Pink plastic love, white plastic sand

Papua got me from the very first steps on this world’s second biggest island – New Guinea at the edge of the world map with its African beats, that were running on the dusty streets along with the yellow angot-buses, locally known as taxis.

As we stepped off from the ferry after three days on the sea, it felt as if we were entering another country. This here was not the Indonesia I used to know. Here we have some other rules of the game, this here is Papua.

The first marry little bus charmed us with the interior colored in pink. There was a man dressed in pink T-shirt, holding his hand on a pink gearshift and tiny pillows of pink LOVE were running over the front window, where there was written just one word: CINTA – and that means LOVE, of course. The driver turned the base louder and we head across the pale white streets that had tarnished under the sharp sun. I can hardly say that love was in the air – it all rather reminded me of that fake plastic love, that can be manufactured. But I was high on my heels just because I had finally reached Papua – and it was all about to begin. Only later on I realized that perhaps these very first minutes here had some symbolic function to play leading me into my new life in Segeri. As everywhere, where love is so desirable and needed, and yet so hard to achieve, it has to be written within the endless simulacrums, kitch, in the romance of the secondary experiences and hopeless fantasies. Until it takes over the real… But whatsoever – we’re all living it. Just as the people in Papua, just as the warias, just as us.

Our old friend Eka from Sulawesi wanted us to meet some people of her family here. Going on with the flow, we ended up staying a few days with an uncle that was sharing a small simple house with his daughter-in-law and her sweet child. The house was very basically furnished, we were always eating on the floor, and she was cooking on the floor, and washing dishes were we all had shower and took a piss.

Our uncle had been married four times. “A relationship ends, I get married again. Another relationship ends, I marry again,” he was stating smiling. He works as a driver with a very old and rusted minivan. Each morning he leaves the city, taking people to the nature – and he doesn’t need to drive much until the road ends, and the wild takes over; in Papua you hardly travel by land. In the afternoon they return, with piles of bananas and other goods from the lushy hillsides filling up the minibus completely. He’s a gentle and sincere man, knowing how to explain stuff just like an ideal grandfather, even if it was something very basic, or something more multifaceted, like for example warias. He was always finishing his thoughtful descriptions with a statement: “…so this is a waria.”

The family along with the neighbors took us straight to the beach, as it was Sunday. This is s day off for all Papua, and the crowds were taking good use of the amazing tropical beach, which is just around the corner from Segeri. This here was another kind of enjoyment what I saw – something that could never be together with the westeners (how bad I hate to use these categories). Here we see no bikinis, no sunbathing, but we play with the water and and sand, we feel happy, as their faces seemed to say. I felt quite happy too, but just couldn’t get myself too high on that beauty, because even this was too much of plastic. There was so much plastic trash on the beach, that I almost failed the feeling of being in nature, being connected. Oh dear cart of modernity, where the hell are you riding?!

But all in all, I was fascinated by it, fascinated by Papua.

Praise the cock!?

 Thrilling blood – notes on Kalimantan cock fighting

Everyone who’s ever had to do with the literary classics of academic anthropology will remember Clifford Greetz’s article about cock fighting on Bali. Greetz wrote that cock fighting isn’t simply a fight between two roosters, it could also be considered as a competition between men. Not only the two roosters have a big role, what also matter are the pride, virility, honour and status of the owners.

Namely, the men subconsciously identify themselves with their rooster. It is almost like a surrogate of its owner’s personality, a symbolic expression of his ego. As cock has two meanings in English, I’m not sure whether we should say that the rooster is a separately operating penis, but it’s definitely a symbol of masculinity. There are people who think that Geertz was exaggerating. There are those who think that Geertz took too Freudian measures to get under the skin of the poor Balians. And there are those who think that Geertz invented the whole story just to get fame. But one thing is sure – cock fighting has always had its special place in different societies throughout the world.
And when I was hanging there, in Kalimantan woods, leaning on the cock fighting fence, I could feel that there was a kind of power common to wild men living there. And should there be any bigger ceremony held in Kalimantan woods – weddings, funerals, or the holy bone purifying ceremonies – there are handfuls of colourful feathers, scarlet blood and money, money, money flown into the air.
So, praise the cock (no, no way!) and for this matter have wonderful Easter holidays!Tomboys or female-to-male transgenders are also part of the local Kalimantan community. This of course doesn’t eliminate discrimination on different levels. But this is how they live, with other men they place bets on roosters and are active in the spheres and circuits originally common to men.
Expert knowledge – how to tie the knife

The winning cock and its happy owner

Is missis happy to go to the jungle?

While in Central Kalimantan, we surely wanted to go deep into the jungle. We only needed someone to guide us. But things turned out hilarious.

An Estonian guidebook would suggest us to wear fully covering clothes and shoes. A local only whistles on that.
„Tomorrow we’re going to the jungle and collect rubber,” I send Terje a text while she’s looking for options to get away from the village. Meanwhile I’ve found ourselves a new house at a local intellectual’s and new friends, from the resque squad, who finally agree to direct us to the jungle. Still, this is what we’ve been waiting from since our arrival in Kalimantan.
That’s where our flip flops are from.

The next morning we get up at 5 am to be at the agreed place at the agreed time so that we wouldn’t disappoint the workers who’ve agreed to take us with them. A woman always has to prove herself twice. We put on heavy pants we’ve got from the Christians, Terje’s wearing rubber boots she’s bought for going to the forest, I take my bandana and put a knife on my belt. Like two scouts we’re ready to face the forest. 

The clock’s ticking but there’s nobody. There’s nobody waiting for us at the agreed time at the agreed place and our neighbour tells the men left hours ago. Nevertheless, half an hour later there’s a young man with a huge smile knocking on our door.

“This is the missis-man,” I already see Terje’s  asquint eyes.
The young man tears his smile even wider, it’s just like his teeth would like to jump out his mouth, and then shouts happily: “Would missises like to have breakfast before we go?” We understand that they’ve chosen to send the bit more naive guy to accompany us. Ok, we’ll eat.
„Would missises like noodles or rice?”
„Whatever you like and are used with. Rice is good enough.”
„With or without egg?“
„Really, we don’t care, everything’s fine.”
„Would missises like fried or yellow rice?“
„Seriously, whatever. We eat what’s out there to have.“
„Do missises prefer fish or chicken?”
Terje becomes angry for a second, takes the boy by his collar and decides to go to the market with him. Maybe it’ll be quicker that way. But the missis-talk doesn’t go anywhere.

According to Terje, the conversation went on like that:
„Is missis happy to ride a motorbike?” he asks while driving.
„Yes, missis is happy.“
„Is misses happy to look at potatoes?“ he asks at the market.
„Yes, missis is happy, but could we hurry up.“
„But does missis know how to boil a potato?“
Finally I saw them coming back. The guy was carrying a huge cardboard box he then puts in the middle of the table. I open the box and start counting: 10 packages of instant noodles, 8 eggs, a kilo of donuts and a bag full of Coca-Cola products. The young man takes the box and it seems he’s going somewhere.
„This is how you’re going to the jungle? With a box full of instant noodles. Come on, put them into a back bag, it’s easier that way.”
The young man takes the box and presses it into his back bag. Soon his friend, wearing flip-flops arrives and takes the bag with sodas. This is how we get going towards the jungle, the boys wearing flip-flops and carrying the week’s food, we dressed as if we’re going to a nuclear war, absolutely ready for the journey.

Half of the jungle that we pass is of orderly planted gum trees that people come and cut one by one, they place a bamboo bowl under it, and a few days later they collect the produce, dry it and a huge smelly rubber lump is sold to the industry. The other half is ancient, there the young man looks for the natural medicines we’ve asked for. Be it with the malaria and kidney pills as it may, we collect a huge amount of dark red roots that, according to the boy, “make you happy when you’re already married.” The latter is an Indonesian metaphor for saying “when you’re already having sex”, because basically you shouldn’t do it if you’re not married. Having got our afrodisiacs and having our future victims chosen we continue our journey.

An hour later we’re at a water fall we can finally lay down and remind ourselves that we’re alone in the nature and with the nature. Soon the boys set up a fire and start cooking our ten packs of instant noodles. And although our young man had left an impression of a sissy in the town then in the jungle he’s like a fish in the water and can surprise the city girls with his knowledge of biology again and again.

One river, many functions

Every morning, night and day there’s a village man walking towards us and asking whether we’ve washed ourselves already. Should you shake your head, he gives you the look as if you were the dirtiest person in the village. 

Peeing, pooing, washing - the river takes everything away (well, at least to the next raft full of people)

The clean ones have just washed themselves in the river. By the river there are four or five floating rafts built, where are all kinds of washing acts are carried out on them.

A girl with soapy face brushes her teeth using the river water. An old lady sitting on the next bench washes shirts. Children, wearing clothes, jump in the river and leave marks of shampoo here and there. Men wash themselves through trunks. And this little house with plastic walls on the raft, appears to be a toilet which lets all the fecal matter flow into the river. We walk down the hill and see how an elderly lady sits on the hole and lights on a cigarette to improve her digestive system, while there are children swimming carefree on the other side of the loo wall.

„But the water flows and takes everything away,” they laugh when they see how surprised  we are watching how the soapy-shitty water reaches the washers on the next raft. But at least we’ve taken our shower today and we can look at the village man without feeling ashamed.

Kalimantan gold rush


There we were, somewhere in the deep inland of the third biggest island in the world, we were looking for a shade that would cover us from the fervent sun and fending off the dazzled looks each local gave to us. A sight of two bules with rucksacks wandering in the middle of a village and asking for directions to Dirunglinkin isn’t a sight one could have every day. They first shook their heads but then start discussing where they’d find bikes for us.  But we don’t want to give up just like that, we’ve planned to hitch hike, although here, in the middle of a forest, it seems quite impossible. We’re lucky if there were a couple of bikes passing us in every 15 minutes.
Finally a car was approaching us along the pot holed road. Of course it stopped, and although in the cabin there was enough room only for two people, the two sweaty bules were pressed into it, next to the driver and the lady in pink (her lips flaming red).
Ibu Mama David Sayur

After we’d in the daze accepted the invitation of the lady and little by little driven further inland along the bumpy road we were suddenly awoken by a weird squeaky noise. The deafening sound had a hallucinating effect, I had shivers all over my body when we’d passed it once again. It was whistling and hooting as if it was trying to make me a subject to a greater power that wasn’t of natural nature, vice versa, it seemed to be bearing all the distress and misery of the humankind, all their weaknesses and threats.
This is how gold is washed.

It appeared that the most colourful ibu (woman/mother) of the area had the hottest vegetable shop in the village. This was the baggage they had when they’d picked us up. When ibu had let us into her spacious house she was already rushing between the shelves and with her red lips and golden jewellery dashing she gave orders to muscular topless men.
It’s not very likely to see a naked body on Java. The most daring bet the Javanese young make is that the loser has to ride across the city topless, in day time. Of course it’s something only men can do. The meaning of body is different from its meaning somewhere in the West. And on Kalimantan body has a different meaning from that on Java. But those sweaty bodies here were carrying avocados and potatoes until they comfortably lie down and smoke watching the TV. And when there were no more cigarettes to smoke they sat on the coolest bikes and rode to a shop a few hundred meters away to get a new package. The reasons are both practical and emotional – riding a motorbike breeze cools your body, but you can also say “see, how cool bike I’ve got for myself!”

Besides that we now find ourselves facing a double language barrier – those young guys talk to each other not in Indonesian language but in the local Dayak language, which again is different from the Dayak language spoken about a hundred kilometers away. This tribe here is called Dayak siang murak, and all together there are about 86 000 of them on Kalimantan. It’s interesting that KUMAN means food in the local language but in Indonesian language it means bacteria. You can only imagine how the linguists of the old days were giggling when affirming the word.
But as life on Kalimantan is good, as one of the most colourful ibu mama David Sayur (that is the woman’s name according to her first born son and field of occupation),  there are more and more people coming from Java.
„What’s here to worry about! On Kalimantan here are no scary volcanoes, earthquakes nor tsunamis. It’s safe here and money moves here, too. We’ve got better mobile phones!”

But maybe  if about forty years ago the hot topic for those wanting to get rich quickly was forestry, then now it’s GOLD. It soon appears that the driver of the colourful ibu is her quiet husband. And her husband is one of those local men who’s fed by the simple scheme: You go into the forest, dig a hole, look for gold. If you find it, it’s yours. You sell it. You get 350 000 rupees (about 40 euros) for a gram. A while later you’re picking out a new bike from a catalogue.

But all those juridical things? Bureaucracy? State fee? Tax?
„Eh, what? There’s nothing. We’ve got a few men, we go into the forest and dig.”
The size and difficult passability of Kalimantan are its happiness and damnation. If already the two vagabonds were quite hazed by the journey here, then why should an office clerk  leave his good pay and come here in the middle of mosquitoes and the flaming sun! Still the most important in the jungle is the law of the jungle, the right of the strongest, or at least the local adat (tradition in translation, it’s something like a social unwritten law “like things have always been and like they are”).
And the gold washing wheels are squeaking and dollar numbers glowing in the eyes of the businessmen 24/7.