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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Day in the Life

It’s been just over a month since I arrived in Manokwari, and things have fallen into a routine. If I’m not posting as much it’s because it’s starting to feel like normal life, and I don’t want to be that person who writes about what they had for lunch and how they got another mosquito bite and bores the crap out of everyone. (For the record: nasi kuning, and actually it was several mosquito bites, probably from while I was at the market yesterday buying avocados.) But if you’re curious, here’s more or less what I do on a daily basis.

At the market with the mosquitoes.
6-6:30am: The roosters are crowing, Jhio’s probably yelling, and unless I’m unusually exhausted or wearing earplugs it’s useless trying to fall back asleep. Wake up, read for a bit. If there’s somebody else staying in the house get a cup of tea and breakfast and head out to the porch to eat and talk, if not eat in the kitchen and maybe spend a little time transcribing my recordings. Record an intro to yesterday’s recording with my name, the language, speaker, location, and date. Quick mandi (bucket shower), get dressed, head up to campus by 8:30 or 9.

9:00: Arrive at the office and collapse into chair, sweating profusely. Even at this hour it’s hot and humid. Thank god for air conditioning on campus. Gulp down some water. I’d show up earlier, when the walk up would be cooler, but it’s locked until Eny arrives. Once I’ve caught my breath, head back outside to the doorway where I can get campus wifi. Check email and facebook for an hour.

10-12:30: Transcribe old recordings, interspersed with games of freecell and solitaire. Process yesterday’s recording – add the intro, cut out all the chatting at the beginning and end, make sure it’s audible and cut out any loud bangs and coughs - and enter it all on my spreadsheet so I know what’s what and what we talked about when. Make a cup of tea. Get a headache. Keep track of things I don’t understand from what I’m transcribing to ask about today. Bug Eny to explain all the Indonesian words from my recordings that I don’t know.
My bak mandi.
 12:30: Go home for lunch. Mandi again. (Room temperature at the office is 86 degrees, low 90's outside by mid-afternoon. You'd re-shower too.) Eat. Figure out what on earth to ask to fill up the rest of the elicitation time (I mean… make an elicitation plan of pressing research questions). If there’s time, turn on the a/c and read in bed for a while.

1:40: Go find an ojek (motorcycle taxi) to Ibu Ice’s house. (Note: That’s ee-chay [ˈitʃe], not ‘ice’ like you find in the freezer.) Hopefully it’s a quiet ride. Otherwise answer the same string of questions despite barely being able to hear over the motor and through the helmet. (From America. One month so far. I’m a student at Unipa. I’m here to study local languages. Yes I definitely have a boyfriend. No I don’t need a Papuan boyfriend too. In fact I’m married. With two children. Funny how that slipped my mind just now.)

2:00: Arrive at Ibu’s. Argue with the ojek driver about the price. (No, I’ve paid Rp7,000 every day for the last month, don’t even try telling me it’s 10,000. Saya orang barat, bukan orang bodoh.) Complain about the weather (hot and humid, looks like rain), turn on the recorder.

Saturday elicitation with Tante Lorensina
2-3:30 or 4pm: Elicitation. This, more or less, is why I’m here. If you want to know more about what it is exactly that I’m doing, I’ll refer you to this post from last summer that sums it up pretty well. In a nutshell: I ask silly questions to try to figure out how the language works, get translations for add sentences, record stories, and ask a million times in various ways about what the difference is between these two words that are almost the same but one has a suffix or a different vowel or something. Luckily Ibu is an elementary school teacher and has the patience of a saint. Also she thinks it’s hilarious when I mis-construct a sentence, and thinks it’s great when I ask a ton of questions. If only she could explain the difference between –we and –wa we’d be golden. Getting better at the tense/aspect thing though.

Eventually: Run out of things to ask and take an ojek home. Gulp some more water, possibly mandi – it’s hot up on Ibu’s balcony, but the breeze on the ojek is fantastic. Lay down exhausted, and swear that you’ll get up in half an hour and work. Read in bed til dinner.

6:30pm: Put on bugspray. Eat. Watch some Masterchef with the family. Maybe go transcribe or read an article, maybe watch Animal Planet until bed.

9pm: Take malaria pills, maybe mandi (2x/day is probably average, 3x if it’s hotter than usual.) Maybe it’s the heat, but everything’s twice as tiring out here. Thank god for a/c at home. Read in bed for half an hour, pass out by 9:30 or 10. Repeat tomorrow.

Variations on a theme:
Mexican beans, guacamole, salsa and papaya.
-If it’s a Wednesday, skip afternoon elicitation and lead reading circle instead. And by ‘lead reading circle’ I mean teach an hour-long intro phonology class for a handfull of students, in Indonesian, based on the five pages they were supposed to read from the Bruce Hayes textbook. Go over once more the difference between a phoneme and an allophone and how to tell which is what in a given language. That gives an extra hour for transcription beforehand and an hour afterwards too.
 -If it’s a Saturday, skip the office entirely. 10am elicitation with Tante Lorensina and her husband Marten Windesi. Lorensina speaks the Wondama dialect; Marten knows that and (unsurprisingly) Windesi. Head home at 11. Afternoon elicitation as usual with Ibu Ice.
-Sunday: all bets are off. Relax, read, work, pull out the usb modem to check email from home and pray the stars are aligned right so it’ll actually connect. Play with the puppy, Tigerlily (so named because she’s tiger-striped, and who already answers to it, probably because I fed her a piece of fish while repeating it over and over). Maybe cook with Virgine. (Mexican rice and beans yesterday, with salsa and guacamole. Virgine wanted to try burritos after seeing them discussed in the Battleship movie, but tortillas proved unobtainable. Fr. and I were in heaven, everyone else was seriously weirded out by avocado in with garlic and chili rather than with chocolate in a milkshake.)
-If there’s another researcher staying in the house with access to a motorbike (this week, for example): jalan sore (evening rides) out into the city to get a juice, check out the market, or buy some new pajamas to replace the old ones that’ve been sewn up four times already (the new pair’s red plaid with Alabama written on the butt surrounded by sparkly rhimestone stars); drive out to the beach (went successfully to Bakaro on Thursday; tried again on Saturday, but the tide was too strong to swim – great pictures though); see what’s to be seen. We’re both heading out to the villages in the next two days – Fr. to Wooi by way of Serui, me to Windesi and Sombokoro – so plenty of shoping for granola bars and coffee and tea and a surge protector so the generator doesn’t fry my laptop. And today the boat tickets. Ibu Ice and I are taking an eight-to-ten-hour ride on a ship out to Wasior, staying the night at her sister’s house, buying gas, rice, and cooking oil, then taking a motorized canoe three hours out to the villages, where we’ll stay a week with her family before heading home. The cabins were all sold out so I bought economy and we’ll buy a berth from one of the ship’s employees who’re selling theirs onboard. Should be an adventure. No internet and sketchy cell reception while I’m gone, but if you don’t hear from me by next Friday assume I’ve been eaten by a crocodile and divide up my belongings appropriately. Otherwise expect a lot of photos and some very non-routine stories to tell.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Happy talk

After last week’s post, I figure I should probably write something upbeat. (Update from last week: antibiotics made a world of difference, so it was something I ate rather than anything viral, and rather than immediately overnighting the new card the bank apparently waited a few days to process my request and then sent it regular mail, so it hasn’t shown up yet. Still knocking on wood, and open to suggestions for a new credit card, frequent flier miles a plus. In the meantime, my debit/atm card is still working just fine – knock on more wood.) But right, cheerfulness: I got to spend Sunday snorkeling on a beautiful tropical island!

Yeah, as a field site Manokwari certainly has its perks. (Note to field linguists & other researchers: Always pack a snorkel. And antibiotics. And a backup credit card. More comprehensive advice to come in a later post, I’m sure.) My host family out here is pretty fantastic, and this year in particular I’ve gotten to know my landlady’s kids, ages roughly 18 to 25. Virgine just started university at UNIPA, and she’s the one who helps out in the kitchen when I cook Western food. She’s always eager to try whatever I make – which is usually something she sees on Masterchef that strikes her fancy. Randy is 24, and works for Wings Air, one of the ones that flies into Manokwari. It was Randy who last week gave me a cassowary claw and a Papuan deer’s antler when we were watching the National Geographic channel the other night and got to talking about animals, as well as files for a bunch of movies that I think are gonna be good to have later on. Renny is his wife, now 21, mother of Rifky, age 5 months, and sweet as anything. Rifky is an adorable kid, fascinated by the pale freckled girl who talks to him in English (he’s still in the critical period – I’m instilling phonemes!). Jhio, last year’s star grandbaby, is still around as well, and at nearly two years old has turned into a vocal, highly mobile little monster. Great big smile, loves to make noise, open doors, and throw things. He went to Bintuni this week to be with his parents, and suddenly the house is very quiet. There’s another son or two as well that aren’t around much; I’ll let you know when I figure out their names.

Lionfish #1
So this past weekend, they invited me out to Pulau Mansinam with them and a Chinese/Indonesian family they know. Ibu Mience, the matriarch, was in Bintuni dropping off Jhio, and Virgine stayed home to clean the house, so it was me, Renny, Randy, Rifky, and Om Jemmy, Ibu Mience’s husband. Together with the friends there must have been a good 15 people, piled into two outboard canoes to get over to the island. On the way over big silver fish were jumping next to our boat; unfortunately I was too slow with the camera to catch them. Last year we hiked across to a cleaner, prettier beach, and got mauled by mosquitoes on the way (or at least I did, anyway); this time we plopped down under a tree fifty feet down the strand from where the motorboat left us, right in front of the little village. The shore was covered in little tiny hermit crabs, and unfortunately a fair amount of trash, which lets just say hadn’t decreased any by the time out party had moved onAs far as I can tell, Mansinam seems to be a nursery for baby sealife, at least close to shore. Aside from one big yellow seahorse and a few adult fish, most of what I saw were juveniles – a moray eel the width of my thumb poking its head out of the sand, a five-inch long needlefish, and tiny versions of the more colorful things I see elsewhere. In addition there was a flounder, a pile of sea urchins (which in Indonesian are called duribabi, or ‘spiny pigs’), a colorful shrimpy thing of some kind, and a few giant clams. At one point I saw a little lionfish on an underwater log, and Randy, wearing my extra goggles, dove down and caught it in a net. Those things are ridiculously poisonous, so personally I 
more fish
think he’s a little nuts, but some of the younger Chinese kids were collecting specimens which, it turns out, were destined for their aquarium at home. They ended up with a second lionfish, this one grey and white where the other had red stripes, a scorpionfish – also very poisonous, and I’m told also delicious – one mildly deformed brown seastar, a bright orange-and-teal seastar with the appropriate number of legs, a different brightly-colored shrimpy thing, and a weird, lumpy, brownish-grey and black banded tube-like creature with feathery tentacles at one end that looked like a cross between a sea snake and seaweed. Into the mix went too a handful of baby tropical fish, which I’m sure will be eaten by the lionfish in short order. I’m actually glad I couldn’t find the seahorse again when I tried to show it to Randy (before I knew about the kids and their bucket); somehow I prefer to see it left in the ocean. 

me & a seastar
 After a tofu & curry lunch I lay out a bit on the tarp in the shade, reading an Agatha Christie novel. I got totally sucked in by her when I read ‘Death on the Nile’ in the 5th grade, but I don’t think I’ve touched any of her stuff in probably the last ten years. Turns out her writing is perfect for relaxing after an exhausting day of elicitation and transcription, light and entertaining, and is available for cheap both as nice light paperbacks at the library booksale and for download to my Kindle. (Note to field linguists & other researchers: Pack a Kindle.)

Renny & Rifky

I tried to go swimming again after I’d digested a bit, but by that time church had let out and all the little kids in the village had swarmed down to the water, where they followed me around in packs wanting to talk to me and borrow my mask & snorkel. (That thing’s tempered glass for diving – no friggin’ way.) So I chatted a bit and taught them the difference between ‘mister’ (the default form of address for all westerners regardless of gender) and ‘miss’, and went to play frisbee with Renny instead. The Frisbee was a bright pink Yale-branded one I’d brought to give as a gift, since Frisbee appears not to exist here, and it now officially belongs to Rifky, who seems to like the color. At the end of the day I was thoroughly exhausted, mildly sunburned, and happily toting a camera full of fish pictures, which I’ll upload at some point when I’ve got them labeled and the internet’s feeling generous. There’s also one or two of me to prove I’m still alive and kicking, despite everything.

And also on the topic of cheerfulness: puppies! There was a litter born a week or two before I arrived, and they live in the kitchen and are adorable, except when they squeal at all hours of the morning. Nobody else seems to feel too strongly about them, and they all look at me like I’m crazy when I pick one up or pet them – ok, so they’re not the cleanest dogs ever, and there’s definitely little bugs living in their fur, but I wash my hands after – but at the end of a rough day, or any day really, there’s nothing quite like puppies. So that’s how I’ll end this post: puppies.