Don’t worry, I’m not leaving the island yet! But I have to write about saying goodbye as this is what we do here every week.
Our guests stay with us for one, two or sometimes three weeks. “Arrive as a Guest, Feel like a King, Leave as a Friend” is our slogan, and we really mean it. We are very close with our guests during their stay here, have all the meals together at one big table, sing and dance on various occasions, have a drink with them at the bar at night and usually get to know them quite well. With some, the connection remains a friendly, but distant one. But with many others, we develop a friendship and look forward to them coming back – which they often do.
So saying goodbye is not always easy. Especially since our farewell ritual involves singing and dancing, giving it a very emotional touch. Our guests always leave on Fridays, and the first few Fridays I struggled with my emotions. As soon as I spotted a tear in one of our guests’ eyes, I started crying too. I didn’t want them to leave (and neither did they) and would have liked to get to know them better.
But the longer I stay here, the better I become at saying goodbye. I wouldn’t say I became less emotional, but I just got used to the ritual and the rhythm of resort life. It’s the way it goes – some guests come, and others leave. And where else would I have the chance of meeting so many interesting people? I can always decide for myself if I want to keep in touch with them or just wait for them to maybe come back one day.
But occasionally, someone grows on you more than others. That’s when saying goodbye hurts a little more. I think it also has to do with the fact that seeing them leave makes me think of my people back home. I’m not homesick as such, but I do miss my family and friends. Goodbyes remind me of that, as on normal days, I don’t have much time to think of home. My daily routine is quite busy, and the days just seem to fly here.
Saying goodbye in a resort also means I have to get used to new guests the following day, as they always arrive on Saturdays. I mostly look forward to meeting and getting to know them, but whenever there is a good group of people here, I would just like to keep going with these ones and not have to start all over again. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to tell people how I got here and how the resort was built, etc., but just not always.
I have only been here four months now, so I have not had any repeaters come back yet. But I am looking forward to next year, when the first ones return, and I will be able to continue with them where we left off when we said goodbye.
We don’t have Billy Joel on the island, but music and guitars are just as much part of Pulau Pef as its natural wonders below and above the water. There’s not a day without music and singing here. Many of our employees are good guitar players and have a very nice voice. They are always making some kind of music – in front of their rooms after work or after dinner, on the transfer boat from Sorong to Pef and back, on staff trips or sometimes even on the dive boats. It seems like they were born with a guitar in their hands.
I was told guitars were among the first things they brought to the island when they started the construction of the resort. It was very important to them as almost every activity is accompanied by music or singing, be it during or after work.
Four times a week, our Pef band performs at our regular events, such as ‘Happy Sunset’ (cocktail and finger food at the bar) on Tuesdays, the goodbye party for departing guests on Thursdays and at our farewell and welcome ceremonies on Fridays and Saturdays. The band only features singers, guitar players and small drums, but when they are all together, it sounds beautiful.
Most of the songs are very romantic, talking about love and missing home. Some are also just local pop songs that they teach themselves from YouTube. I usually find the Pef version a lot better than the original. Many of the tunes are very similar, but I never seem to get tired of them. Unlike pop or rock music back home, that I quickly dislike after it’s been played up and down by the radios, I can listen to these songs over and over again. It just feels natural to have them here, and I always try to sing along – not an easy task in Indonesian or Papuan language…
There is one song they always sing that goes on for a very long time, because there is a part when they take turns to sing a solo. The bold ones usually start, so the first few rounds of solos are covered. But then, to get the shyer ones to sing, Maya usually goes and drags them to the front from their seat in the back. I sometimes feel a little sorry to see them standing so shyly in front of the other band members and all the guests, but I think they are actually doing fine. And some of them have lovely voices.
Since I got here, I have not listened much to the music I brought with me. And I don’t miss it. The joy of life that our band’s music conveys is fantastic. It makes me feel melancholy on the one hand, but very happy to be here on the other. I’m aware that other places probably have their music as well, we are not the only ones. But just listening to this music gives me a feeling of being part of this island, this resort and its team.
If I showed you a video of our band playing, you'd probably just think 'That's nice, but what's all the fuss about?'. You have to experience it here on the island to actually feel it. I can’t explain, just come and find out for yourself!
I celebrated my birthday on Pulau Pef this week. What an experience! I knew it was probably going to be special as we often celebrate birthdays the 'Pef way'.
It started with our usual staff meeting at 8am. I got a beautiful card signed by the entire management and senior staff with personal wishes, followed by a ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Selamat Ulang Tahun’ (Happy Birthday in Indonesian) performed by the entire team. When the meeting was over, each and everyone came to shake my hand or hug me to wish me a happy birthday, a ceremony we do for every birthday, even though many of our employees feel a little shy to touch, let alone hug a stranger. But nobody is forced to hug anyone, a handshake is fine too. Normally, the birthday girl/guy also gets a bucket of cold water poured on his/her head, which is supposed to bring good luck. But somehow, they spared me the wet part. I guess they thought I was lucky enough to still be alive at such an advanced age…
In the evening, we had our Tuesday event called ‘Happy Sunset’ – cocktail and finger food offered by the resort for everyone, all accompanied by the Pef band’s island tunes. This was the perfect party setting, Including the gorgeous sunset! Instead of the regular glass of fruit cocktail, I was offered an entire coconut full of alcohol – challenge accepted!
Later on, there was cake (chocolate, what else?!), candles and more Happy Birthday singing. And I received a crown, beautifully made of palm leaves by one of our resort assistants (she comes from Bali and is a true artist when it comes to decorations), as well as a palm leaf skirt. I felt like a queen! There was more hugging, singing, laughing and dancing. But there was more – I also got a very sweet gift: a bottle full of little letters with birthday message from the entire staff! I was overwhelmed by so much attention after only being here a little over 3 months.
This is exactly what makes Pulau Pef and Raja4Divers so special – we’re family (thanks for this line, Vin Diesel!). You might say it’s normal to feel close, since we all live on this remote island together. I agree, but it’s much more than that. We care about and take care of each other. Some more than others, and don’t think it’s all harmony and no arguments! But as much effort as we put into detail when it comes to the resort and its decorations, as much attention goes into our “human resources”, our employees. We try to make them feel part of the family and proud to work here. It sometimes feels like having teenagers that think they are very grown up, but still need a lot of guidance. But, just like with children, it pays off to invest time and attention, as they will give it back to you with commitment, joy and hopefully endurance.
I chose to work for Raja4Divers because I immediately felt that this place was different from any other I had worked at before. This feeling of being welcomed, of belonging and of being valued for what you do, was very strong from the first moment I set foot on Pef, when I came as a guest to find out if I could live here. I couldn’t work for any other resort in this area, it simply wouldn't be the Pef family!
It has become a habit for some of our guests to leave old clothes, shoes or other belongings here that they don’t want to take home anymore. Especially guests who come for the second or third time know that we are very happy to accept anything that is still in good shape and can be worn or used again. Sometimes we even get dive equipment, such as fins, masks, snorkels or even wetsuits which of course are extremely valuable to our dive team.
You might ask yourself whether we’ve run out of clothes on our remote little island. Rest assured, we still have enough to wear and are far from running around naked through the jungle! But some of our local staff come from very poor families and don’t have much to wear apart from the uniform we provide them for work. One of our employees, for example, only has one private t-shirt – quite hard to imagine if you come from such a rich country as I do.
But we don’t just distribute the clothes, that would be too boring. And not in the spirit of Raja4Divers. Every two or three months, when the two boxes we collect the clothes in start to overflow, we organize what they call a “tombola” for the employees. It’s THE event for everybody - not one of the employees nor of the guests would want to miss it!
All articles are displayed in a corner of the restaurant after dinner. Many of our staff get in early to inspect everything very thoroughly before it all starts. Usually around 9pm, everybody gets to pick a number from a pot. Then Maya starts to draw numbers from another pot and reads them out aloud. The one with the same number is allowed to choose something at his choice first. Then the next number is drawn and the next employee is allowed to pick an item, and so on. It usually takes two to three rounds, until everything is gone.
But don’t think, this all happens quietly! Everybody comments on the others’ choices, yells advice on what to pick or they all laugh at one of the guys taking a skirt or beauty products for his wife back home. It’s both funny and endearing to see, how happy some of them are about a pair of sneakers they’ve been dreaming of or a nice shirt they would never be able to buy from their own money. For our guests, it’s a lot of fun to watch this and joke around with the staff. But for them, I think it means a lot more – it’s both entertainment and a very welcome addition to their salary. And since they don’t receive these clothes from us as a “donation” but they “win” them in a draw, I guess it doesn’t make them feel bad. It’s a game, but a very helpful one. And I think they don’t take it for granted to receive things for free on a regular basis.
The ”tombola” is just one more piece in the mosaic of things we do to involve the local staff and their families. It seems natural to us, and I’m proud to be part of a company with such an attitude.
Papuans love to eat! At least three times a day. ‘Selamat Makan’ means ‘Enjoy Your Meal!’ and it was one of the first Indonesian sentences I learnt here. They also talk about food a lot and a greeting including “Makan sudah?” (“Have you eaten yet?”) is very common.
As important as a proper meal may be, the locals don’t spend much time at the table though. They help themselves generously from the buffet, sit down, gulp down their plate with a spoon and get up 10 minutes later. Never mind if the person they were talking to while eating hasn’t finished yet. You may suddenly find yourself all alone at the table, even though you were surrounded by 5 people when you started eating. This may seem rude to us, but it doesn’t seem to be like that here. They probably wonder why we spend so much time at the table when we could be chatting, playing the guitar or watching videos on our phones in front of our rooms instead!
A meal is not a meal if it doesn’t contain rice, fish and vegetables - for breakfast, lunch and dinner, often in very similar combinations. Papuans don’t seem to request as much variety as we do. Vegetables are usually cooked (I miss salads!) and often in a broth, but they are generally very nice. Sometimes, they come in a delicious spicy coconut sauce which I really love.
Talking about spicy – the local version of Sambal (a spicy chili paste) is freshly made every day and generously applied on every dish. There’s a separate buffet for the guests with a sort of fusion cuisine of Western and Indonesian dishes, including the fresh Sambal which I also use every day. Only when the resort was closed, and we all ate the same food as the locals, did I find out that there are two versions of Sambal – one from Hell (for the locals) and a weaker one for wimps like us Westerners… The first time I added it generously to my rice and fish only to find out very quickly that this was a different version than the one I was used to from the guest buffet! I was desperately trying not to show how much my throat was burning and to prevent my tears from running down to not make a complete fool of myself in front of the locals. Not an easy task, but I somehow managed! And decided to take it easy on the Sambal until the resort opened again and there was a milder version.
Did I mention that the food is delicious here? Well, it really is! To make things worse, there are homemade cookies available all the time (!) and there is a delicious desert every evening. I quickly decided, I was going to skip desert, unless there was something with chocolate (I’m a chocolate addict!). And leave the cookies to the guests (ok, once in a while, I do allow myself one of the yummy chocolate cookies…). As my job here doesn’t involve a lot of physical activity, I definitely have to be careful not to end up like a puffer fish very soon...
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…