Thursday, December 20, 2012

I Can’t Hear the (Jingle) Bells

Name that tortured musical theater reference.

Christmas spirit in Manokwari.
There is nothing so disorienting, I think, as seasonal jetlag. Culture shock you expect, the feeling – absolutely accurate, in this case – that everything’s different, nothing’s familiar, and you’ve slipped into a whole new mode of being. If you lit a bonfire of all the page that’ve been written just warning foreign-exchange participants about culture shock, you’d melt the polar ice caps right there. (And those handbooks are so inane, on balance you’d still probably be doing the world a favor.) Neither is this the normal, what time is it now jet lag, which hits you like a brick when you get off 24 twilight-zone hours on the plane and find that instead of 8pm it’s 7am and you’re supposed to be just starting the day, not crashing from exhaustion. Drink some coffee, give it a week, it wears off. And finally, this is not what happens when you ship off Florida for a week in February, soak up some lovely warm rays, then come back to cold snowy reality. No, this is much sneakier than that. You don’t notice it at first. It’s August, hot and sticky in New Haven. you hop a plane to Bali, where it’s hot and sticky, then to Papua, more of the same. September: still hot and sticky. October: even hotter and stickier, ant season. Halloween passes, no falling leaves, candy, or pumpkins to be seen outside of the vampire-themed CSI episode on tv, and that airs too late at night for you to watch it anyway. November: still hot, mango season. Thanksgiving passes with hardly a mention, especially since with the flu you’re in no mood to try replicating the usual apple pie. December: rainier, mosquito season, hot, and sticky. It feels like August. It absolutely does not feel like Christmas. The carols playing around town sound as out of place as that time they were playing Jingle Bells in a store in Java in (actual) August a few years ago. The (fake) trees popping up around town look totally alien, and mostly they’re red or white and sparkly anyway. Understatement isn’t done out here. There’s photos of snow showing up on facebook, but as far as I’m concerned I could be looking at last year’s albums – there’s nothing immediate about them. So here I am, having spent my summer in New Zealand’s winter, now still feeling summery in Papua, and while I know intellectually that it’s the holiday season, it just feels wrong. (Hanukkah may as well not exist; the nearest menorah is roughly 1000 miles away in Australia. Though the whole foods-fried-in-oil thing is certainly going strong out here. I wonder if I could make latkes.) I went snorkeling at the local beach this weekend for god’s sake, how can reindeer and one-horse open sleighs be anything but ridiculous?

Me & Randy at Pasir Putih, post-snorkeling.
I got in the Christmas spirit for about three minutes when I listened to the Messiah on my laptop the other day; with the a/c on full blast, when the opening bars of the Symphony came on I could shut my eyes and almost think I was in my parents’ living room about to decorate the tree. But I listen to the Messiah too much at other times of year, so it didn’t last. My last-ditch effort was to make gingerbread cookies on Sunday with Reni and Virgine. A few years ago I typed up all my mom’s old recipes for a Mothers Day present, and the file’s still on my computer. Lucky for me all the German Christmas cookies rely primarily on Indonesian spices – go a few hundred miles west of here and you hit the province of Maluku aka the Spice Islands, which until fairly recently were the only place on earth where cloves and nutmeg grew, and ginger’s as common as garlic and soy sauce in the food here. Light brown sugar and molasses were not forthcoming, so I replaced them with a mixture of regular sugar, gula merah (palm sugar), and a little bit of water. The biggest hurdle was butter. What sort of former Dutch colony doesn’t have decent butter? The kind that’s called Indonesia. The closest thing around was Blue Bell margarine. I died inside a little (okay a lot) to bake with margarine, but you make do with what you’ve got. Also, there’s no measuring cups out here – you use drinking glasses and normal spoons  and say close enough. And you know what? Aside from being strangely pale, with little gooey bits where chunks of palm sugar melted over the top, those cookies were damn good. Not saying they made it feel much like Christmas, but my host family liked them, the ones I brought to the office disappeared before lunch time, and I’m giving them to my language consultants too. I got some strange looks trying to explain gingerbread houses, but not as strange as when I tried to tell Ibu Marice about how in America, Santa Clause lives all the way up north, where a factory of tiny people make toys, and then a bunch of flying deer, one of whom has a glowing red nose, pull his cart around the world and lands on top of houses for him to sneak in through the fireplace and give the toys to good children, but ashes to bad children, because he has a list of who’s who. Tell me that’s not downright bizarre.

Yes, that's a jar of krupuk udang in the background.
In other culinary news, I had a flash of brilliance the other day when Ibu Min brought home a loaf of sliced white bread from Hadi. I had Virgine and Reni light the stove, then mixed two eggs, some sugar, pinch of salt, and cinnamon in a shallow bowl. There was no fresh milk in the house, so I used the powdered stuff they give to the kids, which worked. A little melted butter in the pan, and voila: French toast. I’ve still got some Nutella that I just couldn’t bear to eat during my Two Weeks of Tropical Disease Hell, so that got slathered on top. Big hit all around; best breakfast I’ve had in ages.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my homesick daydreams at this point mostly revolve around the food I can’t get out here: good Italian salami and red wine and prosciutto and Nica’s sausage-egg-and-cheese on a roll and olives and big juicy tomatoes and rye bread and ma po tofu and spaghetti with pesto or meatballs, tomato sauce, and pecorino romano. The other day it was the tacos my dad used to make from an Old El Paso spice packet when I was growing up. Other common themes include long hot showers, sofas, and jumping into snowdrifts. But mostly prosciutto. It’ll be good to get home. But first I’ve got a week left here, then two weeks in Borneo. I’ve already looked up the best Lebanese restaurant in Kuala Lumpur – lots of Middle Eastern immigrants and tourists there, should be good – and plan to get my hummus-pita-and-kebab fix when we pass through on the way out to orangutan country. I am so looking forward to that hummus.

Gingerbread a la Papua
3 ½ glasses flour
1 small spoon baking soda
1 ½ sm spoons ginger
½ sm spoon cloves
½ glass “butter”
½ glass sugar
1 egg
½ glass palm sugar, chopped fine
A little water

  Measure flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cloves into bowl. Beat butter, white sugar, half of the palm sugar, and egg until light and fluffy. Add the rest of the palm sugar and the water, beat until well blended. With spoon, stir in flour mixture. Mix by hand until well blended and smooth. Cover the bowl and refrigerate several hours.
  Preheat oven over a medium flame. Place circles of dough on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-15 min, until golden.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

At least there's fresh papaya.

It’s the rainy season in Papua. which means that instead of raining once or twice a week it rains nearly every day, starting usually in the late afternoon or evening and continuing into (or resuming in) the night. The downpours can be spectacular, sheets of rain pouring down alongside thunder and lightning, roaring so loudly you can’t hear the tv even with the volume turned up high. The upside is it’s cooler now than it was in October, particularly in the evenings; the downside it it’s way more humid, and the other downside is that it’s hard to record my Wamesa speakers when it’s raining hard on a corrugated tin roof, which sometimes cuts the elicitation sessions short. A glorious sunny morning can turn ominously cloudy in the space of half an hour, though usually if I’m home by four I can stay dry. And a deluge often means a power outage too, though that seems to happen roughly weekly regardless of the weather, usually for no obvious reason. I keep my headlamp and reading light well-charged.

And rainy season is also flu season, and everybody in the house got it, from baby Rifky to Ibu Min, my landlady, to me. The whole house rang with coughs, and I spent a week in bed with a fever, a splitting headache, joint pain, and barely enough energy to get up. In the first four days I managed to read the last three Harry Potter books, if that says anything. The only thing worse than being sick with the flu is being sick with the flu abroad, and the only thing worse than that is waking up at 2am, in the middle of a power outage, with the rain pouring down outside, realizing you’re going to throw up, and stumbling to the bathroom with a clip-on booklight clutched in your hand to find the toilet in the dark, then not being able to turn on the air conditioning even though you’re sweating half to death because the power’s still out. Yeah, that sucked.

In any case it seems pretty certain it was just flu – it would take one awfully lucky and prolific mosquito to give the whole family dengue, and when I Wikipediaed various tropical diseases and their symptoms that’s what fit the best by far. (Fun fact: pretty much every tropical disease on earth has exactly the same set of symptoms: fever + headache + cough + body aches + possible petichial rash + occasional digestive distress equally describes malaria, dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever, typhoid, flu, and mild food poisoning. As far as I can tell the only difference is the relative timing of all that, and how likely it is to kill you.) But now I’m (finally) back on my feet, though still coughing along with everybody else and as a result getting an inside look at Indonesian home cough remedies. I don’t recommend the lime juice with kecap manis (sweet soy sauce).

On Saturday night Virgine decided she wanted to make spaghetti (and was very disappointed to discover she’d bought linguine instead), so we headed out back to the kitchen with the pasta and a jar of sauce. We set the spaghetti to boiling, then started chopping some garlic, shallots, and chiles to pep up the sauce. I had to convince her that beef broth, soy sauce, and lime juice were maybe not the best additions, and that no, we really shouldn’t add Worcestershire sauce instead, even if it is European. The compromise was bakso (Indonesian meatballs) and peas. Once everything was chopped I went inside to put on bug spray, and when I came back in Virgine was frying the shallots, garlic, and chile on high heat, and as I approached to pour in the sauce before the garlic scorched I got a lungful of what felt like mustard gas, which sent me hacking and gasping outside for fresh air. No gentle sautéing here. But if you ate around the bakso, the end result was pretty delicious. And then I spent the night puking it back up.

Nope, not food poisoning. On Sunday I was fully sick again, feverish, achy, malaisical. I finally dragged myself out of bed and caught an ojek downtown, and on the third try found an apotek whose lab was open on a Sunday (for the record: Felicia’s, just past Café Lee on the road towards the Polres). For 20,000 rupiah ($2) they pricked my finger, smeared some blood on a slide, and 15 minutes later had the verdict: Malaria.

Me, George Clooney (he caught it in Darfur, way nobler than me), and probably everyone else who’s set foot on coastal New Guinea for any length of time. I wasn’t expecting the test to come back positive, given that I take anti-malarial pills every day specifically to avoid it, but I hit the jackpot and found a malarone-resistant strain. In all fairness I always knew that was a possibility; my NSF grant application even came back with a note suggesting as much. So I talked to the in-house doctor, who took my blood pressure and asked me about my symptoms and gave me a few prescriptions along with a lot of instructions in high-speed Indonesian, the upshot being that I have no idea what strain of malaria I have (other than not falciparum, which is the more dangerous one) or even what meds I’m taking (the baggies have dosages on them but not names), just that they sounded familiar at the time and they seem to be working. I was one of a few people there for the malaria test at the time. The whole thing seems pretty routine: feel crappy, get your finger stuck, take some pills, feel better, catch it again next year. Kind of a Papuan version of strep throat – it sucks for a while and you don’t want to leave it untreated, but you’re gonna be fine. (Not to belittle things – some people do get falciparum, don’t get medicine, have bad luck, and get awfully sick. But at least here in the city, if you can afford the $13 for the test and pills, that doesn’t seem to be the norm.) When I got home and told my host family they nodded, asked if I’d gotten medicine, told me to eat something (which is their response to pretty much everything, including ‘good morning’), and invited me to a party next door. I declined and watched X-Men: First Class on tv instead. And now here I am lying in bed, reading the December 3rd annual food issue of the New Yorker on my Kindle, and exquisite torture given that not only am I thousands of miles from all the wondrous things described therein, but also too queasy to enjoy them even were that not the case. Thanks anyway, Calvin Trillin, but let’s save the mol for later.

Two weeks since the flu first hit me, I am so sick and tired of being sick. It’s not even the sick itself that sucks, it’s the endless, soul-crushing boredom bore of mild fever and achy limbs, coupled with a vague dread of those godawful doubled-over-in-the-bathroom-retching moments when it really does get bad. I wake up, read, play Pocket Frogs on my ipod, read some more, have a little rice for lunch, nap, maybe read on the front porch for a change of venue til the hard bench gets too uncomfortable, play solitaire on my laptop, some dinner, watch bad tv, go to bed, repeat for, well, two weeks now. It’s killing time between pills and naps and waiting to feel normal again. There’s good moments, those times after a stretch of nausea or headache when just not feeling awful feels wonderful, but mostly it’s neither, just endless dragging blah. I’m so ready for it to be over.

On a more fun note, just before I got sick I finally walked the other direction down my road, away from town and the university, and discovered the forest. (Not ‘discovered’ really, I’d been told it was there, but I’d never seen it before.) First of all, about two houses down from mine is a building with a sign out front advertising the International Potato Center. What that is or why it’s here I have no idea; the lights were off and a sign on the door said ‘close’. (I do so love bad Papuan English.) Five minutes farther down the road is the entrance to the forest, ‘Hutan Konservasi Taman Wisata Gunung Meja Manokwari’ (Conservation Forest Leisure Park Table Mountain Manokwari), which the sign rather aptly declared to be the lungs of the city, with hydrological functions (funksi hidrologi dan pari-pari Manokwari). The paved road turned into a wide dirt path, with smaller paths branching out into the trees. The road was far enough away that the only sounds were the birds, the cicadas, and the gnats swarming around my head. (Note to self: next time, don’t forget the DEET.) At one point I heard loud flapping above me and looked up to see a pair of hornbills flying low into a tree beside the path. Salamanders darted back into the trees from their sunny patches on the path as I approached. After about half an hour’s walk I made it to the Tugu Jepang after which my street is named – a memorial for Japanese soldiers who died in Papua during WW2, not something you often see in the western hemisphere. The memorial itself was kind of run down, with missing tiles, graffiti, and discarded candy wrappers strewn around the base, but the view of the city was good. I took a few photos, decided it was way too hot to be out, and hiked back home.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Loads of Fishes

Hendro was supposed to drive me out to the airport at 8 to catch my flight to Sorong, but at ten after I got a call from Ibu Min saying sorry, they were all at the airport already picking up Renny, who was coming back from a month in Makassar and should be landing soon, and if I just held on til they got home I could take their cab back out. In Indonesian time, ‘landing soon’ could be any second, or in half an hour, or maybe an hour, who knows. Fifteen minutes, maybe, for her luggage to show up in the big shed that serves as an arrivals hall, then the 20-minute drive back home, get me in the car, another 20 minutes back out. By now it was 8:15; my flight was scheduled for 9:20. Maybe not. Luckily Fr., back from her two weeks on Yapen, was willing to give me a ride, saving me having to find an ojek, and I made the flight. The plane had arrived from Jayapura, heading via Manokwari to Sorong and then Makassar with a full load of passengers, and with no computers at the airport they assigned me to an already-full seat, so rather than my window view I ended up in a middle seat next to a man who could really have used a primer on proper use of deodorant in the tropics. 35 minutes later, we landed in Sorong.

One hell of a front yard.
In the airport I was met by a representative from Papua Diving, and along with three Austrian men who’d been on my flight was dropped off at a local hotel, where we waited in the restaurant (I drank sirsak juice, they drank Bintang) and made awkward conversation for four hours until the next set of guests landed. It must’ve been a big day for resort transfers; I haven’t seen that many bules in one place since Bali. (I don’t think I’ve seen that many bules total since Bali.) Around 3:00 we finally collected the other couple and headed off to the waterfront for the boat to Kri.

Honestly I’m surprised no one got a concussion. It was a cloudy, windy day, and the seas came at us in 3-foot swells so that we’d ride up one side, continue past the crest, and then – WHAM! – slap down on the trough below. Every ten seconds or so, with varying severity, for just over two hours. I turned on a podcast, put on my neck pillow to cushion my head from the jolts, braced my feet on the floor, and turned towards the window to watch the flying fish, who seemed to be enjoying the weather rather more than we were.

Crocodile needlefish.
The waves let up as we got close to the island, and gave us a chance to catch our breath before we pulled up to the dock. The resort was made up of a series of thatched cabins stretching back along the wooden jetty and along the beach: ten or so huts, divided into two guest rooms each, a veranda with lounge chairs facing the sunset, a wall-less dining room, the offices and kitchens, and the bathrooms on shore. The only other thing on the island, besides the forest, was another, more upscale hotel with the same owners, just around the cape. I was in Room 2, in one of the huts on the jetty, raised over the reef on stilts. I looked out my window into the water and immediately saw a pair of crocodile needlefish swim by. Then I pulled out my Kindle, set up the hammock, and watched the sunset til dinner.

Shrimp on an anemone. (Disclaimer: I didn't take this
photo, but I did see these shrimp and they're awesome.)
There were about 15 of us staying for the week – it’s a weekly schedule, though if you really want to come or go on a day other than Sunday you can pay a couple hundred bucks to arrange a boat – mostly Europeans, aside from myself and a family of three Americans. Someone should seriously do a study of how people communicate with each other in these sorts of situations. (I’d love to write that grant proposal: “Dear NSF, Please give me $10,000 to go hang out at a dive resort for a month and listen to people talk. It’s legit research I swear.”) English was the general lingua franca, except for the one woman who didn’t speak any; the Swiss, French, and Italians speaking French among themselves; the Austrians, Dutch, and Norwegians (Danish? I never quite knew) speaking German with each other; me, the Americans, and the British manager speaking English; me and the Swiss woman working in Jayapura (S.) speaking mostly English with some Indonesian interspersed; the staff talking amongst themselves in Indonesian/Papuan Malay mixed with Biak; everyone else talking to them in English, except S, the manager, and me, who used Indonesian, and everyone speaking their national language with their compatriots. Occasionally I’d try to speak German and it’d come out half Indonesian as well, though I could understand pretty well as long as the Austrians didn’t go too regional in their accents. I didn’t attempt any Italian. Everybody there was well-travelled - most people don't come to Papua until they've exhausted all the more usual sights. The Austrians had just come from trekking in the highlands, the Americans had been diving around Indonesia for a month and were heading out to Africa for another month of diving, and everyone was swapping stories about the Galapagos, the Seychelles, Palau, and arguing
about which had the best dive sites, the most whale sharks, the best visibility. I was the youngest person there – most were late middle aged – and one of the least-experienced divers. (Never been to the Seychelles… yet.) In all it was a nice change from the dreadlocked backpackers in need of a shave and a shower that I usually run into on my travels. I guess that’s what happens when you upgrade from the $12/night hostels to respectable Eco Resorts on remote islands. (Though last time I stayed in a grass hut it was in Laos and I paid $8/night, and unlike Kri they had hot water.) So thank you to my subletter in New Haven for paying my rent so I could spend the money on this instead.

Baby black-tip.
On the way to breakfast my first morning, after being woken up at 5:30 by all the birds, I saw a baby black-tipped reef shark swim under the jetty. When I mentioned it nobody even looked up. That should give you a sense of the kind of place this was. As it turns out, you have to see six of them chasing each other around – as I did one night – to even get a reaction out of anybody.

The point of the trip, of course, was diving diving diving, and dive I did, three times a day. We were assigned to boats with a dive guide for each buddy pair – traveling without a buddy, I had my own guide – and headed out twice each morning and once in the afternoon to various spots in the area. I only skipped two dives during the week: on the second dive of my second day, still vaguely mystified by my dive computer (first time using one) and distracted by the manta rays swimming overhead, I stayed too deep to long and had to sit on the sand at six meters for a few minutes to decompress. I took the afternoon off after that, thinking an extra-long surface interval to let off some excess nitrogen might not be a bad idea. On Thursday I signed up for a night dive, and figured that even though I now had a much better grasp of what those numbers on my wrist were telling me, four dives in one day might be a tad much, so I skipped the afternoon.

Manta ray. (Didn't take this one either.)
And the diving was spectacular. Raja Ampat is a ridiculously rich ecosystem, with thriving reefs and more fish than I’ve ever seen in one place. (Granted, though, I’ve yet to see the Maldives…) I’ve long compared a good dive to a cross between meditation and the best acid trip ever (not that I’d recommend combining the latter with a dive), and I fully stand by that here. You’re swimming along in near-silence, listening to the sound of your breath bubbling out and the occasional crunch of a parrotfish eating some coral, all the while surrounded by the most incredible shapes and colors of corals and creatures swimming and crawling and growing all around you. There’s some crazy shit at the bottom of the ocean, more outlandish than anything I’ve ever seen in even the most imaginative sci-fi, fantasy, or horror books/movies/whatever. Like the manta rays, for example: roughly the shape of a stingray, but 20 feet wide, 2000 lbs each, flapping their “wings” as they glide by and occasionally launching themselves out of the water entirely; they look like giant bats from behind, space ships from above, and like nothing else on this earth from any other angle. Then there’s the unicorn fish, with a spike poking out between its eyes; the bumphead parrotfish, “bison of the reef”, four feet long with a lump on its head and teeth like a horse; and don’t even get me started on the cuttlefish and octopuses and translucent little shrimp; giant-eyed spotted pufferfish; the nudibranch and flatworms and Christmas tree tubeworms; tiny seahorses that camouflage with the bumpy pink surfaces of the sea fans they cling to; soft corals
I mean, seriously. (This one either.)
called ‘cauliflower corals’ for a reason, except that they’re bright pink or purple; giant clams half as tall as me in wild colors; the scorpionfish that blend in with the rocks and lionfish that wave frilly red fins, both extremely poisonous so don’t step on them; the flat, long-snouted crocodile fish that deserve the name (on looks at least); the feather stars that look like brightly-colored seaweed but have tentacley legs and can walk; the shrimp that swim through the water leaving glowing trails behind them on cloudy nights; and all the rest. I mean seriously, the crews of all the Star Trek series combined have nothing on what’s 10 meters under the water.

Under the jetty.
We’d be swimming along and suddenly be surrounded by a wall of fish on all sides, made up of schooling jackfish and snapper, with clumps of barracuda, triggerfish overhead, and sweetlips below. (I took videos, but my camera somehow decided to turn everything pink.) Usually a shark or two would be prowling the edges; I lost track early of how many sharks I’d seen. (Most were black-tipped reef sharks, full-grown versions of the little guys swimming around the reef under my cabin, but there were a handful of tasseled wobbegongs hiding under coral blocks, one that was either a white-tip or a gray reef shark, and on the last day a bamboo shark sleeping under a rock.) There were some good current dives, where we’d attach a reef hook on to some coral, hang on to the rope, and watch the jacks circle; then unhook and fly with the current to the shallows. (On my way down for the second of these I got a mouthful of water while descending, then must have made a face, since my mask filled up. At that point I thought, screw it, and surfaced, flagged down the dive boat still sputtering on salt water, and blew about half the ocean out my nose before my dive guide surfaced too and we went back down.) For the mantas, we went about 20 minutes out by boat, then sat on the sandy bottom behind a low coral barrier to watch them swim above us. I was one of the last to the bottom, and just as I was finishing my descent a huge manta swam right at me, passing a few feet above my head. (They’re filter-feeders, eating 60 lbs of plankton and fish larvae a day, but not interested in people.) On one dive I saw an octopus in a hole, with just its eyes looking out at me and flashing colors threateningly; another diver swan by and it retreated out of sight. Twice we passed schools of dolphins, who leapt beside the boat and swam under the bow; and once a group of sailfish passed by the jetty. The night dive was particularly striking: there’s few big impressive fish – even if they swam right over you you’d hardly notice them in the dark – but since you’ve got a light the colors are fantastic, and because your attention is limited to the little area illuminated by that beam
Unicorn fish.
you see all the strange, tiny, and well-camouflaged things you’d usually swim right past, like the scorpionfish sitting on rocks or little tiny octopi. It helps, too, that the crabs come out at night, and that their and the shrimps’ eyes reflect the light like a deer’s, so you see little crustaceans peering out at you and waving their claws from every nook and cranny, of which there are many. The best part was that after a night dive you get a hot mandi instead of the usual cold one. The last time I saw hot water outside of a cup of tea was early September, and I enjoyed every drop, even if it was slightly brackish.

Feather star & giant clam. Yes, that red thing walks.
I tried to take photos (during the day), but my underwater camera doesn’t have a viewfinder, so instead of point-and-shoot it’s guess-point-pray-and-shoot. A lot of my videos have something interesting swimming just through the bottom-right corner of the frame; apparently I err high and to the left. (If the idea of a camera without a viewfinder sounds like a stupid idea to you, that’s because it is; luckily for $75 they’ll send you a plug-in one, so I’m getting that ASAP. My pictures may still be gray and fuzzy, depending how effective the new flat lens casing and red filter turn out to be, but at least I’ll be aiming at the right thing.) I do, however, have about 430 pictures posted here, mostly of fish and sunsets – the sunsets were beyond spectacular – because my normal camera is waterproof to 10 feet and I took it snorkeling, and some people with better dive cameras gave me copies of their deep-water photos.

Red cenderawasih. (Not my photo.)
Saturdays there’s no diving, so instead I got up at 4:15 to go see some cenderawasih, the red bird of paradise. I figure living on Cenderawasih Bay I should probably get a glimpse of them at least once. Two of us showed up for the boat to Gam island out of the 7 who’d signed up, and after 20 minutes’ hike we arrived at a tree on top of a hill with a flock of cenderawasihs fluttering around the top. The man with me, one of the Austrians, had a good camera with a zoom lens; I took some videos. Gorgeous birds, if a little far away. On the hike down we saw some kookaburras too.

Puffer fish.
The rest of the day I read and snorkeled and got a bit of a tan. The boat ride back to Sorong on Sunday was uneventful aside from some dolphins. So was our wait in the hotel – we’d gotten to town in time for the Americans’ 10:30am flight; the last three of us didn’t eave til 1:40 – except for a small

(unintentional, and it’s sad that I have to clarify) bug in the tofu hotpot I ordered for lunch. (The Meridian, just across from the Sorong airport, in case you’re wondering.) My plane left an hour and a half late (so more or less on time). And now I’m back in Manokwari, enjoying a salt-free mandi but missing the sharks.

Sunset at Kri.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Boats, Crabs, and Smoked Fish: My Trip to Windesi

The Bird's Neck: find Australia, go north, western
end of the island.
Wednesday, 10/17:
Leg one on my trip to Windesi is an 8-hour ride on a Pelni ship down to Wasior. The boat’s scheduled to leave at 9am, so Ibu Ice and I agree to meet at the terminal at 8. I arrive a few minutes early. Apparently the ship was late leaving Sorong last night, so it won’t be here til 9, with a 10am ETD. I find a seat and read my New Yorker. At 9am Ibu shows up – she apparently knew about the delay ahead of time, in that mysterious way people here have. It’s 11 when the boat arrives – this being Indonesia, it counts as on time. Once aboard we find a crew member selling spaces in one of the staff cabins – regular berths were sold out when I bought our tickets, but the crew often make an extra buck by selling their spaces, and all four bunks in the cabin are filled by normal passengers. There’s a/c, so I’m happy. At 12:30 we start off, and I pass the time watching a bootleg copy of a movie where Jessica Alba pretends to be an Iban tribeswoman in colonial Malaysia. Right. (Side note to any Iban specialists: if you’ve seen ‘The Sleeping Dictionary’, I’d be curious to know how accurate it is with the language. Some bits were entirely Malay – selamat malam, anyone? – others were recognizably related, and in some parts they could’ve been speaking Naavi for all I could tell.) Ibu tells everyone within hearing that I’m a student from America, that we’re going to Windesi so I can study the language, that I’m going to Raja Ampat in November and flying home in December, and that I know other people studying in Fakfak and Wooi. I’m the only Westerner on board.

The good ship Nggapulu
It’s a long ride but not a bad one, and about a million times more comfortable than an international flight of the same length, since I get an actual bed. A stroll through economy class more than justifies the 300K I spent on the room – think steerage on the Titanic but with probably more BO, plus all the kids, of which there are seemingly hundreds, have plastic noisemakers their parents bought from the vendors on deck to keep them entertained. I go outside for the view and head back in when a drunk harbor worker starts trying to make conversation. Around 8pm we pull up to the Wasior jetty, and eventually one of Ibu’s family comes to pick us up and bring us back to their house, where I promptly pass out.

On the johnson.
This being Real Papua – not my fancy-pants rooming house for western researchers with its flush toilets and real beds – we slept on the floor. Combine this with the fact that just before going to bed I saw a big grey rat scurry across a shelf in the main room and you’ll understand my reaction first thing in the morning when Ibu lightly brushed her hand across my foot to wake me up. She thought it was hilarious. If Manokwari is the equivalent of the state capital in the US, then Wasior is a county seat, small-town but sprawling, more than a village but not a city. We take a stroll around the neighborhood and then head to the waterfront for our ride up to Windesi. The craft is what’s known around here as a Johnson: 15-foot long wooden outrigger canoe (perahu, or prau) with a motor stuck on the back. Our stuff goes in a compartment in the middle with some tarps to keep it dry, and Ibu and I sit on a platform about even with the top of the sides of the boat. seven or eight other people clamber on, I buy a hundred bucks worth of gas (round trip), and we set off across Teluk Wondama (Wandamen Bay) and north up the coast. Despite the heat it’s pants, long sleeves, and a baseball cap to keep from getting fried, and I spend most of the trip huddled under my umbrella, aka portable shade. At one point we pass some flying fish. Three hours of turquoise waters, emerald islets, and jungled shores later, we hit Sombokoro, where we stop by the foraging station to buy some smoked fish. Not in the sense that lox is smoked fish – the whole scaly thing, tied in rows to sticks and set over a campfire til golden brown. There’s also smoked sea cucumbers, which to my eye looked an awful lot like big dried-out turds, but thankfully we pass on those. Another half hour in the boat and we pull up to the harbor in Kampung Windesi.

A rather cleaner crab.
The man with the boat is Bapak Aukila Karubuy, Ibu Ice’s younger brother, and it’s his house we’re staying at. After a long, hot boat ride I’m about set for a mandi, and they direct me to a little concrete outbuilding out back. There’s a concrete cistern full of mountain spring water for my bath (not tiled like at home, but I’m not picky), and next to it, rather than the plain old hole in the ground I’d been expecting, but a nice porcelain hole in the ground, like you see in Indonesian airports and that one restaurant I really like in Florence. (No, really.) As it turns out though, this loo has been plugged for ages (‘sudah lama’ – weeks? months? years? You pee towards the channel that drains the used bathwater out a hole in the side of the building; for anything more substantial head towards the neighbor’s facilities); and I discover this when I lift up the bucket sitting in the bowl and out of a stinking puddle crawls what I first take to be a large spider, but soon realize is a small, shit-covered land crab.

Welcome to rural Papua, Dorothy, you’re not in the city anymore. (And I say this only because, if this were the city, it really would have been a spider.)

The stove.
As it turns out, Pak Aukila is the kepala desa, something like a small-town mayor but hereditary, and half the village residents are uncles, in-laws, and cousins. Indonesia has way more administrative levels than the US so I’m all out of analogies, but Windesi is a distrik – one step down from a kabupaten like Wasior, but still a sort of government center overseeing several villages – it’s got the only high school in the area, so teenagers come from the whole area to stay with relatives in Windesi and study, and there’s a police station and a Pus Kes Mas (government medical clinic). Plans are under discussion for Windesi to become a kabupaten itself, in which case it might get things like cell reception and 24-hour electricity, but not yet. As is, the lights turn on at night, provided there’s gas on hand for the family’s generator; water runs down bamboo pipes from the mountain; and the cooking is done on an iron grate above a campfire, so everything from the rice to the drinking water (boiled) tastes like wood smoke. Not that that’s entirely a bad thing, particularly if you like lapsang tea. There’s one small gas stove, but burning oil and cooking oil are both expensive out here. The kitchen is a thatched-roof structure out back with a raised dirt floor and no walls, and most of the day is spent back here, talking, cooking, or just sitting. Dinner that first night is papeda, a kind of brownish gluey mush made out of sago starch, with smoked fish and the local sambal, which is made by pouring boiling water over chilies, shallots, and garlic. I reaffirm my prior belief that I don’t like either papeda or smoked fish, but the sambal is delicious. I thank god I had the foresight to pack granola bars.

When traveling in rural Indonesia, it is advisable to bring earplugs, an eye mask, and a camping pad. I had the first two but not the third. In Wasior the lights and the television both stayed on until the power cut off around 4am – and remember here that the doors are curtains and walls don’t reach all the way up to the roof, so sound carries; in Windesi it was (thankfully) just the lightbulb, and only til one or two in the morning. I’m told that’s pretty standard practice around here. Even without a tv going the generator made a bloody racket – no recording after dark for me – as do the chickens and the frogs and the crickets and the dogs and all the other various village/jungle creatures. And again for a bed there’s a concrete floor with a woven mat on top and a pillow, and an old mosquito net strung over top. Still, I’ve slept worse.

At the van Balen monument.
The big event for the day, after getting me registered with the local police (the joys of being a foreigner in West Papua…) was a hike up the hill to the Van Balen monument. Van Balen was a Dutch missionary and amateur linguist who came to Windesi in either 1888 or 1889, depending which source you believe, built a school, spread the good word, and learned enough of the language to publish some stories, wordlists, a hymn book, and a bible translation in 1915. (The bible and the hymnal at least are heavily influenced by, if not entirely written in, the Wondama dialect, and even worse have Dutch spellings, with ‘oe’ for ‘u’ and ‘j’ for ‘y’, but where would the holy mystique be if it were easy to read?) One afternoon a man brings by an original copy of the bible, which I have a photocopy of at home – the pages are all detached from the spine and bugs have eaten holes through it, but it’s still clearly treasured. Van Balen apparently stuck around for rather a while – he returned to the Netherlands in 1913, though Windesi wasn’t his only stop in Papua – and he’s still well-remembered here, with his old school (from the looks of it surely rebuilt in the last hundred years) used now as Sunday school for the kids and a monument, with a giant cross on top of course, where his house used to stand. On the way up Ibu Ice, her younger sister, and her sister-in-law point out to me every tree, flower, and bug along the path, since the purpose of the trip ostensibly is to lihat-lihat, to see all the plants and animals and such that Ibu’s been describing to me and get a sense of the place and how life is there, and I duly take pictures of all of them. This is also where I discover that those land crabs like to climb shrubs and chill on the leaves. The eco-briefing is awfully thorough – my dictionary will pretty much double as a naturalist’s identification guide if I get all these into it. The monument at the top is interesting, and photos are taken in front of it with me and each one of my guides, individually and in combination, but the best part is the view out over the bay, filled with little islands, thickly forested and jutting up out of the water, for which the word ‘cerulean’ is entirely justified. If I were to construct my own paradise on earth, it would look a lot like this. But minus the mosquitoes, papeda, and surprise shit-crabs. Details.

View from the hill.
After lunch (rice and veggies, with a little of the smoked fish as I can get away with), the afternoon passes as will many other afternoons here: I transfer my photos to my laptop and record a handful of locals debating what each tree and grasshopper is called in Wamesa and what the correct Indonesian translation might be, then sit and listen a while as they debate the kabupaten proposal and chat, and eventually pull out my latest John le Carré to read by headlamp after the generator kicks out for a while. Nothing like a good British spy novel to pull you through a long tropical evening.

A nudibranch, I think.
Today it’s announced that we’re going out to Motarai, the only one of the little islets in the bay with a beach instead of a steep rocky rise, so after lunch the whole family piles into the Johnson and we motor out for the afternoon. Again, the stated reason is so I can see all the native fish and mollusks and collect their names, but nobody objects to an afternoon on the beach. Even 50 feet of from shore the water isn’t more than four feet deep, and the kids all scamper barefoot over top of the corals while I paddle gingerly by with my camera and look for soft sandy spots to set my feet down. The fish are small at this depth but as bright as you could ask for, and there’s some of the most spectacular nudibranches (nudibranchi?) I’ve ever seen, and best of all with the water this shallow there’s enough light for some really good snapshots. No lionfish here, but Gladys points out a duribabi (sea urchin) that’s like no urchin I’ve ever seen – a foot and a half wide across its circumference, flat and blue with pliable but mean-looking brown spikes, shaped like a many-pointed star, it undulates its way across a lump of coral on the bottom. Those spikes aren’t for show – apparently if you step on it it won’t kill you, but it will definitely make you cry. This from a group of people who don’t look like they cry much. I watch my step.

Kids & coral.
I make friends with the kids by doing handstands on the sandy bottom and lending out my goggles, and I’m rewarded by a new discovery: seaweed. Apparently if you unearth the root, peel off the bottoms of the leaves, and scrape the skin off with your nail, it makes a favorite snack. I try this and take a bite. Starchy, crunchy, salty, sweet, and not half bad, though I won’t be giving up my granola bars any time soon.

After a quick sojourn on the beach to point out some more trees, I’m led to the other side of the island to look for shellfish. Apparently the water between Motarai and the neighboring islet of Wapupi is a hotbed of mollusk diversity, and I’m to see all of it. The shore is littered with giant clamshells, the kind you see for sale for way too much money in kitchy souvenir shops down
Hunting for shellfish.
the Jersey Shore and Florida, the size of my hand or bigger. If they weren’t so damn heavy I could start my own clamshell soap dish importing business right here and pay for my airfare that way. The kids help me collect some of these and a few other pretty types. In the water the snails are as varied as promised, though maybe not as plentiful, and we find a more traditional orange-and-black sea urchin, which I’m told the Wamesa don’t eat but some neighboring tribes do, cracking it open to get at the orange eggs inside. By some cosmic/linguistic irony, it’s the giant clams, not the sea urchins, that are called uni.

Once back on the beach, the snails are photographed, catalogued, then promptly tossed on the coals of a campfire, bashed open with rocks, and eaten. The first one I try – If I could eat fried tarantulas I can eat this – tastes for all the world like lobster claw. The second is so rubbery I toss it back in the water. The third is smaller, smoky and tender. All I need is garlic butter. So that was my afternoon snack: seaweed root and fresh roasted snails.

A recently deceased cuscus.
Back at the house they show me the much bigger, foot-or-more-long conch shells called tabura that used to be used as horns to call people together, as well as the traditional drum made of wood and soa-soa (lizard) skin, and pretty soon they pull out their van Balen-translated hymnals and sing through some songs in Wamesa. (Yes, Claire, my recorder was on.) At one point a man walks by holding a dead cuscus he’s trapped in the forest, and they call him over so I can take a picture. Apparently cuscus tastes just like chicken, though I never got the chance to test this firsthand. At (my sadly cuscus-less) dinner I learn to make ikan kuat, a traditional Papuan yellow fish stew with plenty of turmeric and lemongrass, and dabu-dabu, the local sambal. Then some more le Carré to round out the evening, and bed at 9 as usual.

Saturday night, 1am:
I wake up when a roach falls down from where it’s been climbing on the mosquito net and lands on my chest. My reaction when I sit up and see what it is wakes up Ibu Ice. (To wit: I shriek like a little girl.) She shoes the cockroach out from under the bed, and then, because the roach apparently wasn’t enough wildlife for one night, knocks a crab off my leg and crushes it. Fucking Papua.

Little house in the jungle.
Sunday morning it’s quiet, and when it’s quiet in Windesi you can hear how close to the jungle you really are. (About 5 feet, when sitting at the kitchen table.) At any given time there’s crickets chirping their hearts out, and usually a cicada like a buzz saw – Papuan cicadas must be the loudest insects on the planet, and they’ve interrupted more than one of my recording sessions. And on top of that are any number of birds, squawking and tweeting and hooting, and if you’re lucky you can hear the hornbills fly by, not because of their calls but from the whooshing of air as they beat their wings, which Wikipedia describes not inaccurately as sounding like the steam escaping from the stack of an old locomotive. So after breakfast, at around 7am, I walk down the path past the edge of town, hoping for a little solitude – a rare commodity out here – and a chance to record some of the cacophony. Orpa, the five-year-old daughter of my hosts, decides to follow me, but she’s quiet enough I hardly notice, and somehow content to wait patiently while I stand there with my recorder in the air for seven minutes. Anyone interested in what Papua sounds like at 7:30am just outside town can find the file here. Turn up the bass and you might even hear the hornbills fly by in the second half. (I can’t, but hey, you might.)

And because all orang baik hati (good-hearted people, roughly) go to church on Sunday, at 9am we go to church. Ibu Ice’s Pentecostal so I’m expecting a rollicking, hand-clapping party of a service, but the church here turns out to be plain boring generic Protestant, and the service isn’t even in Wamesa. Since I don’t know any of the hymns and can’t understand much of the sermon, I zone out trying to remember the lyrics to old songs from my summers at sleepaway camp. And in the midst of that I realize: it’s the Girl Scouts’ fault I’m out here. There I was all young and impressionable, spending my summers sleeping in platform tents on a wooded island in the Adirondacks, singing old hippy folk songs about wandering the wide world and reading books about a girl growing up on a sailing ship plying the South Pacific at the turn of the century (Cradle of the Deep by Joan Lowell – the James Frey of 1920’s San Francisco, her “memoir” turned out to be rather less than factual, but it’s still a damn good story) – is it any wonder I ended up in a place like Papua? So thanks, Eagle Island, and if I catch malaria out here I’m sending you the doctor’s bill.

Excitement for the afternoon is a stroll a couple of kilometers into the jungle, where a bend in a shallow stream makes a swimming (more accurately, wading) hole. The kids leap in from the banks, dash around barefoot on shore, and build a fire to roast bamboo shoots as a snack; I sit on the rocky bottom soaking in the cold water and probably catching some horrific endemic parasite. (Note to self: stop watching Monsters Within Me on Animal Planet and just enjoy the damn stream.) Apparently cenderawasih (birds of paradise) come here in the early morning, but unfortunately I never got a chance to see. Next year. On the walk back we pass a man dragging a (dead) 6-foot cobra on the end of a stick. And this, children, is why we stay on the paths and always let somebody else walk ahead of you. No, you go first, really, I insist.

Me probably catching a parasite.
Forest walks though are pretty much the only thing I don’t go first at. Papuans are just about the most hospitable people on the planet, and Ibu Ice and I are honored guests. Once they notice I’m not eating much papeda, suddenly the staple carb switches over to rice and instant noodles, with nary a bit of sago to be found. When dinner’s ready, I serve my self first; once I’ve taken a few bites then Ibu can fill her plate. Only when she’s done does the rest of the family eat. Tea is placed in front of me whenever I sit down. If I stand up with a plate in my hand to bring it over to the washing area someone will swoop in and walk it over for me; I never manage to get close enough to attempt to wash something myself. It’s all a little disconcerting, to be honest. Really, no need to get up, I can make my own cup of tea! They humor me with small tasks when I ask to help in the kitchen, and laugh riotously when I insist on helping Ibu Ice hang up the just-washed laundry, half of which is mine. God forbid I try to help with the washing itself; that effort as squelched early on.

The only way I can reciprocate is with thanks and gifts. I’m looking forward to seeing Chris’ face when I hand him my stack of receipts at the end of all this – coffee, sugar, and cough drops are research supplies how exactly? But they are. In return for their time and hospitality, to make up for all the food I eat and space I take up, I bring them things that are hard to get or expensive out here: coffee, tea, sugar, cigarettes, and pinang (betel nut), a mild narcotic which they chew non-stop; even the children get a taste. I bring some Yale postcards to show where I’m from, and some photos of family and friends. Whenever I pull out my recorder, I also open a bag of candies – as I learned last year in Bintuni, Halls cough drops (citrus, blueberry, watermelon) are a big hit. I teach the kids to play Frisbee and leave one behind, with crayons and a coloring book. And as a parting gift I draw from my pre-departure Yale bookstore shopping spree and give the family bright blue and purple plastic cups, pens for the students, and a pack of batteries. In return, since there’s always an in return, they give me a bag made out of bark cloth, made from pounded tree bark, which used to be used for making clothes and bedsheets as well. I'm looking around and trying to think what I can bring from the States next year that would be useful, and other than maybe a solar-powered lantern and more Halls I'm coming up empty. The most pressing need (that a single person like myself could help with) is affordable gas, and that's not terribly portable. Everything else, all the things I'm used to having around, aren't really needs, just icing. Nothing like a week in a village to make you feel like a spoiled-ass Westerner. (And smash some illusions. Oh, so you grew up in an Ecovillage with an energy-efficient dishwasher? We have three lighbulbs, which only run 8 hours a day. Bam.) So next year it's postcards and cough drops again, and maybe some tempeh from the city. And there’s also the prestige of having a Westerner come and stay with them and having the neighbors see me hanging out in the back yard. Pak Aukila says that by visiting I’m ‘bringing blessings’. Can’t do much better than that.
Leaving Windesi

Monday morning I do some last-minute recording, and after lunch we pack up our things, spend half an hour taking photos of me with all the family members in various combinations and permutations, and take the half-hour boat ride out to the island village of Sombokoro. The men in Ibu Ice’s family have been kepala desa in Windesi for generations; her mother was a daughter of the kepala desa in Sombokoro. Royal blood here, on a local scale.

Sombokoro is nowhere near as fruitful as Windesi, though it’s even more full of uncles and in-laws and cousins. The first afternoon we sit in the living room for a few hours while the men smoke our cigarettes and chew our pinang­ (savu in Wamesa) and argue politics – apparently some people want to move to another part of the island split the village into two. My eyes quickly glaze over. A kid walking by notices the bule sitting in the house and pretty soon every child in the village is crowded around the windows and door to get a look at me. Eventually Ibu Ice either gets sick of the discussion or takes pity on me – she’s the only woman in either village ballsy (or bossy) enough to take part in
First glimpse of Kampung Sombokoro.
the political talks – and shortly before dusk we go for a walk to see the rest of the village. It’s small; there’s maybe a hundred people living here, tops, and a five-minute stroll takes us to the other side of the island. Dinner is rice and fish. No lights, since there’s one generator for the whole community and they guy with the key is in Wasior, so they hang some gas lamps. I string up my mosquito net – they don’t supply one because they claim there’s no mosquitoes. It appears I’ve attracted some from a place where there are, since I wake up with bites despite my net – and go to sleep. (On a raised bed! With a (thin) mattress! No more bruised hip bones for me!)

I stroll down to the beach to watch the sunrise over the mountains across Wondama Bay. Breakfast is rice and the smoked meat from a wild forest pig someone has hunted down. Awesome. Ibu Ice and I take a walk to her mother’s grave, then go back to the house to record her uncle telling a traditional story, and by 9am it’s back on the Johnson for the trip back to Wasior, and from there home to Manokwari. Rumor has it there’s a ship on Wednesday, though nobody really knows for sure. Maybe Friday, maybe Saturday; we’ll see. Eighteen of us pack into the boat, including Pak Aukila, who’s driving, and a handful of kids. About 50 feet off shore, the engine dies. A little fiddling and it starts up again, runs for a few minutes, dies again. Repeat until we’re around the corner of the island from the village and a hundred yards from shore, when it just stops dead and won’t start. The anchor is dropped, and more intensive dismantling of the engine ensues. Twenty minutes later it’s showing signs of life, only to quickly fail again. Drop anchor one more time. There’s no cell reception and the village can’t see us from here, so there’s nothing to do but fix the damn thing. I set my little thermometer out on the deck and the mercury reaches 52°C (a balmy 125°F) but only since that’s as high as the numbers go. Under my umbrella it’s a cool 34° (93°F), and I’m wearing long pants, socks, a baseball cap, and a light hooded jacket to ward off third-degree sunburn. I stick my feet in the water, socks and all, to try to cool off. Either the heat or the swell is getting to my stomach so I take a Dramamine. Luckily, in Papua they can fix anything, and an hour and a half after first leaving shore we’re en route for real. The drugs make me sleepy so I curl up under my umbrella, turn on Verdi’s Requiem on my ipod, and doze. Something smells strongly of smoked fish, though whether it’s me, my clothes, the people around me and their clothes, or somebody’s packed lunch I couldn’t tell you. And from now on Verdi’s Requiem will forever be associated in my mind with the smell of smoked fish.

Dawn on Sombokoro

Passing Wasior’s main jetty we see a ship docked, the Perentis company’s Cenderewasih Pasifik III, much smaller than the Pelni ship we took out but anything that floats’ll do the trick. People seem to think it might be going to Manokwari, instead of the other direction  to Nabire, Serui, Biak, and Jayapura. It’s probably leaving tonight! Maybe at 3! or 5! or 7! After that last boat ride I’m tired and grumpy and anxious to get home. Eventually, after we’ve settled in at yet another relative’s house on shore, somebody’s dispatched to the harbor to check. Actually it leaves tomorrow, around 4pm, but jam karet (Indonesian rubber time) and all so probably more like 6. And it’s slower than the last ship too, so it’ll arrive in Manokwari Thursday morning. Oh, I dunno, around 12 or 1. AM? No, PM. Maybe. It’s an old boat. Still, it’s the only boat there, so an uncle/cousin/in-law drives me down to get tickets. The nice cabin is already sold, so again I buy us bunks from the crew. No a/c this time, but the window opens. Good enough.

Back at the house – a wood hut on stilts this time, traditional Papua, rather than the ground-level concrete structures we’ve been staying in – my talent for being in the wrong place at the right time is once more reaffirmed. (Mom- do yourself a favor and skip to the next paragraph. I’m fine.) In the last year I’ve managed to just miss an earthquake in Indonesia, an earthquake on the east coast of the US, a volcano in New Zealand, and any day now another hurricane in the Northeast. As placid as Manokwari often seems, I’ve picked a field site in a region with an active, often violent independence movement, as well as an active, even more violent, military/police response. This morning there was a student demonstration at Unipa, which led to violent clashes with the police both on campus and in the surrounding neighborhood of Amban, where I live. The police used their guns and unknown numbers were injured and/or arrested, with at least one killed. Virgine, my host sister, was in bio lab on campus when they heard the gunshots; the students ran from the building and had to use back roads to get home, since the main roads were blocked by police. I was safe a few hundred miles down the coast and nobody I work with was injured, and hopefully this won’t make it harder for me to get my visa renewed next week. There’s usually advance notice for protests, so I plan to be well out of town for the next one as well. (Steve, next time one of your students asks if fieldworkers face any real hazards, direct them to this paragraph.)

That night the poorly-ventilated cookfire billows smoke through the house, and lying on the floor to go to sleep I’m half convinced I’m going to die of carbon monoxide poisoning. I’m too tired to care.

Leaving Wondama Bay
After an uneventful morning of sitting, talking, and reading, and 3:00 we finally head down to the harbor and board the ship. As promised we leave around 5, and I head to the back deck for a breeze and the view. I’m watching the schools of brown-and-burgundy jellyfish churned up in the wake when I see a flash of silver off to the side and turn to see three or four dolphins leaping beside the boat. The 12-year-old girl in me squeals a little. They disappear before I can get my camera out, as do the jellyfish. I watch the sunset and enjoy the wind til it gets dark, then head in to my bunk for an evening of illegally copied romantic comedies and (legal, delicious) fried bananas with sambal. Just after 5:30 Thursday morning we’re awakened by a knock on the cabin door – we’re in Manokwari.

Back at home I immediately take a mandi, then spend the rest of the day enjoying the real mattress, air conditioning, and relative quiet of my own room, catching up on a week’s worth of unread emails, sorting recordings and labeling photos. All of my things, dirty or not, go straight in the laundry – after a week of cooking over a campfire, everything – my clothes, blanket, towel, hair – reeks of wood smoke. The next day I go downtown to buy some apples (fresh fruit!) and swing by the spa for a $15 creambath, an hour-long deep conditioning treatment, which is (more importantly) accompanied by a head, neck, and back massage. Feeling recuperated, I spend two days writing this post. Tomorrow it’s back to the office, then a trip to the Kantor Immigrasi to get my visa extended, and a week later off to Raja Ampat for my fall break. And not that you’d know it here, but happy Halloween!

Windesi Bay