I used to have mixed feelings towards the Muslim Ramadan, mainly the fasting that is an important part of it. It seemed rather strange to me not to eat and drink during the day but indulge in big meals before sunrise and after sunset. And having worked as a nutritionist, I thought it wrong not to drink anything, not even water, during an entire day – especially in hot countries.
A week ago, this year’s Ramadan started, and the Muslim part of our staff is following it to the letter. And I must say, I changed my mind and am pretty impressed how they do it. How they get up at 4am to have breakfast and pray. How they work normal hours all day without food and drink, but also without tobacco, when some of them normally never take a step without a cigarette in their hand. And how they never seem irritated or impatient, nonetheless. They never mention being thirsty or hungry, only a little tired once in a while.
I sometimes feel guilty to eat or drink in front of them, and I especially feel sorry for the kitchen team, since they are around food and drinks all day long without being allowed to taste it. Not even check the seasoning of the dishes they cook which is why one of their non-Muslim colleagues who likes cooking is doing the «quality control», as she calls it. But I think they don’t mind as much as I do. Because they grew up in this tradition, and it’s just normal to them. Everybody fasts during Ramadan, except for pregnant or breastfeeding women, young children, elderly or ill people or travelers on long journeys.
I was told they already start as children around the age of primary school. But children begin by fasting only half days, which seems hard enough at this age. My work colleague told me that she and her siblings would come home from school very thirsty at lunchtime and were hardly able to wait for the first sip of water or juice they were allowed. But since they were all in the same situation, they learned to deal with it. It naturally became part of their life to control their impulses and to do without certain things for a limited time of the year.
In the western civilization, we are generally not very good at refraining from doing or consuming whatever we please. Even though for Christians, fasting is also a tradition during the 40 days running up to Easter, it is not as strict as for Muslims. The ones that do fast usually renounce to meat, sweets, alcohol and tobacco, but still eat and drink moderately during the day. While this no doubt is already a big effort for some, it seems hardly imaginable for us no to eat or drink during daytime for an entire month.
It might have to do with the fact that meals for us have a much more social component than here. At home, we meet for a meal and sit and chat for hours. The meal is the actual event. In Indonesia however, I noticed that a meal normally is a rather quick affair, much more practical and aimed at satiating your thirst and hunger, than a social thing. So, missing out on meals during the day, while still representing a big physical effort, may not be so much of a social loss as it would be for our society.
In most western countries, religion also doesn’t determine our daily lives as much as in Islamic countries. Many religious activities are just part of the daily routine here and are never questioned, while in laical and individualistic societies, people are not willing to easily accept everything the state or the church stipulate. We like to decide ourselves what we think is acceptable for us or not.
I don’t know which is better and I still don't really agree with the not drinking part, but they are just two different ways of growing up. And even though I am not a religious person, I decided to do «my share of Ramadan» by not drinking alcohol for a month. Maybe next year I’ll manage to skip chocolate as well, but that is going to be really hard!
I often write about the people living and working with me on the island and call them my «Pef Family». You may start to think that this is just a word I use because I miss my real family in Switzerland. Or because I am trying to explain the feeling of togetherness we share here. And you may start to wonder if I’m not exaggerating a little.
They say, a crisis like this one, brings out the best and the worst in people. In our case, I think it’s the best. What does it really mean to be a «family» now? Is it just an empty phrase? In our case, I don’t think it is.
It all starts with Maya’s basic philosophy: treat your employees well and they will give it all back to you. Our staff all have good salaries for local standards, have a paid health insurance and pension fund and get a very generous holiday allowance. Their accommodation is simple, but clean and well maintained and the food is ample and delicious – which, I heard, is not always the case in other resorts in the area. And even now, during the biggest crisis this resort has know in its history, Maya refuses to let people go for financial reasons and continues to pay their insurances. On top of this, she cares about our staff’s families, which is why we started our «Raja4Rice» project.
On the other hand, all employees, including management, currently have to put up with salary cuts of up to 30%, depending on their salary level. And they do that without hesitation and a lot of understanding. Because they know that being able to keep their job in times like this is not for granted. Especially the ones from modest backgrounds are very grateful for working here. But even employees with university degrees and more senior positions keep thanking Maya for continuing to employ them, as sometimes they are the only one of their family who still has a job and who currently has to support them all financially.
It’s now that we realize: we really are a «family», caring for each other, accepting personal losses so that the resort will hopefully be able to survive financially and continue to employ us all. We are all pulling in the same direction. We try to do this in normal times too, but now even more so. Some of our employees don’t have much education but they understand that they are being treated very well here and that this is something they should not give up easily.
I have worked in many different companies during my career so far. Some were great employers, some much less. But I have never had an owner or a management that cared so much about their employees as here. I felt this from the moment I set foot on the island, and it was the main reason I wanted to work here. I think our guests feel it too, this is one of the reasons why many of them keep coming back to our resort instead of trying out another resort in the area.
It’s easy to be a good team when everything is running smoothly. But it takes a crisis to show you what your team is really worth.
Do you remember life without internet? Or do you sometimes wonder what life would be like if we didn’t have internet? Especially in a situation like this with a big part of the world currently working from home? No WhatsApp to communicate with your friends and family. No news apps, news sites or newsletters of any kind. No email let alone Skype or other video conferencing tools. And no social media feed to scroll through!
The latter would probably be a blessing, even though it’s also a way for us to see how and what our friends are doing in times of lockdowns. But life without social media would spare me some incredibly stupid threads of comments to certain posts that I promised myself not to read anymore, but still cannot help noticing and reading occasionally.
Living in a remote place like ours and running a business, the internet is vital for us. Especially, since we don’t have a phone connection on the island. So, WhatsApp and email are our main means of communication with the rest of the world. Even though our satellite internet is VERY slow because we all share a limited bandwidth, we could not function without it.
How do you keep informed about what’s going on in the world? I’m guessing it’s a combination of TV, maybe radio, newspapers, newsletters, as well as news apps and social media. All of these currently give us a daily flood of different info on Covid-19 and how to deal with it. Do you still know what to believe? I get really confused with so many experts presenting conflicting theories. Did our governments do the right thing or act too late? Could we have avoided the big disaster by looking at how China handled it? Was the lockdown necessary? Can masks help protect others or are they useless, as some claim? There are millions of answers to these and many more questions somewhere on the internet. But they don’t help me understand the situation much better. It’s too much information for me to process and form my own opinion. And it keeps changing every day as there are new studies and scientific findings, which doesn’t really help…
Information travels very fast with internet, and this is a blessing and a curse. Of course, we are all free to decide how much of this info we chose to consume. I do appreciate the fact that I have a lot of sources to choose from. And sometimes, it’s really interesting to read comments and follow online discussions on certain topics, I wouldn’t want to miss that. But in situations like the one we are facing right now it can also be stressful to let yourself be influenced by too much information. Panic attacks seem to be a problem at the moment, especially for people who have be staying home for a while now. My health insurance evens sends out newsletters with tips on how to calm yourself down and advising to stop consuming too much negative news.
I’m not the type of person to think we would be better off without internet. Those times are over, there’s no going back. And I love the possibilities of communication it offers, especially with me living on Pulau Pef now. But sometimes I wish, I wasn’t overwhelmed by so much information, so I decided to choose more carefully what to read. Wish me luck!
I'm sorry, this is not an Easter post. Today's text was inspired by a person close to me that told me he couldn’t stay in touch anymore with all that was going on right now in the world. It left me very confused and I decided to write down my thoughts about one of the side effects that the current Corona crisis may have on some of us.
When scrolling through my news and social media feed, reading newsletters or or even texting with my friends and family, there is one dominant topic at the moment – the Corona crisis. It’s normal because it affects everybody’s lives so dramatically. I often sense an atmosphere of fear in everything: fear of catching the virus, fear of dying, fear of losing money, fear of losing our jobs or even our whole existence and mainly fear that the world as we know it will never be the same.
This fear is very real, no doubt about that. But I refuse to give up hope. Ever. What would life be without hope? This may be the biggest crisis humanity has gone through for a very long time, but we will come out of it. We always have! Yes, the world will change. We don’t know how, but it will change. But does it have to be for the worse? Could it not be for the better? Who says, we will all be worse off than before?
It’s always people that make the change. Every single one of us can contribute to making our world a better one. If we give up our hope in people, we will despair. We will allow the negative headlines to pull us down. And we will give up believing in a future.
Now, more than ever, it’s relationships that count in our lives. People. Love. Family. Friends. I believe, these are the only things worth fighting for. It’s challenging at the moment to stay close to our loved ones if we’re not allowed to see them in person. But it doesn’t mean that we should lose contact. Our friends and family need us more than ever and so do we. Our modern world makes it easy to stay in touch via phone, internet or even good old mail. It’s a little more challenging for us on this island, as there is no phone connection and our internet is very slow, but it’s still possible. And far as I know, we are all in regular contact with our people.
I do sometimes fear that we will not make it, that Raja4Divers may go bankrupt and that we may have to give up this beautiful little paradise. But most of the times, I believe that we will manage. We have to, for the people. So many employees and their families depend on us. They are wonderful people who put their trust in us, hoping that we will help them survive. They are like a family to us, we cannot disappoint them.
I refuse to give up hope. Because this would mean to stop believing in love and friendship. And I will not do that.
I wish you a very happy Easter. Stay in touch!
It has only been a good week that our last guests left, but I have the feeling that nature is already claiming back her territory by land and by sea.
All day long, I seem to hear more birds singing than ever. There are new voices that I think I have never noticed before. And they feel louder than before too. I’m no bird expert at all, but just yesterday, two other colleagues mentioned the louder bird singing as well. So, there must be something in it, I guess.
Our monitor lizards (Soa Soa in the local language) are normally very shy and disappear immediately in the bushes or up a palm tree as soon as someone approaches them. Now, you can see them crawling more or less nonchalantly about the entire resort, even around the usually busy restaurant and bar area. It seems as though they feel less stressed by the employees that are still walking around everywhere as we are all busy working, cleaning and renovating the resort. I guess they appreciate the quieter and more relaxed atmosphere and venture out more often.
Lately, it has been raining a little almost every night, so the bushes and trees also seem greener than ever since I came here. It is starting to look like the lush tropical jungle again that makes the island of Pef so beautiful. Before the rain, the leaves were yellow, and many trees were losing their foliage day by day. It was far too dry for a long time, but now even the weather gods seem to have had a heart for us and sent us some rain.
Whenever the sea is not too wavy, I try to go snorkelling at our house reef after work. Even after 8 months on Pulau Pef, it still amazes me how incredibly beautiful the house reef is and how many corals as well as fishes and other animals live in it. Now, it seems as if the schools of fish have grown even bigger and I think there are more juveniles than before. As there are no dive boats nor liveaboards passing by our island now, marine life is much less disturbed than during normal times. I am not sure if fish can hear noises, but they must feel the turbulence of a passing boat. And the divers – even if they are very careful (which most of them are) – are an alien element to marine life. I believe a break from this intrusion will do these animals good.
This little virus is wreaking havoc around the world, killing so many people and making even more lose their jobs or their entire existence. And there may be many more consequences we don’t even know of yet. I would by no means want to insinuate that this isn’t the worst tragedy that has happened to us for decades. But maybe, by forcing us to take a break from our fast-paced modern life, COVID-19 may at least have a positive effect on nature. It would definitely be the only one, but a wonderful side effect of these difficult times we are currently going through.
Due to the Corona virus, our resort is closed and the island of Pef shut down for external visitors until further notice. All tourism activities have been banned by the Regent of Raja Ampat, and we had to put ourselves into self-quarantine to protect the island and our employees. At least the ones that are still here, since half the staff chose to go back home for an undetermined period of time.
So, the island is rather quiet at the moment. And this time it’s not the same as when we close for cleaning and renovation three times a year. Nobody knows when we will be able to reopen the resort. On the one hand, we are all very happy to be here and feel comparatively safe on our remote little island. On the other hand, we don’t know how long we will have to stay here and whether we will still have a job once this crisis is over. The financial loss is huge and for a small resort like ours, this is dramatic.
For now, we are still busy trying to teach our employees how to stay safe, e.g. how to wash their hands correctly, to keep their distance and most importantly – not to mix with anybody from outside the island, not even with their family or friends from the villages. This must be very hard for them as they are used to living in big families, and the ones with relatives in nearby villages used to have them come over to Pef to visit on a regular basis. This will not be possible for an indefinite time, unless they go back home and don’t return until the crisis is over.
This also means that we will not buy any more fish from local fishermen and no fruit and vegetables from the village nearby. Bad news for me since my diet mainly consists of fish and vegetables and fruit… We have rice and dry foods for quite a while, so we are not going to starve, but the meals will definitely be less varied.
You may think: «What’s her problem? She’s on an island in paradise and she’s complaining about the food?!» You’re right, of course. I shouldn’t be complaining. But it’s probably more the underlying feeling that this crisis may take a lot longer than we think, that gets to me. I feel, Indonesia may take a while to fight the virus because it’s such a big country with comparatively few medical resources compared to western countries that are struggling already.
So, what do we do in the evenings, now that there are no guests around to entertain? Dinner is a rather quick event now, and afterwards, most of the employees go to their rooms to watch movies or call their relatives and friends. The first evening, I felt a bit lost, as I like to be around people, and I am not an early sleeper. And there’s no TV or streaming of movies here as the internet is too weak. But I will soon get used to the new rhythm and probably read in my room or have a chat with Maya or someone else that speaks English well enough (as you may remember, my Bahasa Indonesia is still not at a level to have a proper conversation…). Time will tell, and it will be ok.
Having no guests around also gives me more time for sports after work: workout, jogging or go for a snorkel at the house reef. I used to think, our island is small and there’s not enough space to move around. Now, it has suddenly become rather big compared to the apartments and houses my family and friends are currently confined to. I guess, it’s all a matter of perspective…
It’s pretty hard to believe, but I just spent 10 days on a dive vacation in North Sulawesi. I had a wonderful time and the best thing about it - everything seemed normal at the resort, we just didn’t shake hands or get close to each other. But we went diving, laughed and had meals or drinks with other guests at the same table, as if nothing had happened. So far, Indonesia is not hit as hard by Corona as other countries, but they may just not really know…
I was very curious to check out another dive resort and see how they run their business. I hear from our guests that Raja4Divers is a unique and wonderful place, like no other. And I strongly believe this is true. But I was never able to compare us to other places since I started here, so I was very much looking forward to this vacation.
The biggest difference is that the island the resort is located on is not very far from Manado and the mainland. And there are other resorts and a village on the same island. So, it doesn’t feel like you are at the end of the world as it does on Pef. We are in the middle of the jungle, there is only us on the Pef. This has its disadvantages, but it also has its charm. We are one with nature, and I really like that.
The resort I stayed at is very nice, about double the size of ours and features more luxury than Raja4Divers (A/C and sweet water showers in all the bungalows, a big swimming pool and a beautiful spa). The dive center is bigger too, very well run and their dive guides speak good English and have a very good knowledge of their marine life. And their staff as well as their management are extremely friendly and go out of their way to make you have a wonderful time.
But – I still prefer Raja4Divers! OK, you may say I have to because I work for them. Of course, I do, you’re right. But it’s also a very personal feeling. After only a few days, I started missing Pef: its nature, its birds, its wilderness, the sound of the waves at night and its people! The bungalows of the resort I stayed at have brick walls, so you don’t hear any sounds from nature during the night. There are also no birds which was surprising to me, as we have so many on Pef.
Although the diving was very good – lots of turtles, beautiful walls and interesting muck dives - Raja Ampat is just a whole different league in my opinion. The abundance of corals and fish we have here is simply spectacular. I’m not sure you can find this anywhere else in the world, but then again, I haven’t dived in that many places yet.
I still take home some ideas that I think are worth looking into, because there’s always room for improvement. It’s little details sometimes that give you this wonderful all-round experience and if we could add some to the many we already offer, this could only be a good thing. I’m glad, I got to experience a different resort, because I don’t consider them and us competitors. They are different and so are we. And both are great places to spend your vacation.
But I’m also very happy to go back to Pef tomorrow – back home to «my» island in Raja Ampat, our paradise at the other end of this currently very crazy world.
Every once in a while, we have visitors from a yacht that’s passing by Pulau Pef, looking for a safe and peaceful place for mooring. Our mangrove lagoon at the back of the island is the perfect place for that and features two moorings that can be rented for the night. The owners of the yachts and their guests or crew sometimes also like to have a few drinks at our bar and chat with us or our guests. Or they go for a snorkel at our house reef or explore the island by foot. It’s a change from their yacht routine.
Some of these yachtsmen or -women have been cruising for years, sometimes all by themselves, sometimes with family members or changing guests. The single-handed sailors fascinate me the most. How can they bear to be alone for such long times - just them, the boat and the ocean? What if something happens? This always reminds me of the film «All Is Lost» in which Robert Redford plays a single-handed sailor getting into distress at sea. Absolutely wonderful movie, you should check it out if you haven’t seen it yet. But terrifying too, as he is absolutely by himself with no one to help!
I think it’s not so much the being scared part of sailing, but the being alone all the time that would bother me. I like being around people and couldn’t bear the thought of being by myself for such a long time. On the other hand, they get around and tell us about all the beautiful places they have been to. This, of course, is the part that’s appealing to me. I love travelling and have also been sailing a few times. The feeling of cruising just using the wind is incredible. And to be able to get around the world like that is amazing. I envy yacht people for this.
But I realize that I like to have the comfort of my house (or room in the case of my current situation) and enjoy the company of my Pef family and our guests. You are never alone on a small island like ours. This can be an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time, as there’s no privacy either. But I prefer to accept this and have people around me - to talk to and laugh with when I’m feeling good, but also to give me comfort, when I’m feeling down.
I would love to go sailing again, for a few weeks maybe. But then I would also love to come back and enjoy the company of people. This is why I work at Raja4Divers and don’t cruise the world on a sailing yacht.
Back home, I used to work out regularly at the fitness studio and go jogging once in a while, whenever my knees and the weather would allow. I have always needed to exercise on a regular basis in order to feel comfortable. So, coming to work at a small remote island seemed like a challenge, also in this respect. How was I going to even walk enough on this island when «getting to work» would only take me 30 seconds? Let alone jog or work out with hardly any place to hide from the guests?
I quickly found out that the back part of the island with the beautiful mangrove forest and the peaceful lagoon were the perfect place for some exercise. I started out by simply walking along the jetty, back and forth a few times as it’s not very long, and also along the narrow footbridge towards our spring and a little chili garden. I soon came to love the peace and the different noises you find in the mangroves after work in the evening before it gets dark. The front of the island, where the resort and the bungalows are, is the spectacular side of Pulau Pef, with its gorgeous reef and the beautiful sunsets. But it’s also the wild side with quite some wind and waves on certain days. The back of the island is the charming side with hardly any wind nor waves, a mystical touch and a calming silence.
After a while, I started doing some exercises on the footbridge where no guests could see me. And I also started jogging on the mangrove jetty – back and forth until my workout lasted for about 45 minutes in total. It felt really good to move again, as I had the impression, I was only sitting at my desk all day and getting lazier and lazier…
But then I found out that even on the days I didn’t have time to jog or work out, I still walked my 10’000 steps. How come? I was surprised, since it didn’t feel like much walking. On the other hand, I walk about the resort quite a lot, going to the restaurant to get a tea, coffee or more water or walking to the printer in the climatized room, because the other printer we have in the office is currently not working. Then I also walk our kayaking guests to the lagoon in the back to help them board the kayaks and take a picture as they take off. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but the short distances here add up, because I walk them more often than at home.
I still miss a good workout or group lesson at the fitness centre once in a while, but I have found an acceptable rhythm here and feel I am getting enough exercise for now. And if I’m a little lazy but, still feel like moving it, I take my mask, snorkel and fins and jump in the water after work to admire the incredible world below the water just in front of our resort. Snorkelling or diving after work – I mean, can it get any better?
My friends and our guests often ask me what «doing marketing» at a dive resort really means. «What do you do all day, Monika?»
I usually like to answer that I just hang around a little, enjoy the beach and the sun and go diving all the time.
Well, not quite… My workday starts at 8am with the daily staff meeting. We all gather in a circle on the floor between the office and the dive centre. First, everybody gets called out to check if they are present. Without this daily routine, I guess some of the staff would just show up to work whenever they please. Or not at all. Afterwards, we are informed about the day’s events or exchange information between the various departments. At the end of the meeting, we all pray in silence, everybody according to their religion. Or – for those that are not religious – we keep silent for a minute or two.
After the meeting, I usually try to get hold of some of the dive guides to hand them the camera and ask them to take pictures of our guests during coffee break between two dives. One of my responsibilities is to manage the “Guest Comments” page on our website, including the guest pictures.
The rest of the day I spend at my desk, planning social media campaigns, writing newsletters, updating the website with new info or assets and once in a while creating ads, leaflets or other printed promotional material. I also write press releases and advertorials and deal with dive magazines or other publications and websites around the world for editorial or advertising space.
Whenever we participate at a dive show, my job is to make sure we have enough printed promotional material for our booth or to send images and videos to our partners or the organizers of the show for their website or other channels.
Additionally, I also deal with expat organisations in Asia to promote Raja4Divers to their members. They represent a target group that lives closer to Raja Ampat than our other visitors from Europe or North America and are therefore likely to visit us.
And then, there is the guest relations part of my job, which basically starts the moment I set foot in the office in the morning and ends in the evening when I leave the restaurant or the bar to go to sleep. This is not all hard work, but it just means I am constantly available to our guests whenever I am not in my room. Don’t get me wrong, I love the contact with our guests, and almost all of them are great! There are just days I wish I could «go home», close the door and spend a quiet evening on my couch watching TV.
Of course, this is what working in tourism or at a resort is like. Anybody who has ever worked in the hospitality industry will tell you the same. But for me, this is new as I have never worked in this area before. But I’m getting used to it and enjoying it. And I also love my day off, when I relax in my hammock and read for hours. Or I spend the morning diving with our guests and «work» a little…
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…