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…