I have visited a few local Papuan villages since I came to work in Indonesia and was always amazed by the simple life people lead there. But these villages seem almost luxurious to what I experienced last Sunday - a whole new world! I was invited to join Maya to visit one of our dive guides who had gone back to his family just before the lockdown and had been living most of the time ‘at his garden’, as they call it here. We wanted to let him know that we would like him to come back to work at the resort now. As we couldn’t reach him by phone or text message, Maya decided to pay him a visit.
When we found the little bay this garden is located in, far away from any other house, let alone a village, we first had to climb over rocky limestones and walk through a swampy ground to get to the place. I don’t really know what to call what they have there. I wouldn’t call them shacks, but rather three small elevated platforms with a roof that they sleep, cook and eat in. We were greeted by our dive guide, his wife and little daughter, as well as two other women and two kids. And a couple of dogs, as is common around here. I must admit, I was a little shocked to see how they lived there. I did expect it to be very simple, but not that simple. Our dive guide showed us around. There was a big and beautiful garden, growing a large variety of vegetables. He also showed us the various trees – palm trees and others – as well as different wild plants and explained what they can be used for. This was interesting and new to me, as I basically only knew coconuts to be of use to humans. He went on to show us their ‘mandi’ – a water hole in the ground with more or less fresh water. It’s the jungle, I know, and life is very simple, but to actually see this simple life felt strange.
We were wondering why they hadn't built their huts a little further back where the ground was less swampy and smelly. And why they didn't place a few wodden boards across the swampy ground to facilitate the access from the water to the huts. I know they don't have money for complicated constructions, but these things seemed feasable with what the jungles provides for free. It's probably western reasoning which is based on our tendency to think about the future a lot - the opposite of what the local population lives by. It doesn’t seem important to them to live on a dry ground and have easy access from the sea. I guess they don't spend a lot of time thinking about this, as we would.
When we came back to the resort, I started wondering how it must feel for our dive guide or any of our other local employees to live and work at the resort, where everything is tidy and well organized. Do they enjoy having a dry room to sleep in and a clean mandi to take a shower when they live here? Or do they not care as much as I do, having grown up in super clean Switzerland and attaching a big importance to these things? Do they think we exaggerate with our - in their eyes maybe unnecessary - standards? I don’t know and I am hesitant to ask them because I don’t want them to feel judged. Maybe, they simply don’t waste time thinking about these things. It's like two different worlds and they probably accept both of them the way they are.
When we were at the garden, I also wondered what these kids were dreaming of. Food for sure, because the supply with rice from their village was very scarce, as we only found out later. They more or less had vegetables, coconuts and fish, that’s it. If we had known before, we would have brought them some food and I would have added a little chocolate or some other kind of sweet, just to give them a treat. I felt sorry for these children and would have liked to spoil them a little. But then again, they are not used to eating sweets on a regular basis as we are, so maybe they don’t miss it.
What else might they dream of or look forward to? There is not much distraction in their daily routine at the garden. No school, no other friends to meet. Not even a church to go to on Sundays, which in a village normally is the highlight of the week for most people. Do they mind? I don’t know. Maybe, they are looking forward to going back to their village to have the little bit of village distraction again. But maybe, they don’t waste time thinking about these things either because they didn’t grow up to have high expectations of life.
The eternal question crossed my mind: should we help them achieve a ‘better’ life? No, because what we think to be ‘better’ doesn’t necessarily have to feel better for them. I doubt they would want a different life, because they have no comparison to other life forms like many of us do. I recently did an exercise with my English students at the resort, asking them to write down their dreams and plans for the future. Whether they wanted to go back to school or learn something new after working for Raja4Divers. Most of them had a hard time finding an answer, because I think nobody ever asked them this question. So, they never thought about it before.
By giving them a job and an education, we allow them to support their families and sometimes their whole village. What they do with it, is up to them.
Live and let live.
When I was younger, happiness often seemed something that I didn’t have yet at a particular moment. I thought that I would be happy once I had achieved this or that, lost those 3 kilos, passed that exam, got a boyfriend again or managed to find a new job. Sometimes, I forgot to live in the moment because I was so concerned about what I first needed to get or achieve in order to be fully happy. Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful life, family and friends and I actually WAS happy. I just thought there could be more.
I have very high expectations of myself and the people surrounding me which is why I was often aiming for more than I had (and sometimes still do…). And to a certain extent, this can be positive as it pushes me to always give the best I can. But on the other hand, nobody can ever achieve perfection. And if happiness is only perceived in combination with perfection, you have a problem.
Happiness is a very individual thing. From a western point of view, it seems connected to the circumstances you live in, whether you have enough to eat, are healthy and have a safe place to sleep. If your physiological needs and safety are not satisfied, then covering these basic needs probably already means happiness to you. But if you are further up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you aim for higher satisfaction and self-fulfillment to achieve happiness. You look at people around you in our rich world and think they have more and must therefore be happier. So, you think you need to have that too in order to be happy. And I’m not only talking about material things. You may think all your friend’s relationships are happier or their kids are better behaved and cause less trouble. Social media plays a big part in this, where we all try to show only the best of ourselves and our families.
When I came to Indonesia, one of the first things that struck me was how happy the people here seemed to be. They were constantly joking and laughing and seemed to be having a blast. I learned that they and their families sometimes live a very simple life. But they live in the moment and don’t worry about tomorrow or about getting more out of life. Which is probably also why many of them didn’t seem to have a big problem with earning substantially less now that the resort is closed. So what? There have always been ups and downs in their lives and they would get through this crisis as well.
Lockdowns and strict regulations seem to have bothered the population of the western world a lot more that over here. Freedom of movement is something we consider very important to our happiness, which is why people were/are unhappy to have to stay home. None of the people I know in western countries were faced with existential problems – at least not yet. And yet, many seemed a lot more stressed and unhappy than my local work colleagues who are happy to still have a job and enough to eat.
Which leads me to think that happiness is only partly dependent on external factors and more on your inner attitude. Probably also on your genes and the values you were given from your family. It’s the «glass is half full or half empty» question that comes to my mind. Obviously, we cannot always make ourselves think positively. There are personal tragedies that happen to all of us and may make the glass look half empty for quite a while. But I’m talking about the general attitude that you can adopt if you choose to.
I had to learn to do that, and I still am. You may think that living in paradise contributes a lot to being happy. It does, I agree. But you can also be unhappy here, and I wouldn’t deny that there are moments when I feel sad. But I generally believe (and always have) that things will turn out well, which does add to feeling happy. There still are things I would like to change or wish I had more of, but most of the times I manage to remind myself that I don’t really need them. I left my comfort zone when I came here and had to cut back on monetary goals quite drastically, but it’s enough for now and I try not to worry too much about the future. Something will come up after this adventure for sure.
Happiness is also based on peace of mind, and I think I currently have that. So, I’m happy. And I hope all of you out there too!
The other day, we were talking about how as kids, we used to imagine being stranded on a deserted island and the things we would have liked to have with us on this island. Well, now I am «stranded» on a remote island and thinking about what I wish I had with me now.
First – more dark chocolate! I’m a chocolate addict, so even though our stock of delicious chocolate was very big when we still had guests, because many of them bring us some when they visit, I managed to pretty much finish all of the ones that I liked by now. So next time I come back from Switzerland, I must remember to bring more chocolate!
Second – a better e-reader and recommendations for good books to read. With the three additional afternoons off and the electricity being switched off at 10.30pm now, I have a lot of time for reading and I am devouring one book after the other. Before I came here, I subscribed to a big library in Zurich to borrow e-books. While this was basically a very good idea, there are two problems that I keep encountering: my – in my opinion – very un-user-friendly e-reader that takes forever to download a book even with a fast internet connection. On the island, it’s a nerve-rackingly long process and every other time, I get an error message that doesn’t allow me to download the book even after trying again and again. The second problem is not knowing which books to choose. The choice is simply too big. I’ll have to bring a list of recommendations to avoid spending hours downloading a book that I get bored of after the first few pages.
So, if you have any recommendations (I like biographies and novels based on historical facts), send them my way please!
Third – less sun cream. When I left Switzerland last summer, I threw a little goodbye party. Many of my friends tried to find a useful goodbye present, so they gave me a sun cream or body lotion. I know it was meant well and a good thought really, but I hardly ever use sun cream here, because I simply try to stay out of the sun. And even though my office features the most beautiful view on the ocean, there's no direct sunshine either. Which means I am still left with tons of sun cream. Please don’t give me any if you happen to meet me in Switzerland...
Fourth – less make-up remover. Back home, I would hardly ever leave the house without a little eye make-up and some lipstick, but over here, I rarely use it. Which means I brought way too much make up remover – I think I could survive for another 5 years if it were only for this!
Hang on! Why am I already writing about things I brought but am not using instead of things that I wish I had? It seems I don’t miss that much on the island. And the things that I wish I had here are not something that I could have taken with me – the people, cinemas, unsweetened plain yoghurt, a crispy slice of whole-wheat bread with some delicious French cheese, etc. But I realized that I can live without them, except for the people that I miss.
Before plunging (quite literally...) into this new adventure, I had no idea what I would need on this island. So, I took as little as possible and still brought way too much. When I went to Switzerland for Christmas, I took back a lot of things, such as shoes I never used and jackets and sweaters I brought because – you know it – I am always cold. But not here. Now, I have one sweater and one jacket and that’s perfectly enough. The few times that I need a jacket, I don’t mind wearing the same one again.
I like the fact that I was only able to bring two suitcases full of things for my new life. It felt liberating not to need to many «things» anymore. I’m generally not someone who buys a lot of clothes or knick-knacks and my flat is rather scarcely furnished. But coming here, I was able to reduce my life even more and I liked that a lot. This is probably why I can’t even think of ten things I would have wanted to bring to the island. It’s fine as it is and I don’t need more.
Except – maybe more dark chocolate!
I have mentioned before that, even without guests, I’m still busy, but I’m pretty sure you secretly wondered what it was that I am so busy doing… How much to do can there be without the hustling and bustling of resort life? Well, of course I wouldn’t call myself stressed at the moment. Especially, since we currently only work half days on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in order to use up some of our holiday time that we are not able to take anywhere else right now. So, this leaves plenty of time for work outs, snorkelling and reading in my hammock on the terrace. It’s fantastic!
But there are still things to do, and my tasks have evolved lately. Apart from the regular social media, newsletter and PR activities, we decided to keep our guests and friends of the resort updated on what is happening on the island with little homemade videos. These days, it’s all about video content anywhere in the digital world and we did have some beautiful and professionally made films about the resort and marine life before. But these short videos are meant to be different: they aim at giving people a little insight of what we do and make them dream about coming back to Pulau Pef. That’s why we use the claim «Dream Now – Travel Later» to brand them. I admit, we didn’t invent this one ourselves, but I think this only shows how great the claim is, and by using it we pay tribute to the inventors.
Making videos is all very nice, but we don’t have a professional film team on the island. So, our facility manager, Marcel, and I took over the task of producing and editing these videos. We both had never done this before but were eager to learn and asked Google how to do it. Marcel is a good photographer and it was clear he was going to do the filming. Which left me with the editing part – well, great! And you know what? It was quite tricky in the beginning and I’m still worlds away from any kind of semi-professional level, but I have come to really like it. It’s a creative job since we’re in charge of the entire process: gather ideas, come up with a storyboard, chose the actors, film it, edit it, set it to music, write the subtitles and distribute and promote it via all our channels.
You can check out the videos on our YouTube channel.
You may think that producing a one- to two-minute video can’t be such a big deal. Well, let me tell you: it takes forever! I know I’m still slow and have to google many things again and again when editing (and always stumble onto video tutorials that take forever to watch with our slow internet - does anybody still publish good old written tips online?). But the fact is, it takes days to finish one of these short films. Starting with the tons of material we filmed and having to choose the right clips. The videos up to one minute are the hardest. They force me to cut down all the beautiful material to the very essence of the message we want to convey. To leave out certain parts that I really like but that are not relevant to the core message.
This process feels symbolic for life in general at the moment. There are so many things that we would normally be able to do but have to leave out for now as we are not allowed to do them or they are not possible: travel, meet friends and go to the cinema (in that order for me, but I’m starting to repeat myself…). I agree with those who say it’s OK to do this once in a while, free yourself of unnecessary ballast and find out what’s really important and essential to you. Well, the three things I mentioned above ARE essential to me, so I am really ready to take in the ballast again. I am ready for a longer movie! Bring on all the details, the long shots, the dramatic music, the nail-biting suspense, the romantic love story, the complicated storyline – I’ll have it all!
Did I hear you say I should consider giving up my job on the island and go back to working in the movie industry? No, I’m not ready for that yet! Not as long as there are still so many stories to tell from my life on this beautiful little island in Raja Ampat…
I have some good news and some bad news today. The good news is that in many countries all over the world, the restrictions imposed during the Corona crisis are being lifted and people can go back to a «new normal» - whatever this means… The bad news is that I’m jealous! Indonesia lags a few steps behind western countries in its development of Covid-19. This means, that we are still in deep lockdown and the end of it seems a while away.
Personally, this is bad news for me in two ways. On the one hand, my daughter was supposed to come and visit us a in July. We were both very much looking forward to this, but as it looks now, we’ll have to postpone. On the other hand, as much as I am never homesick when we have guests and times are busy, I now feel like going home for a few weeks and seeing my family and friends. I miss them more now than during other times, because I have more time to think about them. For now, I am still hoping to be able to travel at the beginning of August and go to Switzerland for a vacation. But who knows…?
To be honest, I feel left out. Why is everybody else allowed to go out again, meet people, in Switzerland even go to the cinema (I MISS the cinema!)? In Jakarta, shopping centers are opening again, and we are still not even allowed to go to Sorong? Especially us here on Pulau Pef, who have been in a perfect quarantine for almost 3 months with absolutely no personal contact whatsoever with the outside world? I’m aware that the number of new infections is still rising in Indonesia and that the situation varies tremendously from region to region. That’s what makes it so difficult for the government to decide how to proceed. The country being so huge and many areas so remote, it is probably very hard for the authorities to make sure measures such as keeping your distance and wearing a mask are still respected, once restrictions are being lifted. Hence the reluctance to open up.
On the other hand, the lockdown has very dramatic consequences for many people here. Losing your job means no more income and, consequently, no more food. There is no unemployment money and government support is limited to some rice, sugar, tea and soap, which is by far not enough to feed a family. How are people going to survive if they cannot go back to work for many more months? They will die from hunger, not from Corona. Is this better? With the knowledge that we have now about this virus, I think it should be possible to lift the lockdown and open up slowly, while still making sure that the necessary precautions are applied. This is going to cost some money. But still less, I believe, than having the economy crash completely and many more people losing their jobs and their basis of life.
I am obviously neither a health expert nor a politician (thank God!). But I watch and listen to what’s happening around me and I draw my conclusions. They may be wrong, but nobody can predict the future. As much as it was probably necessary to take radical measures during the last weeks and months, it is now time to ease them up and start trying to fix what has been destroyed. As long as this is still possible.
And in the meantime, I shall continue to watch movies on the small screen…
Management styles are something that affect everyone with a job anywhere in the world. During my MBA programme, we talked about styles defined by colours: red (top-down info and orders), green (discuss previously drafted projects with the team in a structured way) or blue (co-creating a project with the team from scratch). Each of these styles has its advantages and disadvantages. And there are big differences depending on cultures and backgrounds. The way you are brought up influences the way you lead or the way you work as a team.
As in many Asian societies, it is very important for Indonesians not to «lose their face» in front of others. This means, that e.g. admitting a mistake is very difficult for them, which is very contrary to the way Swiss people behave. Back home, we expect everybody to be direct and say what they did and what they think. This sometimes leads to difficult situations over here because either side expects the other to react in the way they are used to, which of course the other side doesn’t know. As a western manager working in Indonesia, it takes a lot of diplomatic expertise to explain to your employees that certain rules need to be respected, even though they may appear strange to them, because they were brought up differently.
Every morning at 8am, there is a staff meeting with everybody working here. On the one hand, it’s a moment for everybody to be together as one team and the possibility for management to inform the staff about news and decisions, as well as talk about the daily tasks for every team. On the other hand, all departments are also invited to share their info and issues with the others. The meeting is meant to be a platform for inputs and discussions from everybody. As anywhere in the world, there are people who talk more and some who never say a word. I am still one of the latter because of my lack of Indonesian, even though I usually don’t hold back with my opinion. It’s bound to change, as my Indonesian is finally (but very slowly) improving…
It always strikes me how Maya manages to keep the balance between respecting various inputs - and thus sometimes long discussions - and communicating clearly what she wants and what she doesn’t approve of. Many of our employees are not used to being given the opportunity to speak up because they didn’t learn this at school or at home. You can see that they feel uncomfortable about having to give feedback. They would rather just receive an order and execute it, like they are used to.
But Maya regularly invites everybody to comment and make suggestions and she will always take into consideration any suggestion suited to improve a workflow or solve a problem. I’d say, she applies a mixture between a green and a blue management style, involving the team as much as possible. But sometimes, as in all businesses, it just takes a clear decision by the boss, and that’s when she does just that and reacts very «red».
Today, I witnessed something interesting. We’ve been having rather heated discussions about an important issue that is still unresolved. Taking advantage of the fact that without guests, we don’t have to stick to our normal daily schedule, our staff meetings currently have a tendency to take longer and discussions are more intense. As we were not going to find a solution to our problem right away and the discussion was turning around the same people and topics, resulting in some of us getting fed up, Ibu Maya decided to put an end to it and call the issue closed, yet unresolved for now. At the end of the meeting, everybody shook hands or hugged (yes, we still hug over here!), apologizing for the things they had said and asking for forgiveness. And with that, the issue was closed, but not forgotten, so we can all take a fresh start at working as one team again. It felt strange for me to simply say «sorry» to everyone even though they may have said things during the past few days that I completely disagree with and the issue as such is still unresolved. But for them, it’s over now and forgiven, by the simple gesture of shaking hand or hugging and apologizing.
I was told that this is very common practice here in order to go on with daily business and not linger on over something that you’re stuck with. Quite handy, actually – just say «sorry» and continue. It still feels a little superficial to me, but for them, I think, it’s genuine and they really mean it. Why not. Sometimes a symbolic gesture helps to overcome a problem. The aim is to focus on the future and the positive side of things, to take away learnings in order to avoid repeating mistakes and to find our motivation and team spirit again.
Mission hopefully accomplished!
I have two grown-up kids (my daughter is 21, my son is 20) of whom I’m very proud. They were born only 13 months apart, which means the first years were quite exhausting for us parents. I think I was a rather strict mother, educating my children according to principles that I believed in at the time, especially when it came to food: no sweets before mealtimes, we would all eat together at the same table, no running around and no TV during meals and the kids had to taste at least one bite of everything that was served to find out whether they liked it or not. I tried not to spoil them with material things (and yet they ended up with heaps of toys and furry animals…) but never held back with cuddles and kisses. When they hurt themselves or were sad about something, I tried to comfort them with a hug, maybe a little song and a band aid if there was a wound. I tried not to give sweets or other gifts to avoid creating a reflex that would stick.
Before we closed the resort, our dive manager’s wife and their two small children were invited to join us on Pulau Pef and remain here during the lockdown. It’s great to have the two little ones here, not only for them but also for all of us, because they are full of life and remind us to look towards the future and see the positive side of things, instead of sulking about all the negative aspects of the current crisis. And Aisyah and her little brother Samudra utterly enjoy having so many «aunties» and «uncles» around who love to cuddle and play with them!
Indonesians are very fond of children - men and women alike. Back home, men tend to only play with older children unless it’s their own baby. Samudra only just turned 1, but our male employees cuddle and play with him just as often as the female ones. Whenever he waddles around, still a little unstable as he just learned how to walk about three weeks ago, our staff literally competes to pick him up and cover him with kisses. When the kids first got here, I felt like telling our employees to give the poor little fellow a break, but Samudra didn’t seem to mind. He seems used to it because this is just the way he grew up. I’m pretty sure, in Switzerland almost every parent would try to prevent people from grabbing their one-year-old out of their arms without even asking! But here, the parents don't seem to mind.
Almost every day, I see Aisyah run around with some kind of lollipop, chocolate bar or other sweet just before mealtimes. In the beginning, I secretly rolled my eyes every time I saw that and was on the verge of telling the «aunties» or her parents not to feed her sweets so often. But I didn’t, because it’s not up to me to educate these kids. During mealtimes, neither of the kids ever sit at the table. They constantly run around playing and having fun while their parents follow behind, trying to feed them. I was told this is completely normal here, no little child is asked to sit quietly at the table and eat with the grown-ups.
Was I wrong to ask my kids to do that? They would have loved to run around and only come back to the table occasionally to grab some food. Maybe, they would have developed a much more passionate approach to food if they were allowed to eat where and how they liked – I don’t know. I just think that it must be rather stressful for the parents to keep running after their kids with the food. The parents never seem to be able to eat at the same time, let alone have a conversation at the table. But then again, Indonesians don’t seem to attach such a big importance to mealtimes as a social gathering as we do.
Indonesian children probably grow up in a much more relaxed way than Swiss kids do. Is it better for their development? Or is the Swiss way preparing children better to adapt to adult life with its conventions and regulations later on? I have no idea. The only thing I know is that I would choose more or less the same principles again with my kids if I had to start all over. I may have made many mistakes – sorry Annina and Jascha! – but I believed I was doing the right thing. And even though my kids always told me that I was the «only mom who doesn’t allow this», I hope I did ok. It was my style and therefore it was the correct style for my kids and me. And the Indonesian style is the correct one for them. This is how it should be – perfect just for them and nobody else.
Religion being of big importance in Indonesia and influencing everyday life much more than back home, I decided to come back to the month of Ramadan and write about its highlight – Idul Fitri (or Lebaran, as it is also called in Indonesia). This celebration marks the end of the fasting month Ramadan and is the time when Muslims normally visit their family and friends to ask for forgiveness for any wrongs they have committed in the previous year: «Mohon Maaf - Please Forgive Me».
For obvious reasons, this year is going to be different. Many of our Papuan employees, who are mainly Christians, went home to stay with their families before the lockdown started. This is why there are currently more Muslim employees still on the island. They have known for a few weeks already that they will not be able to go home to their families. You may think this is not such a big deal, the whole world is unable to travel and see their friends and families at the moment. But going home for Idul Fitri is a very deeply rooted tradition and the fact that they are not allowed to see their loved ones on this important day is very hard for our Muslim employees. They don’t show it and accept the decision the Indonesian government took in April when it banned travelling anywhere in the country until the end of May. But I know, many of them are very sad.
The exact date of Idul Fitri is unknown until announced one or two days in advance by the highest Imam of the country. It depends on the rising of the new moon and is very carefully observed by religious leaders all over the Muslim world. I’m not sure I fully understand why the date could not be fixed in advance as the moon phases are pretty well known for years to come, but it all seems to depend on when the new moon is actually sighted by the religious authorities. Like so many times before, I’m amazed that this is so easily accepted by everyone. I would imagine that organizing big festivities for one of the two most important holidays of the year does require some time and certainty. Back home, we would want to know the date well in advance in order to allow enough time for all the preparations and also to know, which day we’ll be off from work. Over here, people seem to be more relaxed and flexible. They knew it was going to be the 24th or the 25th of May, and it will most probably be this Sunday. But we will only know for sure tonight.
Nevertheless, our entire staff - whatever the religion - has been preparing and organizing the big day for some time now. Especially the food that will be served, which will not be as elaborate and abundant as back home, but still as special as our current situation allows. If I understood correctly, we will be eating a little here and there almost all day, and I’m already debating whether I should try to get some work out done before it all starts or between meals to make room for more food…
In the morning of Idul Fitri, we will all gather, and our Muslim colleagues will ask everyone for forgiveness as the tradition requires. At home, they would normally start by visiting the eldest family members, like grandparents and elderly members of their friend’s families. But since these people are not here, they asked Maya if they were allowed to ask «Oma» for forgiveness instead, Maya’s 86-year-old mother who is staying with us on the island and who is simply called «Oma» by everyone. I understood that it is very important to respect this tradition with an elderly and respected person.
As I didn’t grow up with religious traditions, I look forward to witnessing Idul Fitri here. Even though the Islamic religion and its rituals are still very foreign to me, I respect the meaning they have to my colleagues and am happy to be part of some of them.
This is what I was hoping for when I decided to take on a job in a country as far away as Indonesia – to get to know different cultures and learn about different traditions. The Islamic tradition is just one of the many cultures we have here on the island. I’m sure I will find out a lot more about the other ones the longer I stay and work here.
How inspiring, I can’t wait!
One of the beautiful things of living on Pulau Pef is the fact that we are so close to nature. There is only the resort and the jungle with all its animals on this island. And with the traditional Papuan style bungalows, you hear and feel nature, because it’s all around you. When I first got here, this took some getting used to as I didn’t have to deal with frogs in my bathroom before and wasn’t accustomed to seeing lizards cross the path in front of my eyes. But now I’m used to being surrounded by wildlife and even miss it when I’m not on the island.
I knew that Mother Nature can be merciless, especially since I witnessed the newborn turtles a few years ago in Australia fighting their way across the beach to reach the sea, only to be eaten right away by the sharks and the seagulls awaiting them. It seems cruel, but it’s the circle of life, and as much as I wanted to protect the cute little babies, I knew they were food for other animals. And that this was the way it was meant to be.
Lately, we’ve been lucky to have various baby animals here on Pulau Pef.
First, it was the turn of our «pets», the Sugar Gliders. They are cute nocturnal marsupials that we rescued in Sorong from a life of containment in a small cage. Now, they live in a big enclosure here on the island and it’s my job to feed them every night. Since I came here, they’ve had babies 3 times already, the last time approx. 2 months ago. First, I found two little ones in the tree log they usually all sleep in. A couple of weeks later, suddenly there were another 2 babies in there. And then, about 10 days ago, they were gone. I don’t know what happened to them, but I imagine the adults ate them, maybe to make sure the population doesn’t grow too fast as they are 8 grown ups already in the cage.
Then, there were the turtles. Shortly before the resort closed, one of our dive guides found some turtle eggs on an uninhabited island that were being eaten by Monitor Lizards. He decided to bring them to Pef and bury them in the sand. As we have many young Blacktip Reef Sharks in the lagoon in front of the resort, we didn’t release the turtles after they hatched, but decided to keep them in a basin and take care of them until they are big enough to be released in the water without immediately being eaten by the sharks. Most of them are still doing fine, but some have died, especially the smaller ones that seemed weaker. I know you may say we shouldn’t interfere with nature, but instead of leaving all the eggs to the Monitor Lizards, we are simply trying to help some of the turtles survive. They will still face a lot of dangers once they get in the water.
Last Sunday, I witnessed what seemed an especially cruel act of nature. Four weeks ago, our two Raja Ampat Ducks had 11 ducklings again. This time, they lasted for a lot longer than last time, when all of the ducklings were gone after just 3 days. Last Saturday, they were still 6 of them, but we found one limping and unable to walk properly which is why its family left it behind. As it otherwise seemed rather fit, we put it in a cardboard box to protect it from the Monitor Lizards and fed it. On Saturday, it really seemed to do quite ok, but on Sunday morning it couldn’t get up on its feet anymore. I thought it was going to die very quickly because it didn’t want to eat nor drink anymore, so I took it to my room to give it some comfort during its last moments. I know you’ll say it’s a wild animal, don’t treat it like a pet! But it just seemed so lost and lonely, I couldn’t resist… It took much longer for the little duckling to die than I expected and I was constantly torn between throwing it in the water to the sharks to hopefully allow it a quick death and waiting for its natural death to come, because I wasn’t sure if being eaten by a shark was really a very quick death. So, I chose to wait and only threw it in the water after it stopped breathing a few hours later.
I know that nature has provided for a perfect circle of life which only gets messed up once human beings start interfering. But to try and reduce suffering a little bit can’t be that wrong, can it? I don’t know if the little duckling felt comfortable with me last Sunday, but I like to think it did. It would give ME comfort to know that it wasn’t feeling so lonely – even if this is very human thinking. But I guess I would probably do it again if I had the chance.
It’s been six weeks since the last guests left the resort and we had to shut down because of Indonesia closing its borders to foreign travellers and tourist activities being prohibited. Physically, we are all doing fine, and the virus fortunately hasn’t reached the island yet. At the beginning of the crisis, some of my friends asked if I considered returning to Switzerland, but that was never really an option for me. I naturally thought my place was here with the team. And since my job is mainly making sure potential guests don’t forget us and keep dreaming about a holiday with us, I am still fairly busy, trying to communicate the beauty of Raja Ampat to the world.
Despite the financial uncertainty threatening our resort, many of us enjoy the quiet times and the fact that we have more free time than during normal resort operation. But it’s not always easy to motivate yourself if there are no deadlines. Especially, if the main purpose of a resort cannot be fulfilled: to provide a relaxing, pleasant and unforgettable holiday experience to our guests!
With renovations, cleaning and finally doing the things we’ve always wanted to do but never had the time, there is plenty of work for all the remaining employees on the island to fill their days. And we still have a clear schedule with a little shorter, yet strict work hours. Just like people around the world working at home, we also had to keep up the structure and the daily routine.
And yet, the prospect of another few months without guests on the island, is not particularly motivating. I sense a certain laxity among everyone, including myself. Not that we don’t want to do a good job, but we are slower, extending the breaks by a few minutes here and there, finishing a few minutes earlier in the evening, etc. We feel it doesn’t matter, because there are no guests waiting.
It’s not about the missing minutes of work or the physical presence. But the energy is missing too, and that bothers me. Anybody who’s met me knows that I am usually a very energetic person. I need a certain speed – even though now adapted to the island rhythm – and deadlines to be productive.
How do we motivate ourselves? Some of us do more sports - jogging, working out, Zumba sessions, etc. Others go snorkelling on the house reef or take a kayak to explore the mangrove lagoons around the island. And we keep up certain routines that we also have with the guests, such as our ‘Happy Sunset’ once a week: we meet at 7pm at the bar to have a drink while watching the sunset and listening to the Pef band play their island tunes. Afterwards, we all have dinner outside from a little buffet prepared by our kitchen team. We enjoy feeling like guests for one evening, sitting at the bar and sipping a cocktail mixed by the boss personally.
It helps to have events like this one and to continue spending time together with the entire (remaining) team here. On normal evenings, it now takes roughly 15 minutes for everybody to eat their dinner and disappear to their rooms immediately after, where they often stay and make phone calls or watch videos. That’s why we also organize a movie night once a week for everybody and various games on Saturday afternoons which are organized by a different department every week.
I’m sure these little events will help us keep up our motivation and strengthen the team spirit. But there’s one thing we can only do ourselves - we have to believe that Raja4Divers will survive as a resort and that someday soon we will be standing at our jetty again with a coconut drink in our hands, welcoming our guests to Pulau Pef.
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…