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!