The sexual matrix of love

I have been totally  blessed to have lived the first month of my stay in Berkeley with J. He has an awesome girlfriend H, a total reflection of his interests with fit so well with mines. Just couple of days after my arrival she also moved in. So now we’re three. She’s also a reflection of his desires, a fascination for the unexpected. They seem to be sharing love in its purest sense, with no desire for control, no desire for ownership, just pure lust, respect, companionship and joy.

For me they’re almost like an archetypical Oakland couple. Looking really good, mixing up lots of styles from sixties, eighties, nineties, feeling powerful and camp. Secondly they’re open to cross any kind of socially constructed limitations for an institution we call “a couple”. Why monogamy when you could also be polyamorous? Readings of the Ethnical Slut. Thirdly, they’re really having fun with each other and also with other people, being themselves as individuals and partnering when the moment is right. And most importantly, they’re having their crazy love of their life. Sounds like a perfect fit for me.

Hanging out in the city night with them, rocking in the venues, talking on the streets and getting late-night burritos, made me rethink about my formerly raised question about the queer as it’s experienced again. Seems that queer can appear on the heterosexual scale, but it’s good to be aware that this is not a line, but it’s a matrix. Other people can come in, from the same or from the opposite sex. Fantasies can lift you up, no boundaries, only colorful selves. And love. And love. And love.

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“Are you a friend of Mr. Eddy?” – “Mr. Eddy? I knew her as miss.”

The humming parade of countless motorcycle wheels emits a cloud of strong fume in the air of  Sunday morning Yogyakarta. I try to keep my breath as I swing on my motorbike through they hideous traffic trying to make my way to the house of the parents or my lost friend. She only died this morning. It’s my last day in Indonesia  before heading back to Europe, which now seems as far as a blurry dream. I’ve grown so much into this world here, this life, this reality, and just after the last night good-bye party – the terrible news.

“Is this the house where the funeral is being held?” I ask modestly.
A young woman trying to find some shelter from the heat of the sun asks: “Are you a friend of Mr. Eddy?”
“Mr. Eddy?”
Right, she had mentioned me the name though.
“I knew her as miss, Miss Sisi Renata.” In Java it’s always a customary to use gender-and age-specific titles.
My eyes travels to the open room, in the middle of which stands the coffin. In front of it there’s a black and white photograph portraying a young man dressed in black suit. His looks is very serious, even sad. Next to the photograph there are some candles and sad flowers. And again I hesitate – am I still at the right funeral?

Sympathetic and modest Sisi Renata grew up in a poor family in Yogyakarta Old Town. Her mother raised her and her siblings alone, which in Indonesian patriarchal context is anything but simple. She wiped away the tears as she told me about her mother for the first time. She did not want to disappoint her mom at all, but already since little she had felt differently. She often found herself playing with girls and in early puberty accidentally fell in love with her male teacher. Later, she kept her love life under strict secrecy, and every night before going to bed, she held a spiritual wrestling with God, to try to deal with guilt of her “abnormalities” and ask for forgiveness for the “sins” she had committed in her fantasy world.

Sisi had worked as tour guide. Once she got an affair with one Dutch visitor. Their  remote relationship with regular meetings lasted for many years, they travelled through half of Indonesia. The man noticed his Javanese friend’s inner brilliance and sharp wit, and decided to give him – back then as Eddy – a respectable amount of money for education. Through her education and life experience she slowly began to move towards deeper self-reflection and harmony. And she realized that she had a soul of a woman, has always had it!
One day her Dutch boyfriend found an elegant lady in front of him when taking her out for a date. Sisi was employed for support organization for warias, where she was an outrage worker for waria sex workers and support person for HIV-positive warias living in the shelter.

Sometimes at weekends, she came up as a singer in clubs, dressed in fluffy bright green, singing tears touching ballads. To her mother, however, she never revealed her new life – she just did not want to create such a burden. Although it was obvious that the heart of a mother surely knows. Also, many guests at the funeral didn’t seem to have much idea of Eddy’s journey towards her better self known as Sisi Renata. Until she was suddenly knocked down by tuberculosis. 

This time we have a guest photographer here – funeral photos by Monica Dominguez. I love her and her touch in photography, see for yourself! 

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