Pyre provides. And we twirl some hula hoop.

Play it out and then read the following.

It’s the same pyre that tries to burn down the man, the MAN representing the machine behind the neoliberal market system, the MAN as the elite, the MAN as the those with evil power, the MAN as the First World ego, the MAN as the sexist asshole, the MAN. At the Burning Man, the pyre provides. It’s the pyre connecting all those wonderful people and that makes things happening. You through a wish towards the universe, and you get what you deserve.

Me, for example, got myself a hula hoop. Never in my life had I twirled a hula hoop like this before. This blond sweet girl taught me a quick lesson and I was in the hula-hoop-mode for the rest of the eternal afternoon at the Burning Man Decompression party in San Francisco – one of the epic parties of the year, as they say. Whenever we stopped to catch up with another friend, I rolled my golden hula wheel around my waist, keeping it tuned with the beat of the band of seven drums.

As I entered the festival, impressed by all the colorful crowd who had certainly taken some time to dress up, acting out a fantasy, a joke or their deepest desire, I immediately remembered a song by Mr Bungle from his album California – Vanity Fair. And it is hella vanity fair here, as we all live it out, embody and FEEL that we’re somewhat awesome today.

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Pics by Jocelyne Hershey

Of course there could be many ways to be critical of the whole commitment around the Burning Man – “it’s just a party scene, it’s all about vanity, drugs and alcohol”, right, that’s what some say. People decide to be part of that scene for various reasons, yet all of these reasons are just reflections of what they had heard or thought about it previously. But once you’re in it – the essence of it all starts suddenly emerging. You might not even get it immediately, but there will be moments when you do, and it will change your life as all the intensive, beautiful, fun, heartily experiences might do.

Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin worked on the concept of carnival describing it as the sphere where our fears and desires, social tension and inner imagination come together and manifest through the carnevalesque. Carnivals have been held around the world for centuries in very different cultures, and no-one doubts their ‘reason’.  Burning Man – the annual artistic event and temporary community held  in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada  is a rather contemporary manifestation of such drive, originating from the hippie movement and artistic circles. No spectators, only participants.

Then the hipsters took over, then the yuppies took over. Well, better that than nothing. Let the yuppie burn his Man.  You already might be a member. And we twirl some hula hoop some more.

As a bright comet, the rock’n’roll legend takes off straight to the heavenly cosmos

We continue with our hippie journey through time back to the 1970s Estonia – the so-called Soviet West, where young people were thrilled by the radical youth movements that had been taking place earlier in the West, and now against the expected Soviet codes of behavior and morals they were seeking their own bitter trajectories towards something that would allow them to feel free within this rigid Soviet system. I’ll introduce you one of the rock’n’roll legends in Estonia – poet Aleksander Müller. 

As you read the post, here’s the soundtrack to put on – by Suuk – Statistiline (words by Jonnhy B, vocals Aleksander Müller)

The University town Tartu has always been the intellectual hub in Estonia, so some progressive thought developed here around the poetry evenings at University Café with Ave Alavainu or Johnny B on spot, or the Oriental Cabinet in University of Tartu where Buddhist studies were introduced by Linnart Mäll, or the avant-garde artist group Visarid, where painter Enn Tegova was one of the leading figures.

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Enn Tegova, painter in Tartu

Some guys like for example the poet Aleksander Müller took off wild with the principle of “live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse”. He says these vibes were definitely in the air back at the time, as the surrounding politics were so depressive and left no space for hope.  His large apartment at Supilinn in Tartu became a legendary place of coming-together to listen bootlegged records, read poetry and talk all the shit that had to be spoken, but couldn’t have done in public. His home formed an important social center for free-thinking and free will in the context of Soviet power along its propaganda machine and overall stagnation. The door was always open, there were always people around. There he had a piano that didn’t have any white keys. Meaning, all the keys where covered with cigarette butts black spots! And according to a rumor, Müller started drinking constantly since he was 15, he was a god damn rock’n’roll spirit. He later became a well-known blues musician, but in 1970s he was  involved with psychedelic rock music. 

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Aleksander Müller in front of his legendary old house in Tartu, summer 2012. By the time, he was already pretty week and couldn’t move himself, so he’s being carried by another poet Päärn Hint.

Music making certainly became one of the few sources of joy at the time, or the means to express the hate, the anger against the established system. But this social criticism, of course, had to be always served hidden, hidden behind the lines of poetry, in metaphors, as the punishments could become very real.

At some point in 1970s, Müller Sass joined a psychedelic rock band Suuk from Tartu as a singer. Suuk has often been compared to The Doors, as it sounds tripping, rebellious, destructive and liberating at the same time. But different from Jim Morrison who actually put in practice his principle of “live fast, die young” belonging to the “club 27″, Sass lived much longer.  He passed away just recently on the 4th of July 2013. We all knew his soul was going straight to the wide heavenly cosmos and this comet deserved some celebration.

We were actually the very last ones who interviewed him last summer for the Soviet hippies exhibition and documentary. And oh, this rock’n’roll legend seemed so very happy to chill around on a wheelchair at the massive exhibition opening, to enjoy his 4cl of cognac, and to experience that finally his bitter pain and sorrow and the inner burning sunshine has made it to the local cultural history, right there at Estonian National Museum!

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At the opening of the exhibition “Soviet hippies: The Psychedelic Underground of 1970s Estonia”. Photo by Merilyn Püss

Listen to the full album of Suuk recorded in 1976 in Tartu here with comments in Estonian from Aleksander Müller. The band Suuk, as the host of the broadcast Jaan Tootsen says, is a band which by all parameters of the time could not have possibly existed in Soviet Union. And no-one would even believe that the band existed, if we didn’t have this remarkable recording from 1976 that only happened only coincidentally when Estonian Radio stereo-bus came down to Tartu to take this recording.

Rest in peace and in rock’n’roll, Aleksander Müller (1947-2013).    IMG_8054

Drugs from Petersburg, politics from Moscow

All the signs were referring that there was a hippie culture in Soviet Union, but not everybody believed it. Not yet.

Introducing two old hippie souls from Tallinn – Aleksandr Dormidontov and Jaakko Hallas. 

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Aleksandr Dormidontov, my favourite Sass, trouble with hair since 1968

The directress of Estonian National Museum, for example, encouraged us to meet some prolific cultural researchers, to ask guidance and material. As soon as we had another shooting day planned – as with extremely limited budget, we often had to make 15h working days – we booked the morning for an interview Linnar Priimägi. He’s a recognized art and cultural researcher, but for our mild distress he rather announced that hippie culture was apparent in America only, certainly not here, and then he even added, sounding almost like an apostel, that “it will never return.”

I couldn’t take these words.

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Our director of photography Andreas Press, Kiwa, Linnar Priimägi and me

Later on I understood that his rather different understanding from ours was mostly about his rigid definition of what ‘hippie culture‘ is – i.e. living in communes, raising children collectively, dropping lots of acid – all of which indeed was not really apparent in Soviet Union. But which doesn’t necessarily mean that the ‘hippie culture’ was totally absent here. More so, hippie culture emerged most vividly underground and it was not open to public exposure, as this could have been followed by various sanctions by the Soviet authorities (e.g. dropping out from universities, treatment in mental hospital). And even more so, because Soviet hippie culture is something that has not so far been researched and written much about!

But it was Linnar Priimägi, who together with Ants Juske wrote a manifesto of their generation in 1978. The manifesto known as “Tartu autumn” stated their generation as the generation of indolence – taking the long story short, the outside reality is so ridiculous and painful, that you just don’t care nor feel anything about it anymore. And certainly this attitude was part of the local hippie realm.

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Meeting Aleksandr Dormidontov, the tailor-Sass

But thank god (e.g. Shiva), already in the afternoon we met some of the living proofs of the Soviet hippie culture – Aleksandr Dormidontov and Jaakko Hallas.

Aleksandr Dormidontov, locally known as tailor-Sass was one of the central character of the hippies in Tallinn, who apparently sewed wide trousers for most of the hippies in Soviet Union.  His commune house at Nõmme  with its massive book archive of the ninth generation of Estonian Russians – as this is what he is –  and record collection dangled intellectuals and vagabonds alike. Sometimes, especially around the 1st of May – which became a legendary meeting point of Soviet hippies in Tallinn, to celebrate the launch of the hitch-hiking season – his house was full of more than 100 people, all longhaired, all into rock’n’roll music from all around the whole Sovietico. Sass explains the relations of Tallinn between bigger Russian cities: “Drugs we got from Petersburg, politics came from Moscow.” I also find his speculation about the collapse of the Soviet Union remarkable: “Lenin didn’t invent rock’n’ roll. That was his trouble.”

Sass’ house at Narva street in Tallinn, opposite to the Tallinn University, is usually open for guests. Gosh, this man is so awesome. Especially I like his beard.

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Sass and Jaakko

Jaakko Hallas used to hang out with hippies around 1968-1971 – the time when he experienced emotional high-voltage and enormous inner freedom. His close relationship with hippie world was mainly through his interest in esoterica and Eastern religions. After graduating from university he started learning about everything that was not taught at school or even prohibited. He proudly announces that “Hedonism of the mind is most important.”

As we all sit around the round table, the secret history of the Soviet counter-culture started to leak with some intriguing memories. Sass tells us how once he had a joint in his hand, but had no fire. He then went to ask a lighter from a militia man. The militia just wrinkled his eyebrows murmuring that “This tobacco smells weird…”

Weed was apparently not known as a drug for the authorities back at the time here. So hippies indeed used to smoke quite freely in the cafeterias or on the streets. Only if they had something to smoke – marijuana was certainly not widely available in the 1970s, but it was around, especially when some hippie friends from Petersburg visited Tallinn or someone hitch-hiked as far as Ukraine, Caucasus or Central Asia and brought back a decent handful of weed.

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Our director of sound Björn Norralt, Aleksandr Dormidontov, Kiwa, me, and Jaakko Hallas

By Terje

This man is really flying! – how to baptise a documentary film project

Hiiumaa is a place of magic in Estonia – an island that happened to provide the setting for our first shooting session into the Soviet hippie trail.

Sountrack for the post:

By the time the nights went light in Estonia – in the end of June we have indeed an awesome period of white nights here when the sky gets especially hallucinogenic – our team of hippie trail through Soviet times had grown bigger by young promising producer Liis Lepik who took the courage to lead the game behind the matter of subject where me and Kiwa had already lost our heads.

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Poet based in Hiiumaa – Ave Alavainu

We cruised out of Tallinn on a huge jeep ruled by one of our most adventurous friend, known as Fabrique. It was promising a storm, the wind was huge and sky threateningly dark, but we only had a little tent, filming equipment and a crazy idea in mind to catch the ferry to an island Hiiumaa. Namely, one Estonian poet Ave Alavainu is living there and what could be better that to start our journey with a female voice. Ave used to center the avant-garde social life in late sixties of the university town Tartu, reading her lines in the university café along with other progressive thinkers, such as catalyst-provocator Johnny B Isotamm. Btw Johnny B gained a personal myth of being the leading hippie of Estonia, as one foreigner in café in Tallinn once gave him a badge “Make love not war”. Wearing it publicly was already a statement enough for Soviet era.

Ave used to be the vagabond lady, hanging out with various crowds, constantly in love. Later on in Tallinn she used to live in a apartment  where she never locked the doors – because the doors are supposed to be open, in order to let the energies flow.

There we were – in the ferry, hopelessly steering into the dark sky. We had agreed an appointment with Ave for the next day, but the night was still young. But just as we saw the first sparks of the setting sun making its way through the thick gray of clouds we suddenly remembered – one legendary drummer from 1970s Paap Kõlar, the founder member of progressive-experimental awesomeness band Psycho, hasn’t stopped advancing his human capabilities attached to the social fabrications. If we’re lucky enough, we might find Paap right here on this island, surfing on the waves, or perhaps flying.

The closer we got the island, the sunnier it went and by the evening we were indeed witnessing how this man gets his ‘high’ not so much from playing drums as no-one had ever heard played in Soviet Union before, but now he indeed is flying (sic).

And so were we. At least in our minds when following with cameras this unknown flying object, listening to the rocking tunes of Psycho.

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Legendary drummer and adventurer Paap Kõlar getting ready for the high

Paap hosted us nicely, inviting us for a sauna on the beach and offering us a simple inca tent for a couple of hours of resting, before we had to head out for an interview-appointment with Ave in Kärdla. Later on the surf boys caught a black poisonous snake which we cooked and shared. Apart from that occasion, or maybe just on the contrary, these days in Hiiumaa were the new-age-pagan-psychedelic baptism our hippie trail in time.

Stay tuned!

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Completely empty space with souls

I’m still not yet over with the very first session of “fieldworks”, meaning, when me and Kiwa met some of the central spirits of the Tallinn’s hippie underground of the 1970s for the very first time. These were warm starlight nights of august, handicam in the pocket.  As a result of these evenings  with Vladimir Wiedemann and Aare Loit, we kind of started to sense where the hippie dharma would be carrying us. Perhaps we too have already been there, in our own times, with our own means. The road, the time, the political and social situation could be radically different between my generation and those with whom I  choose to create cross-generational friendships, or rather, they just happen, but the direction, the law or dharma seems to be quite the same.

Here’s a short video to get a glimpse of the feel, semi-Estonian-semi-English, pardon. Introducing: Vladimir Wiedemann and Babai

What is the center of the world?

You are the center of the world.

Who is the creater of all this?

You are, Allah.

Traces of the Center of Psychotronics of the Soviet Union

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Vladimir Wiedemann and Aare Loit (Babai)

Vladimir Wiedemann was  largely influenced by Mihkel Ram Tamm who was a great philosopher and big thinker, and whose work eventually took a shape of zero-philosophy. Ram knew many religions, he synthesized a variety of theories describing the science (or rather something at the borderline between science and religion) of nothing. He did this often by using complex schemes and hypotheses. Out of his notes weighing kilograms, among other things, have been published 900-pages masterpiece Theory-Null-Hypothesis.

As I said in an earlier post,  Soviet-time hippies and dissidents gathered frequently at his place, where they made group meditations,  practiced telepathy, digged into guru’s library or helped him with everyday work. Wiedemann in his book referred to  this place at Langermaa as the Center of Psychotronics of the Soviet Union.
One old hippie Aare Loit, commonly now known as Babai, says that Ram eventually become even too popular. Visiting the guru became a trendy thing to do for alternative-minded youth of the whole Soviet Union – and there were so many!  – although they often knew nothing about his zero-philosophy.

There, between the green fields on around 100 kilometer of Tallinn-Pärnu highway we stopped the car and ask advice from a man on a bicycle.   Although Ram moved away from here for already more than 30 years ago, he knew exactly what we were talking about.

“Yeah there was one wise man here, still living,” he said, and instantly disappeared as if he was a ghost himself.

New owners of the house who now have lived here for the past 15 years, for our big surprise, did not know anything about the meaningfulness of this house among Soviet counter-culture. We explained a bit the context, but the man spread his hands.
“We have heard some stories about a witch, but …”
“And how about the current energies of the house? Have you felt anything special?” I was curious.
“I haven’t really thought about it!”

We asked the householder kindly to enter the room. Aare’s and Vladimir’s faces shone with some sparks of nostalgia, though, of course, everything had been completely changed. Along with artists Sandra Jõgeva, Minna Hint, Kiwa, magician Hannes Vanaküla and historian Margus Kiis we sat down in circle on the bright carpet, the way as  they probably did while making group meditations and  discussions. Ram sat in a corner near the stove, now this place was taken by the Aare, as he has the most gray in his hair. We felt the vibrations of the moment, Aare said Buddhist mantra OM MANI PADME HUM.

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Aare Loit, me, Kiwa (holding the book of Mihkel Ram Tamm) and Vladimir Wiedemann in front of the house where Soviet hippies used to gather in 1970s

When  later in the garden we discussed the mystic theories of Ram and asked about the practices held here from Vladimir and Aare, Ram let us know about his presence quite obviously. Suddenly all the cats started singing loud together, souls were freed on the move.

The Gray of Utopia – short visual essay

Linnahall or the City Hall in coastal Tallinn was built in 1980 for the occasion of the 22nd Moscow Olympic Games.  This short visual essay “The Gray of Utopia” explores how today it finds its new meanings in its ruins. 

Then named as V. I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport would fint into its amphitheater hall more than 4200 people.

The magnificent limestone complex appeared to be part of the Soviet Union’s project of modernism, which would allow people to be proud of their country and, of course, to send positive signals in vain to the Western countries. On the other hand, City hall opened the city towards the sea, inviting the glances to be turned on the horizon of the vast waters, which could possibly represent the coveted freedom.

After Estonian independency City Hall hosted annual school fairs in each September, Prodigy concert, and many musicals, which we sometimes in the stiff cold could be visited. This was the price to be paid for the pompous design – severe heating rates. In addition to increased pressure to be loss-making the interest for the building torn down in the background of the broader anti-Soviet winds. Although today the building has been included in the list of the prevailing architectural heritage, its fate is still questionable.
Limestone’s sensitivity to moisture and ambitious architectural plan has led a fairly young building into desperate conditions, while the plan of renovation doesn’t seem to be reasonable as well. The proud City Hall has turned into a gray old by the seaside, the gray of utopia, full of ghosts.

Camera & editing by Terje Toomistu. Sound by Jaan Tätte Jr.

Shot in October- December 2012, Tallinn, Estonia.

Thanks and admiration to Rein Maran.

My love for Papua will never cease

Dragged into silence over the mountains in Papua, which has over this one and a half month become so cozy and sweet for my soul. This here is the new world, and a powerful one – the mountains, seas and desperate heat, clouds lost in bright bleu. When you climb down from the hills or swim up from the depths of the sea, then also the land is bubbling in its juices and massive strengths, where Papuan curly hair, shiny dark skin, smell of the sweat resembling some dry coconut, loud motorbikes and market counters loaded with fruit get all mixed and shaken. This is where the colors of Sulawesi, Javanese charm and the very Indonesian everlasting wish to be friendly are melting together with so rich local heritage, multiplied with all its 300 tribes.

Although all this intensity caused some trouble for my body and health, my mind was still sharp enough to travel along all its wonders and woes, especially to the mystical realms of genders and sexuality. Oh such passion! Such stories! It really took me a lot of effort to go trough all the energy the stories of the waria bear. Riding the hills on my motorbike, music in my ears, waria stories in my head, picturesque views around, heading on another meeting.

I have a flight tomorrow back to Jawa.  Now i’m up in the hills of Jayapura CITY, the view over the town and the mountains that set the setting stage for the sun – the hot sun, I adore every morning I wake up, and which I start to despise only a few hours later. I have never been to a place more hot than Papua.

I drink Coca-Cola and eat banana. Indeed, sadly, there’s probably no more corner on the earth where people wouldn’t drink Coca-Cola or at least wouldn’t know anyone else who hasn’t had one.  But the bananas here are sweeter than anywhere else. I even bought a separate cluster to take with me on the plane as my hand-luggage to my friends in Yogyakarta.

There’s some certain force, enlightenment, life and desire to get along with each other that is so remarkable in the city cultures of Papua, as well as the new world’s desire to make things better, than maybe in some of the old worlds. Yes, my love for Papua will never cease. Terima kasih, teman-teman di Papua, aku pasti kembali lagi! I’ll be back, sure.

Party in the hills, Papuan special

This night ended with a Papuan waria crying on my shoulder. In the distance there was a big car stuck in the soft grassy ground trying to speed off – to be exact, all the cars that had climbed up to the hill between Abepura and Jayapura were big and they expressed the wealth of the driver or the company in the car. Above us was a fabulous starlit sky, which here, away from the city hustle, seems as powerful as ever. N isn’t coming with us, “N is flying,” as P says, whose chubby boyfriend is sitting on the back of the motorbike, kicking his heels. P is a driver, the dude is sitting comfortably behind her. And on my shoulder there’s a frizzy haired drunken waria from Serui tribe crying. She was crying over the most important thing. It felt as if all the inevitability of the destiny of the warias culminated in her tears. Love. Love that seems so impossible, love that’s so unreachable. Because between the frequencies of their bodies and souls there’s suddenly some phallic extra.

“What happened? Are you sure you don’t want to go home with your boyfriend?” I asked.
“No, we’re over”, she shakes her head and wipes the tears off. “I don’t need you anymore! We’re through!” she yells once again to the guy who has vanished into the crowd. A few moments ago they’d clung around each other’s necks like love birds. I’d admired the sugar face that cool waria had found for herself.
I’d met L the same night around nine when she’d finished her work and was going home. On her way she’d stepped into U’s salon, where I with N, P, her boyfriend and a few other guys were killing time. We were talking in the hot N salon, where the air seemed to have stopped moving. There was sweat dripping from her neck to her wide cleavage, and a glinting circle appeared on her forehead that was surrounded by her frizzy hair. I remember that when we were talking about sex work she told that she didn’t do that much anymore, because she has a job. Every time she goes out with friends, she goes home at 1 am, langsung tidur, directly to bed. A few hors later we were hanging at Kali Acay and I noticed a beautiful guy trough my camera, a guy who wasn’t shy at all to be in the picture with a group of warias. A second later I saw him sharing a bike with L, they were both so happy. L gave a gentle kiss on the guy’s shoulder, and then she was impishly playing with her fingers near his groin. For me they looked like a hot couple and I was puzzled when the same sugar face came to me to beg my phone number, L still hanging around his neck. N set the things straight: “Her number is exclusively for warias only, khusus untuk waria.” Of course the guy tried his luck a few more times. Unfortunately I had no time to meet with them again, although from a researcher’s aspect it could have been interesting.
Our party started at U’s salon, where we had ordered a few bottles of a weird transparent drink, called Jenefer. Jenefer is bottled into a huge round one-liter bottle, it’s like gasoline and it’s often mixed with green Sprite. We closed the salon’s windows and doors and tried to gasp some air with a help of a fan or a piece of card board. It’s still unbearably hot, although it’s long after 9 pm. But of course no one of the neighbours or people passing by should see we’re sitting with a group in a salon that was opened a few moths ago and drinking alcoholic beverages. Not that it would be something that’s done very rarely on Papua, but social harmony is highly valued here. P’s boyfriend poured a shot of the green bubbly drink and passed it on, the beat coming from the big speakers set under the ceiling was ticking in everyone’s head.
P was seemingly worried when the shot reached me – because I was with a motor bike and I had told him that I didn’t have too much experience driving a motor bike in a Papuan night. But N said it was nothing, because the people in our country are used to drinking alcohol, there’s nothing to worry about. N seemed to have a lot of respect for our distant country. For example, once she introduced me repeatedly as „Cece, dari Estonia, ibu-kota Amerika.” Meaning, I’m from Estonia, the capital of America.
People nodded agreeably. Who wouldn’t know America?! It sounded so wicked that for a while I didn’t dare to correct her. I was giggling on my own. Estonia – the capital of America.
Despite of me having long term health problems on Papua, and of the weather being sweatting hot, and of being in a some stress arising from my research, I still thought I’d know my limits between social drinking and drinking that scatters the state of mind. It took about 3 shots. Actually it wasn’t the alcohol, it was life itself.

Coincidence leading to the life above the waves

I made it to Jayapura. Classic situation: in an unknown town without a place to stay. Since my friend Minna had made some contacts here already before and from her latest text I got an impression that her social capital will happily accommodate the next Estonian in town, too. Although I didn’t get a text including info where I should go and who to call. A while later I realized the phone lines were down – quite normal when in Papua, especially when sailing on the ocean – I simply don’t receive texts. The last night in the ferry I was sitting with Amanda on the deck at her stall I tried once again to call Minna. The only thing I heard over the phone was “Dear!” and “I have to leave the country tomorrow!”. I knew it already. But where and how? And in the practical perspective – how am I going to find her friend in Jayapura? These questions disappeared into the haze of the flaky reception. The next time I had reception was the next day, a little before arriving at Jayapura. By then Minna’s phone was out of reach, meaning she’d left the country, left from Indonesia to Papua New Guinea. Full of hope I waited for a text with my hosts phone number.

Full of hope I was looking around when coming off the boat – maybe my potential host has come to meet me at the port? Of course not. I walked as far as I could carry my backpack, took an ojek that took me to an internet café. If only I had known the man was taking me to the outskirts where there really was an internet café, but actually he had only wanted to drive a newly arrived tourist around, and since we drove quite far he ripped me off with 20 000 rp and even left me without an option to take a hotel. Before stepping in the internet café I noticed a printing shop across the street, and I wanted to go there to get prepared for tomorrow’s meeting with my supervisor.

A lonely woman with a big bag somewhere in the outskirts of the town certainly left the people of the printing shop puzzled. As it’s common in Indonesia, they wanted to help me. Starting from an offer to use the shop’s computer for ma internet needs – unfortunately I couldn’t reach my friend on Skype, no luck with that – and finishing with the fact that one of the customers, a nice Papuan ibu, offered a place to stay for the night.

„It’s already late, you’re going to stay with me tonight and tomorrow you’ll go on looking for your friend,” she proposed. At first I was trying to find my way out of it so that I could avoid causing any trouble, but in the end I still decided to go along her will – I convinced myself that on Papua I’d most certainly like to see how Papuans live, what is their social universe like.  We took a taxi and drove to Jayapura city – to a house that had been built on water. Her children were so happy and excited to meet me.

Every night I dream about earthquakes because the house is on constant move, in the rhythm of the waves. You shouldn’t play with your lighter or phone here – you never know, it might fall through the floor into the sea. And this is how I found myself a lovely Papuan family.

Everything must be good for something – meeting my key informant

„Aah! So you were studying the warias?” one fleshy security guard asked me, his eyes glittering. The word waria (or banci, as people often know them, although it bears some negative connotations) has a kind of magic power that makes Indonesians’ eyes glitter and smile on their face, of course unfortunately, this often a sign for ridicule. “This here is a waria! This is a waria!” he points at a guy who’s delved into the bed. The guy is probably the clumsiest and shiest, and thus is probably chaffed all the time.

 
Granny manifests: Legalize! a few-hour stop-over on Serui island

Already in the evening of my first day on the boat I had a feeling that this boat trip might be something I really need. I wandered on the deck, talked to people and had started going back to the cabin when I suddenly turned around. I noticed a interesting-looking girl, who apparently was a waria. Her name was Amanda. She’s from Bali, but for the past ten years she’s lived in Jayapura, where she’d escaped with her sweetheart from Solo. They had lived ten years in Jayapura like a man and a woman, but now they’ve finished their relationship. The man returned to Solo to marry a woman. I asked if her heart ached. And again, to my surprise, she too said it didn’t. “I’m happy we got to be together so long,” she tells.

Amanda went to Ambon and back. She’s travelling with three other people who sell coffee, snacks and cigarettes on the boat. Seems that many finance their trip that way. Standing there like that many gave me their hand to say hello and a few more words. One drunk Papuan man started babbling in English “oh, I’m talking to a waria, it’s a waria!” he mumbled as if he couldn’t understand what was going on. To illustrate what he’d just said he made some awkward dancing moves.  Already then I was afraid something insulting might be on its way, because there’s nothing that could be more tactless than a drunk Papuan. But the man said: “Yes, these are warias, they have trouble within themselves, but they are here, they are just like you and me, they are part of the world in Papua!”

On the contrary for the worst that I had expected, it seemed the man was moved that I,  a visitor from afar, had amongst the thousands on the boat chosen the only waria to talk to. This incident also illustrates something I realized during my three weeks here – Papuans take warias as something natural to the “modernized” (“indonized?”) world, they see waria as a colour, and what could they really have against beautiful, fun, sexy and well dancing warias? Since when have Papuans been those who dictate morale and order arising from it? This has always been the task of Indonesians or of Indonesian central power, who historically don’t really like the frizzy hair and the chaotic lifestyle of Papuans. If waria is a part of their “developed” world, so be it! A Papuan gets drunk and is delighted to have fun in the company of tall light-skinned Javanese warias. Why not?!

And Amanda became my most favourite girlfriend in the next town we landed.

In a cabin with four enormous security guys across the Pacific

After a few-days vacation in Raja Ampat I was finally in a condition I felt strong enough to move on. But then it appeared that all flights to Jayapura had been sold out and only the unacceptably expensive where left.  So I had to decide in the favour of a boat trip. So, here I am, on Nggapulu ship, sailing from Sorong, the gate of Papua, to Jaypura, the capital of Papua, for three days and three nights. An economy ticket costs a bit more than 300 000 rp, but after boarding you can easily bargain for a room in another class, or pay a crew member, who wants to earn some extra money, to sleep in his or her bed. On boarding passengers are surrounded by the hum of the members of the crew, “kamar-kamar-kamar...”, which means that they’re ready to give their room for a passenger for a certain amount of money. The usual fee is  100 000 rp a port, which for me would have meant 500 000 rp, which again I couldn’t agree with. A reserved crew member with a really sweet face took me to his room and asked 2,5 millions for it. I burst out laughing – I’d take a plane for that money!

After several maneuvers, from the front room of the captain’s quarters to the doctor’s office, I finally ended up in the security room – SATPAM, as it’s called. Now I share a room with four heavy men, one of whom, Iwan, gave his bed to me. The game is tough because I have made no monetary agreements with them, on the other hand, there aren’t too many free lunches in the world. So, I have to keep myself sharp and alert to keep away from all possible unpleasantnesses. Which is of course the result of the fact that I’m a woman and they’re men – endless game between a stick and a slit.
So I woken in the middle of the night by Iwan’s head that had appeared from behind the curtain covering the bed, and which was talking weird words to me. I snapped that I was sleeping and told him not to disturb me, which made the head with it’s puppy eyes disappear behind the curtain. But it soon appeared again:
„Cece! Cece! Maybe we could sleep here together?”
„What do you mean?”
„Well, we’d sleep side by side, sama-sama.”
„Come on… Let me sleep!”
Maybe if I hadn’t been really tired and not so miserable because of my health I couldn’t have slept on knowing that there’s one strong security guard, and three more, who’d like to play some kind of sex games with me. Oh, no, never! I’d never let even their little finger touch me.
A few hours before I’d been broken of the thought that I was once again dealing with unpleasantnesses and that I didn’t have enough money to bail myself out. And that I have to do it all for a mere research, which only fills an abstract field in  sparse academic knowledge. Utterly exhausted, with a tonsil pain (my tonsils were covered with white dots), carrying my heavy back pack up and down the narrow stairs on the boat, and holding a heavy fruit basket, which had to cover my vitamin needs for the following days, I once again found myself in agony asking, why am I here!?! But adventures, challenges and a constant fight for right on your way are probably inevitable parts of the life of an anthropologist. Because if you’d use money to move from every situation into a comfort zone, then you would miss the real life.
You can get away from unpleasantnesses using either money or power. Although I don’t have a lot of money, I do have a little power in here. Currently my power is in my rather fluent Indonesian, and the fact that I’m a visitor from afar (the only foreigner on that boat),  and they see me as beautiful, that helps too. Although it’s not a lot, it’s enough to bargain for a place in the security guards’ cozy room.  Now I simply need to come to terms with the fact that besides me there is a number of men in uniform and one of them is extremely attracted to my tongue peircing. At least I have a certain freedom to breath cooled air, drink much coffee and write, write and write.

 
Happy room-mate

The great tortures of the trips – pain and horror

Oh, woe and misery! Although I had had Papua on my mind for a long time I had to state already at my arrival that my dreams had been quite tough. Yes, there’s a lot of sunshine on Papua, but it’s not simply the sun – it’s the beat of the whole Papua, an it’s tough. Tough heat, high humidity, scorching sun, wind.

I’d had constant health problems for the past three weeks already. It all started on Sulawesi, in the downstaires room of Eka’s younger sister, where I’d slept for about a week. I’d probably got an allergic reaction to the musty rugs in that bed. My state couldn’t improve much in Makassar, where we lived in the salon of a cool waria Jaka. As she’s a busy hairdresser, the floor was evenly covered with hairs, the rug in our bedroom also had a thick cover of hairs. On the boat to Papua I felt utterly weak. This, of course, became an excellent excuse on a boat which density was 3 times as big as it should have been, for begging for a space where the density was a bit more sparse, in other words – in the boat’s hospital. Minna and I were sailing from one island to another, spending two nights in a ward, which, in the boat terms, was impossibly sterile. We even had our own shower and an air conditioner, which seemed like luxury.

Unfortunately- thinking of taking care of myself but it turned out the opposite – I took two malaria pills that wiped me off for the next three days. When in Segeri I fell into bed and started waiting for days I’d feel a bit more alive, although already at the very first evening I met a few of my informants. Those days of feeling more alive arrived a few days later when the weakening effect of the malaria bills had vanished. Refusing to lose the next three days for the pains of the pill weakness I traded the local Indonesian pills for the expensive Malarone pills I’d brought from Estonia. I’d taken them for three days when I realised that although those pills didn’t have such a killing effect on my body, they gave me a real psychological thriller. I noticed I had had the similar processes in my brain a year ago on Kalimantan, when I’d conscientiously eaten the same pills and thought why this trip had been somehow weird, why had I had such existential hesitations. As if this wasn’t enough, a random graze on my leg I’d got at Jaka’s was bleeding and a bit purulent. When I hurried to meet the greatest Bissu-researcher in the world, mas Halilintar Latief, I was mounting a lesbian chick’s, whose hair had freshly been dyed, motor bike, I hit my leg against Jaka’s rusty gate. The young at the meeting suggested I  put a bandage on it immediately (as if the things you can’t see don’t exist). I said I wanted something I could cleanse it with first, but they kept saying “no-no, this bandage is antiseptic”and put its package in front of me so I could read the whole truth myself – the bandage is antiseptic. I was too inattentive to pay any more attention to my graze.

But the wound, which in Europe would’ve cured in a couple of days,  after a two-week status quo, decided to swell up, leaving half the leg paralyzed. At first I cleansed it with Estonian vodka, later a Chinese pharmacist gave me some brown Chinese magic ointment. While taking a shower I kept my right foot in the air. For a moment it felt as if things were getting better, but it was only a feeling. At night I was again and again woken by my hurting leg. In a feverish state we rushed into the harbour so that we could spend a few days off in Raja Ampat. I was sweating all over my body, but at the same time I was extremely cold in the sun. Finally in Waisai, the capital of Raja, I fell asleep. The next morning I made a decision to make an exception in my five-year-long antibiotics’ denial and fished for the pills in the tiny bag in the very bottom of by backbag. The pills had travelled with me for years, and I’d never really known when I’d need them.

Me, close to the end.

The few days in Raja definitely improved my health, but it all seemed to fall into pieces when looking at the adversity we had to face on our way back. On our way to Sorong on a heavily swaying speed-boat we were hit by huge waves. And I mean – HUGE. In addition to my burnt body I was still physically weak and this roller coaster was more horrible than it’d be in the worst amusement park. Most of the passengers were puking – some into a bucket, some into a bag and some with a nice bow directly onto the floor. The heavy waves hit against the windows and children were crying. Air! The least one could find in this torture room was air. After a huge wave had flown into the boat the last hole in this claustrophobic room was closed. It stank of gasoline, my body was covered with cold sweat. I wished I’d been washed into the waves, I’d agreed to die.

I had colourful pictures of curvy corals flashing before my eyes, they’d engraved such a picture into my subconsciousness that they appeared as ayahuasca visions. Now they were announcing the beginning of the end, I was on my way to the underworld, the death was almost there. It seemed the two hours had been the most horrible in my life. I could compare it only with the bus that once took us from Kenya to Tanzania, which Berit and I had named a Monster. The Monster had been rattling so much I’d thought my breast would fall off. To make the matters worse, I had a few-days-old chick in my hands that had gone nuts of the rattle and yelling and pooped in my hands after every 10 minutes. I was keeping it warm in my armpit. My whole body was sunburnt and covered with itchy mango allergy dots. When I wanted to tell something to Berit, who was suffering right next to me, I had to yell. Although it’d be easier to go off a bus than a boat, then in this case we were surrounded by savannas, which meant lions, panthers, and who-knows-what-else. But then I saw an upside-down Big Dipper in the sky and realised, this torture had to be worth something. At the sunrise we saw the snowy peak of Kilimanjaro in the distance, it was like a miracle.

When finally in Sorong the only things I could see were tens of white teeth rows of the ojek drivers. The teeth were surrounded by a red pinan circle and seemed to move in slow motion. Certainly they were offering me a ride, but I couldn’t think or react on anything. I needed a stable ground and maybe some sleep. I fell onto a deck in the shade and stayed there for the next two hours, until the nosy Papuans came to me and tried to wake and take care of me using different means. Hidup lagi, we’ll live. When I opened my eyes I saw a number of Papuan women around me, carefully spreading something on my forehead and rubbing my feet.

Being on a trip or on an anthropological fieldwork is a separate chapter in its dramaturgy. These two stories are probably my peaks, although when looking back at them they seem good for something, but … no no no, “don’t try it at home”, don’t. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to go through such pain and horror. So wish you all strong immunity, good health and long journeys!

Born on white sand – Saleo Homestay in Raja Ampat

 Raja Ampat – one of the last paradises on the peak of the bird head shaped Papua island, still quite undiscovered by tourists. The archipelago has been kept behind a veil of exclusiveness, meaning the most of the visitors to the island arrive by planes and are then directly taken to the luxury boats, in which they then sail a week or two passing the scattered islands sunk into the greenery. The most mystical dimension is certainly under water, thus most of the time the tourists spend when on Raja Ampat is spent on diving tours that last for days or for weeks. But still, should you do some research you could find a bit more budget friendly way to the magic of Raja Ampat.

Every afternoon there are ships departing from Sorong that besides hundreds of locals take for extra 15 euros some tourists aboard. What is more, in Raja Ampat there’s one (and at the moment of writing, really only one!) bed and breakfast homestay, where you can stay for 10 euros a night. Compared with the 50 euro ride on a speed-boat or at least 100 euros for a day in a luxury boat and with some random hotel rooms that cost at least 35 euros, the before mentioned options seem quite edible even for low-budget travellers.

In the shade of the palm trees, there’s a super sweet shelter Saleo Homestay hiding itself. It’s about a 10-minute boat ride away from Waiwo, the centre of Raja Ampat, or you can also reach it by a motorbike if you care to take a half an hour ride along the muddy mountain roads.  In Saleo I was welcomed by a smugly grandfather, his calm and nice son with his lovely wife and by their little daughter Aini, who was 2 at the time of visiting. The characteristic girl was born onto white sand and has grown up in a coconut grove, running around and chasing after chickens and geese. And she’s the happiest in water. Cristal clear sea water is like nectar for her. She often goes with his father to the sea, and together at the sunset they catch a fish or two for supper. Everything served in Saleo comes directly from water, fresh gourmet, cooked in the simplest conditions, simply served.

Even if I’d get to spend a couple of days in a local resort, I still find life in its simplicity more enjoyable, in its wildness, here in Saleo, close to a local family, knowing that what you’ve eaten today has come about a few hundred meters away, from the fall of the coral reef, knowing that to take a shower in the gleam of the stars you’d only need to pump water from the well, knowing that little Aini is sitting in her bath and singing a candid tune, and knowing that you must be on Kurre Kurre Island.

The last paradise on earth – Raja Ampat, too much

The first time I heard anything about Raja Ampat islands was in the very same salon of Ayu. Ayu even grinned when she heard me praising the beautiful beaches of Papua, meaning those that I’d seen here around the corner in Sorong.

“What! What we have here is nothing – you need to go to Raja Ampat, for the weekend, ayo!”

Namely, near the city I’m doing my fieldwork with warias the last paradise on earth arises from the sea. Raja Ampat – a royal quartet of enchanting tropical islands, where after seeing the slogan “the last paradise on earth” tourists, ornithologists and divers flock from around the richest world. 

 Of course this made the situation a bit more complicated for me and Minna, because we’re no tourists nor bird watchers, whose wallets are what all the logistics of Raja Ampat has been meant for. But certainly we wouldn’t say no to a session into the magic of the  underwater world.

One night in Sorong we paid a visit to a wedding ceremony my host waria had organized. And just like that a dream I’d sent to the universe came true, the girl sitting next to me was from Raja Ampat. A few days later we’re on her family’s speed boat and scurrying towards the 1500 unknown coral islands. We had landed into the most obscure sounds. These were the sounds of a grown nature, in which a incontinent play of colours and freejazz of awkward birds were interwoven.

As Indonesian government had violated the rights of Papuans for ages, yet at the same time Papua has the highest number of different races in the country, then in recent years Papuans have been nicely spoilt, so that all kind of calls for fights for independence could be gently petted down. For example, Papuans connected with the city government get a rather decent salary. One of the many privileges available brought many young families to the capital of Raja Ampat (which actually is a little village), they were given a house and an office job in the city administration. All those fast investments into the local infrastructure seem rather weird, but I hold the details for now. There, in the house that had been the government’s gift, in the hypnotizing bird song gourmet, we found ourselves a place to stay for a few nights.

In the morning we went to explore the last paradise on earth. We found kilometers of warm glittering sea water, hundreds of green islands that rose from the sea like cakes, sharks and rays dashing in the sea bed, a giant fallos made of stone planted in a cave, the most beautiful swimming experience (I really cried), a meter long fish stuck on a fishhook that we could later grill, and all those thousands of colourful fish between the acidy corals on the other side of my snorkelling mask. It was all too much, having come from dusty citylife, with a broken mind, social depression hidden behind the night’s mask, with too many tears recorded on my sound recorder I use for interviews. It all was suddenly too much, there was too much beauty, too much real will of life, too much real god, nature, too much Alice, too much wonderland.