As I am scrolling through my social media feed (with fast internet here in Switzerland!), I come across many posts and articles about 2019 being the year of flight shaming and travelling becoming the worst of all activities. Before I left for Indonesia, there were many demonstrations in the streets all over Europe (and the rest of the world) about ecology and young people urging their governments to take action to protect the environment.
And there I was, ready to work for a dive resort at the other end of the world, trying to get people to travel thousands of kilometers to come and stay with us. I must say, this did bother me in the beginning as I am thoroughly convinced we need to change our habits to save our planet. And yet I am comfortable working for Raja4Divers now because I know, we are doing the best we can to run an eco-friendly resort: traditional wooden bungalows, no energy-consuming air conditioning, water-saving mandis instead of showers, etc.
But what’s more important is the fact that our visitors experience the beautiful nature of Raja Ampat first hand and realize how important it is to protect this jewel. When we have our coffee break between two dives on a beautiful little island that seems completely untouched, we often find a lot of plastic waste washed ashore from the sea, so our guests witness the problems we face here one-on-one. We usually take out the garbage bags we always bring along on our dive boats and start cleaning up the beach together with our guests. But we all know there will be more waste next time we come. And this makes you go back home and live more consciously so that our children may still be able to experience the beauty our planet has to offer in the years to come. At least I felt like this after the first time I came to Pulau Pef. I went home and increased my efforts to try and reduce waste even more wherever possible.
I read that the travel industry is responsible for 8% of the global carbon emissions and air travel accounts for 2.5% of total emissions – with forecasts predicting this could triple by 2050. So yes, flying is probably the worst you can do in terms of carbon footprint. But not only leisure travel is to blame. What about all the business trips for just one meeting you probably could have done via Skype or video conference? And how about not flying to a far away destination just for the weekend? I love travelling and would be jetting around the world constantly if I gave in to my impulses without second thoughts. But I have learned to choose more carefully where and how I travel. And I think this is the way to go. In my opinion, flying once a year to your dream destination is probably less harmful than 3 city trips over the weekend. But when back home, we will all need to reduce our carbon footprint in our everyday life as well.
It’s going to be a combination of things that will make the change for our planet. Travelling and especially flying is one important aspect, but there are many others. To experience nature as we still have it in Raja Ampat makes you want to protect it and this, I am convinced, will help people to make the extra effort to change their lives accordingly.
Today, I’m leaving to go back home for Christmas and a five-week holiday in Switzerland! It’s the first time in almost six months that I’ll get to see my family and friends and I’m very excited about that. I didn’t realize how much I missed them until this vacation got closer…
As mentioned before, I feel very much at home with my new Pef family here. But it’s not the same as my real family. Although I have found a new and very loving new home here with Maya and the entire staff, I still consider Switzerland my home and this will remain, no matter how long I work for Raja4Divers. They say you can’t choose your family, and some people don’t get along very well with their parents or siblings. But I was very lucky, I have wonderful parents, a great sister (who unfortunately lives in the USA – a long way from West Papua!) and two gorgeous adult children of whom I’m very proud. We are all rather independent and sometimes don’t see each other that often. But we don’t need to, because we share a deep understanding and know that we can rely on each other if worst comes to worst. It’s probably this security that gave me the power to wander off to the other end of the world and start a new adventure. I was very confident that we were all going to be fine and manage to keep up the tight bonds that we have.
But now, I need to see them in person. Have a face-to-face conversation with them (instead of the scraps of conversation during WhatsApp calls with weak Wi-Fi that we usually have to endure), hug them and tell them about my life on the island - even though this is almost indescribable. I want to get their news, find out how they have really been the last few months, not just the short form we exchange via text messages.
Of course, I’m not the only one missing my family and friends here. Everybody working on the island is separated from their loved ones for weeks or months, and I’m sure they miss them too. Indonesia being so big and flights rather expensive, some of them only fly home once a year because they cannot afford more flights. For Christmas, most of our Christian employees will take a holiday and travel home to their families. This accounts for about half the staff, mostly Papuans. The rest are mainly Muslims or Hindus, who will stay here and choose another religious holiday or time of the year to go back home.
The resort is now closing for 3 weeks of renovation and cleaning and will re-open in January. It will be a quiet time here for everybody, I experienced this at the beginning of my stay on the island. At the time, it was almost too quiet for my liking, but I didn’t know the people very well then. I’m sure it would be a cool experience now to stay here and celebrate Christmas and New Year’s on Pef, but I’d still rather be with my people back home for this year.
For me, Christmas and the end of a year have always been a time to spend with my family and close friends. That’s why I am very grateful to Maya for giving me the possibility to take a break and travel to Switzerland. I’m sure I will very quickly start missing the beautiful island, the warm climate, the incredible nature and the Pef family. If I do, I will let you know about it in my next blog post…
MERRY CHRISTMAS! Have a wonderful time with your families and friends!
Swiss people are big planners when it comes to their future, their old age and financial security. Their whole life, they think about what will be and sometimes forget to live in the moment. With the Papuans, it’s the other way around. Most of them only live in the moment and don’t spend a moment thinking about tomorrow.
They are brought up like this, so it’s hard to blame them. When they come to work for us, we often start by explaining to them why we do the things the way we do them. And what the consequences of our actions are. We show them why our guests come to visit and that we all need to protect the underwater world for them to keep coming back. It’s not always easy to make them understand that our business and their future depend on it. They only see what our resort does for them today – they get a job and a salary and are able to feed their families. But if their families want them to stay in the village for a while because there are things to be done, they’ll do it without thinking of the consequences this might have for their job with us.
This is how we just recently lost one of our employees from the neighboring village Kabui. His family asked him to take a vacation to sort out some things at home. So he did. But after the vacation, he just didn’t show up at the resort anymore and didn’t answer any messages we sent him. When he did come back two days later, he said he had to finish a job back home which was more important than the one with us. As this was not his first time, we had to let him go which didn’t seem to bother him that much. I guess he didn’t fully understand the consequences: that he would not have a paid job anymore, no more regular income, no more support for his family, no more health insurance paid by us and no more pension money, also paid by the company.
Any westerner would say he’s crazy to let such a good job slip through his fingers. But who are we to think we can impose our way of thinking to other cultures? Why should our reasoning be better than theirs? We tend to be rather obstinate with our planning, and struggle when things don’t work out the way we planned. People here, on the other hand, are very flexible and adapt quickly to new situations because they didn’t have a plan in the first place. They just take every day as it comes, and sometimes a new day brings better options than you thought the day before.
Their joy of life also comes from this short-term thinking – live in the moment and don’t think about tomorrow! They seem perfectly happy like this, so why change?
The other day, we had our Christmas picture taken with the entire staff wearing silly hats in the shape of Christmas trees in bright red and green. We all had a blast, as usual when there’s something funny happening on the island. After the official photo session, the locals kept taking pictures of each other and laughing with every single one they took. When our guests arrived at the bar area for our Tuesday ‘Happy Sunset’ event, we were all still wearing the hats and making fun. Our laughter was so contagious, most of the guests immediately got infected and laughed along.
This happens very often here. Our staff’s laughter is very contagious and can be heard all over the island. Most of the times, I have no clue what they are giggling about (and maybe they forgot themselves…), but I just laugh along as their laughter makes me laugh. I feel like I haven’t laughed as much for a long time before coming to Pulau Pef.
Our employees seem to be joking and laughing constantly. When they try to translate a joke, we (the westerners) usually don’t find it funny at all, but they just burst out laughing wildly. And they don’t stop, it keeps on going all day long! They sometimes seem like children to me – so innocent when it comes to having a good time. They live in the moment and enjoy it to the fullest. Something we should do more often in our so-called civilized world. It sounds like a cliché – us being serious and them joyful all the time – but it does change your perspectives.
To step out of the hamster wheel once in a while, crack a joke and laugh out loud – how liberating! I’m sure it would help solve some of our problems. And not taking ourselves so seriously seems like the key to me. We sometimes behave as though the world would stop turning without us “civilized people” taking care of things. It would be wise to trust our instincts a little more often, have a laugh once in a while and not stress out so quickly.
Just yesterday, there was a bunch of men from the neighboring village here to talk to Maya about an issue they were very upset about. She was due back on the island in the afternoon from a short trip to Sorong, so they waited in front of our office for many hours. In the beginning, they seemed very upset and were talking in loud voices. But then, some of our employees started talking to them, making jokes and laughing with them, so the whole atmosphere became more relaxed and peaceful. When they left much later in the day after long talks and much laughter, they seemed to have calmed down – at least for now. I am convinced, the jokes and the laughter contributed considerably.
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…