The Coalition welcomed Dewi (Dae-WEE) Ali (Ah-LEE) to the team on December 21, 2020 and since then she has organized the most attended Legislative Day in the Coalition’s history on February 4th. While we have never met in person due to COVID, we have had many zoom calls and Microsoft Teams chats that have turned into causal conversations about weekend plans, what we’re eating for lunch, updates on all the pets, and small personal things you start to learn about your teammate the more time you spend together. In our most recent chat we connected about both growing up on an island and of course, food. I learned more about Dewi’s connection to land and water, her favorite place(s) in WA, what’s she most excited about in her role at the Coalition and so much more!
Caitie: I’m stoked to have another islander on staff! Tell me about where you’re from.
Dewi: I grew up in Southeast Asia, in Mentiri, which is a town in Brunei on the Island of Borneo, so lots of beaches, forests, lakes everywhere. My parent’s house is five minutes from the beach where my dad would take his boat and go fishing. I would tag along all the time when my dad would be patient with me and the weather wasn’t too hot. That’s what started me with being comfortable and at home with being outdoors.
Caitie: What’s too hot? Like what’s the average temperature?
Dewi: On average, the temperature is 35 C, which is high 90’s and high humidity. If you’re out and it’s hot, you’ll be sweating in minutes, so not fun. My parents said the past few years have gotten warmer, 38 C or 40 C on really bad days. It didn’t used to get this hot.
Caitie: Oh yeah, that’s hot! My family in Hawai’i says I’ve gotten soft living in WA for the past 11 years because I think anything in the 90’s is way too hot. Is Mentiri rural or city?
Dewi: It’s far away from the city, so yeah kind of rural and lots of neighbors. Our neighbors are walking distance away and growing up all the kids would play together. My neighborhood twenty years ago was made up of expat teachers and their families, so all the kids growing up would be from all different places. The older you got the further you could bike out on the beach; I didn’t get to go till I was eight.
Caitie: What were your favorite parts of fishing with your dad?
I would tag along all the time when my dad would be patient with me and the weather wasn’t too hot. That’s what started me with being comfortable and at home with being outdoors.
Dewi: I moved away when I was 15 years old, but when I was really young, I would go out with him. My dad’s boat had a cool box, a little space where he would keep an oxygen tank. My dad would periodically pull up the net and go through the fish, keeping the ones we could eat and throwing the others back in the water. He would get impatient with me because I would use the cool box to keep the fish that I like to just watch. Sometimes we would get an archer fish, they spout out water, it’s like a mini water gun, and I would like watching them, so I would put them in one of the cool boxes. So that’s my favorite part, but that’s probably his least favorite part.
Caitie: Ha, classic! What kind of fish would you catch?
Dewi: Lot’s of mackerel, sometimes we would get lucky and get sardines. We would get the most excited for grouper because that’s what we liked to eat and there are lots of fun ways to cook grouper.
Caitie: What were some of the ways you would cook the grouper?
Dewi: There’s two ways: grill the whole fish without seasoning or sauce, just the fish because otherwise the seasoning just drowns out the flavor. The fish already has such a nice flavor. My mom would also sometimes steam the whole fish with garlic, ginger, and cilantro and the juices that came out were so good!
Caitie: Yum, we would steam fish the same way, but would finish it by pouring hot peanut oil over it to crisp the skin and then add shoyu. Did you start scuba diving when you were little?
Dewi: I started scuba diving a little later. My mom has three brothers and two of them live in Bali so we would visit them. The first time I went scuba diving was in Bali at Tulamben, but it was a place for beginners and I was introduced to it because my mom was curious about it. It was a nature preserve and you couldn’t feed the fish or fish, and it was at the US Liberty shipwreck so there was a lot to see. I got spoiled a bit because that was my first experience and was the best experience; the water was so clear. There are diving spots back home, but they’re not the same, super different.
Caitie: How have all of your outdoor experiences growing up–fishing, diving, hiking, playing outside– shaped your connection to the outdoors now?
Dewi: I still love doing the same things. I still try to swim when I can, not when it’s cold–I still can’t handle that. I’m still always looking for diving spots here, even snorkeling or boating, anything to do with the water I still love. I’m finding that’s not as accessible here as something like hiking. The climate is super different and there are a lot more mountain areas. So, in some ways it sort of helped me break away from my usual stuff and I’m still finding new ways to explore the outdoors here. Washington is so unique. I started with all of the water things, and now that I’m here experiencing them in Washington they seem new to me.
Caitie: Do you have a favorite spot(s) in Washington that you like to go?
Dewi: The first thing that comes to mind is the Burke-Gilman Trail because it was the first spot I found in Seattle to be so walkable. There are some spots that remind me of home. Greenlake is also super fun, especially in the spring. Seattle beaches are a little different: Alki, Madrona, when it’s super early in the morning and there are no crowds, it’s really nice.
The first thing that comes to mind is the Burke-Gilman Trail because it was the first spot I found in Seattle to be so walkable.
Caitie: The Burke was the first trail I went on when I first moved to Seattle. How long have you been in Seattle?
Dewi: I’ve been in Seattle for 10 years. I moved from Brunei to Philadelphia where some of my family still lives, and then to Seattle for undergraduate and graduate school. So, it’s been a long time here.
Caitie: We’ve been in Seattle for almost the same amount of time! In honor of women’s history month, what woman or women have influenced and or inspired you?
Dewi: It is hard to think of one person…Growing up I was fascinated with Arundhati Roy, an Indian writer and activist. I first picked up her book, The God of Small Things, in high school and really liked her writing. I had no idea that she was an activist and a divisive figure where she’s from. When I was in middle and high school, she was starting conversations about equity and the environment in India and in spaces that didn’t invite these conversations. So, when I first heard of her, I was intimidated and impressed and curious. She’s been in my headspace for a long time.
Caitie: Has her work influenced your education or professional path in any way?
Dewi: It’s kind of a mix, I would say. Her book is fiction and I purely like the book because I’m a fan of her writing style. She is the kind of writer who is able to paint pictures in your head with her words. Six or seven years ago I found out that she was super active in social justice issues all over the world. She has helped me better appreciate other women who are doing work like her. There are a lot of women that are doing work that seems terrifying, intimidating, and scary, and I feel like she has opened the door for that, so it feels more personal rather than work related.
There are a lot of women that are doing work that seems terrifying, intimidating, and scary, and I feel like she has opened the door for that…
Caitie: You’ve been at the Coalition for a few months now, looking forward into 2021 what are you most excited about?
Dewi: I’m excited about ways we can build community. Growing our existing relationships we have with our partners and creating new partnerships. We have been working virtually and as a team we talk about the challenges but also the benefits: more access to our advocacy, more opportunities to invite and include voices that we haven’t had in our advocacy and outreach. I don’t know if the next year is going to be another year of virtual meetings or if we will go back to in-person but I think we’ll have those opportunities to get creative about how we’re able to be able to connect. I’m always excited about the connection side of it.
I’m excited about ways we can build community. Growing our existing relationships we have with our partners and creating new partnerships.
Caitie: I’m excited about building more relationships in the WA community as well. I’m also excited for you to see more WWRP project sites! It’s really cool to see individuals interacting in those spaces, how they’re using it and the impact they have on the entire community.
I had a such a great time getting to know Dewi more and want to send a big mahalo to her for taking the time to share and get to know me as well. I’m stoked to one day meet my new teammate in-person and go on a hike or kayak, it’s still too cold to go for a swim! For more information on our 2021 advocacy plans and to get in touch with Dewi you can contact her here.