Wednesday, 9 December 2015

People of R4: Sileo Village

There is a man.  He is wearing khaki shorts and a purple polo shirt.  There is a chain around his neck with  a piece of shell attached.  His hands are clean but calloused.  His head is shaved, his facial hair short and manicured.  His face is chiselled and healthy.  He looks like anyone you might see at home.  He wouldn't look out of place in any city in the world.  It is only by chance that he was born here, in a small, poor, fishing village in West Papua, while another man, just like him, was born in Sydney or London or New York.

* * * 

Sileo Village was notably different to Selpele Village - It was obvious as soon as the village came into sight.  It was bigger and in better condition.  Closer up the differences were more defined.  The village is better established with defined paths (sometimes even concreted) and boardwalks.  Established fencing is common.  Homes are sturdier and in better condition.

There is a sporting field, small stores, wire running along the paths for light, dishes for wifi and even a tower for telephone signal.

The children look healthier and happier.  Their skin and eyes are in better condition, their faces are more often clean and their hair is more often brushed and fixed.  The school is active and the kids run around in their uniforms, some of them even wear shoes!

Even the markets are more abundant with healthier looking produce.

But there's also more trash on the island - the down side of modernization.  The small stores cell candy and shampoo and the like - all in plastic bottles or containers or wrap.  Plastic that has no where to go but onto the ground and into the sea.  There is clearly no system for waste removal or disposal here and the shore is lined with trash.

According to the information I have received, Sileo village recieves far less help from the government.  Yet despite the comparative lack of financial aid, the village seems more modern, less primitive. Clothes are cleaner, they have more cookware, buckets and plastic tubs, snacks and sweets, hair ties and clips, phones, bags, jewelry, glass in the windows of some homes, sometimes even curtains.  I can't explain the discrepancy and nor can anyone I ask.

Of course it is still a poor, remote, fishing village in the middle of the sea in West Papua.  Fishing poles are the basic bamboo poles I saw in Selpele; Fishing boats are small (often the dug out variety) and made from wood chopped down from the jungle behind the village; children make toy boats out of sticks and push them along the ground; mothers chew food and push it into the mouths of their young; women sit and preen each other; men sit and talk and chew betel nut.  Everyone fishes.  The life seems simple, but it doesn't seem easy.

I am reminded, again, of how little control we have over our circumstances.  I look at the women here, women my age, leaning over buckets of clothes to be washed by hand, sweeping the ground with a bundle of sticks. I wonder how many of them ever had the opportunity to learn to read and I assume very few. None of them ever would have dreamed possible a life that didn't involve raising a family in this very village they were born in.  Then I think about myself, and my friends; women who are doctors and lawyers and psychologists and designers and artists and writers and teachers.  Women who are traveling the world.  Women who have the whole world open to them simply because of where they were born.  Living in this place and meeting these people makes my eyes burn with tears and my heart swell in gratitude l for what I have. Every single day.

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