This week, I got to play the priest! A couple staying with us wanted to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary here and renew their wedding vows. They asked us if we could organize a little celebration. We said yes, making sure that it was not going to be just a «little» celebration.
Our whole team was eagerly planning and organizing the event for weeks. It had to be perfect. The guests had sent us the vows they gave each other 20 years ago, as well as two wedding pictures to give us an idea. We were all asked to wear white clothes or at least a white t-shirt.
At some point, someone had to re-write the vows, and guess who had the honor to do this? Since I like writing in general, it was a pleasure for me to do this, although I had no idea what to write about in the beginning. It had to be solemn and meaningful, I thought. And something that would fit various lifestyles, as I didn’t really know them and what they may have experienced during their 20-year journey together. I managed to come up with something and was actually looking forward to holding my speech in front of the entire group of guests and employees that were all invited to the ceremony. I even got to ask the famous question and luckily, they both said «I do»!
After the ceremony, there was singing, dancing, food, cake and party time until the wee hours. All in all, it was a beautiful event and all the guests were very happy.
We celebrate many events here, but never before such a big one. Usually, it’s birthdays, a marriage proposal once in a while, or public holidays, and we always try to come up with a new idea to make it special for our guests. We also like it to be a surprise for them, so we don’t tell them before or have standard procedures. Even though there is always some planning or preparations involved, we try to make it look like a spontaneous event.
Our staff is very good at improvising as well. You have to be if you live on a remote island with no easy access to shops or other providers of supply. But it’s always done with a lot of joy. Our employees never give the impression that they are forced to make an extra effort. I think, they are enjoying these celebrations as well and most of the times, they keep on playing music and singing much longer than they have to. As there are not many distractions here, these are also fun times for them, one of the reasons probably being that they always get a special treat, such as free drinks, sweets or cigarettes.
But even though we enjoy celebrations, Pulau Pef will never become a «wedding island» or any other kind of party place. As much as we like to have fun, we also enjoy our peace and quiet times again, listening to the sound of the waves and the singing of the birds. And remind ourselves that this is exactly what our guests come here for.
I love languages and have always learned them rather easily, although most of the five that I speak at a young age. So it felt like a natural consequence for me to study translation at university. My goal was to become a simultaneous interpreter after passing my translator’s diploma, but then I started working in communications and marketing and drifted away from languages. I never actually worked as a translator, but every office I have worked at was very happy to have me translate short texts and letters or check translations for them. I didn’t mind that and enjoyed doing it.
When I applied for the job as Marketing Manager at Raja4Divers, Maya asked me if I was prepared to learn some Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian) and I answered that this was one of the things I was really looking forward to. I was very eager to learn a new language and naïvely imagined it would be as easy as in my younger years. I guess you know where I’m heading – it turned out a lot more difficult than I thought!
Grammatically, Indonesian is not a difficult language. There are no tenses and no declinations and plural forms are often created by simply repeating the word twice. But even though the vocabulary has some Dutch and English influence, it has no common roots with any Latin or Anglo-Saxon languages that I speak. This makes it hard for me to remember the words, even after repeating them many times and trying to learn them by heart. At the beginning, everybody told me to be patient. «It’ll come in time, you don’t have to rush», they said. Well, I’m not a very patient person, so I wanted to speed up things and ordered a textbook to study in a more structured way. I was convinced, this was going to do the trick and started studying enthusiastically during my lunch breaks. At least for a few weeks.
Unfortunately, the words didn’t stick with me any better than before. The fact that I work at the office here, surrounded by Indonesian ladies who speak perfect English, as well as our German Facility Manger and Maya, with both of whom I speak German, doesn’t really help. I feel a little ashamed of not being able to communicate with our local staff who doesn’t speak English. And it doesn’t make me proud to sit at the staff meeting every morning listening to my colleagues speak a language that I only understand little bits and pieces of. Every day, I tell myself that something has got to change! And then I have a million excuses why I didn’t have time to study again…
A few months ago, I started teaching English to our dive guides. They need to improve their English in order to communicate better with our guests. When they sometimes struggle to pronounce and remember the words in English, I catch myself thinking «Come on guys, it’s not that difficult! Just try a little harder!». But for them, English is just as far away from Bahasa Indonesia as Indonesian is from English for me. Or even further. Who am I to judge them for struggling to learn a completely different language? I’m in no position to be judgmental as long as I don’t speak their language. So I better get down to it and study harder.
Wish me luck!
Last week, I told you that I was looking forward to going back to the island. I was, but when the time came to say goodbye and leave Switzerland again, I didn’t feel like going. It was a lot harder to go away again for six months than it was last summer.
Last year, everything was new and exciting, and I could hardly wait to start my new life at the other end of the world. I was taking off to a new adventure and wasn’t quite sure how this was going to turn out. When I got to the island, time went by very quickly, as I was busy getting used to the climate, the people and the new lifestyle. I had to learn so much that I didn’t really have time to think of home much.
Now that I knew what I was going back to – a paradise that I came to love and appreciate very much, but also a place very far away from my loved ones – I wanted to stay in Switzerland and spend more time with friends and family, enjoy the luxury of the civilized world, go to the movies and concerts or just relax on my couch and watch TV. I realized again how much I still love life in Switzerland, even though in the beginning, it was strange to be back. But I got used to it again very quickly. It will probably be like this every time I go back home: I’ll never have enough time to see everybody, never be able to do all the things I want to do and be torn between enjoying Switzerland and wanting to go back to beautiful Pulau Pef, the warm climate and the laughter of the locals as quickly as possible.
Any expat will probably talk about similar experiences and say that it gets better in time. Just as with the goodbyes on the island every Friday, I assume I will get used to going back and forth between my two lives the more often I do it.
Arriving on Pef, I was greeted with much joy from the team, as always, but it still felt odd to be back, as if I didn’t know where I really belonged. OK, I was jetlagged and had a bad cold, so I wasn’t the best of myself. But it only took one day, meeting the guests, tasting the delicious food, watching the Pef band sing their island tunes and listening to the sound of the waves, and I was back also with my heart.
It felt comforting to know that I am able to switch back and forth between my two worlds because I intend to continue doing it for a while…
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may have noticed that there was no post last Friday. I attended the new InterDive dive exhibition in Frankfurt with Maya and our two booking representatives and didn’t have time to write. I have worked at other exhibitions before, but never at a dive show.
Working at an exhibition is a good opportunity to feel the pulse of visitors and potential guests. There are many different types of people and questions you have to deal with. We talked and talked, trying to give visitors all the info they were looking for and answer as many questions as possible. It made me feel very proud to see the amazement in people’s eyes when I showed them the images of our resort and the new trailer. I know it took a long time to get where Raja4Divers is now and it wasn’t always easy for Maya and her team. I’m lucky to work for the resort now that it’s running more or less smoothly and that we are well booked. I makes me proud to be part of such a successful team and company. And this is what I tried to convey to potential guests at the dive show.
We are operating from a position of strength and you might say, it’s easy to sell a successful resort. Try doing it from a weaker perspective and see how that works out! Well, Maya and her team once were there and worked their way up. With a lot of passion, hard work and love for what they do. Our guests feel this and so did the visitors at the dive show. Our booth in Frankfurt was part of a big Indonesia booth which means there are other resorts and liveaboards present and competing for the visitors’ attention. Most of the time, we had a lot of people at our corner while others sometimes looked a little bored. I’m sure it has to do with the way we presented our resort, the decoration of our booth and our open, friendly and passionate explanations. We are truly convinced, our resort is one of the most beautiful places on the planet and this attitude seems to be contagious.
To stay at Raja4Divers is not cheap, we are well aware of this. And I know some of the visitors we presented the resort to never thought they would spend that much money for a dive vacation. And yet, they stopped, listened and some of them even made a reservation on the spot!
As I am enjoying my last days in Switzerland with a busy schedule, I realize once more how incredibly fortunate I am to work at a place like that. For the time being, I wouldn’t want it any other way and I’m looking forward to going back next week!
I’m still in Switzerland, enjoying some time off and meeting a lot of friends and family. Which means, I have to answer many questions about my new life in West Papua. «So, what’s it like to live on a remote island?» «What do you do all day?» «What are the people like? Are your guests nice?» «How do you cope with the heat and the humidity?» «What do you miss most?» «Does it feel strange to be back?»
I love to tell them about Pef and Raja4Divers, even though I have to repeat the same things over and over again. I don’t actually feel as though I have been away for six months – many things felt as always from the day I arrived in Switzerland (except for the cold weather, of course – but then again, I never liked that anyway…). Yes, I did enjoy that first sweet water shower! And the dry air, bed and clothes. And fast internet and the fact that I can just pick up the phone and call whoever I want. But these are not the things that strike me the most.
I appreciate the incredible public transportation in Switzerland – you miss a bus and 2 minutes later, the next one arrives. And I don’t risk my life just crossing the street because traffic is very civilized. I can buy everything I need and pay by app on my phone. But I am surprised about the fact that people seem to constantly complain about something – the weather, the other people, the stress, their boss, their kids, the train being delayed, the high prices (ok, I agree – welcome to Zurich!), politicians, the environment, the future, etc. Hello? You have no idea what a good life you have here! Stop worrying about everything and start enjoying what you have!
I guess, I was the same before I left. But living and working in another country changes your perspective. You start appreciating what you have back home. Things you took for granted suddenly become special and valuable. You start to actually feel that living differently can also be ok. Having travelled a lot in my life, I knew that before, but I didn’t really feel it. I looked at different cultures and traditions from a tourist’s point of view. Now I’m living and working with people who have been brought up very differently and I have to deal with their mentality. I can’t always assume they think the same way as I do, and it’s me who needs to adapt, not them. It works out fine most of the times, but sometimes I do need a little help. Luckily, I have other westerners working with me who have been there for a long time and who are able to help me understand when I’m lost. It’s challenging, but very interesting. I’ve always been curious to experience and learn new stuff, so this is the perfect training field for me!
I never make New Year’s resolutions because if I want to do or change something in my life, I usually can’t wait for the year to end or to start. I want to do it right now! So, when I reflected on how good 2019 has been to me and how 2020 might turn out, I wished for life to just continue the way it was on December 31st.
Of course there are things I wouldn’t mind (not) having, e.g. less pain in my joints, no gray hair, more pocket money to spend on travelling, have all my loved ones come and visit me on the island, speak Indonesian without having to study so hard, find a jogging route all the way around Pef and finally manage to eat less chocolate, but I am also very happy without this. I’m enjoying the amenities of modern life in Switzerland at the moment – running shower with sweet water, fast internet, public transportation, cinemas and much more – but I’m already looking forward to island life again, to the sunshine and warm temperatures, to the wonderful team and their laughter and to contributing to making our guests’ stay on Pef the best they ever had. Never mind the salty water and sweaty temperatures!
My friends sometimes ask me how long I am intending to stay on the island. Honestly, I don’t know. I’ll stay for as long as it feels right, and I hope it will feel right for quite some time to come. Life has a way of taking care of itself if you let it. There were many ups and downs in my life, but most of them happened for a reason. And I was always trying to be open to new adventures, to meeting new people and to make lemonade, when life gave me lemons.
The last 6 months working for Raja4Divers have been incredible. I have opened up and become more generous in accepting other cultures and lifestyles, less judging. Swiss people are very quick with their judgement on the «correct way of living» for everybody, and I guess I had that tendency as well. Of course, I still have my own beliefs and values, but I learned that other ways of living can be very fulfilling as well. And I am not only talking about the employees I work with, but also about our guests. We have various nationalities and very different individuals visiting us, which I find interesting and inspiring even if some of them are rather challenging. They tell us about their travelling – mostly diving – but also about their lives, work, families, etc. I might not end up writing a book about these stories as one would expect, but they will help me see things from a different perspective now and then.
I am convinced, 2020 will be a good year even though we will not be able to stop wars or solve the climate crisis yet. But I will continue to be open to what the new year has in store for me. I’m sure it’s filled with joy and happiness, great encounters and fond memories, but also with difficult times and sad moments. My resolution is to accept all this and make the best out of it, just as I did last year. It’s worked out pretty well for me – it got me a job in paradise. What else could I wish for?
Happy New Year to all of you – may it be the best you ever had!
As I am scrolling through my social media feed (with fast internet here in Switzerland!), I come across many posts and articles about 2019 being the year of flight shaming and travelling becoming the worst of all activities. Before I left for Indonesia, there were many demonstrations in the streets all over Europe (and the rest of the world) about ecology and young people urging their governments to take action to protect the environment.
And there I was, ready to work for a dive resort at the other end of the world, trying to get people to travel thousands of kilometers to come and stay with us. I must say, this did bother me in the beginning as I am thoroughly convinced we need to change our habits to save our planet. And yet I am comfortable working for Raja4Divers now because I know, we are doing the best we can to run an eco-friendly resort: traditional wooden bungalows, no energy-consuming air conditioning, water-saving mandis instead of showers, etc.
But what’s more important is the fact that our visitors experience the beautiful nature of Raja Ampat first hand and realize how important it is to protect this jewel. When we have our coffee break between two dives on a beautiful little island that seems completely untouched, we often find a lot of plastic waste washed ashore from the sea, so our guests witness the problems we face here one-on-one. We usually take out the garbage bags we always bring along on our dive boats and start cleaning up the beach together with our guests. But we all know there will be more waste next time we come. And this makes you go back home and live more consciously so that our children may still be able to experience the beauty our planet has to offer in the years to come. At least I felt like this after the first time I came to Pulau Pef. I went home and increased my efforts to try and reduce waste even more wherever possible.
I read that the travel industry is responsible for 8% of the global carbon emissions and air travel accounts for 2.5% of total emissions – with forecasts predicting this could triple by 2050. So yes, flying is probably the worst you can do in terms of carbon footprint. But not only leisure travel is to blame. What about all the business trips for just one meeting you probably could have done via Skype or video conference? And how about not flying to a far away destination just for the weekend? I love travelling and would be jetting around the world constantly if I gave in to my impulses without second thoughts. But I have learned to choose more carefully where and how I travel. And I think this is the way to go. In my opinion, flying once a year to your dream destination is probably less harmful than 3 city trips over the weekend. But when back home, we will all need to reduce our carbon footprint in our everyday life as well.
It’s going to be a combination of things that will make the change for our planet. Travelling and especially flying is one important aspect, but there are many others. To experience nature as we still have it in Raja Ampat makes you want to protect it and this, I am convinced, will help people to make the extra effort to change their lives accordingly.
Today, I’m leaving to go back home for Christmas and a five-week holiday in Switzerland! It’s the first time in almost six months that I’ll get to see my family and friends and I’m very excited about that. I didn’t realize how much I missed them until this vacation got closer…
As mentioned before, I feel very much at home with my new Pef family here. But it’s not the same as my real family. Although I have found a new and very loving new home here with Maya and the entire staff, I still consider Switzerland my home and this will remain, no matter how long I work for Raja4Divers. They say you can’t choose your family, and some people don’t get along very well with their parents or siblings. But I was very lucky, I have wonderful parents, a great sister (who unfortunately lives in the USA – a long way from West Papua!) and two gorgeous adult children of whom I’m very proud. We are all rather independent and sometimes don’t see each other that often. But we don’t need to, because we share a deep understanding and know that we can rely on each other if worst comes to worst. It’s probably this security that gave me the power to wander off to the other end of the world and start a new adventure. I was very confident that we were all going to be fine and manage to keep up the tight bonds that we have.
But now, I need to see them in person. Have a face-to-face conversation with them (instead of the scraps of conversation during WhatsApp calls with weak Wi-Fi that we usually have to endure), hug them and tell them about my life on the island - even though this is almost indescribable. I want to get their news, find out how they have really been the last few months, not just the short form we exchange via text messages.
Of course, I’m not the only one missing my family and friends here. Everybody working on the island is separated from their loved ones for weeks or months, and I’m sure they miss them too. Indonesia being so big and flights rather expensive, some of them only fly home once a year because they cannot afford more flights. For Christmas, most of our Christian employees will take a holiday and travel home to their families. This accounts for about half the staff, mostly Papuans. The rest are mainly Muslims or Hindus, who will stay here and choose another religious holiday or time of the year to go back home.
The resort is now closing for 3 weeks of renovation and cleaning and will re-open in January. It will be a quiet time here for everybody, I experienced this at the beginning of my stay on the island. At the time, it was almost too quiet for my liking, but I didn’t know the people very well then. I’m sure it would be a cool experience now to stay here and celebrate Christmas and New Year’s on Pef, but I’d still rather be with my people back home for this year.
For me, Christmas and the end of a year have always been a time to spend with my family and close friends. That’s why I am very grateful to Maya for giving me the possibility to take a break and travel to Switzerland. I’m sure I will very quickly start missing the beautiful island, the warm climate, the incredible nature and the Pef family. If I do, I will let you know about it in my next blog post…
MERRY CHRISTMAS! Have a wonderful time with your families and friends!
Swiss people are big planners when it comes to their future, their old age and financial security. Their whole life, they think about what will be and sometimes forget to live in the moment. With the Papuans, it’s the other way around. Most of them only live in the moment and don’t spend a moment thinking about tomorrow.
They are brought up like this, so it’s hard to blame them. When they come to work for us, we often start by explaining to them why we do the things the way we do them. And what the consequences of our actions are. We show them why our guests come to visit and that we all need to protect the underwater world for them to keep coming back. It’s not always easy to make them understand that our business and their future depend on it. They only see what our resort does for them today – they get a job and a salary and are able to feed their families. But if their families want them to stay in the village for a while because there are things to be done, they’ll do it without thinking of the consequences this might have for their job with us.
This is how we just recently lost one of our employees from the neighboring village Kabui. His family asked him to take a vacation to sort out some things at home. So he did. But after the vacation, he just didn’t show up at the resort anymore and didn’t answer any messages we sent him. When he did come back two days later, he said he had to finish a job back home which was more important than the one with us. As this was not his first time, we had to let him go which didn’t seem to bother him that much. I guess he didn’t fully understand the consequences: that he would not have a paid job anymore, no more regular income, no more support for his family, no more health insurance paid by us and no more pension money, also paid by the company.
Any westerner would say he’s crazy to let such a good job slip through his fingers. But who are we to think we can impose our way of thinking to other cultures? Why should our reasoning be better than theirs? We tend to be rather obstinate with our planning, and struggle when things don’t work out the way we planned. People here, on the other hand, are very flexible and adapt quickly to new situations because they didn’t have a plan in the first place. They just take every day as it comes, and sometimes a new day brings better options than you thought the day before.
Their joy of life also comes from this short-term thinking – live in the moment and don’t think about tomorrow! They seem perfectly happy like this, so why change?
The other day, we had our Christmas picture taken with the entire staff wearing silly hats in the shape of Christmas trees in bright red and green. We all had a blast, as usual when there’s something funny happening on the island. After the official photo session, the locals kept taking pictures of each other and laughing with every single one they took. When our guests arrived at the bar area for our Tuesday ‘Happy Sunset’ event, we were all still wearing the hats and making fun. Our laughter was so contagious, most of the guests immediately got infected and laughed along.
This happens very often here. Our staff’s laughter is very contagious and can be heard all over the island. Most of the times, I have no clue what they are giggling about (and maybe they forgot themselves…), but I just laugh along as their laughter makes me laugh. I feel like I haven’t laughed as much for a long time before coming to Pulau Pef.
Our employees seem to be joking and laughing constantly. When they try to translate a joke, we (the westerners) usually don’t find it funny at all, but they just burst out laughing wildly. And they don’t stop, it keeps on going all day long! They sometimes seem like children to me – so innocent when it comes to having a good time. They live in the moment and enjoy it to the fullest. Something we should do more often in our so-called civilized world. It sounds like a cliché – us being serious and them joyful all the time – but it does change your perspectives.
To step out of the hamster wheel once in a while, crack a joke and laugh out loud – how liberating! I’m sure it would help solve some of our problems. And not taking ourselves so seriously seems like the key to me. We sometimes behave as though the world would stop turning without us “civilized people” taking care of things. It would be wise to trust our instincts a little more often, have a laugh once in a while and not stress out so quickly.
Just yesterday, there was a bunch of men from the neighboring village here to talk to Maya about an issue they were very upset about. She was due back on the island in the afternoon from a short trip to Sorong, so they waited in front of our office for many hours. In the beginning, they seemed very upset and were talking in loud voices. But then, some of our employees started talking to them, making jokes and laughing with them, so the whole atmosphere became more relaxed and peaceful. When they left much later in the day after long talks and much laughter, they seemed to have calmed down – at least for now. I am convinced, the jokes and the laughter contributed considerably.
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…