What does it take to be a Gilionaire?
I chose Gili Air as much as its “Giliness” chose me.
Every (normal) year thousands of visitors come to our beautiful island. Some get bored after a few days. But some love it so much that they start a life here.
So, what is it we found here that others didn’t?
1. The island’s space-time continuum is distorted.
The island is 1.3km at its widest point and walking around for the first time I thought: “Yorgos, what if you made this tiny place your whole world for a while?”
I was still a tourist here when I realised that living in such a small space gives the impression that time expands.
With a limited number of options, people have time — the most valuable thing in life. Yes, you can bore yourself or instead choose to be creative without time constraints.
You don’t waste time driving across the city to visit a friend spending time stuck in traffic or taking the metro. In Brussels, a trip to the supermarket is literally a trip. It would always take me one hour or more. Here it takes minutes.
Gili creates a certain space to be oneself that most people in the West struggle to experience.
Small space also creates social proximity.
If community is one of your values, Gili Air is probably your place.
Putting up with others is different than in a city because you have little other choice than to interact. Don’t get scared though, it’s not bad at all.
This is a place where Monday’s freshly baked bread is announced on a digital pinboard. People who lose their bikes, a local restaurant offering daily specials, and people sharing rides to the Immigration Office are all discussion threads on the pinboard.
We’re close. Friends knock on doors and often come uninvited just because your house is on their way and they haven’t seen you for a while.
With certain people you have deep conversations. Some would eagerly listen to you when you need to vent. Others are your happy bunch on nights full of music and dance. Dive buddies, darts buddies, sunset enthusiasts, gym companions, and what have you.
Most acquaintances here are people I see so often that in the city I would call ‘friends’.
You’re sick? Somebody will help. You need a favour? Just ask.
And chances are that if you forget your phone at the beach bar, someone will return it to the barman.
3. A (multi)culture of acceptance
There are about 30 different nationalities on this island. It’s like an ongoing student exchange programme but with grown-ups and families. There are people of all religions, backgrounds, and sexual orientations.
People on Gili are mostly well-travelled and adventurous. They tend to be intrigued by ‘the different’ rather than avoid or express intolerance.
There are hardly any hard-liners on political views. I have had some of the most illuminating conversations with people I disagreed with. Dialogue’s the way and Bob’s your uncle.
In the long-term, narrowmindedness and intolerance would find no support here.
4. Gilionaires are unconventional.
The average Gilionaire would stand out as an out-of-the-box personality.
It’s the type of folk that live on a small tropical island in a developing country away from home. Some ‘dare’ to raise children here. Many refuse to wear flip-flops, and that includes trips to the public toilet. You fancy wearing pyjamas with pink dots at sunset? People will love it.
Gilionaires have different life priorities. Most of them had a moment when they got disgusted by the urban lifestyle and the rat race.
5. Freedom from choices
If you prefer dozens of dining options and the ‘freedom’ to visit hundreds of places nearby, then Gili Air is probably not ideal for you for a long stay.
Gilionaires do not have needless options nor the associated stress. We prefer simplicity. Having a limited number of choices frees headspace for conversations, audiobooks, yoga, exercising and snorkelling.
There are also limited consumer choices. A friend told me that when she’s in the West, she feels crushed by beauty standards in advertisements and a certain rush to materialism. “There are no billboards on Gili”, my flatmate added.
Without exception, everybody loves that there are no cars. No noise or air pollution — though plastics are a problem.
It is an almost-danger-free environment for kids. I wish I had these kids’ childhoods. It’s one of the top gifts any parent can give to their children.
The beach is a maximum of 7 minutes’ walk from any point.
Sometimes I look up and the palm trees become green exploding fireworks. Occasionally I kick a fallen coconut to clear the way.
The island gives presents daily — glowing sunsets and sunrises, ever-changing clouds and mist, rainy-day beauty, high or low tides. A stroll out in the sea and the underwater miracle lays before one’s eyes.
Marry nature with the sense of freedom and it is not strange that most people I know do not wear shoes or flip-flops. I am one of them.
We don’t live close to nature but in nature.
I notice nature’s characteristics and patterns that were always there but I always ignored. For instance, the moon makes a difference. Not all roads are well lit and certainly not the pathways. Riding a bike on moonless nights, a flashlight is necessary. On nights with even a glimmer of moonlight, focus well and the road appears glowing in front of you.
On stormy nights, lightning occasionally reveals the path in front. Poetry.
After spending my first whole day here, back in 2019, I said to my buddy, “If I were a place, I would be this island”. I stand validated every day.
A big thanks to Renee, Ania, Robin, Lindsay, George, James, and others with whom I discussed “Giliness”.