vrijdag 2 oktober 2009

The other Papua

Early in the morning Charlye takes us to the airport

After 8 months on a row being in PNG, many of us just need a break and try to escape the country if we can. I know this sounds very spoiled and selfish, but this country can just be very demanding and some times frustrating. All of us experience those “PNG Days”, as Jolanda calls them. Communication with the people you are ought to communicate with is not always easy, and we know that and are trying to get used to that. There are many reasons for that including cultural differences. All of us work with more than one culture, so you can imagine this sometimes leads to misunderstandings and miscommunication. But it is not just the communication, it also the fact that you always have to be on your guard. I am alert 24hrs. If I drive around in the car, I know what the dangers might be if you have to slow down for one of the thousand pot holes; if I go to the bank, I know I have to keep my bilum close to me; I go to the market, I know to look out for the rascols, and listen to the market women giving me advice which boys might be dangerous; if I am in the house, I make sure all the doors are locked properly and the security lights are on. This is draining energy and affects your mood. You might take it off on your friends, but fortunately many of us know where this unintentional “growl” comes from!

Obviously this doesn’t count for all of us, and also for many people it is just not affordable to undertake such ‘escape trips’ but if you get the chance, you will definitely take it with both hands.
Just arrived in Vanimo

When my sister Dorien announced coming to PNG again and she would travel over Indonesia, I immediately suggested joining her for a week in Indonesia while she would travel back to Jakarta.

With an ordinary digital camera, official ID photos are being made for my Indonesian visa application

But entering Indonesia coming from PNG is not that easy. First you have to apply for a visa, which can delay you for a few days (or even a week as for Marleen and Dewy!). Dorien and I had our hopes up for a smooth border crossing, so we kept our fingers crossed. We expected to stay a night in Vanimo and pick up the visa the following day. However even though this Indonesian consulate employee was this dodgy and creepy guy who came on to me when I had to use the toilet and I turned him off with a smiling face, and we just kept on being polite and spoke with two words to, more or less, kiss is ass so he would not be pissed off, and would decide to keep us waiting for a few days, we managed to collect our visa in the afternoon. This is quite exceptional, because most travellers have to stay a night in Vanimo.

Border crossing

We got a PMV to the border and got our stamps with the Indonesian immigration office. The officers still recognized my sister of when they had to send her back to Jayapura to get a stamp from the PNG consulate.
Anyway, the moment you enter the Indonesian border you immediately step into Southeast Asia. The roads are paved and have fewer potholes; there is more traffic because of the hundreds of motorcycles and mopeds that fill up the roads; the fields contain out of rice paddies and fish ponds; the markets on the streets are open at night; you can walk around freely at night! That was the most luxurious part of all! I just so miss it to move around freely at night, not being able to walk or to cycle to someone’s house or to one of the restaurants in town. This is impossible and probably will never be possible. The streets in Madang are dark; there are hardly any streetlights and the houses that live on that street are often not lit because power is expensive.

Could be a PNG market right? This is a market in Wamena, Baliem Valley

Jayapura was all of a sudden a bustling Asian city with food stalls selling cheap, nice and spicy food and markets offering a range of different items such as batteries, DVD’s and socks! Just what you expect to find on an Asian market. The people on the streets are a mix of Indonesians who come from all parts of the country and Papuans, who are the native inhabitants of West Papua. This part of the country has an fascinating and sad history.

After the Indonesians got their independence in 1949 and were freed from their Dutch colonizers, the Papuans in former Dutch Guinea expected the same would happen to them in the sixties. The Dutch would return Dutch New Guinea to the native inhabitants of the island, but after they moved out of Papua, the Indonesians moved in and incorporated this territory under the Republic of Indonesia. Everything that belonged to the Dutch colonizer, had to be part of Indonesia.
Since that time, the native Papuans have always struggled with their freedom and their place in the Indonesian society. The Indonesian government implemented this programme of transmigration in which families and individuals from all over the country were sent to establish themselves in the province Irian Jaya (now called Papua). Irian Jaya needed to be a representation of the Indonesian society. Therefore nowadays you find people from Java, Sumatra, Bali, Sulawesi, etc.
In Jayapura you will only find Papuans as sellers of fruit and vegetables on the market, as bejak drivers (bike taxis) in the Highlands, or as an employee in a restaurant or shop. They are treated as third class citizens.

Buai seller in Jayapura

Because the Papuans have similar physical features as the Papuans of PNG (after all it is one island with the same ethnical background) I often ended up in speaking Pidgin to them. Obviously they didn’t understand anything of what I was saying because they predominantly speak Bahasa Indonesian and a local language.

Crossing a bridge during our hike

Dorien and I decided to see a bit of the highlands of Papua, so we checked the rates of plane tickets to Wamena. Even though we entered Southeast Asia, this part of Indonesia is very expensive in comparison to the rest of the region. However we decided to go to Wamena and the Baliem Valley anyway because there was a cultural festival going on at the same time. For increasingly obscure political and bureaucratic reasons, foreigners must obtain a travel permit known as surat jalan, which is a travel permit and gives access to certain areas. The authorities monitor the movement of every foreigner, because they are too much afraid of any riots or attacks from the Free Papua Movement. This separatist movement is classified as a terrorist organization under Indonesian law. We had to apply for this document so we could buy a plane ticket to Wamena. The permit turned out to be a large sheet with personal details of both me and my sister written up with a type writer.

Being a guest in a women's house

An unusual piece of paper for an official purpose!
The plane ride to Wamena was quite memorable; an old, crappy piece of junk with no life jackets under the seats. Especially with the plane crash in mind that happened in the same region a week before we were there, we didn’t feel very safe for about an hour. The enitre plane was filled with Papuans who brought back eggs and other groceries that were far more expensive in the highlands.
We didn’t make it in time for the cultural show, so instead we did a hike through the villages outside Wamena with a local guide.

Now we are the curiosity of the cultural show!

This whole negotiating process with the local guide was a very frustrating part of this trip; we made the old tourist mistake by paying the guide in advance. Then try to get some of the money back if it turns out that he is not taking you to the place he was supposed to do!

Walking through One of the villages

Anyway, we did get to visit the villages where (older) men still wear penis gourds. Imagine that the temperature during the day is quite pleasant, but not that hot that just the protection of the penis should keep you warm during the day.. Because that is the only thing they wear! The penis gourds were quite impressive actually. However I wonder if the size of the gourd resembles the size of the penis of the user..

The famous penis gourds...

When we came back from the Baliem Valley we decided to spend our last days in a hotel at the Sentani Lake. We took one of the buses (public transport is very well organised in Indonesia) and asked the driver to drop us off at the hotel. This hotel, called Yougwa, was perfect and very nice. Clean and spacious rooms looking out over the Sentani Lake. The food prepared by chef Pepin was more than delicious. And on top of that: they sold Bintang beer!

Enjoying a telonga belanda. IN PNG the fruit is called 'tree tomato'

West Papua and the surroundings of Jayapura are dry, so there is no selling of alcohol. The first time when we arrived in Jayapura, and wanted to celebrate our smooth border crossing, we had to search for a bottle of beer. Imagine that you are just craving for a nice cold beer after you’ve left Madang early in the morning, and not expecting to be in Jayapura on the same day! I mean: that is a reason to celebrate! On that moment we were more than willing to pay big money for a cold Bintang beer in an expensive hotel. But one beer was not enough, so we decided to hunt for some more golden liquid in the numerous supermarkets of Jayapura, so we could enjoy it even more while eating a spicy meal in one of the food stalls.

Dorien in a bejak

Anyhow because we were not satisfied with the souvenir prices we got after negotiating with the Indonesian shopkeepers in Wamena, we decided to buy our souvenirs in Sentani. At least, that’s what we read in the Lonely Planet. Well, after spending two days of souvenir hunting with no result, we had to give up. Even buying a pair of tennis shoes (mine were stolen out of our car in Madang) was not an easy thing to do.

Old woman with her fingers chopped off:
for every person that dies in her family, a part of her finger is
being chopped off.

Besides from all of that, we really enjoyed travelling around in the public buses and do some sight seeing. We almost got killed by a crazy boat driver when we asked for a trip on the lake. Apparently he was not pleased with the time we suggested because the water was quite rough. How could we know that? So he just manoeuvred the boat as a maniac over the high waves while Dorien and I were holding on to our seats and onto the boat, praying for a safe return to the hotel!
Of course we had our fare share of rat experiences during this trip. It seems that we are always being chased by our nightmare. This is definitely what we as sisters have in common: rat phobia! Even in this nice and clean place, where you won’t expect any encounter with these nasty animals, we did meet them... One night we were sitting outside and reading our books while I heard a big plunge in the water. It sounded like a big fish jumped out of the water. Curious as I am, I looked over the balcony and saw this huge rat swimming in the lake! Both Dorien and I turned on our ‘Rat Alert’ on and searched for similar creatures close to our room. We identified a few, in our opinion, rat traps and took measures to keep them out of our rooms by stuffing small holes, make sure the door to the bathroom was closed, and so on. At night we could hear them running around on the roof of our hotel. I guess many of you think us girls are insane in the membrane, but for this is plane reality! We don’t like them and we will never get used to them.

One of our day trips around the Sentani Lake

On Sunday morning Dorien left early to catch her flight to Jakarta. She was already pissed off by the men of our family because they didn’t confirm her seat in the plane back to Frankfurt, as they promised they would do. I totally understood her disappointment, because almost the same happened to me when I travelled back to PNG in January. You just want to travel as comfortable as possible, and you know exactly how to do that, and you are just very disappointed if others care less. So she already prepared herself mentally for a crappy seat in the plane back to Europe, while I tried to catch a few more hours of sleep in our hotel room. Our goodbye was not one of the dramatic kind. We both looked back on a great holiday, even though it was just a short one. We had done so many things in one week, and everything just went very smooth and natural. There was no discussion at all, we just wanted to do and see the same things; catch up on the Nelisse and other Dutch gossip; stay in crappy hotels; negotiate for cheaper rates in hotels; read books; stuff holes for possible rat attacks and so on. I guess that’s part of what is called ‘sisterhood’!

Dorien and the boatman

The same taxi driver, who drove us from the border to Jayapura, picked me up from the hotel to bring me back to the border. During this 2 and half our care ride I could practice my Pidgin with Kadhir, a taxi driver from Sulawesi. Kadhir could not speak any English, and my Indonesia is just limited to “Terih Makasi” (thank you) and “Sama Sama” (you’re welcome) so therefore we could communicate in another, both foreign to us, language.
It was actually quite nice to be back in PNG, even though I desperately needed a break from it. It was great to make myself understood again in Pidgin instead of struggling with the LP Phrasebook; to see the red stained teeth of the Papua New Guinean buai chewer and to realize how limited the supply of food is in the stores is (the supply mainly exists out of rice, corned beef, chicken and beef crackers, etc.). Even the strong penetrating smell of Papua New Guinean body odour made me happy to be back in PNG!
That night I stayed at Gabriel’s place: a cute little house with a great veranda and comfortable hammocks! The next morning I caught the plane back to Madang. It was good to be back in “Ples bilong mi”.

Cute couple during the DWU Cultural Festival in August

Cultural group from Mt. Hagen, Western Highlands

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