My Money: 'We haven't got Covid here yet'

Image source, Ash Embi

My Money is a series looking at how people spend their money - and the sometimes tough decisions they have to make. Here, Sian Williams, 32, from Gili Trawangan, a tiny island in Indonesia, takes us through a week in her life during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sian, who is originally from Hampshire in the UK, has lived on Gili Trawangan for the last eight years. Luckily, the island is still Covid-free because inhabitants were on a strict four-month lockdown where no one was allowed to enter or leave (and return), reducing the risk of cases.

Sian works full-time for an environmental conservation NGO, the Gili Eco Trust. She says there has been a strange transition from working on one of Indonesia's busiest holiday destinations to now what is a dead island.

With no tourism there are no jobs. And with a very uncertain future, she is just trying to spend as little as possible and is continuing to clean the island, working in waste management, sustainability and tree planting projects.

Sian's salary has been halved, to around £400 a month, and it doesn't cover living expenses, but her rent is paid until February and she is able to use her savings.

She hasn't considered returning to the UK yet as she is one of only two people working for the NGO.

With such a small community, she says they are very lucky that social distancing comes all too naturally, gatherings are small and end early. They have cancelled the weekly beach cleans of around 60 people a week, and have switched to solo clean-ups and tagging marine debris on social media to continue to keep the island clean and to stay positive for a quick return of tourism and the economy.

Over to Sian...

We have just returned from our third trip off Gili Trawangan since lockdown began in March. An unexpected getaway weekend to Lombok organised by my boyfriend.

We checked out at 11:00 after a beachside breakfast, a few laps of the pool and a mini beach clean. We paid for our slightly over-indulgent bar bill (and a cheeky massage) with my share being 2,287,500Rp. The resort had a private beach, infinity pool and amazing local cuisine. Such a treat!

Image source, Sian Williams

On the way back to the island, stopped for provisions in Mataram city. After eight years in Asia (and being shamed by the Uncle Roger YouTube sensation) I finally bought myself a rice cooker 299,000Rp. Along with picking up some special cat food for one of my five cats that has an autoimmune disease. 100,000Rp for around a week of food. Found some accessories for a silver-themed costume birthday party at the end of the week and a pair of trainer socks (cos they had cats on them!) 91,000Rp and the rest of the costume will have to be made at home.

Image source, Sian Williams

We were wiped out by the time we got back to the island, an ill-prepared monsoon rainfall meant we were pretty soggy and unmotivated to cook, so we ordered in our favourite plastic-free takeaway from Jali. Mains and a side were 88,000Rp.

Total spend: 2,865,500Rp (£149.50)

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After a brekkie of tofu scramble, I made a to-do list catch up from the weekend away and set off for my four-minute bicycle commute to the eco-shop I open once a week for eco-friendly supplies and zero-waste kitchen hacks for islanders - and the island's most extensive book swap shop.

Image source, Sian Williams

After feeding six out of 10 regular stray cats that are suffering and hungry from the lack of tourism, the shop was swept, cleaned and ready to open. I was quickly distracted, rooting through our donated clothes store finding a second-hand silver(ish) playsuit and pair of boardies (shorts). Costume for Friday is coming together! Two items in our pre-loved charity shop come to 100,000Rp.

At 15:00, closed the shop up, fed the cats for the last time and headed to meet a friend at Trawangan Dive for a cool off in the pool. We caught up over a fresh watermelon juice, which Charlie claimed to be the best on the island (he wasn't wrong!). In exchange for a bunch of new movies and docus, two watermelon juices came to 70,000Rp.

Image source, Sian Williams

This evening is our monthly book club meetup! Which has, over the years evolved into a wine appreciation evening and girly catch up. Hosted by Catherine, who fortunately also owns a Polynesian bar, Tiki Grove. For the first time in six months, we had Taco Tuesday! Even better in our own private closed down bar! Shared a bottle of wine and had an early night, so I didn't spend anything this evening.

Total spend: 170,000Rp (£8.90)

Up early at 05:00 to film the sunrise. I'm making a blog for the Headspace app about the turtle conservation that I run and it will be a one-off payment. Beautiful start to the morning and literally SO excited to be featured in my favourite app!

Image source, Sian Williams

Followed by a quick HIIT workout in GiliFit and heading to my manager's place to work on some grant applications for our NGO, which currently has no funding. Tourism is the only industry on Gili T, and the Gili Eco Trust runs completely on donations. We have to act fast to find other sources of income, and are teaching ourselves to search for, and apply to as many grants as we can to keep our charity alive.

A quick stop at the island dump to get some footage of Indonesia's plastic waste problem. It is being highlighted next week by WWF in Norway. The dump is the reason why I started to live low-waste. To create rubbish and know where it ends up, is wrong on so many levels. Now we have a small under-counter kitchen bin which we empty every three to four months.

Image source, Sian Williams

Wednesday is Pituq weekly veg box pick up day. Pituq Community Foundation started a "shop and drop" when we got locked down on the island as they operate on mainland Lombok. The profits of our package and plastic-free veggies go to feeding families suffering unemployment from the Covid crisis, so I see buying more plastic-free veggies as a donation to Lombok too.

This week came to 214,000Rp for the week's food for me and my boyfriend. So we pay half each of this plus delivery - or 107,000Rp.

Cheap and lazy evening, spaghetti and homemade vegan pesto and a movie.

Total spend: 107,000Rp (£5.60)

Today is my Mum's 60th birthday. Really gutted as I was meant to be at home in England right now celebrating it with her, but travel is so unsafe and I don't fancy spending half of my allotted home-time in quarantine, (regardless of the lax rules in the UK right now!) so her 60th birthday will now be rescheduled to next year. Sorry, Mum!

The whole island was awake to a 04:00 power cut. Luckily, early enough to wake up to check out the sunrise again. Once again, it didn't disappoint!

Image source, Sian Williams

Zoom yoga is FREE today! Denise, my instructor, set up a 10-class islander pass (450,000rp). Covid times are biting down hard but this community is so supportive trying to keep options open for everyone to stay sane whilst we are not working. We went to Banyan Tree for kombucha and to join all the digital nomads that were hunting for a wifi connection and battery point, and ended up buying some cakes for my friend too. The total for a kombucha and three cakes was 122,000Rp.

Off for a quick haircut in the jungle garden of Pip. She gives an island price for an international standard haircut (and loved her cake!) and a chance for some gossip, a quick catch up and some donated pressies of tea, oats and bananas before she heads to England in search of a job. It's so sad that everyone is slowly leaving our island empty and deserted. One mop management job later, 300,000Rp.

Image source, Sian Williams

Gave up on cooking dinner and Fabien ordered us pizza. My vegan pizza was 90,000Rp. Mid pizza, POOF another power cut. With the evenings not cooling past 29'C, we begrudgingly accepted that we couldn't not sleep another night and headed to Manta Dive for a date with the generator. Fab paid 200,000Rp for a room.

Total spend: 512,000Rp (£26.70)

Regular Debris Free Friday with the Gili Eco Trust isn't on today, so when I woke up, I stopped past the beach for a two-minute beach clean and then prepared for a Zoom interview about our turtle conservation. It finished in time to head to GiliFit for a quick workout before going to buy some eggs for breakfast. A tray of 30 eggs (50,000Rp) a box of matches (10,000Rp) and a bag of oregano (25,000Rp) later, I ate and sat down to some work emails.

Image source, Sian Williams

We left for Clive's silver party at 16:00. Two bottles of silver spray paint later and my previous 1920s costume had a millennium spacey look. A DJ from Bali came especially, so I danced especially hard and together with Fab we racked up a bill of 1,120,000Rp. Just couldn't get enough of those Ginger Sailor cocktails! We paid half each and somehow cycled home.

Total spend: 605,000Rp (£31.50)

Image source, Sian Williams

I will never learn to control how much I drink and today's hangover confirmed I had way too much fun last night. I ordered a vegan bagel from Kayu Café which took around three hours to eat, whilst binge-watching Suits. With only enough energy to stare at the garden (things that are alive and thriving make me feel better when I'm suffering a painful death) and to cook an evening meal, I decided upon my childhood ultimate favourite comfort food. My Mum's tuna pasta bake. Since tuna is extremely unsustainable to eat nowadays, and that I follow a strict low FODMAP (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols), dairy-free veggie diet, I made the whole thing from scratch and successfully used every item of the kitchen (it's Fab's job to eat the food, and clean up after me ha!) First time I've made this and it won't be the last! Over half the tray left for lunch tomorrow.

Total spend: 150,000Rp on a takeaway brunch for two (£7.80)

Vegan tuna dish.
Sian Williams
Sian's Vegan Tuna Bake

1 can chickpeas, 2 tbsp lemon juice, ¼ chopped Nori sheet, fresh dill, 1 tbsp mustard,1 tbsp miso paste, 1 tbsp chia seed & 1 tbsp capers. Smash it all up in a bowl and voila!

  • £5.90for six portions (serve with pasta, tomato sauce, cheese sauce and veggies)

Source: Sian Williams

I swear hangovers were invented to make you REALLY appreciate life after they have gone. A solid nine hours of sleep and a coffee on the porch in the sun and I'm ready for the day. Spent the morning in the dump next to my house, scavenging an old scaffold tower and some bamboo poles to make a bean trellis for the garden.

After a few repairs I've managed to turn the scaffold step into a set of shelves to put seedlings on where the cats can't get to them (or can they?… challenge accepted) and re-potted some loofah vines, beans, edamame and harvested one very small passionfruit. Gardening has been a time-consuming learning curve, I haven't inherited my Dad's horticultural skills! But seeds and cuttings are all propagated from around the island or the rainforest in Lombok which has made it a fun, relaxing and mindful activity throughout the lockdown.

My other favourite Sunday activity is making a roast dinner. Fab converted the spare room into a kitchen for my birthday when we moved in, I love it! We had crispy roast potatoes, baked sage tofu, Mediterranean veggies and marmite gravy.

Total spend: £0

Image source, Sian Williams

Total spent this week: 4,409,500Rp (£230)

How does Sian feel about her week?

The splurge at the beginning of the week made up most of this pretty expensive week. We go to the mainland so rarely that I tend to panic buy provisions (especially now there is a shop with imported foods). I also know as soon as I have a bar tab, I am slightly more frivolous with my spending than paying cash. Made all the more painful as I don't remember paying it (thanks to strong cocktails and Fabien for looking after me!)

Even after eight years of living in Indonesia, the exchange rate still shocks me. On paper, £230 seems ok for a week's spending! But sadly due to Covid, my monthly salary is only around double this.

Tips for saving

Organise your day and plan what you need to reduce take-outs and plastic waste (coffee, lunch box, travel utensils, water).

My biggest tip for saving the pennies (and rupiah) is cooking everything from scratch. It's time-consuming cooking three meals a day, but right now time is what we have plenty of.

The cost of living of course, is a lot cheaper in Indonesia, but being a Muslim country with very strict alcohol policies, drinking heavily adds onto any weekly bill. If I could manage a month free of booze, it would surely help. Unfortunately, I am more than good at keeping my international cliché of being a boozy Brit...

Image source, Sian Williams

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