Do you believe in ghosts? Well, I wasn’t brought up in a society that does, so I don't believe in them. But I do believe that some people have the capacity to perceive supernatural phenomena more than others. Whereas in western countries, a medium who can listen or talk to deceased people is often regarded as scam, in Indonesia they are part of many people’s beliefs. And as different as the various regions of this huge country may be in other aspects, when it comes to ghosts and paranormal phenomena, they all have some. Javanese stories and beliefs may differ from Balinese or Papuan stories, but the common denominator – believing in spirits and strange things happening, especially at night – is the same for most of them.
Soon after I started working here, I heard stories about some of our staff seeing ghosts on the island at night. Hot spots for ghosts seem to be our logistics jetty, the staff area or the building with the generator/compressor. At night, our employees often go to the end of the logistics jetty to call their families, as this is one of the few places on the island with a phone signal. This seems to be the time they encounter ghosts. Iwan, one of our dive guides, told me that he sometimes sees a family with a small child around the compressor area. They open a dive tank and play with the escaping air. But apparently, the parents don’t like the sound of the compressor between 8 and 10pm, which is the time our compressor men fill the tanks for our guests’ dives the next day. So they wait and only come afterwards which is why other people usually don’t see them.
Desmon, another dive guide, had an experience in the staff area near the hot water tap. It was around 3am and he was on his way to the logistics jetty to call his wife, when he saw a woman with long hair and a white dress facing her back to him. He thought it was one of the employees on her way to the toilet and went to make his phone call. When he came back, the woman was still standing there, so he started wondering, but didn’t dare to ask her what she was doing. He remembered that one of our staff had told him earlier that she sometimes hears a woman crying at night. He was convinced that this must be the woman standing there and quickly made his way to his room.
Another time, he was sitting on the logistics jetty talking on the phone once more, when he suddenly felt someone pulling his legs from underneath the jetty. This gave him such a fright that he dropped his phone to the floor and ran away, believing it was a ghost too.
Some of the Papuans also told me that they never see ghosts themselves but that in their villages there are people who can communicate with the dead. They call it witchcraft and explained that these people use a spell to bewitch the water they spray on their face in order to see the dead. Apparently, these women feel when a deceased person wants to communicate with them, which keeps them awake until they are ready to receive the messages from the deceased.
Another interesting story was brought to me by Beti from our housekeeping team. One night at around 4am, she woke up and saw Wiwi, our cook, who sleeps in the same room, praying outside on the stairs. First, she thought nothing of it, because Wiwi, being a Muslim, does this every morning. Beti said she saw Wiwi from the front and was convinced it was her, but when she turned to check Wiwi’s bed, Wiwi was still lying there, holding her mobile phone and checking the time! When Beti turned back to look at the stairs, the «other Wiwi» was gone.
And there's more. My Javanese office colleagues told me about a legend from their area which was also made into a horror movie. Sundel Bolong is the soul of an unmarried woman who died when she was pregnant and gave birth in her grave. The baby was born through her back, creating a hole that is covered by her long black hair. She is said to be a vengeful spirit, which is why her victims consist mainly of men and children, especially newborns, to replace her lost child.
In Java, they believe that spirits live in the large Banyan Trees they have there. On sacred days, a specific Thursday night, they give offerings to these spirits in the form of various flowers, such as Magnolia, Jasmine flowers and also a special type of white and red roses. These are meant to keep the spirits happy and friendly.
Believing in spirits and supernatural phenomena doesn’t seem to be a matter of education, because many of my work colleagues are well educated. It is more a matter of traditions and upbringing. If you grow up surrounded by stories of spirits and ghosts it seems natural to believe in them. And to be a little scared of them too, as they are often described as ugly or suffering and therefore vengeful creatures.
Of course, you may say this is all just a coincidence of events, not ghosts. The woman standing in the staff are may have been a ray of moonlight on the branch of a tree, making it look like a white dress. Or the supposed Wiwi sitting on the stairs outside her room was just Bety’s imagination because she wasn’t really awake and Wiwi always sits there praying at 4am.
But doesn’t it make life a lot more interesting if you can’t always explain everything?
Just as people from this area have a big knowledge about nature, plants and animals, they have also kept a stronger sensitivity for many other things. It has helped them sense danger and thus to survive in the earlier days. And sometimes, it still does today.
The other night, I was feeling blue and was sitting on my terrace for a long time, just listening to music (old stuff, mainly, that made me feel even more melancholy…).
It was one of those almost too perfect nights on Pulau Pef – warm air, no wind at all, the sea as calm as a lake and a million stars in the sky. All that was missing to make the scenery become too cheesy was a school of dolphins jumping in the small ray of light the moon cast on the water.
There I was in paradise, feeling trapped. I knew I was in a perfect place considering the worldwide situation, but all I wanted in that particular moment, was to go home. I wanted to feel and see things moving again, because I felt that on the island, I was stuck in a routine. And I don’t like routine at all. I need to be challenged, I like it when things are moving fast, or new situations come up all the time and you have to improvise or change your strategy. Which is why I love the resort atmosphere with guests. There is always something unpredicted every day, you never know what the next day will bring. New guests come every week and with them come new inputs, new inspirations, but also new challenges. Our resort may be remote, calm and close to nature, but during normal operation, it’s bustling with energy.
There is still a lot of energy on this island and within the team. And a lot of things are moving, are being rebuilt, improved and repaired. The team is busy and Ibu Maya still has a lot of ideas on what needs to be done. As a matter of fact, she feels completely different and has the impression that many things are happening and moving on the island. I agree, they are. But just not in the direction I would like them to move: have guests again.
While having these thoughts on my terrace, I felt guilty about having them. Am I allowed to feel sorry for myself when everything around me seems perfect? After all, I still have a job, the most beautiful office in the world, the best view from my terrace, lovely work colleagues, great food and a wonderful boss who tries to do everything she can to keep our spirits up. What’s wrong with me? When I talked to my daughter the other day she said: «Don’t even think of coming home, mum, it’s so depressing here! The weather is grey, people are frustrated, and the news is bad every day. Just stay where you are, you’re much better off!». I knew she was right and yet, I felt different.
I decided that I needed to challenge myself more. Reading in my hammock and jogging every other afternoon was fine for a while, but now I need a challenge on a different level. But what could I do? Ok, for one, I'm still struggling with Indonesian. Even though I work on my vocabulary every day, I need to intensify it and improve my speaking skills. I already understand a lot, but speaking is still a different story. So, that’s one challenge. Check. What else?
As I was looking up to the stars, I saw a firefly cruising above my head in the dark. I watched it for a while, then looked down in the water in front of me. There was bioluminescent plankton, glimmering from down below. This is a fascinating sight. If you’ve never seen it, you have to google it or check it out on YouTube, it's incredible!
So, there I was, in the middle of all this amazing nature, thinking what a fool I was. I’m still so fortunate and much better off than many other people currently. It’s up to me to make myself feel better. I’m the only one who can change something about my personal situation. If this were a friend of mine telling me her story, I’d probably tell her to get a new hobby!
So, I guess I’ll start thinking about a new hobby then. It may take me some time to find one, but stay tuned and you’ll read what I come up with…
This week, we held a Zoom presentation about Raja4Divers, the creation of the resort, as well as the current situation on the island with the borders still closed for international tourism. The presentation was hosted by one of our longest-standing partners, the Swiss travel agency WeDive. As with everything we do here, we wanted this event to be as perfect as possible – at least the parts we could influence ourselves, considering there were still enough insecurities, such as technical aspects like our slow internet connection.
True to Maya’s concept of involving the team in everything we do, the entire staff was to be present, despite the presentation taking place in the wee hours (4 am Pef time, to be precise!) because of the time difference to Switzerland. Our resort’s special atmosphere has always been and continues to be based on the staff’s presence and involvement at all times. They live and work in the resort and are visible to our guests, unlike in other resorts of our area. And our guests seem to enjoy that, as their feedbacks keep confirming. For our guests to be able to witness and get to know the local people and their way of life, at least for the duration of their stay with us, seems to differentiate us from others and a reason for them to keep coming back.
We definitely wanted this presentation to be an event and to be seen by as many people as possible. So we promoted it widely. I wasn’t going to settle for 50 people watching. I have always wanted to get the maximum out of an effort for which I am willing to invest a lot of time and energy. And I sometimes have difficulties understanding why everyone doesn’t think the same way, but I know people have different objectives...
Luckily, Maya is also a perfectionist which is why we set our bar very high. I think you can be remote, informal, close to nature and authentic, as we are on Pulau Pef, and still aim for the best possible version in everything you do. And there is one thing, Maya and I both hate: boring presentations. Which is why ours had to be anything but boring!
I hope we achieved this goal and that if you watched the presentation, you were entertained.
As always with such events, the last few days and evenings were hectic. Since we were using an external camera to get a better video quality than with the built-in laptop camera, there were several rehearsals to get the technical aspects as well as the angle, the sound quality (which ended up being a challenge anyway) and the focus right. We are lucky to have Marcel, our facility manager, who is quite the tech savvy and almost always found a solution to every problem we encountered.
But in spite of all the rehearsals, there were two factors we couldn’t predict: the weather and the internet connection. Lately, it had been raining hard quite often during the night. Not a problem if you’re in your bed dreaming of beautiful reefs full of fish. But if you’re planning a live presentation at 4am and prefer not to be blown away by the wind or your presentation to be drowned by the sound of heavy rain, you hope for a quiet night. We did, and it worked out!
And to our great relief, our satellite internet was stable too, something you can’t always count on in our part of the world.
Was it a success for us? You bet! Are we happy we did it? Absolutely! Even though at first, we were not sure whether it might be counterproductive, considering we still don’t know when people can travel to Indonesia again. But I think it was the right moment to present ourselves to the world. Our guests, families and friends keep asking how and what we are currently doing on the island. This was the chance to show all of you that we are fine, still busy and keeping the resort in shape for your return. It was also the possibility for people who have never been to Pulau Pef to get a notion of what we mean by «being family», «good vibes on the island» and «informal atmosphere at the resort».
Almost 200 people watching and 90% of them staying for at least one hour is a big success for us. What did you think of the presentation if you watched it?
Your honest feedback would be greatly appreciated.
And if you missed it – don’t despair! We recorded the whole presentation and will upload it to our YouTube channel as soon as possible. Just bear with us for a few more days!
When I first arrived in Switzerland at the end of July, I was still full of hope and confident that people would travel again to Indonesia as soon as the borders reopened. But the longer I stayed, the more my confidence left me. With the regular flow of negative news regarding the virus and the rising infection rates, I started feeling unsure if we were ever able to welcome guests again on Pulau Pef within the coming months… And I felt that many people around me did not believe they would be able to travel again next year, which literally shocked me.
Why was that? What was happening to Swiss people (who are probably representative for many other nationalities too)? Even though life for most people living in Switzerland was close to normal again – with the exception that you have to wear masks and keep your distance – there was still fear and a lot of insecurity in the air. And the joy of life had disappeared because public social life was very restricted. Events and activities that bring you joy were still cancelled, and I felt that many people were sad about this. I know, I mentioned this before, but it only really struck me when I came back to the island.
On Pulau Pef, the joy of life is still so present. Even though our future is as unsure as ever, our staff keeps on laughing, singing and enjoying life as if nothing had changed in the world. You may think this is naive and that reality must be looked in the eye even if you live on a remote island. But I can assure you, it helps to be here and get infected by another virus, the virus of joy and laughter.
Just as everything else is far away from Pulau Pef, the virus also seems very distant. You almost forget it’s still around. The Swiss government keeps repeating that, apart from protecting others, masks are also here to remind us that the virus is still present. On the one hand, this seems like a valuable argument. On the other hand, why don’t they remind us to be careful on the streets? So many people get killed every day by traffic. Or why don’t they remind us to eat healthier and not destroy our bodies with junk food? Wouldn’t that be just as important?
I am convinced that the joy of life contributes to keeping your immune system in good shape. You obviously also need to look after yourself by eating healthy and exercising on a regular basis, etc. But it seems evident to me that stress and fear contribute to weakening your immune system, thereby making it more prone to viruses. People in Raja Ampat may lead a less healthy lifestyle in general because they simply can’t afford to do any different. But their joy of life definitely helps them strengthen their immune system and prevent or overcome illnesses.
Even though I do miss our guests and the bustling resort life they bring, it feels good to be back on the island. It helps me believe in a better future and not lose hope that we will survive this crisis. Our staff gives me back my joy of life because their laughter and their jokes are very contagious.
I wish all of you out there could come and see for yourself, get infected by our type of virus and feel the joy of life of Pulau Pef!
When I arrived in Switzerland, many of my friends asked me how it felt to be back and whether it was a strange feeling. I didn’t quite understand what they meant because I didn’t feel weird or anything. Of course, there were the Corona measures – wearing masks, physical distancing, etc. – that I had to get used to at first. But that took me about one day and then everything felt as it always had in Switzerland. I was back home, and it felt like that.
I live in two worlds now and both of them feel home somehow. Each of them is very different from the other, and when I’m in one of them, I don’t miss the other very much. I just switch and do completely different things, complementary almost. When on the island, I read a lot, practice my Indonesian every day, rarely stay up late, eat rice, fresh fish and vegetables and drink very little alcohol.
In Switzerland, I didn’t read one book in two months, watched a lot of movies and TV, went out to meet people almost every day, ate lots of unsweetened plain yoghurt, pasta and bread and very often had a glass of wine to celebrate meeting my family and friends. And forgot all my Indonesian, aduh!
It doesn’t take me much to change from one world to the other. They both have their wonderful and their difficult sides. But this is the reason I chose this job– to experience a new world, different from the one I was used to. However, I noticed that there is a strong common denominator: nature. The more I experience nature on Pulau Pef, the more I also enjoy it in Switzerland. One of the best parts of my day was the morning walk or jog with my daughter’s dog. I will miss him a lot, too!
Pets. I love cats and dogs and I do miss them on the island. OK, I have my very cute sugar gliders that I feed every evening. Bug they are wild animals and won’t let me caress or hug them. And my little gecko friend – let’s face it, he’s not very cuddly either. I do enjoy the spectacular underwater world of Raja Ampat. But I haven’t met a fish yet that was willing to hug me… So, my furry friends at home remain special and very dear to me. But as much as I would love to have a cat or a dog on the island, they don’t belong here. They are part of my other world.
A year ago, when I came to Raja Ampat to work, people thought I was brave to do this. I didn’t understand it, but I think what they really meant was that for them, it didn’t seem easy to switch from one world to the other. So many unknown things in this new world were expecting me. What I considered interesting must have seemed threatening or scary to others. But new things hardly ever scare me, they intrigue and challenge me.
If it weren’t for the C-crisis, I would be living the dream: enjoying the best part of both my worlds, being able to travel and switch between the two of them often and broaden my horizon. Who wouldn’t want that?
#TalkingWithMangroves is taking a summer break and will be back with new posts at the end of September.
While waiting, I hope you enjoy the previously published texts below about my first year on Pulau Pef.
Stay tuned for more and have a wonderful summer!
Back home at last! I arrived in Switzerland a few days ago and am now enjoying the Swiss summer. I had almost forgotten how beautiful this country is – especially the outskirts of Zurich where I’m spending the first week. It’s green, peaceful and very clean. I live in paradise on Pulau Pef, but this is the other paradise. Sometimes you have to go away to appreciate what you have back home…
What’s changed though is the way people deal with each other. Thanks to Corona, the already reserved Swiss people are now even more distant when communicating with each other. Obviously, wearing a mask or a face shield doesn’t help to create a comfortable atmosphere when you meet someone in a shop or on the street and exchange a few words. And I know it’s the right thing to do. But having spent the last four months on our island and not having to worry about distancing and wearing any kind of face protection, it does feel strange to me.
The fact of not being allowed to touch anybody is also difficult to internalize. My first reaction is often to stretch out my hand for a greeting, only to realize that the other person looks at me as if I were a Martian, probably thinking: «Where has SHE been the last weeks and months???». Some of my friends still hug me – with their head turned completely away from mine, and I do the same. I want to hug them because I haven’t seen some of them for a very long time. But I do it with a bad conscience, thinking that I may be putting myself or the other person at risk.
And then I start to rebel internally. What life is this now? I feel that touching and holding each other is a fundamental human right. That we need this in order to survive. That we will become extremely lonely if we are not allowed to have physical contact for a long time. Maybe, I’m romanticizing, and I know that not everybody is the same. But when travelling from Indonesia to Switzerland, I sensed that there was a feeling of suspicion in the air wherever I walked. If I happened to accidentally get close to someone, they looked at me with a slightly hostile or frightened expression. Nobody talked to each other, everybody was minding their own business and hiding behind their masks. And the worst – I felt that I was doing the same, without really wanting it. I thought it was the right thing to do. And in theory, I’m sure it is. But it doesn’t feel right. It should be physical distancing, not social distancing. They may only be words, but they make all the difference.
In Switzerland, infection rates are rising again, so they are talking about reimplementing more restrictions. For how much longer? Is it going to help if what we did so far didn’t? I’m not sure. I just wish, we would stop spreading so much fear and start focusing on what we can do to strengthen our physical and psychological immune system. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying «eat some vitamins and you will not get infected». But I think we should start working on our attitude and how we are dealing with this virus. It’s not going to go away for a long time, maybe never. So, we better start living with it and develop an inner strength. Make sure we keep our body and mind healthy, instead of waiting for some kind of external help in the form of a pill or vaccine. We need that too, and for people with a pre-existing health condition, it’s another story. But us «healthy» people need to take action and not let ourselves be consumed by so much fear!
The area of the world that I am currently spending my holidays in is so rich and fortunate in many ways. I realize that now more than ever because I got to know a little how people live in Indonesia. We constantly worry about everything in the western world, maybe because we have a lot to lose. In many parts of my other world, people’s daily struggle still is to get enough food and a protected place to sleep. They don’t have the luxury to worry so much as we do, and that’s why they probably consider this crisis just another like so many before. And I’m convinced it helps that they worry less.
I hope we will find a way to live with this and all future crises that are bound to come, by focusing on our strength and resilience instead of letting ourselves be consumed by fear and panic. And personally, I am very motivated to make the best of my holiday and not let myself be infected by any kind of worry.
Last Saturday, I walked barefoot through the jungle! I never imagined that I would one day do this. And I must admit, it took me quite a bit of willpower to actually do it, but it was a great experience.
We went to our dive guide’s garden again because he told us that he sometimes sees the bird of paradise there, early in the morning. Having never seen this exotic and beautiful bird live, I wanted to join. From our last visit, I knew that walking through the mud with flipflops was no option. And wearing sneakers would have meant having to throw them away afterwards, because I would never be able to clean them again. So, the best way to do it was like the Papuans – go barefoot.
My colleague and I, both non-Papuans and first time barefoot-jungle-walkers, started following our dive guide who was leading us through his jungle at a very speedy pace. The ground was completely muddy and wet which made it very slippery. Sometimes, we had to wade through puddles or cross little streams. More than once, I imagined myself head down in the mud or hitting my back or head on a big root after falling backwards. And I was trying not to think of all the dangerous or yucky things and animals I could step on! At one point, our guide showed us a dead snake on the floor – very comforting…
My colleague and I couldn’t quite manage to keep up with our guide as we were still watching closely where we put our feet and had to balance the slippery parts. Our guide, on the other hand, walked with confident steps as if on a soft meadow. Once in a while, he used his machete to cut his path free of dangling roots or branches. It felt a bit like Crocodile Dundee, except that our guide was not wearing this big Aussie hat. But the machete was just as impressive as Dundee’s…
We didn’t see the bird of paradise, but it was a beautiful walk, nevertheless. Our dive guide pointed out many plants and trees that didn’t seem special to me at first sight. But when he started to explain what they can be used for – either food or medicine – I was impressed. It wasn’t the first time that I noticed how much knowledge about traditional medicine and healing therapies the local community has. They live very close to nature and have learnt from their ancestors about the effects of plants, roots, herbs, flowers, etc.. And this isn’t limited to Papuans. In many other areas of Indonesia, the knowledge about natural medicine is big too. People use it successfully and many a westerner is surprised to realize that it actually works, while sometimes our highly developed pills and therapies don’t seem to have a positive effect at all.
But, back to my bare feet and the jungle! We walked for almost two hours, climbing up and down hills and a beautiful little waterfall. At first, I was afraid to slip on the rocks that our guide was quickly climbing up on. But then I realized that they were not – as one would expect – sanded down by the flow of water, but still offered a firm grip. Slowly, I started trusting my feet again, feeling that they can give stability without the help of cleverly designed sneaker soles.
I also realized that my balance was not the best compared to the Papuans accompanying us. Even though I have been walking barefoot through the sand a lot on Pulau Pef, I am still more used to artificial even floors and to wearing shoes than to slippery surfaces and uneven grounds full of hidden obstacles. It actually felt good to know that I can still trust my body, that it hasn’t forgotten everything about nature yet, even though I am a city girl. And when it started raining – no pouring! – I didn’t really mind. I was wet anyway, from sweat and mud alike.
When we got back to the resort, I was really happy to take a shower and wash the sweat and the mud off – because one barefoot jungle stroll doesn’t make me a Papuan yet!
But it was an experience I will never forget, and for that I am very grateful.
Back home, calling people by their name is not very complicated. It’s either by first name, if you are acquainted, friends or family, or by last name preceded by Ms. or Mr., if you are on formal terms or in a business environment. In English, it’s often even easier – mostly first names unless the occasion is very formal or business.
In Indonesia, addressing people is a whole different story and slightly more complicated – at least to a foreigner like me. As a general rule, one doesn’t call someone by his or her first name only. This would be considered disrespectful and impolite. There is always an addition before the name, such as for example Ibu or just Bu (for an elderly or respected woman) and Bapak or Pak (for an elderly or respected man). Ibu means «mother» and may also be used like «Ma’am», while Bapak translates as «father» and may be used like «Sir». The first name can be added after the address, but it can also be left out. Javanese people use Mbak (for a woman older than yourself) or Mas (for a man older than yourself) and again, the first name may be added or not.
Now, that we have our dive manager’s wife and kids on the island, my female colleagues call themselves Tante + first name when talking to the children or mentioning one of their female colleagues to the kids. This is used to address someone older and respected, from the kid’s perspective, I think. For men, the equivalent would be Om + first name. I learned that even family members don’t usually address each other by first names, but more often by using Mbak or Mas, especially if the person is older. For siblings, they may use Kakak or just Kak to address an older sibling and Adik or Ade to address a younger sibling.
Are you still following? There's more!
I only recently found out that Papuans who are related are not allowed to call each other by their first names. When addressing a family member, they use various terms that, to be honest, I didn’t quite understand and am not able to remember. It seems a lot more complicated with Papuans than with other Indonesians, as soon as family relations are involved. I was told this rule also exists out of respect for the family and seems to be a longstanding tradition. So, the closer you are connected, the more formal you become? Or do they express a certain tenderness by using these terms instead of an official first name? I haven’t really been able to find out yet.
When I first came to work in Indonesia, my colleagues at the office asked me if it was ok for them to call me Ibu Monika, because they didn’t feel comfortable just calling me by my first name. In the beginning, I didn’t understand the full meaning of Ibu. I thought it was only used for old women and felt a little surprised that they would think of me as so old (and - let's face it - to realize that I was surrounded by colleagues so much younger than me!). But then I found out that Ibu is much more about respect than age and quickly got used to being called like this. By now, it almost feels strange when one of my Indonesian colleagues calls me just Monika around here.
It is actually very handy to address people by these terms, especially if you don’t remember someone’s name. I suggest we find equivalents in our culture as well. It would save me from embarrassing myself again and again at some of these birthday parties that I’m invited to every year and always dread the moment of standing in front of a person that I only see once a year and who’s name I am completely unable to recall at this very moment…
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.
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…