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.

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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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.

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

My first photo exhibition

So the great news of the day is that I’m opening my very first solo exhibition today in Rennes, France. Going international straight away, how awesome is that!

The topic is From Destruction to Construction, Indonesia and it has the collection of my favorite photos from my two years living and travelling around that part of the world. It is accompanied by small stories to purvey a sense of an atmosphere, but it is all unfortunately in French.

Photography exhibition of Berit RenserI feel Indonesia has something creative and destructive in it simultaneously. It has found a way to hold together 17,000 islands as one nation, while still praising its far-reaching differences. It has survived to keep together six religions as neighbours and sometimes mix it up so naturally that one starts to see the hypocricy of the presented conflict of civilizations in the Western world.

But then again, Indonesia can well be perfectly self-destructive. Overflowing with dangers of natural resources, spiced up with the carelessness of their own surroundings – a lot that the country has to offer has been destroyed internally, just to be soon built up again.

Maybe that’s why foreigners praise Indonesia – even though a chaos at a first sight, it follows its natural cycles of destruction and creation at its own pace.

All the photos are also for sale at a very affordable price and in case someone from the blog is interested to get something nice on the wall, you can write me a personal letter.

And great thanks for Marie who has helped me to take care of all this mess in France!

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.