June 22, 2018.
Day 8 in Indonesia. Day 1 in Sampela
Selamat Malam! Good evening!
Today we left the resort in Wakatobi National Park and took a motorboat for one hour and a half to arrive in Sampela, officially known as Desa Sama Bahari, where the proud “Bajo” people live. The Bajo (sometimes spelled as Bajau) are traditionally nomadic people that lived in house-boats and moved from one location to the next in search for better fishing grounds and allowing depleted ones to recover. Sampela, however, is a fixed settlement of stilted houses, and has a population of 800-1,000. They settled down because of government pressure during the 1950’s Kahar Muzakar uprising, as the Bajos were considered primitive and needed to be controlled. Today the Bajos are still discriminated against by other peoples in Indonesia, as their way of life is considered pagan and ignorant and their interpretation of the Islam invalid. They face extreme poverty, as fishing is what they have been depended on for substance and survival yet permanent living means the fishing grounds are becoming barren and coral reefs which literally and figuratively have provided them with the foundations for life are dying.
Arriving in Sampela is an experience that no one can truly prepare us for, even though Matt and Jamie have done an excellent job of briefing us on safety and health concerns and spent seemingly countless hours fielding questions from us. As we unloaded our luggage, local children began yelling “hello” at us and chatted and laughed away as we responded in kind, or “Salemat siang” since it was around noon. The children followed us around, while almost always playing some types of games amongst themselves. They kept themselves busy, but definitely congregated around us with an intense level of curiosity. It was also clear that they have done this before quite a few times, and feel a comforting kind of familiarity with Dragons’ participants, a.k.a. foreigners/westerners (even though I’m Chinese). They knew we might give them little gifts; they knew we would take photos of them and lavish them with attention. While this way of living shows the true meaning of “it takes a village,” I think most of these children are from large families and crave individual attention they get from the occasional visitors even though they seem to always have a ball entertaining each other.
The matron and patron of my host family, Bu Lisa and Pak Asis, are the parents of Saipa, wife of Andar. Saipa and Andar are good friends with Matt and Jamie, and help organize everything during our stay here. Bu Lisa and Pak Asis have nine children. The two youngest, Rinin, 18, and Windah, 15, helped me move in. We sat around and talked for about 15 minutes while I used all my Indonesian vocabulary and told them about my family in America – though just like everyone else that walked/dropped in from time to time, Rinin and Windah seemed to have a hard time getting over the fact that I’m Chinese (by birth and by ethnicity) yet I’m also American (by citizenship). When we ran out of things to say, Windah suggested I go take a nap, which I happily obliged. I have decided that staying with a host family in a country where I have only spent 8 days and whose official language I can barely speak, is overall an exhausting process and calls for lots of rest! I did check out the bathroom though, and luckily, my house has its own kamar kecil, a little separated room with a squat toilet and not a hole in the ground (sometimes that literally means a missing wooden slat from the floor).
The food is great – though we can only eat food cooked especially for us in the kitchen of Andar and Saipa. Tonight we had fried tuna with peanuts, eggplant, greens and something that looks like French fries but is a type of sweet potato. Tomorrow we will be going with some families to go spear fishing or net fishing, gleaning, etc., though we are not obligated to participate. I’m positive that tomorrow folks in the group will have a lot of stories to share.
At this point in the course, emotions are running high during the morning circles and debriefing time. I’m first to admit that this experience so far has unexpectedly stirred a range of emotions in me for all kinds of reasons. Simply put, poverty is upsetting to me. Moreover, the Bajo people remind me so much of the Quichuas in the Amazon Rain Forest of Ecuador whom I lived with from December 2001 to July 2002, and whom I visited a few times afterwards. There are astonishing parallels between these two groups of forgotten but proud indigenous peoples whose unique lifestyles, cultures and languages are at risk of extinction, along with the deterioration of their respective habitat – the rain forest and the coral reefs, caused by destruction of natural resources on a global scale.
Sampela is without a doubt a shock to the system, to those of us that are used to relative comfort and cleanliness, and abundant resources. The question is, how do we remind the world that peoples like the Bajos and the Quichuas exist and that their lives are every bit as valuable as those of the rest of us?