It is like being a ghost.
It’s downright eerie to be riding a bicycle in the abandoned, silent streets of Kuta, Bali when all you have ever known is the hurly-burly of the town teeming with tourists every color of the global rainbow. It would be amusing as well if not for the evidence of financial disaster everywhere you look. Eighty percent of the average income in these streets are dependent on the over seven million tourists who visit annually. Tourists who spend, on the low end, an average of USD $126 a day and at the high end an average of $2,000.
The Balinese people have long adapted to this phenomenon and moved away from their rural economy. They are now experts at harvesting wallets. But like any blighted harvest, this pandemic has hit tourism harder than anything in Bali’s modern history. Even more than the tragic Bali bombing of 2002. With the beaches closed and zero overseas visitors, the impact of this global pandemic has been devastating to the local communities that depend on surfing and surfers for their daily bread.
At times it’s easy to forget that beneath the veneer of high-class hotels, busy bars, and crowded line-ups that the island is still part of a developing nation. With a delicate balance of hand-to-mouth daily income the norm here for a large percentage of the population. This COVID-19 lockdown has left a multitude of people with zero income and very little to eat.
This is where Project Nasi comes in. Nasi is the Indonesian word for rice, the sacred staple of any meal here in Bali. Which is why surfer/restaurateurs Sam Mahony and James Foley chose Project Nasi as the name for their grassroots effort to help feed the disadvantaged during the COVID -19 lockdown here on the Island of the Gods.
Mahony, who runs his Sinaloa restaurant between teaching math and science at the local expat high school, was inspired by his access to the food supply chain, which is considered an essential service here. He turned to figuring out how to still feed the people while his place was closed. So he called on his friend Foley, who owns an Asian fusion restaurant in the upscale Petitenget district, and the two of them brainstormed how to help their respective neighborhoods. They ended up turning to the surfing community here to make it happen, gathering the support and manpower of the local boardrider clubs and the expat surfers who live in Bali permanently.
The answer? Turn their restaurants into “Crisis Kitchens.” Impromptu aid stations where the local community can drop by and pick up individual recyclable paper bags full of food supplies that should keep a family fed for a week at a time.
“A lot of us expat surfers and businessmen come from such privileged countries,” says Sam Mahony, a native of Wollongong, south of Sydney, “where help can come in so many forms. But here the people are dependent on each other for survival. Project Nasi is a chance for any surfer that has ever surfed Bali to help the people of this island that have welcomed us into their waves as well as into their way of life.”
Both Sam and James, along with other surfers like Ella Weishaar, Chelsea Mahony, Blake Johnson, Jessy Hansen and local surf club Presidents Nyoman “Winchester” Sumastra and Mangku Kasim, have all banded together to make this an island-wide network. With other restaurants also able to use supply chains to provide the same service to the community in a coordinated, efficient way. And it is working. Mostly because the community structure of Bali, where neighborhoods are self governed by the “Banjar” system, complete with “Kepala desa” or headman, and their own sarong uniformed security groups known as “Pecelang.”
The project has been welcomed with open arms by the beleaguered communities. “We welcome so many people here from around the world and share our food and our waves,” says Padma Beach surfer Mangku Suwara. “But now it is a time where we need help. It is good to see that these expat surfers are really giving back.” Another local surfer, 12-year-old Aska Manis, who was toting his free bag of groceries home was heard saying, “My Grandmother will be so happy. It’s like the surfers are saying thanks for Bali.”
Project Nasi is so far operating on donations from the people named above and crowdfunding. The hope is that Project Nasi may grow into an organization that will continually provide food for the needy in any future post-disaster or pandemic situation. “As the crossroads of international surfing,” says Foley, who’s from Maroubra Beach, New South Wales, “Bali holds a special place in millions of surfers hearts. I mean, generations have surfed magic waves here and have had incredible experiences with the culture. It’s really simple, Project Nasi is such a perfect way to just say thanks for all of it. That’s the spirit of the whole thing”.
Donate to Project Nasi here.