Even though I’ll soon be back on the island, I have to come back to my quarantine in Jakarta. Because I think we’ve stopped using our common sense! Remember I told you how everything was wrapped in plastic and the first breakfast came in plastic boxes? On my 6th day in Jakarta, when I was allowed to leave my room again, I had breakfast at the hotel restaurant. As it is a self-service buffet, everybody had to wear disposable plastic gloves to help themselves to the food. Every spoon, knife and fork was wrapped in plastic, and I guess this was just the tip of the iceberg. My mind was already picturing the pile of plastic waste that is now produced here in order to comply with safety measures, on top of all the other plastic they already used before. Any idea where this plastic waste might go? I think, I do. Much of it will end up in the ocean somehow because they don’t have enough infrastructure to deal with it in Indonesia. We will find it washed up at our beach or on a beautiful little island we go to for our coffee break between our dives.
It makes me so angry to think about that! In the long run, we may even kill more people with the Covid side effects than the virus does itself. But it will happen hidden from the cameras and the focus of the media. Marine life is already dying rapidly. Additional plastic pollution is going to accelerate this process which will result in people not making enough money from fishing or starving from lack of fish. But all this will happen quietly, because our focus is so much on the pandemic that we completely forget all our other problems, the environment being one of them. It’s insane. A little over a year ago, the big topic around the world was environment protection. Now, nobody seems to talk about it anymore. You may find a few articles and posts about how nature is profiting from decreased tourism and less air traffic. While this may be true on the one hand, it's a little too romantic, if you ask me. If we don’t manage to keep the additional plastic waste down, nature doesn’t stand a chance and we as human beings are going to suffer in the long run.
I understand that hygiene measures are important to fight the virus. But it will not be «over» any time soon, as there are new variants popping up everywhere. And we cannot continue to produce such amounts of waste for the next 10 years. It’s not fair on the next generation. They will already have to deal with many other Corona side effects, but destroying our planet is the most severe and irreversible one!
Fear is the biggest trigger of actions. And the less information we have about a threat, the more we fear it. It’s in our nature because it helps us survive. But only in the short run. If out of fear we forget to anticipate the long-term effects of our doings, it will harm us more than the original threat. I know that, when it comes to the environment, we as a global community have been doing this for decades already – just enjoy the moment and don’t think about the future. But with a crisis such as the pandemic, this behaviour has been accentuated and we need to start reversing it now. It is only in Indonesia that it really struck me because, for one, they tend to overdo things for fear of not achieving the goal. And secondly, I know that they don’t have a concept to dispose of or recycle their waste in an eco-friendly way. We also produce a lot of waste in the western world – maybe more than the emerging countries – but we invest a lot of money and technology into the disposal or recycling. Even if the main driver may be the fact that there's a lot of money to be made in new technologies. We don’t always achieve our goals either, I know. There’s still a long way to go. But we have more money and consequently more knowhow to research and build the necessary infrastructure.
I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts that – despite the obvious negative effects of travelling – I think it still has a positive effect on the environment too. It opens up your perspective and highlights global problems that may be less visible at home. I hope that the guests who have stayed and will stay with us will not only become ambassadors of our resort but also avid protectors of the beautiful nature they still find here. If, on top of spending a wonderful holiday on Pulau Pef, they also become more conscious of environment issues, then we have truly achieved something extraordinary!
I think the last day was the hardest. When you’re almost there, you want time to fly and then it suddenly doesn’t anymore. The first days went by quickly, but the last one seemed to drag on forever. I wasn’t able to focus properly on working. And I wasn’t even able to figure out how long I could stay on in Jakarta after my quarantine. You have to fly within 72 hours from the time the test result was issued. It was ridiculous, I went over and over my calendar and at first was convinced I had to fly the night of my 6th day here. Until I realised that it was ok to fly on the 7th. What a nightmare! Maybe it’s the lack of oxygen…
And then the test result took so long to come. They told me I would get the result in the evening, but when I called reception at 6, I was told I would only get it in the morning at check-out. Are you kidding me? I never really got upset during the entire 5 days. Whether I had to call 3 times to get fish instead of meat or ask for other things that would have seemed logical to me, but apparently not to the hotel staff – it never really made me angry. But now, I just wanted to know whether I was free to go and organise my upcoming days. Enough of the waiting! When I insisted that I needed to know because I had to book my flight, I was told to call back at 10. The irony of it all was that I had been looking at an advertising for SWAB/PCR tests and a clinic outside my window for 5 days. It seemed like the solution to getting out of here was just across the street, but I couldn’t get access to it!
While I was calm and accepting the quarantine quietly during the first four days, I got restless and itchy feet on the last day. I really needed to start moving again. The little bit of workout or yoga didn’t do the trick. Even though I was looking forward to exploring Jakarta, I couldn’t bring myself to checking out the websites my friend had sent me. And then, just before dinner, I also realized that I forgot got practise my Indonesian. This is not something I usually «just forget». I somehow felt tired and sleepy all day, even though I’d slept well the night before. This was so not like me, as I am usually quite full of energy.
The day went by eventually, but I didn’t get the test result in the evening. Only the next morning – luckily it was negative. So, off I go to new adventures in Jakarta! Or at least a few steps outside, breathe the sticky city air and get a coffee somewhere not my room!
It’s been a special five days here at this hotel, confined to one room. Mostly smooth, sometimes irritating, never boring, only a little lazy, not as interesting on a deeper personal level as one might think and definitely not something, I would like to repeat any time soon. I first thought that it wouldn’t be that different from being locked down at home. I sometimes stayed home all day too and didn’t set foot outside. The difference is that it was my decision to do so. And I had a whole flat and a balcony that I could walk around in. I don’t like to be dependent on other people, and being in quarantine makes you 100% dependent on people you don’t know. I didn’t like that. But I’m sure I will enjoy being outside and on the island so much more now!
The next time you hear from me, it will hopefully be from Pulau Pef again. So long!
Would you like to know how breakfast went on day 4? I’m sure, you can’t wait! I got it at 8, as requested (but still woke up at 7 when they knocked on everybody else’s door…). It was an omelette with… ham, 2 croissants and some fruit - in a plastic box! This is what we are sometimes also dealing with on the island. It takes years to train people here (even more in West Papua), and I admire Maya for her stamina to pull this through with our staff. We sometimes repeat the same things over and over again and almost despair if they don’t remember what we taught them.
By the way, the Indonesian word for ham is the same as in English: ham. I even used it the night before to order my breakfast, but it doesn’t seem to have helped. And as for lunch – I got rice, vegetables and… chicken! After I sent it back (explaining to the waiter in Indonesian that I don’t eat meat, only fish), I closed the door and burst out laughing. It’s hilarious and actually helped to make this quarantine a lot more fun. And that’s it with food stories for today.
Day 4 was quiet, not much happening really. Not that anything exciting happened on the first three days, but I sort of got used to the quarantine routine by now. And even if I don’t enjoy this very much, it’s just something I have to do, and since there’s no way around it, why get stressed? I'm very thankful I don't have to do 10 or 14 days, as is required in other countries. My friends and family are sweet and send me messages of encouragement. I even get tips for fitness or yoga sites and what to do in Jakarta once I am allowed outside. Thank you so much, everyone, I appreciate this very much! It feels good to know that some of you follow this blog and care about how I’m doing.
I’m very proud of myself! I brought A LOT of chocolate for everyone on the island (and for myself...), but I haven’t opened any of it yet. It’s sitting in the fridge/minibar which was completely empty when I arrived. I don’t know why. Is it because they don’t want to disinfect any drinks or food that I might have touched and not used during my quarantine? Anyway, the fridge became the perfect place to store my chocolate to prevent it from melting. Every time I look at the fridge, I am tempted to open and eat some of its lovely looking content! There are perfectly sized little bars or little chocolate Easter eggs that I love so much, so I think it wouldn’t hurt to have one or two, would it? But I know myself – once I start, I take one every time I walk past the fridge, and soon there will be nothing left. No, I shall not surrender to temptation!
The event of the day was the second PCR test. Same procedure, same unpleasant nose and mouth swab (it doesn’t get any more pleasant the more often you do it…), but at least I got to make a few steps outside my room and see 3 new faces. Or at least as much as one can see with the mask covering most of it. I’ll get the test result on the 5th day in the evening only, so there’s a bit of a wait. As soon as I get the ok, I’ll book my flight to Sorong, because I want to be sure I’m able to fly before I book. But once this is done, I can really start looking forward to being back on the island very soon!
Apparently, it was a beautiful and warm weekend in Switzerland just now. I get very jealous when I look at the pictures my friends post on social media about their weekend trips to the mountains or along lakes and rivers while I still enjoy the same view on Jakarta from inside my hotel room. I know I shouldn’t scroll through my social media feed so often, but just you wait and see, guys! I will spam you with gorgeous island pictures as soon as I’m back on Pef!
My smart watch tells me that I did 1’461 steps on day 3. Wow, that must be the least I’ve walked on any healthy day in my whole life! I didn’t feel like working out, so this is the result of my laziness. I’m not proud!
Other than that, we’re still working on the meal timings… Instead of 8 am, as I asked for, I was awoken at 7 by room service. And I had a hard time understanding the waiter outside my door. «Inudaii» was all I could figure out. It didn’t help that he kept on shouting it a little louder with every knock on the door. Until I realized that he meant «in-room dining»! If it weren’t for the ham they put in my omelette (I requested vegetarian), my breakfast was lovely, and the cappuccino tasted very nice. And guess what? I watched a movie while having breakfast. It almost made me feel as if I were on holiday…
Time goes by rather quickly. Quicker than I thought, actually. But it still doesn’t take off the urge to step outside into the «real world». The windows are not very well insulated here, so I hear lots of noises from the street: ambulances (the hotel is close to 3 hospitals), the prayers from surrounding mosques via loudspeaker, the traffic – just the sounds of a big city. And then, between 12 and 1 pm, the floor outside my room gets busy. I guess they put all the quarantine guests on the same floor, which makes sense as they have to bring 3 meals a day to our rooms. I hear the knocking on various doors, accompanied by the «inudaii» shouting that we have all have come to understand by now. When the respective doors are opened by my fellow quarantine hotel guests, it sounds a bit like inmates in a prison – the click-clack of doors opening and closing again after a few seconds, as we are supposed to avoid any contact with the outside world if possible. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel like a prisoner, but I’m starting to get a notion of what it might feel like to be one.
Talking about meals, again. I first didn’t get any lunch at all. And when it finally came, after calling room service, it was rice, vegetables and… meat! But by 1.30 pm, I had the fish I wanted, and it tasted very nice. Same procedure with dinner again. Oh well…
At about 4 pm, I started to wonder when I was going to get the result of my PCR test. So, I called reception and was told that they would only have contacted me if the result was positive. So, is this good news for me? Yes, Mam! Oh, thanks for telling me! I was rather relieved.
As you may remember, the Indonesian language is still somewhat of a mystery to me. And I did not open my vocabulary app once while I was in Switzerland. Shame on me! But, back in Indonesia, and with a lot of time at my hand, I tackled the job and started practising my vocabulary again. As expected, a lot is gone, but some of it is still there. Great! Now, I should simply start speaking Indonesian to the hotel employees. Something I just can’t get myself around to doing! I don’t know why. I’m sure it would help a lot to get the food I want at the time I like, and yet… I always settle for English. Actually, I do know why: I want my Indonesian to sound perfect when I open my mouth, so I’d rather not say anything before I say something wrong. It’s not how I’m going to improve, I know. Practice makes perfect. But that’s just the way it is now. One day I’ll be ready, just give me some more time.
For tomorrow morning, I asked for an omelette without ham and breakfast to be served at 8 am. In English. Let’s see how this works out…
I’ll let you know tomorrow!
After a fairly decent night, I was awoken by the knock on the door for my breakfast. I had ordered western style breakfast, because – as much as I love it - rice and fish twice a day is enough for me. By lunch time, my complaint about the plastic took effect and I actually got my food on a real plate with real cutlery! What a treat, even if I got meat (which I don’t eat) instead of fish. Food is important if you’re in one room all day, so please excuse me for writing so much about it. But enough of that, for now.
The rest of the day I more or less spent waiting… for the internet to process what I needed it to do. It felt like a déjà-vu of working on the island. Only, this was worse because I expected fast internet. It’s one of the reasons I chose this more expensive hotel. When I inquired with reception, the lady told me that the provider was having problems (don’t they always!) and that it would take «probably another 2 – 3 hours» - which meant that she didn’t have a clue how long it would take. So, I did what I usually do on the island: get up and walk around for a bit every time a throbber (I had to look that up!) popped up, telling me that the command I just entered was still processing. Which means, I got a fair amount of walking. There’s a positive side to everything, isn’t there?
Later in the morning, I was allowed to leave my room! For 10 minutes and only up to 2 doors next to mine on the same floor – for the PCR test. It was quick and only a little painful. And like I told you yesterday, I am getting used to these tests. I’m still waiting for the result which is supposed to come some time today. The special Covid-19 regulations stipulate that they would take me to a hospital if the result were positive. I don’t know why really. As long as I don’t have any symptoms, it doesn’t make sense. But I’ve learned that the information you read on official sites is not always accurate. So, let’s just wait and hope it’s negative!
There was a moment in the afternoon when I felt I really needed some fresh air! I regularly switch on the A/C to at least think fresh air is coming in, but since I already have the impression of catching a cold, I don’t want to do this too often. Am I starting to sound paranoid already? I hope not, because I really am doing fine!
There is one thing I love about this hotel – the TV programme! They have 100 channels, half of which are either Indonesian, Chinese, or other Asian programmes. But the rest are English speaking channels, from CNN International and BBC World News to various National Geographic channels and on to many different HBO, Fox, and Disney stations! A movie lover’s heaven, even if many of the films they show are crime or action thrillers. Which is normal because I’m in Asia and they love action movies. But there are others and I allowed myself to indulge in a romantic comedy in the middle of the afternoon, which is something I never do at home because I always think I have more important things to do first.
My workout after the movie first felt like a guilt compensation for having «wasted» the afternoon with a shallow movie. But once I got into it, it felt really good to move. Until I was interrupted by the familiar knock on the door from room service. Dinner at 5.30 pm? Are you serious?? I felt like in a home for senior citizens! I usually never have dinner before 7 pm and actually requested my dinner for this time too. Well, it didn’t seem to work… So, I let my hot dinner sit there and get cold until I finished working out and taking a shower. Cold rice, fish, and vegetables – yum!
The highlight of the day came later: my skype call with Maya, Caroline, and Doris! We talked for 2.5 hours, some of it business, but most of it not. If felt great to see and talk to them, until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore at 1 am! Thank you, best boss, and best colleagues, for making me laugh and giving me a glimpse of the outside world!
Good night and talk to you tomorrow!
So, this is quarantine. I arrived in Jakarta yesterday and was brought to a hotel in the city centre that I was allowed to choose from a list of official quarantine hotels, provided by the Indonesian Covid-19 task force. I have never actually been to Jakarta before, as I usually just transit here to fly on to Sorong. I may spend a few hours at an airport hotel, but I never go to the city centre. This is why I was actually not dreading this quarantine that much as I was hoping to see a little something of the city on the way to the hotel and maybe even have a view from my hotel room.
When I arrived at the airport, I was greeted by typical (at least in my experience) Jakarta weather – grey clouds and heavy rain. But as soon as I entered the taxi and heard the familiar sweet pop song playing on the radio (that I usually frown upon when my Indonesian colleagues play their music on the island), I strangely felt back home. While still hoping that the weather would be better when I will finally make it to the island again…
My room is on the 8th floor, so I have a pretty good view on the city. I’m supposed to be in the city centre, but as I don’t know my way around here, I have no idea what the endless mishmash of sheds and skyscrapers represents and if there’s anything of interest in there. But I will have an extra day after my 5-day quarantine ends here, so I’m looking forward to exploring the city a little.
But for now, I’m confined to my 26m2 hotel room. It’s quite nice actually, though not quite the luxury the website promises. And 5 days is not a very long time, so I wasn’t worried about how I was going to survive this quarantine. Since the PCR test that I had to take before flying was negative, I don’t consider myself a real threat to other people. And yet I’m treated as if I were dangerous to anyone getting in contact with me. Which of course is the protocol they have to follow, I know. But I don’t understand why my food has to come in plastic boxes just because I’m in quarantine. They will have to touch the plastic just the same as normal plates after I touched it. It just means more plastic waste… I addressed it to room service – let’s see if my complaint will have an effect on future meals.
As expected, my room doesn’t feature windows that can be opened. The only way to get «fresh» air is the air conditioning. This was my biggest fear: how to survive the A/C, because I hate using it. But if I don’t, it gets hot and humid in here. So, I switch it on from time to time, to cool the room down, while trying to avoid catching a cold, which would be a less than ideal condition to fly to Sorong in a few days. Strange how my worries and behaviour changed during the last months. I was never someone to worry about my health when travelling. I just assumed, all would turn out well. And it almost always did. But now, even a small cold might sabotage my travel plans, so I have to be extra careful.
Being someone that needs to move regularly, my other worry was the fact that I would not be able to go for a walk or jog and just sit around for 5 days during this quarantine. Luckily, I have a smart watch that tells me to get up every once in a while, and walk around a little. And my plan is to work out in my room later on. I’ll tell you tomorrow how that went.
I am also supposed to have another PCR test later on today. First, my information was that this test would be done at the airport on arrival, but apparently, this has change now. So, I’m hoping this 2nd test within a few days (I’m starting to get the hang of it…) will be negative too. Until then, I’ll just be sitting at my little hotel room desk, working, texting with the outside world and skyping with some friends to pass the time.
Talk to you tomorrow!
If all goes as planned, I should be on my way back to Indonesia in a week’s time. I will have to do a 5-day quarantine in Jakarta, but that’s another story and I’ll keep you posted on this as things evolve in the right direction.
With Maya and me currently both in Switzerland, people often ask if I don't have to go back to Pulau Pef earlier. «How do they manage without you guys there?» My first reaction usually is something along the line of «What do you mean, how do they manage? They’re doing their job and they know what is expected of them.» But then I realize that people assume that without a western person on site, the operation cannot possibly go on. «Don’t they need a western person there? Can they manage on their own?»
Yes, they can! Most of the management team is still at the resort, so the daily operation – at least what’s left of it without guests – is running fine. Even if something unforeseen happens, such as one of our staff falling ill or someone trying to steal our equipment during the night, they find a way of dealing with the problem within the small team that is still on the island.
Of course, there are issues that require a discussion with Maya. That’s why she has weekly Zoom or Skype meetings with the management team. There are topics that demand a boss’ decision, but even then, the cooperation seems to be working fine with virtual meetings. Everyone around the world is currently working remotely, why shouldn’t we? And we have been doing it for many years already as Maya always spent a few months a year in Switzerland, even before the pandemic.
But like any other team, we all need to feel the connection and support sometimes, and that’s not always easy via digital devices, as you may know yourself. Especially with our poor internet connection, it can be challenging to deal with emotions or personal problems as the connection is sometimes simply too weak to even use video, or the meeting needs to be postponed because of the connection breaking down constantly. But, we are used to these challenges and have learnt to be patient. It always ends up working somehow…
To stay connected on a personal level, on top of the professional one, we send each other personalized messages or videos. A few weeks ago, the team sent Maya a video of our Pef band playing her favorite song. She was very touched by this. Maya and I, on the other hand, send pictures or videos of our life and activities here in Switzerland, so that they get an impression of what we are doing while we are away. For most of my colleagues, it is very hard to imagine life in our area of the world because they have not had the chance to travel so far yet. Many of them have never seen snow, so of course we send them pictures and videos of beautiful snowed-in Switzerland.
I have often mentioned that we are like a family on the island – the Pef family. Maybe this is why we need to feel connected on a more personal level than other work colleagues. After all, it is a special work environment that we have on our small island, living and working together 24/7. And even though our mentalities are very different, and we sometimes don’t know much about our private lives outside the resort, we feel connected on an emotional level. And we try to keep this up, whatever the distance. Just as I’m writing this text, my Raja4Divers phone keeps bleeping with messages in our office chat. It feels good to somehow be involved in the island operation even if it’s just by WhatsApp. I’m reading (but not always understanding, because the chat is in Indonesian!) about food and water supplies from Sorong, transfer boat delays or staff issues, but also about happy times and fun staff events. Almost as if I were there with my colleagues.
A little more patience, I will be very soon!
I recently checked for the first time since I started writing this blog: I have written 63 blog texts so far. Including a break last summer and over Christmas. That’s quite a lot, I think. In the beginning, it was easy to come up with new ideas every week as everything about my life on Pulau Pef was new and exciting. After a few months, I got more used to everyday life on the island, but there was still so much happening with new guests coming and going, events, staff issues, cute animals, or my problems with the Indonesian language. I wrote about feeling homesick, about teamwork in Indonesia, about how good my colleagues are at waiting, about my birthday party and about «playing the priest». About waiting for rain, education in West Papua, saying goodbye, music and singing on the island and about laughing and not worrying about tomorrow. Most weeks, it just took me a few hours of happy typing, followed by one or two checks the following day, before the new text was ready to be posted.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I also still felt I had a lot to write about. We were living so differently from the rest of the world on our little island that there was a lot to write about. And when I came home for a holiday last summer, the difference between my life in Raja Ampat during the pandemic and life back home was striking and also inspired me to a few of my texts. But now, after three months in Switzerland and life on the island also much slower, I have to admit that I sometimes struggle to find topics to write about. I try to imagine what you, my readers, might be interested in, what you would want to read about. So, I decided to put the question out there!
What are you interested in knowing?
What would you like me to write about?
What have you always wanted to know about life on the island?
Don’t hesitate to let me have your input by commenting below and I will do my best to write about it as long as the topic hasn’t already been treated in one of my previous blog posts.
And as long as the question is not «When are you going to re-open the resort?». Because, I don’t know…
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…