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.

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