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I ♥ Mentawai

Indonesia, January 7, 2011

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It tickles me how adaptable humans are; how adaptable I can be. When I first arrived in the city of Sikakap in Indonesia's tsunami-stricken Mentawai Islands I was feeling a little overwhelmed.

  1. There is only one boat, once a week to bring people to and from Sikakap. The boat leaves Padang every Tuesday night and arrives 12-15 hours later (depending on the weather) on Wednesday morning. The return boat leaves Sikakap on Wednesday night, and after 12-15 hours, arrives in Padang on Thursday morning. If you don’t catch either of those boats you are out of luck and have to wait another week.
  2. Fruit and vegetables only arrive once a week on this boat. Every Wednesday mid-morning, the stalls are filled with green beans (kacang buncis), red chilis (lado), eggplant (terong), oranges (jeruk), mangoes (manga), and apples (apel). Once a few days go by, everything is gone — or rotting — so you only have a couple of chances to get your daily dose of fruit and veggies.
  3. It rains just about every day, and the streets are pot-holed. I like walking, and you can tell from the lines of mud splashed from my sandals up the backs of my legs.
  4. Every day from 14:00–17:00, there’s no power on the island. And there are days when there is no power all day long.
  5. Cell phones and Internet are the only way to communicate with the outside world. But even then cell phone coverage is intermittent and not totally reliable. And if there’s no power, there’s no Internet. And, once Telkomsel and Air Putih (two telecommunications companies) leave the island, there will be no Internet.

Despite all of these things, I really like being there. I’m in Padang — a city on Sumatra Island — at the moment, but I miss Sikakap. I’m not sure what I miss most. But here’s what comes to the top of my head:

  • I miss my colleagues. They are so smart, and funny and kind. They’ve worked in emergency and recovery responses throughout Indonesia before, and have a lot of insight. They are also just really cool people who like to laugh and find the joy in life.
  • I miss the quietness. My favourite evening was actually when there was no power. The sun had set, we had some candles burning, and it was just quiet and calm. There was no buzz of the electricity current, and I felt like I had a chance to quiet my mind and just enjoy.
  • I miss having a bigger purpose. It is nice to contribute and to learn about the people I work with, the beneficiaries and their culture, and the projects we’re implementing.

I ♥ Mentawai.