Ayu is a waria in Sorong, full of character, and especially renowned for her hairdresser skills. When I once again stepped into her salon, she offered me cake and asked a neighbouring girl to bring me some more cool ice tea.

Ayu cuts Staria’s hair in the popular Ayu salon in Sorong.

As I had expected, a few minutes later a customer came in. The young guy took off his cap, illustrated with a cannabis leaf – very much a style of Papua- , and sat himself on a chair in front of a mirror. The cannabis theme on Papua creates interesting connections, it kind of refers to the Jamaican rasta and reggae culture, but then again it here marks the arising pride of the darker skin colour. So far I have met no real rasta-man. If I’m lucky, I can tell that I’ve met a few people who can say that they’ve tried cannabis and it makes them dizzy. But this guy here isn’t Papuan, he’s from Makassar, like many other in Sorong. He gives Ayu 20 000 rp and in his yellow angkot-bus  he drives away.

Satria has worked on Papua for seven years already, mainly as a driver. He drives a yellow angot-bus, for which he has to pay a rent of 150 000 rp (15 EUR) a day, plus 100 000 (10 EUR) gas money. If he drives a full day he can make about 500-600 000 rp (50-60 EUR) – one passenger 3000 rp, two passengers 5000 rp. Which means he has about 200 passengers a day. To make the ends meet he has to have at least 70 passengers a day. If he skips a day or two he has to work harder later on.

„But nevertheless it’s better here than in Makassar. Makassar is troublesome (Makassar susah),”  he told me. When Satria came off a boat in Sorong seven years ago he had 30 000 rp in his pocket. He started from nothing. (And in a way he still has nothing. Because you can’t put a lot aside here.)

When he joined me on a drive to the red light district in Sorong a day later, he stopped at women standing on the pavement and asked them come on his bus. He commented: “I’m trying my luck, money for cigarettes.” But these women there, had different things in their minds.

It was already in the 1970s when the Indonesian government allowed legal prostitution in certain areas (lokalisasi), after what hundreds and hundreds prostitutes arrived from Java and elsewhere, too. Among them also the first warias arrived in Papua. A colourful urban legend states that later HIV-positive prostitutes from Java were sent here – it might have been the government’s conspiracy of how to infect local Papuans, who are the top clientele of the prostitutes in the so called “West” (Papua is geographically in the east, so they see the rest of Indonesia as West) – the poor Papuans have come to the city to make some money in mines and elsewhere. Not that I believed that there’s something true about this story but the legend tells a lot about the relations between Indonesia and Papua, and it also comments on the local sexual behaviour.

The red light district in Sorong is huge and its streets are well-ordered, the architecture of the houses points clearly at their purpose. Women were sitting in front of the brothels, in pavilions, and men were walking between them. Judged by the eye, there were about 300 women working.

There, in the red light, Satria, in his cannabis illustrated cap, sighed, if he had the money he’d definitely go in.

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