This is it – my last blog post from Pulau Pef! When I arrived here on the 25th of July 2019, I had no idea what to expect and where this adventure would take me. I was full of excitement and hope that I was going to enjoy it here. And I did! Despite the pandemic and the resort being closed for 14 months, I had the time of my life here. Some of it was exactly as I expected, some was completely different and surprising. They called me «Ibu Guru» (Mrs. Teacher) because I taught English to our dive team and for the last few months also to our housekeeping and kitchen staff. But actually, I think I learnt just as much from my colleagues as they learnt from me.
Being patient, for example. «Sabar» in Indonesian. It’s a quality you cannot survive without here and it was probably the hardest for me to learn. I was (and still am) a rather impatient person, but life is just so much slower here and I had to accept this new rhythm, whether I wanted to or not. I still often want to «quickly» do this or that, only to realize that «quickly» will not work here. Be it something requiring a fast internet connection or a task involving the help of one of my local colleagues – everything takes longer on the island. I wouldn’t say I fully managed to patiently wait for things to happen at their own pace, but I certainly have improved and hope that this will also help me back home. Due to the pandemic many aspects of our life have been slowed down, so things might take longer than usual too.
I also appreciated living with less material possessions. This may sound really clichéd (she went to a deserted island to live a simple life…) but I just didn’t need many things here. It's actually a fact I enjoyed a lot, as it felt liberating. Back home, there were so many incentives to own things, to buy new clothes, to get more furniture, to have the latest gadget or to spend money on leisure activities. While I did miss cultural activities, which I know I will enjoy again when I’m home, I didn’t miss any of the other things. I even felt ridiculous for bringing way too many things when I came, such as toiletries (5 bottles of eye make-up remover that I didn’t use because I stopped putting on eye make-up!). My colleagues actually started teasing me whether I intended to open up a shop with beauty products on the island...
Another quality I acquired here is to accept things as they are. «Begitu sudah», as I wrote in last week’s blog post. There are certain things or behaviors that I just don’t question anymore because I know it’s useless. This too is liberating because you can let go of a certain responsibility. If you accept that you can’t change it then it’s also not your responsibility to do something about it. People here are very good at this and I realized it often makes life easier.
There is one quality that we sometimes lack in western countries, especially now during the pandemic: it's the joy of life. People here have it in abundance. They may have nothing else and struggle to survive, but they never lose their joy of life. It’s very contagious and helped me get through difficult moments while the resort was closed, and we didn’t know whether the company would survive. My colleagues just take one day at a time and try to enjoy it to the max. It’s definitely something I will try to take with me when I go back as there are bound to be more difficult moments ahead.
We recently celebrated the Muslim holiday «Idul Fitri» on the island. Among other things, you ask for forgiveness for all the things you did that may have hurt others. You may think this is just an easy absolution for doing wrong, but it’s much more than that. People here forgive each other on a regular basis and really mean it. They may feel like almost killing you at one moment and forgive you soon after. You shake hands, continue as if nothing had happened and there seem to be no hard feelings after this. It’s a concept that is rather foreign to us as we sometimes have a hard time letting go of resentments and be friendly again with someone we had a big argument with. But it makes life – especially on a small island – a lot easier because there is no way you can avoid someone here. You simply have to make it work and they seem to manage quite well with their system of forgiveness.
One of the things that never ceases to fascinate me is the way my colleagues prepare any type of celebration. There is always a beautiful decoration made of palm leaves, shells, mangrove flowers or whatever else the jungle will offer for decoration purposes. And it’s always clear that they all help each other, whether it’s an off day or not. And don’t think this is quickly done! They sometimes work on it for hours or days even if it’s for an occasion that «only» involves the staff, e.g. staff birthdays now during the pandemic or my goodbye party last night. It doesn’t take money or a lot of material, but the decoration makes everything look more festive and gives us a good feeling. It shows that we value what we have here and appreciate everyone’s contribution to making us feel at home on the island.
I have often felt I wanted to stay connected to a company or more precisely to my work colleagues when I left a job. And quite often, I did. There were also many friendships that developed from work and that are still ongoing. And Raja4Divers will be no different. Living together so closely for two years was intense and even though I will not be able to stay close with everyone, I will always feel part of the Pef family and hope to come back and visit them as soon as possible. Especially Maya has become a close friend and I hope we will stay in touch. I’m aware that the contact will fade a little with time, as it always does. But the bond will always remain.
Thank you for reading this blog, for giving me feedback, suggesting topics I could cover and even sending me tips for books to read. It was a pleasure to share my experience with you all and meet some of you on the island when the resort was still open.
Take care, stay healthy and come (back) to Pulau Pef if you can! It’s still the paradise you remember and will hopefully remain like that for a long time to come.
All the best and a big hug from the island!
It took me a long time to learn a little bit of Indonesian. If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you will know about my struggle with this language. Believe it or not – I did manage to pick up some and am actually able to communicate with my colleagues on a basic level now! But I did learn one sentence very quickly: «Begitu sudah». It means «That’s just the way it is» and can be used as a comment for almost every situation in life. If you don’t know what to say – begitu sudah. If you’re surprised about something but know it cannot be changed – begitu sudah. If you did something wrong but don’t want to or can't change it – begitu sudah. If you try to convince someone to do something but don’t succeed – begitu sudah.
People here have the capacity to accept a situation much more easily than we do in the West. We always try to question decisions or make someone change his or her mind because we are so convinced about our own opinion. We put a lot of energy into this and talk about these things at length, even if the chances of achieving our goal are slim. Over here, people tend to just accept a situation as it is – begitu sudah. For one, it would be unpolite to contradict you so they will just remain quiet about what you say. Or they are too shy to say anything, which is often the case with our employees here. For another, an official government decision for example is rarely met with as much criticism as back home because they have learnt that criticism is not appreciated by the authorities. Begitu sudah.
You may say that a simple life as many of my colleagues lead here doesn’t bring along as many challenges as we face in the West. That's why they don't have to deal with as many issues as we do. I wouldn’t agree to that. They have their challenges, some of them rather big, but they deal with them in a different way. They accept them and focus their energy on living with or around them instead of fighting a fight that they cannot win. Begitu sudah. Ok, sometimes they also just wait for time to fix things, and that seems to work out quite often too…
When you think of it, it makes a lot more sense to put your energy into the challenge itself instead of lamenting about it forever. It often strikes me how much energy people back home put into talking about a problem and why they think it’s a problem, instead of accepting the fact and start acting. I don’t mean to say that we have to accept everything just the way it is. But a little more calmness about certain things would do us good. Begitu sudah.
It probably comes down to the different types of society we live in – individualistic vs. collective behaviour. Over here, a single opinion is not perceived as important as in western societies, so the individual tends to accept certain facts more easily than we do. It’s more important for the collective to be ok with a situation than for the individual. They are not brought up to put themselves to the front as individuals. We think they are simply being shy, but they just didn’t learn to stand out. Of course, it’s a matter of character as well. But don’t think they will all diligently do everything you tell them! They won’t protest if they don’t agree, but they will also just not do it if they don’t like it. Begitu sudah.
I used to get worked up about things very easily when I was younger. I guess it’s also a quality of the young and a good thing, otherwise things would never get moving in life. But it used a lot of my energy which I could have used for more constructive matters. As I grew older, I learnt to pick my fights, as they say. I tried to invest energy only into issues that were worth arguing about (ok, that doesn’t hold true for the fights with my kids, I still argue way too much there…). And living here has taught me calmness and to accept certain things as they are. I remember, in the beginning I was very surprised to hear what uninvited guests, either from surrounding villages or government representatives, expect to receive from us when they visit. What they seem to take for granted seemed impudent to me as we were not getting anything back, so I thought. But then I learned that it pays off in the long run because it makes things easier for us in other respects. And that’s just the way it is.
Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain. (Vivian Greene)
As my time here on the island is coming to an end, I tend to get a little sentimental from time to time. Despite the pandemic and our ensuing lockdown, my adventure here has been incredible. At first, it truly was the paradise I expected, with beautiful nature, great guests that sometimes even became friends, and a new family of colleagues that made me feel welcome from the very first day. Then I had plans to go diving in Sulawesi (which happened just before everything closed down last March) and to travel around Java in May (which didn’t happen because there was a travel ban). And then the long wait started.
I’m not a very patient person, but I had to learn. First, because of what life on the island is like – it's slow and a there's a lot of waiting! And then, because of the long months of not knowing when the lockdown will end, when the borders will re-open, whether the resort will survive, whether we will still get a salary and keep our jobs, whether people will travel again and when I’ll be able to go home to see my family. So much waiting for things to start moving again.
I remember, in the beginning people often said, «once this is over we will…». And I thought: this will not be «over» any time soon, so we better learn to live with it. But I must admit, I had a hard time accepting the new situation. Whenever there is a problem, I usually try to find a solution quickly and move on. Yet, there was no moving on at all, and I had to start dealing with these feelings. So I learned how to dance in the rain! We all did here on the island and tried to make the best out of the situation. Enjoy the peace and quiet, relax and sleep more, get a new hobby (I took up Yoga), organise staff events and keep the team spirit up, while still renovating and keeping the resort in shape. And most of all – keep our guests and friends informed and entertained so that they continue dreaming about Pulau Pef!
Even though we never got any financial or other support from the Indonesian government since the borders closed, there was no use complaining. Or waiting for the storm to pass. So, we started dancing! We never gave up hope that we and the resort will survive this. There were ups and downs, of course, but the general spirit was high even though many of us didn’t see our families and friends for months last year and money was getting so scarce that some didn’t know how to make ends meet. That’s why we started a new dance – Raja4Rice! And we found out that the solidarity from our guests and friends is incredible! The program has been running for more than a year now and we are still receiving money for rice. Thank you to all the donors out there, our employees still really need it!
I feel that we had it much better here on our little island than people back home. We were always able to still see each other, be with real people instead of spending countless hours in Zoom meetings. We didn’t have to wear masks or keep a distance because we didn’t mix with anybody from outside the island for a very long time. And we were able to still have some fun which I feel was sometimes lost among my friends back home. And mostly – we talked about other things than the pandemic! Our topics here on the island may not always be of international importance, but it’s exactly the «normal» discussions we have that helped us get through the crisis so far. It’s dealing with everyday issues that keeps you grounded and prevents you from being eaten up by unnecessary fear. You cannot make the storm pass with your will or hide in a corner until it’s over. All you can do is continue and learn how to dance in the rain.
I’m still not very good at accepting an uncomfortable situation and learning to deal with it instead of trying to get it over with as quickly as possible. People over here are much better at this because waiting seems to be part of their DNA. But I tried to learn from my colleagues and I’m improving. Let’s hope that my new dancing skills will also help me in the future with any other crisis that may still lie ahead.
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…