Skill #5: Coconut Shell Carving

When taking a solo stroll around the Gili Air island one morning, I came across someone busy with something to the side of the road at a little stall. He looked up and acknowledged me, and I was immediately intrigued.

My attention was caught.
Unlike almost every other person in the touristic areas of Indonesia, this guy didn’t immediately leap up and try to drag me into his stall. Something that I have found sad about Indonesia so far is that many locals seem very money-oriented, even at the cost of losing ones culture and morals in the process. Of course this certainly might not be representative of the population because at the moment I have only been in more built up areas focused on tourism. This is definitely not a generalization of the whole country’s people.

Anyways, there was something about this guy. Not dragging me into his store, not calling out “hello yes please cheap cheap price special for you.” Making something interesting with his hands, having gentle, smiling eyes. We got chatting.

His name is Abay and he is from Sumatra.
He was busy carving pendants out of coconut shells, which he then hangs on rope and sells as necklaces. Within 5 minutes maximum, Abay was standing up and telling me to take his place – he was going to teach me to do one myself. Funnily enough, a few hours prior, a friend asked me whether I had learned any new skills lately for this project. I realised the last one I had done was over a month ago in New Zealand. Meeting Abay came at the perfect time.

He stuck the makeshift stencil onto a piece of shell and I started carving. Me saying that I was absolutely shit at this is an understatement – and yet Abay kept extremely patient, gently correcting my grip when I started going off the line. Selflessly sacrificing his time to pass his skills on to a stranger.


I spent most of this day with Abay.
At a point I practically begged him to get back to work so that I didn’t feel I was wasting too much of his time. Whilst I started sanding my design, he started working on a little turtle (which we later sold at sunset). Abay lives in a bungalow literally next door to his stall, and offered me juice etc throughout the day. Nothing expected in return.

He spends his days carving and selling these pendants in his stall. In the evenings, there are the most spectacular sunsets over the water, its edge lapping the road across which he works. At night he goes for a snorkel to catch his dinner; anything else is sold for extra income.


I look at Abay’s life and think that he is truly a living textbook example of the fact that one can be so happy with the simplest things in life. Further, I actually would put him in the top 1% of happiest people in this world – and he doesn’t have any of those things that society brainwashes us to think we need to be up there. No law degree, white picket fence, 2.5 children, etc etc. So where is this coming from?

I think that happiness stems from fulfillment (or visa versa) – and it is what fulfills us that we can actually select and influence. If your fulfillment is going to come from a pile of cash and 7 holiday houses, then your happiness will only naturally follow when this occurs. But when you get this, will you be fulfilled, or will you be already be looking for the next thing? Do you allow yourself some time for happiness before needing an upgrade? (It is in this sphere that reading The Power of Now can really change one’s life). This is the reason why when I look at people who are constantly renovating their homes, very simply put, I think that something on the metaphorical inside is not being fulfilled.

There is a fairly large consensus these days that we don’t need all of the materialistic, tangible things available to be happy.
However, there is a difference between knowing something and executing it. How many people apply it to their lives, and starting from when? Does it take 30 years of climbing the ladder to swing around in your CEO chair and properly understand this? It is becoming more and more evident to me that I am not cut for the straight and narrow life. I knew this enough in 2011 to quit my medical degree. I guess I need to hold this close in my mind when making important decisions over the next few years too.

Excuse my shocking writing style today. I’ve had a hectic week or two and my mind is everywhere, but I needed to get this written down as it was still fresh in my mind. Can’t always be perfect I guess!

By | 2018-02-05T07:39:45+00:00 July 3rd, 2016|Gili Islands, Indonesia, Skills Exchange, Someone I Once Met...|2 Comments


  1. Lene July 5, 2017 at 7:29 am - Reply

    Me and my family also had the pleasure to meet Abay. We all enjoyed a day making coconut art together.

    • Kirsten August 2, 2017 at 8:15 am - Reply

      Hey Lene, thanks for the comment! What a fantastic experience with Abay on that magical island. So glad that he is getting his passion out there!

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