For years I’ve followed the career of Jerry Zape, a bar manager for Windstar Cruises who fulfilled a dream to give his wife and three children a better life with earnings he sent home from his job on a cruise ship.
What wasn’t reported in that story was that Jerry was one of three ship staff that I met in 1999 and wrote about in a story called “A Few Good Men.”
Whether by coincidence or luck, I recently ran into the “second” of the three good men, Bagus Gunawan, who was working in Tamarind, the Asian restaurant on Holland America Line’s Eurodam.
I asked Bagus if he had fulfilled his dream to return to Bali to open a restaurant and bed and breakfast. He had, but his story has a tragic turn. In 1999, Bagus returned home to begin the business he had dreamed about.
Nine years of working on ships proved to be useful. “I was implementing a new standard of service that I learned on ships and that was not common to Bali,” he says.
His restaurant was a great success. Then came that tragic day in October of 2002. Fortunately, Bagus’s home was nowhere near the bomb that ripped through a Balinese nightclub, killing more than 170 people and damaging up to 27 buildings nearby.
Unfortunately, however, the terrorist attack rippled out to all parts of the world, and tourism slowed to a trickle to this otherwise peaceful paradise. “Things were running well for the first two years after I returned home,” Bagus says. “But after the terrorist attack, I knew there was no point in trying to keep the business going on its own.”
Bagus Gunawan sat down with his wife to discuss the possibility of returning to sea. It was a difficult decision, because they had a son (and now a second child) . But Bagus knew that he could earn much more on a cruise ship than he could earn in Indonesia. He also knew with the earnings, he could keep the restaurant going.
He returned to Windstar Cruises. Five years earlier, Bagus (pictured at right in 1999), had been an assistant manager in the dining room on Windstar, but his brother Gusman had taken that position when Bagus returned. “I had to start off at the bottom again as a waiter,” Bagus says with a laugh.
Nonetheless, he was happy to be working and earning money. But he was there for only eight months before his sister announced she was getting married. “I am like a brother as well as a father to her,” he says, and so he returned home to be part of the wedding ceremony.
He was home for three months, when “I began thinking about working on the big ships,” he says. “I had never worked on a big ship, and I wanted to go to Windstar. My soul is with Windstar, but there were no positions available.” He went to sister company Holland America.
He started off as a waiter on Oosterdam. After three and a half months, he was promoted to head waiter. With his earnings, he (and Gusman) help support the extended family in Bali. “I thank god for the chance to work on a ship,” he says. “My being here means a lot to my family financially, and that gives me positive motivation to do my best.”
His earnings have put siblings through school and provided monthly support for his parents. “In our culture, parents have responsibility for their kids until the kids are married,” Bagus says. “Then the parents retire, and the kids have the responsibility to take care of their parents. We are really proud if our parents stay with us, even if we have our own families. We don’t have retirement homes in Bali.”
Bagus will one day leave the ship to realize his dream of running his own business and raising his son. “When you return home, there is a certain moment when you miss the ship, the people you work with, the passengers you meet,” he says. “It’s a feeling that you always want to remember.”
Apparently, there are passengers who want to remember him as well. As I stood interviewing Bagus, no fewer than three passengers walked by and said, “He’s the best.”
If your travels take you to the Balinese shores, look for Griya Shanti Guest House & Villa. For those of you who have cruised, it may just feel like home. For Bagus Gunawan, even after all he has been through, it feels like a dream come true.