Every year, the Raja4Divers staff goes on a 2-day trip. They call it a picnic, but actually, it is nothing like a picnic! The kitchen crew brought half the kitchen with them, including stoves, pots and pans, so they could conjure up three hot meals a day, featuring rice, fish, eggs and vegetables! It’s incredible, but very necessary, as food and eating seem to be on everybody’s mind all day long.
This year, we were a big group of 45 people which meant we needed two of the big transfer boats and one of the dive boats in order to have enough space for people, food, kitchen accessories and some of us to sleep in (many of the locals slept on the floor outside).
We were told it was going to be ‘not much sleep’ and ‘very simple’. I was looking forward to the trip, but I have to admit I was a little worried about the ‘very simple’ part. What did this mean in terms of hygienic conditions? Although I have adapted to the island standards by now (no showers, but traditional mandis, shared bathroom, walking barefoot and constantly cleaning out the sand between my toes, etc.), using toilets and bathrooms in a local village still takes quite an effort.
By the time we got to the first stop, I was ready to use a bathroom, but didn’t dare go to the local village, hoping there would be a better opportunity later on. Using the ocean was no option, as there were people everywhere watching us. So I waited. Our next stop was the Kali Biru (blue river). We first took a little walk to get to a place where you can actually jump into the beautiful sweet water river. Which is what everybody did, in their full clothes and screaming ‘mandi’ (bathroom)! They actually meant it, as they all brought their soaps and shampoo with them and started washing themselves in the river. Still fully dressed! I did have my bikini with me, but didn’t feel comfortable to be half naked in front of everybody else, so I didn’t jump. And still needed a bathroom... Luckily, the intern and I managed to find a place a little further in the jungle where we were able to relieve ourselves.
The place we stopped for the night was the jetty of a village surrounded by mangroves. I had been dreading the bathroom situation for hours before we got there, but pulled myself together and followed the other women to the mandi in one of the villager’s houses. To me, it was worse than expected, but the locals thought it was ‘very clean’! Well, I guess I still have a lot of adapting to do…
The ‘not much sleep’ part also turned out to be true. The locals had already started singing and strumming their guitars during the earlier stops, but after dinner, there was no stopping them. And they literally continued all night! I think they only stopped between the songs to either smoke (although quite a few of them manage to smoke and play the guitar/bass/drum at the same time), drink more coffee or very briefly stretch their legs.
Their repertoire of local songs covering about an hour’s time, it did get a little repetitive, but I didn’t mind that. The songs are beautiful, and almost all of the staff are good singers/musicians. It was the joking and the laughing between the songs that kept me awake. While on the island, their cheerful nature is great to have around and their laughter very contagious. But that night, I would have preferred to get a least a few hours of sleep. But apart from our intern and myself, nobody seemed to mind. I guess, the locals don’t need the quiet to sleep well. They just wrapped themselves in a blanket, lied down on the floor of the jetty and dozed off.
Easy, if you think of it! It just takes a little getting used to…
One Friday afternoon, a few weeks after I got here, all our guests left and we closed the resort for three weeks of cleaning and renovating. Due to a religious holiday, many of the staff went home for the weekend too, so all of a sudden, the resort was almost empty and very quiet.
At dinner time, when everybody usually gathers at the restaurant for the meal at our long wooden table, I was sitting on the sunset terrace all by myself – watching yet another gorgeous sunset! - and suddenly felt a little homesick for the first time since I got here. I imagined our guests flying back to their families and friends and started to miss my people in Switzerland. As much as I often wanted to get away, at home everybody and everything feels familiar and gives me a sense of cosiness and security. I don’t have to worry about customs or language barriers and I am able to see or call my loved ones almost whenever I want.
The feeling passed when our intern showed up, the only other Swiss girl on the island at that moment, and we had dinner together. But I know, I will feel homesick again – on and off. And I hope I will, because it shows me that I have a place that I belong to and people that hopefully remember me even though I’m thousands of kilometers away. Just as I am busy working and getting to know everything here, I know that people at home are busy with their lives too and don’t have the time to constantly wonder how I am doing over here (even though I do get a lot of text messages asking me to write how I am settling in – thank you guys!). And the longer I stay away, the less I will be on top of their mind and vice versa.
Would I feel less homesick if I didn’t live on a remote island, but in a city or a country closer to Switzerland? I would be more distracted for sure, as there isn’t much to do here in the evenings except chat with our guests at the bar or read a book in my room (which is great, by the way, I haven’t read this much for a long time!). But I would still feel homesick once in a while. I think, there is no relation between the intensity of a feeling and the size of the place you live in or the distance from home. It’s just not home, that’s all.
But I’ll manage, I know! So far, I really like it here and hope I will continue to do so for quite a while…
A few Sundays ago, I went to church. Here, in Indonesia. At home, I left the church as an institution more than 20 years ago, because I didn’t feel, it was a place I belonged. But when they asked me if I wanted to join them for church in the neighboring village Kabui, I accepted with joy as I was eager to find out what ‘going to church’ was like in West Papua and also how people live around here.
I was told to dress ‘decently’, meaning a dress covering my shoulders and my knees. When we gathered at the jetty to take one of the dive boats to the island on which Kabui is located, I hardly recognized our local staff, all dressed up in long trousers, shirts and shoes for the men and Sunday dresses for the women. Of course, they brought their guitars, I think they never go anywhere without them. They had been practicing a beautiful song they were going to sing at the church the evening before. It almost brought tears to my eyes when they played and sang it one more time at the jetty before entering the boat.
Off we went on our 20-minute ride. The staff’s excitement about getting away from the island and meeting their friends and family in the village was almost palpable and they were joking and laughing all the way as usual. After arriving at Kabui, we were invited to one of the staff’s very simple houses where his family was eagerly cleaning the floor and placing a mat to sit on. They also brought two chairs for our intern and me to sit on, but we both decided to sit on the floor in a circle with the others, as we didn’t want to be exposed. After another round of practicing the song, we started walking towards the church, painted in shiny white with ocean blue roofs and light green walls surrounding it. It looked very neat and tidy compared to the simple houses the villagers live in. There were dozens of children waiting and playing around the church entrance as it seemed to be too early to enter. They were also wearing their colorful Sunday dresses which looked beautiful on their dark skin. But the two ‘bule’ (pronounced ‘bulai’), as westerners are called here, were clearly the attraction of the day.
After a while, we were ushered into the church where the ceremony was about to begin. It started with a few songs – what else! – and everybody was singing at the top of their voices. It sounded fantastic, like a big choir, and since half the church was filled with children, they also contributed to this very impressive musical experience. I remembered the pathetic singing of church goers in Switzerland which always made me feel ashamed of being there. Here, it seemed to be the highlight of their week to sing in church on Sundays. There is not much else to do in a village like Kabui. And singing is simply part of their lives, also here on the island. They sing whenever they have a moment. I guess it gives them a feeling of belonging together and of remembering their families back home.
I didn’t understand anything the priest was saying of course, but I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere during the ceremony. Children were playing, talking, singing, walking in and out and babies were sleeping in their mothers’ or siblings’ arms, sometimes also crying. Nobody seemed to feel disturbed, they are all part of the community and the church is a place for the entire village to gather once a week. To me, this is what ‘going to church’ should feel like, a place you feel at ease and naturally want to spend time at. Unfortunately, I never had this feeling in a church back home, which is why I left it. And because we can’t sing, but maybe we just don’t try hard enough…
For a moment, I was considering kissing it, but decided I was not in a presentable state to meet my future prince. I watched it for a while to find out whether it was going to jump at me any moment or if I was safe to brush my teeth and get ready for bed. As it didn’t move, I started my bathroom routine while constantly checking whether the frog was still there. It just sat still, observing every move I made. But after a few minutes, it probably got bored and took a big leap on to the wall dividing our bathrooms. It started nonchalantly climbing up the wall with its big hands and feet sticking to the leafy surface of which the walls are made here. It then paused for a while as if to think whether it really wanted to leave or stick around a little longer. Apparently, my activities were not interesting enough, so it squeezed through a gap in the wall and disappeared. As much as I was first a little unsecure about the presence of a frog in my bathroom, I was sad to see it go.
The frog keeps coming back once in a while and I must say, I have gotten fond of it. Sometimes, it seems very scared and hides behind the toilet which almost makes me feel sorry for it. Sometimes it brings along a friend - who knows, I might soon find myself dancing with a whole family of frogs in the bathroom...
I am slowly getting used to living close to nature. Even if Raja4Divers is an extremely well-kept luxury resort, we are still in the middle of the jungle. We don’t really belong here, it was the animal’s territory before we intruded it. So they have right of way, and we take great care in protecting them whenever we can.
This means that we share our rooms and bathrooms and all other buildings with the creatures that live among us: insects, grasshoppers (even praying mantis), lizards, birds, frogs and many more, I guess, that I haven’t found out about yet. I am both curious and reluctant to see them as I’m simply not used to living so close to wild animals. What if the frog was poisonous or the lizard suddenly decided to attack me? How was I supposed to react? I know, they are all more scared of me than I am of them, and it will not happen, but still…
Despite my occasional unease, I feel very privileged to live so close to nature and to be able to witness animal behavior so closely. ‘Back to nature’ still feels new and sometimes strange, but I’m convinced I will experience things here that I never even dreamt of.
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…