Some Places I’ve Been.


This is the fourth in a series of posts about my recent foray into the interior of Papua.

While I was on this trip up in the mountains, I visited four different places. Each were different from one another, and all were beautiful and quite interesting.

A traditional house in Anggeruk

1. Anggeruk.

When we got to Anggeruk, the people were not expecting us, but they were very welcoming nonetheless. As we walked down the airstrip toward the village, it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea where we were staying. Possibly in a hut? That sounded cool. And cold. However, there is a long history of missionaries living in Anggeruk, and they’ve built a guest house there, which is where we stayed. It was super, super nice. I had a comfortable bed with a heavy blanket, plenty of hot cocoa mix and a comfy chair with a nice view of the mountains in which to sit and sip while contemplating life.

After the tension of getting ready for the trip and thinking ahead to leaving Papua in just a few short weeks, I was quite relaxed. One thing I’ve struggled with all year is the idea that I’ve always just assumed I would end up living in some remote village on a mountain in Bolivia some day, but there have been a few things about living here that have made me doubt my ability do live that life. That has been discouraging at times. But I felt so at home in Anggeruk. It was delightful. It was probably just the place we were staying in that did it, but Anggeruk gives me hope for my future.

2. Nisikni.

Word had spread from Anggeruk to Nisikni in the four days that we were there, so they knew that we were coming, and they were ready. The whole community gathered on the airstrip and a group of women dressed in traditional clothing danced and sang for us. The pilot mentioned that it was an unusual greeting. I said, sure, it seemed like it. He clarified: no, like this is what they would normally do if like, the governor came. I don’t know who you are…but this is kind of intense.

Welcoming Crew in Nisikni

Then the community practically carried us down the hill to the place where we were staying and gathered outside the front door so they could ask us what we were doing there. They’d never had someone come and do something like this (what is it? I don’t know, it’s like an introduction to different community development issues) and they were very interested. The men asked if the course was just for women, or could they join, too? My supervisor explained that while our organization is primarily geared toward women, we wanted to talk about some things that the men needed to hear too. She later told me this was the first time men had expressed interest in being involved, and they attended just about every session and actively participated. Later I’ll write more about how our workshops went, but for now I’ll just say that while my time in Anggeruk gave me hope for my own future, the conversations I had with the women and men in Nisikni gave me hope for the future of the world.

3. Wamena.

Wamena was nothing like what I expected it to be. At all. There is much, much more pavement and many, many more buildings than I ever would have dreamed. I would describe it as a typical small town. It actually reminded me quite a bit of Yakima, WA. Of all places. My pilot said that it’s the largest city in the world completely served by air. The only [reasonable] way to get there from the outside is to fly. (The other option being to hike through the jungle for multiple weeks). They do have cars, but fuel is quite expensive because they have to fly it in, so people walk a lot (way more than in Jayapura) and also ride in becaks (see photo) which just happens to be in my top three favorite modes of transportation in Indonesia.

Becak driver, driving a becak.

I cannot even describe to you how different it was from what I expected. I was picturing a town with one road, which, for some reason was more grass than pavement in my mind, hilly, and in a small valley. I’d heard that the planes that fly between Jayapura and Wamena could hold 50 or 60 people. That didn’t make any sense with the picture I had in my mind. It makes sense now.

While it’s a sizable town, there are no grocery stores, just traditional markets, kiosks and I heard a rumor about a mini-mart type of store. Wamena is totally flat and in a huge valley with farms all around the outside of the main part of town, all of it surrounded by tall, majestic peaks.

4. Polimo.

After one night in Wamena we left for Polimo, where there is a P3W post. Papua has a…not very good infrastructure, which makes traveling exciting. We took a becak to the edge of town, then walked across a broken bridge. There we got into a public taxi – a van with a few other people. We drove for maybe 15 minutes and stopped at another broken bridge and carried our stuff across to another taxi, this one with about 15 people. We drove for awhile longer, and finally ended at the end of the road. From there some kids from the P3W dormitory met us to help us carry our things and we walked across this big rocky expanse (see photo), across a stream and to another stretch of road. At that point I got on a motorcycle taxi and I thought to myself, in all seriousness: this is where I’m going to die. But I thought it was a good sign that that was the only time I thought that during the whole two weeks. Well, maybe it wasn’t the only time, but overall very few times. Less than two and a half, for sure.

Polimo was relaxing as well. My project there was having a discussion with middle and high school students about alcohol and HIV/AIDS and

One leg of a long journey to beautiful Polimo!

having them create some awareness posters in their local languages. It was just OK. We have a ways to go with it, and I was only with them for two days. They are in good hands and they were great kids to spend some time with. Oh, and Polimo was really beautiful and they keep pigs out in the backyard.

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