Monday, August 28, 2017

East Sumba: Part 2 - The Tough Part About Living in East Sumba's Remote Villages

After I returned from Sumba island, I had many friends asking,"What is life like there?" To this question, I'd have to say,"Tough." Some of them, who have known me very well, were a bit taken aback upon hearing me saying it as I don't complain much. Here are some reasons...

Clean water and proper sanitation are scarce

Of five target villages, only two have a pipe network that delivers clean water to homes (or perhaps only homes of village chiefs? Because that was where I slept). I had to bathe in a river in one of the villages and had to take water from the water well in the other two villages.

Also, as a hijabi, I had a hard time when nature called. Four-walled toilet? Why bother building one? You have the whole backyard for the purpose. That is probably what is in the mind of most local  people. Argh.   


Here is me after taking a bath in a river. The water looks still, but it is actually flowing, albeit rather slowly.

Tips to bathe in a river for hijabi (or here's how I did it):
(a) Tie two ends of a sarong around your neck and you will end up wearing a halter-lookalike dress
(b) Take off your other clothes and underwear, but leave the sarong on
(b) Pour water all over yourself with gayung (small bowl with handle) and take a bath as fast as you can (yep, you're doing it in the sarong, there is no way you take a bath naked in the river, it's really open air)
(c) Throw an oversized shirt/jacket and hijab, and you're ready to roll

In one village, as boys and girls had to take bath in turns, the girls decided to take bath after 6 a.m. after the sun was up because...what if there was snakes lurking in the water and we didn't see them as it was too dark? But the funny thing was, we found the boys standing on the river banks with a black face.

"Have you guys taken a bath yet? Now it's our turn," we said.
"Errr not yet. We have just looked up for the manual on how to do that," one of the boys answered.
"Girls, could you please go away? We can't take a bath if you're still there," another boy said.

What we didn't know was there was a boy going naked in the river. Upon seeing our car coming, he hid in the bushes and warned the other boys,"The lionesses coming!" We heard the scream, but we failed seeing that boy. Hahaha.

With lack of proper bathroom, I've been growing a thick skin to ask permission to use the local people when I see one. Most of the time, the people kindly give permission.

A typical toilet in the villages is built by zincalume sheets and a piece of fabric that acts as the door. And it is located in the middle of a vegetable patch. 


Inside the toilet. You just have to use this toilet with lots of imagination, wild guesses and skillful maneuver.

No electricity

As my project is all about bringing electricity to the villages, the lack of electricity is evident from the beginning. Only rich people or village chiefs have electricity, through diesel-powered generator set or cheap solar panel.

The lack of electricity was not really a big problem as I don't need bedroom lighting. However, I have the habit of waking up at 5 a.m. to pee and it was still dark outside. Sometimes I had to wait until the sun is up, usually around 6 a.m., to pee.

Why didn't I just go to the toilet, I heard you ask. Well, the toilet is usually located far away from the main house. What if I accidentally stepped on a snake or other unknown venomous animals?

I don't need electricity to recharge my mobilephone because...

Only one mobilephone provider available

And I don't use that provider. So I turned off my mobilephone most of the time. How do other people contacted me? Well, I traveled with a group of colleagues, who use that particular provider. But honestly, I enjoy going off-grid most of the time, so it was not a big problem.

However, I went to Sumba island on a one-way ticket and I had to coordinate with the team on the field on their schedule for flying home and then asked the team at the Jakarta office to book me a ticket, which they would send via email. But how would I check email if I couldn't even have any signal.

Now, that was a problem. Everything turned out well, though, alhamdulillah. We went back to Waingapu one day before the designated flight, and all emails/Whatsapp messages, including an email containing my ticket home, came into my mobilephone like a gigantic tidal wave.

Trivia: if you use "the provider" and turn on your mobilephone in the five target villages, only Praiwitu that has the Western Indonesian Time (WIB). This is because the base transceiver station near the village is set into WIB, instead of Central Indonesian Time (WITA).

No breakfast culture and irregular meal time

This is probably the toughest thing for me to adapt. The local people usually drink a glass of coffee for breakfast, go to the paddy field/work in offices, back for lunch at 1-2 p.m., do other things, and close the day by eating dinner at around 8-11 p.m. Yep, you read it right, I once had dinner at 11 p.m. I forced myself to eat, because breakfast was an uncertainty.

Since there is no electricity (and no refrigerators), people can not keep food for too long. Everything is freshly prepared. But on the other hand, no electricity means longer time to prepare food. We have to get water from the well/river/nearest water spring, collect wood to boil water/cook, and...kill the animal.

(insert Edavard Munch's Scream painting emoji here)

Yep, we had to kill the animal because the local people understood that while they are Protestant, we were Muslims, who have different rules of diet. Now the problem is, none of us works as a butcher. So it has been quite a traumatic experience, for some of us who play the role as butchers.

Usually the local people started gathering the animals that would go to death row near dusk time. Killing, pulling out the fur/skin off the animals, cutting the meat, and cooking would take around 2-3 hours.

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