Monday, July 4, 2011

Welcome to Oz

Chickens and ducks by the side of the road I’ve come to expect. Same with the occasional cow or goat. But the pigs came as a surprise. We’re sure as hell not in Java anymore…

I left Malang by travel a bit before 5 on Monday evening. My plane out of Surabaya was supposed to take off at 11:30, but it was delayed coming from its last port of embarkation, so we left closer to 1am. The a/c vent next to me was broken, so the plane was freezing, and I was still dressed for the tropics. I managed to doze a bit as we flew through Makassar in Sulawesi, then to Sorong (my first glimpse of Papua!), then finally a last 45-minute leg to Manokwari, where we landed around 9:30 am local time (or roughly 8:30 Monday night EST).

The Manokwari airport has one terminal – domestic departures only – which consists as far as I could see of one room, with a big long counter where they pile all the luggage from the plane and call out the numbers on the baggage tags for people to come claim them. I was picked up at the airport by Pak Yusuf, who runs the Center for Endangered Language Documentation at the university here, and Sutri, one of the linguists there. As little sleep as I’d gotten on the plane in, once I hit ground I couldn’t have taken a nap if I’d wanted to. So we started on the grand tour. First stop, once we’d passed those pigs on the road, was the house where I’m renting a room. Ibu Mince ([mɪntʃe], “minn-chay”) and her husband are probably in their late 50’s or so, and they have a few extra rooms that they rent out, often to researchers coming to work with the CELD. 3.5 million rupiah a month gets you a place to sleep (with your own bathroom!), three hot meals a day, and free laundry. These days that comes out to roughly $400. Still definitely more expensive than, say, Java, (and probably some parts of the Midwest, too), but coming from New Haven it sounds pretty good. And naturally it comes with the same I-feel-like-a-plate-of-pasta-for-dinner-but-what’s-on-the table-is-fried-tempe frustrations that always come with this sort of setup for me (see also: last summer in Malang), but again it’s fine for the summer. Maybe next year I’ll get my own apartment.

Compared to last year’s host family from CLS:


-The food’s not quite as good. I miss tempe Malang.

-No hot water in the bathroom. (Same tub-and-dipper setup as everywhere else in this country.)

-The only place I can walk to is the university – no stores, really only one warung if I want to go out for a meal. I’d say we’re on the outskirts of town, but the whole town is basically outskirts, and it gets way more out than this.


-Air con! Seems standard in Manokwari. Never once saw it in Malang.

-I can put my underwear in with the rest of my laundry – no more hand washing in the shower.

-The walk to school is, well, stunning. The Arfak Mountains in the background and more greenery on one street than in all of Malang combined.

Also, the mosquitoes here are ridiculous. There’s swarms of them, and they don’t seem to mind that I slather myself in DEET. I’m probably poisoning myself faster than I’m poisoning them. (Instructions on the bottle: “Wash treated skin with soap and water after returning indoors.” But the mosquitoes are indoors too!) Also, they’re malarial. Here’s praying my Malarone works. And thank god for cortisone cream.

After dropping my stuff off at Ibu Mince’s, we went up to the CELD office. They’ve got a little suite of three rooms at the State University of Papua (Unipa) on the hill overlooking town. It’s a small operation, about three years old, with minimal infrastructure (see also: all of Manokwari), and a library that fills about one bookshelf. (If anyone has any linguistics books to donate, they’d be very appreciated.) But as far as I can tell, they do/facilitate more language documentation that a lot of major universities. The office itself has ongoing projects with Wooi and Iha, two local languages, and is also involved in a few others. In addition to its own work, they train Unipa undergrads in documentation. The students then work on other local languages, and write up their findings as their senior thesis projects. There’s probably far more analysis of Wandamen, the language I’m working on, done here by undergrads than published in the rest of the world combined. (In fact I know there is, since I’ve seen most of the published materials and aside from a pile of wordlists there’s not much to it.) The level of interest in linguistics here, and the number of undergrads they’re training to do documentation, is impressive.

I’d expected that aside from a little logistical support from the CELD I’d be mostly on my own, but it turns out that’s not the case at all, to both of our benefits. There’s no such thing as a casual affiliation here, it seems. I’m based out of their offices, using their resources, and being shown around by their staff (so far mostly Sutri). Next summer I’ll be officially affiliated, and hopefully they’ll be able to help me with the research visa, which is a notoriously giant pain in the ass. In return, I’m participating in their reading group, helping Sutri with her phonology homework, and leaving my data in their archives. Next summer I’ll likely be giving the occasional seminar on my work and using one of their students, Theo, as an assistant. I get their infrastructure, practical knowledge, and local street cred; they get my theoretical expertise ([self-deprecating snort]), my data, and some training for a student. Plus all this local involvement looks great on my grant applications. Win-win.

From the office, we (Sutri & I) went downtown to register me with the police and buy me some shampoo, as my little hotel bottles had run out. No special permission needed to visit Manokwari, but you do need to register your presence. While we were there I got a letter of permission to travel to the area where Wandamen is historically spoken, so if there’s time later in the month I can spend a few days there. After lunch Sutri dropped me off at my homestay, where I took a two-hour nap.

Wednesday was a holiday, so the university was closed. I decided to walk around a bit. “Downtown” Manokwari, such as it is, is situated on the edge of Cenderawasih Bay. The university is on a hill overlooking town (like Cornell in Ithaca), and my house is about a 10-minute walk lightly downhill from the university. I’ve read that Manokwari has about 100,000 residents – it is after all the regional capitol, with the governor’s offices and everything – but I don’t know where they put more than a few thousand of them. Downtown consists of maybe three fairly busy streets, with maybe two department stores and the only building over two stories high being the Swiss Bellhotel. It feels more like Delray Beach than Albany – low houses, spread out, lots of trees. The setting, though is spectacular, every time I take the road into town and see the Arfak mountains across the bay, my jaw drops a little. Ten feet from the road, if there isn’t a house there’s jungle. I started walking down the hill, figuring I’d head into town and see what I found, but halfway down Ibu Mince’s husband passed me on his motorbike and, since you don’t walk anywhere alone in Indonesia, gave me a ride first to the market, where he had a blanket mended, then another few kilometers outside of town to Pasir Putih, a beach with a truly stunning view out over the bay. I didn’t have my bathing suit with me, but I waded in up to my ankles, and the water was warm and nice. There’s an island a little ways out called Masinam that supposedly has some great snorkeling. Add that to my itinerary. And from the beach we took the scenic rout home, 15 minutes through the countryside. Lush doesn’t even begin to describe it. (Neither does steep, at some points.)

Thursday and Friday I spent in the CELD offices, mostly doing prep work. The woman who deals with the administrative stuff is at the moment in Germany, so there’s not much to be done without her. On Friday I came down with a nasty cold, since with the stray dogs barking and the pet bird squawking and the grandbaby visiting I hadn’t been sleeping terribly well my first few nights. Earplugs = necessary. (The grandbaby is Geo, btw, the chubbiest, happiest 9-month-old I’ve ever seen, who apparently only ever cries once a day, though that once always seems to coincide with my trying to fall asleep.) But on Friday I hit linguistic gold – I was invited to stop by a meeting of students about to present their senior theses, two of whom are Wandamen and writing about the Wandamen language. As semi-urban youth neither of them actually speak Wandamen, but their parents do. Theo, my probable future assistant, is writing about verbal morphology and introduced me to his mother, a fluent speaker who will probably be my main informant. I met with her yesterday (Saturday) morning and spent a good 40 minutes getting some basic words and phrases. The other student, Yesra, has a father who speaks Wandamen, but he lives outside town so I’ll probably only meet with him occasionally. We’ve got an appointment for Monday.

And today is Sunday, another day off, so my plan is to transcribe my recording from yesterday and try once again to explore the town. I don’t know when I’ll actually get to post this – there’s no internet at home, no internet in the office, and while there is wifi in the building next door at Unipa it’s painfully slow. The warnet near town is reasonably fast but since there’s no wifi there either I have to use their computers rather than my laptop, and the prospect of viruses makes me wary of using my USB stick. By the same token, lord only knows when pictures will be uploadable. There’s probably a wifi-enabled warnet somewhere in town; I’ll keep an eye out today and cart my laptop down later. Yay for developing countries… next time I’m bringing an aircard.

Monday Morning Update: Happy 4th of July! I took a plate off the top of a cup of tea this morning and found two cicaks (geckos?) inside. They were still alive. Poor things.

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