Friday, October 1, 2010

A Day in the Life of Sungai Penuh

I woke up, fell out of bed, and dragged the comb across my head. Found my way off the floor and had a cup, and looking up, I noticed I was late. I found my backpack and grabbed my clean shirt and made the ojek in seconds flat. This is Sungai Penuh. I'm not quite sure how many people live here, but this the regional hub for Kerinci Valley. It's a nice and quiet town and the scenery is nice. It's very distinctive because it is still relatively untouched by big-city influences. One big thing has changed since the last time I was here, though...they have the internet now. And although it's slow, it's everywhere. There are little internet stores all over town, more than I've ever seen in such a small area. And usually they are full. I have developed a theory about this...I believe that the rapid spread of the internet to remoter parts of Indonesia is due to one factor above all others: Facebook. Everyone here does Facebook; in fact, Indonesia has the second-most Facebook users on the planet.

There are two ways to get around in Sungai Penuh (besides walking, of course). One is called ojek. Ojek drivers are people that have a motorcycle and will take you where you want to go for 2000 rupiah, which is about 25 cents. They are everywhere and so this is a convenient way to get around. You can see one of the ojek posts in the picture I've included. I like the sign for this one. The second way is by bendi, or horse cart. This was is a bit slower, but it's also more colorful (and sometimes smelly). It doesn't take that long to get any place because the town is relatively small. Most of the time I just walk, but since it rains about every day the ojeks and bendis come in handy. Everyone is very friendly here, and I hear "Hello Mister!" about a thousand times a day. Since there are not many foreigners through Sungai Penuh there is always someone that is eager to talk for a while. I had a nice conversation with the guys in the picture below. Believe it or not, that scooter thing they are sitting on actually runs. I call this guy the "Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah".

Today was Friday, which is the holy day for Muslims. On Fridays Muslims go to the mosque at around noon for Friday prayers. I estimate 95% of the population of this town to be Muslims, and so the streets were very lively today in the early afternoon. Most government offices shut down at noon on Friday so the workers can go to the mosque, and so today I got kicked out of the park office at 12. I walked around the town a bit and took some pictures. To the right you can see rice drying in the street. Remember I told you that this is an agricultural area, and so many of the people living in Sungai Penuh are farmers. Then I went to the market to buy a present for my friend Agung because he's been nice enough to let me stay at his place while I'm here. Then I went home, worked on my reports a bit and took a nap. I've been pleased with how much work I've been able to accomplish here. Everyone has been very helpful, and a local non-governmental-organization (NGO) has agreed to be my partner for my research. This is very important in Indonesia because it helps in obtaining the visas and research permits that are required to work here. It's also good to have a local partner because they know all about this area along with the problems and opportunities. The organization I am going to be working with when I come back here is called Lembaga Tumbuh Alami. They have a lot of great projects to help the villagers living around the park so the villagers don't have to be so dependent on resources in the park for their livelihoods. They help with economic development and also with alternative energy sources, so villagers don't have to use so much wood to cook.

In the evening there is not much to do in Sungai Penuh. Last night I rented a couple of movies. Tonight I don't have many plans. One of the big events is taking a "shower". You can see the bathroom in the picture I've included. That big concrete container is called a "bak mandi". I fill it with water that I use to flush the toilet, wash clothes, and get clean. The little green dipper is what I use to pour the water over myself. Now, you might notice that there is only one pipe coming out of the wall. That's because the water here comes at one temperature, and it ain't warm. I would go so far as to call it "bone-chillingly cold". But water is water, and it does the trick. It has the added benefit of really waking me up.

That's about it for today. Tomorrow is my last full day in Sungai Penuh; after that I take the long ride back to Padang, and then back to Jakarta. I am going to try to have some more meetings in both of those places, but for the most part my work for this trip is almost done. I've learned a great deal, but the best thing for me is that I realize that my research project is important for the people here, including those that work for the park and those that are in conflict with the park. For a researcher that's a really exciting prospect.

1 comment:

  1. Firstly, I commend you for doing what you do. I was surprised not to hear one complaint in your blog. When I first saw the shower, I felt a little uncomfortable, but then I realized that was better then having no shower at all! The drying of the rice was interesting. Also, being able to get around paying only 25 cents. The whole internet thing was also very interesting. I suppose it was because this is a third world country, and internet is a huge deal.