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.


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.


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!



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.

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.

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.

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.

Serial: Anyone responsible here?

Do you know this anecdote about blondes (I am a natural blonde, so let’s all laugh about ourselves during this post). “How many blondes do you need to change a light bulb? Answer: 10. One holds the bulb and the others spin the ladder.”

I find this anecdote suiting perfectly with Indonesian working styles, where it takes three extra people to get something done. To sell three different products one needs six guys, as no one has a very clear overview what they are selling, no one has the right to take any decisions and you always need a friend to delegate the problems to.

In the situation where no real power is given to workers, no one cares to take the responsibility either. So each time they screw something up they can just shrug carelessly as nothing depends on them anyway. Probably it was the friend’s fault, who even more probably doesn’t know anything about the issue. So all in all, no one knows who should be answerable, but definitely not him and not concerning the matter that has just ruined the customer’s life.

The only solution then is turn to the boss, where all the fingers point, but mind you to go down that road. The Boss is a mythical creature who floats somewhere between the mundane and the divine and whose time is so precious that he can only be reached through the endless corridor of stamped, signed letters carried on a velvet pillow. The letters will linger between offices for so long that the details of the case have marred to the point they become unidentifiable. The only solution to the problem will be the predicted: Maaf iya? Tidak apa-apa iya? (Sorry, hope it’s ok).

A poor European, who mainly tries to keep promises, will perish in anguish. Especially if the poor European has promised to feed 150 people during two days but nothing goes according to the plan:

By the breakfast of an important morning exactly half of the promised sushi arrives to our environmentally-friendly event. And it arrives in fifteen plastic boxes in six plastic bags even though we especially emphasized that we need to set an example with how we are supposed to serve food*. The boys give us some vouchers and say that they hope they can use those another day. But they won’t be hungry the other day, they are hungry now!

Before lunch when the stomachs of underfed participants rattle, Marie and I go to the next restaurant to double-check if we will get what we were asking for. The ibu had met the requirements beautifully and wrapped everything in banana leaves, but once I try, it seems strangely light. “We didn’t have time to make enough, we gave half a portion for everyone,” she looks at me with such an innocent face that I even feel ashamed to be overloaded by anger. We try to imitate her guiltless face when handing over the food to 150 hungry people.

And on top of all we receive a phone call from a restaurant just before dinner saying they cannot provide us what they have promised. The boy suggests us to call the boss, but as no one has the bosses number we could instead try to send him a stamped letter.

Being totally browned-off we organize some emergency food to the participants and then do like Indonesians would do in that case. We ask our volunteers to apologize politely and if someone has a problem, to lead them down the path where no one has responsibility. Send a stamped letter, maybe. Maaf ya?

* For those non-indonesians who don’t know, at all Indonesian events they give out food boxes where each piece is wrapped in plastic and it’s all accompanied by a plastic glass with a plastic cover and a plastic straw. For those Indonesians who don’t know, at least in Estonia food at events is served on tables on reusable dishes.

** Read how it really works: and do not get discouraged by my subjective blog posts about leading the project. The stories are intended to be entertaining, therefore I will mostly describe the conflicts instead of successful moments, which there were plenty as well. How ever it all sounds to you, I still believe this one one truly amazing project and should be carried out in all parts of the world. Hopefully, with your help.