10 minutes from the camp at Alyui Bay, in West Waigeo, is the village of Selpele, home to roughly 500 people.
Women sit in the shade with their infants, nursing, talking, and calling out to the older children who run wildly on the jetty. There is no teacher on the island, which means no school and the children are left to amuse themselves. One drums a rhythm on an empty fuel container as a smaller boy dances to the beat. Two children chase each other with bait fish as weapons. Another cuddles a cowrie shell to her chest. Children who can't be older than 3 or 4 hold razor blades and take the scales of tiny fish. Others lean over the jetty, scouring the reef below for the next catch, their mothers holding onto legs or t-shirts so no one ends up over the edge. Older children fish, while younger ones watch or eat fruit dipped into sugar poured directly onto the jetty.
Excitement mounts as a bigger than usual splash appears in the water and silvery scales glimmer in the sun as a small boy tugs at his fishing line. A Long Tom flips and fights, squirming against the hook and the boys tugs. But this fish will be dinner, there is no doubt about that. The boy pulls the fish onto the jetty, throwing it onto the wood to slow the fish's fight. Excited onlookers gather around as he expertly removes the hook from the fishes jaws and throws his line back in the water for another bite.
It is market day, and we have come to the village to trade.
We have flour, salt, oil, margarine, salt, sugar, condensed milk, packet noodles, rice and fuel. They have papaya, banana, banana flower, leafy greens, pumpkins, coconuts and root vegetables.
When the trading is complete children accept packets of noodles from their mothers with the same anticipation and enthusiasm I would expect from a child at home on Christmas day. Many of the children have skin flaking and peeling off on large portions of their body. Several have raw, bleeding sores on their hands, face and ears. Their noses are runny and their faces dirty, but they are all happy and smiling and eager to get their pictures taken.
Selpele is a fishing village. They survive on their farming and their catch. They trade with us to get rice and flour and sugar and salt and fuel (for their boats and a generator for limited power). They get some money from the Pearl Farm for using their waters, and they get government help, but where this money goes I don't know. There is no visible sign of it. Homes are basic and in utter disrepair, boats are mostly dugout canoes and other local varieties that barely look stable enough to make it in a calm bay let alone survive a trip to the closest "city" which is 2 hours away by speed boat. The farm land is haphazard and unhealthy. I knew the village would be basic, primitive even. But the reality was confronting. Seeing how little a population can survive on, witnessing their isolation and poor health. Seeing their limited opportunity for education. Just one more reason to be so incredibly thankful for the life I was born into and the opportunities I was afforded.