I’m still in Switzerland, enjoying some time off and meeting a lot of friends and family. Which means, I have to answer many questions about my new life in West Papua. «So, what’s it like to live on a remote island?» «What do you do all day?» «What are the people like? Are your guests nice?» «How do you cope with the heat and the humidity?» «What do you miss most?» «Does it feel strange to be back?»
I love to tell them about Pef and Raja4Divers, even though I have to repeat the same things over and over again. I don’t actually feel as though I have been away for six months – many things felt as always from the day I arrived in Switzerland (except for the cold weather, of course – but then again, I never liked that anyway…). Yes, I did enjoy that first sweet water shower! And the dry air, bed and clothes. And fast internet and the fact that I can just pick up the phone and call whoever I want. But these are not the things that strike me the most.
I appreciate the incredible public transportation in Switzerland – you miss a bus and 2 minutes later, the next one arrives. And I don’t risk my life just crossing the street because traffic is very civilized. I can buy everything I need and pay by app on my phone. But I am surprised about the fact that people seem to constantly complain about something – the weather, the other people, the stress, their boss, their kids, the train being delayed, the high prices (ok, I agree – welcome to Zurich!), politicians, the environment, the future, etc. Hello? You have no idea what a good life you have here! Stop worrying about everything and start enjoying what you have!
I guess, I was the same before I left. But living and working in another country changes your perspective. You start appreciating what you have back home. Things you took for granted suddenly become special and valuable. You start to actually feel that living differently can also be ok. Having travelled a lot in my life, I knew that before, but I didn’t really feel it. I looked at different cultures and traditions from a tourist’s point of view. Now I’m living and working with people who have been brought up very differently and I have to deal with their mentality. I can’t always assume they think the same way as I do, and it’s me who needs to adapt, not them. It works out fine most of the times, but sometimes I do need a little help. Luckily, I have other westerners working with me who have been there for a long time and who are able to help me understand when I’m lost. It’s challenging, but very interesting. I’ve always been curious to experience and learn new stuff, so this is the perfect training field for me!
I never make New Year’s resolutions because if I want to do or change something in my life, I usually can’t wait for the year to end or to start. I want to do it right now! So, when I reflected on how good 2019 has been to me and how 2020 might turn out, I wished for life to just continue the way it was on December 31st.
Of course there are things I wouldn’t mind (not) having, e.g. less pain in my joints, no gray hair, more pocket money to spend on travelling, have all my loved ones come and visit me on the island, speak Indonesian without having to study so hard, find a jogging route all the way around Pef and finally manage to eat less chocolate, but I am also very happy without this. I’m enjoying the amenities of modern life in Switzerland at the moment – running shower with sweet water, fast internet, public transportation, cinemas and much more – but I’m already looking forward to island life again, to the sunshine and warm temperatures, to the wonderful team and their laughter and to contributing to making our guests’ stay on Pef the best they ever had. Never mind the salty water and sweaty temperatures!
My friends sometimes ask me how long I am intending to stay on the island. Honestly, I don’t know. I’ll stay for as long as it feels right, and I hope it will feel right for quite some time to come. Life has a way of taking care of itself if you let it. There were many ups and downs in my life, but most of them happened for a reason. And I was always trying to be open to new adventures, to meeting new people and to make lemonade, when life gave me lemons.
The last 6 months working for Raja4Divers have been incredible. I have opened up and become more generous in accepting other cultures and lifestyles, less judging. Swiss people are very quick with their judgement on the «correct way of living» for everybody, and I guess I had that tendency as well. Of course, I still have my own beliefs and values, but I learned that other ways of living can be very fulfilling as well. And I am not only talking about the employees I work with, but also about our guests. We have various nationalities and very different individuals visiting us, which I find interesting and inspiring even if some of them are rather challenging. They tell us about their travelling – mostly diving – but also about their lives, work, families, etc. I might not end up writing a book about these stories as one would expect, but they will help me see things from a different perspective now and then.
I am convinced, 2020 will be a good year even though we will not be able to stop wars or solve the climate crisis yet. But I will continue to be open to what the new year has in store for me. I’m sure it’s filled with joy and happiness, great encounters and fond memories, but also with difficult times and sad moments. My resolution is to accept all this and make the best out of it, just as I did last year. It’s worked out pretty well for me – it got me a job in paradise. What else could I wish for?
Happy New Year to all of you – may it be the best you ever had!
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.
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.
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…