and spit them out too. Foreigners get gouged on prices for housing, bike and car rental, even shopping in the markets. Traffic is horrendous and schooling is expensive, especially if you’re coming from somewhere with free or subsidized schools. Medical care and insurance is essential!
If you do make the move, make friends with local people. Don’t just live in the ex-pat bubble because you will miss out on the heart and soul of what makes Bali so incredible…it’s people!
Hannah runs The Bali Family Guide a fantastic resource and must visit website for all information to families visiting and living in Bali. Check it out for tips and recommendations for everything Bali! It also aims to connect families to the things they need by partnering with family-friendly businesses in Bali. Hannah gives her real opinion on places to eat, stay, play, pamper, learn and get help.