WHAT AN ADVENTURE!
The moment I saw how much money everyone was donating, I thought this is going to be epic. And it surely was.
Knowing how expensive and limited supplies are in Baliem Valley, I decided to get some in Denpasar, Bali. I bought basic supplies for the school like pens, notebook, books for learning reading/writing, atlases. it was much easier with Jemmis help because I had no clue what kind of materials they use in Indonesian schools and as you probably understand my Indonesia Bahasa knowledge is close to zero.
Then, a visit to merchant wholesale market for clothing. Oh, Edi, you saved me! Complicated purchasing procedures, minimal quantities for each item, language barrier and tough bargaining. Nail it. Got some stylish outfits. Kids are going to look great.
The big day arrived – packed and left for the airport. Dragging 60 kg bags like it’s only 30 kg with a carry on of 25 kg on my back was a balancing act. Check-in agent surprised: “Sir, you have overweight.” I said: “Really? Didn’t realize ;)” Managed to talk to Garuda Indonesia airlines station manager and convince that’s charity and there is no way I can pay excess fees. Paid for 5 kg only. Success.
Long 7 hours’ flight with a stopover. Scared and lost. Oh, my God, so this is happening. Carrying 40 million rupiahs in my backpack, alone going to world unknown. What to do, what to do. There is no time for emotions and endless tears like the first time, I need to act as a man.
Landed. Have an hour to catch a plane for final flight and recheck bags. Off course, one bag damaged. Airline staff is in panic mode, trying to get me a damage report. I don’t need a report, let’s be creative – repack and help me to check-in for another flight. I know, that more excess baggage fees are waiting for me! Trigana air services were also super friendly and helpful. 5 kg overweight fees only. Again. Thanks!
The only way to reach the region of Baliem Valley – flying. Finally, Wamena! Smiling face of my guide Kosman. Thanks, God, he is here! Speaks a bit of English, so I won’t be alone. Next step – airport police. They can be very very unhappy about all the load and curious why I’m bringing it. Indonesian government wants to keep local Papua people uneducated and less developed so they won’t fight for their freedom and independence. Ha! Sunday, church time. Escaped. Now another police station to get permit for trekking. Sunday and lots of different celebrations. No permit. I’ll try tomorrow.
Early in the morning tribe chief Titus and few other people from the village showed up to meet me. Guide Kosman and his son Kris managed to reach village through another village with phone service and radio and inform, that I’m coming back. What a hug! Long and emotional. Chief Titus is in bad shape – his heart is very weak, so I have doubts he can hike back to the village in one day. But still, he came all the way down to meet me.
Police still celebrating. Ok, let’s go without a permit and try my luck with the army.
Before hitting the road, we did some serious shopping. Bags, shoes, clothing, blankets, other school supplies and food. Everyone stares at me like I’m crazy! Maybe I’m! I started worrying about how we are going to carry so many bags. Future problem.
Long and bumpy ride with a jeep to a starting point. Stopped much earlier than usual. The guide explained, that a few months ago was a big fight between Dani and Yali tribes, so Yali closed the road and no foreigners were allowed. We need a porter from the different tribe for safety. Cool cool, safety first, right? Instead of 12 km, now we have 15 km to walk. It’s going to be a long walk at night.
After crossing cold and furious mountain river time for army post. My army of 12 people is bigger than 2 army guys. Not too many questions, except, where is my permit? No permit, police are celebrating. Ok ok, go!
5 km done and I hear “Kas, Kas!”. My heart is beating like crazy. It’s my kids! Hugs, tears and so much happiness for everyone.
It was a long and tiring walk with 2 small torches in the rain, mud and in complete darkness. Finally, Ibiroma. Titus stayed overnight in another village because he couldn’t walk anymore. No time for presents, only cozy dinner with traditional songs and completely full communal house. I asked if anyone else came here since October 2017. Nobody. It’s so remote and out of the touristic route.
I made a huge pot of oat porridge which was strange for everyone, but highly satisfying. Now time to unpack the load. I asked a local teacher, called Guru, to make a list of everyone who is attending school. Took a good few hours. Finally got a list of 25 children. The moment they saw what I’ve got, was a massive scream. One by one, everyone got bags, shoes, clothing, school supplies. I’ve never got so many hugs in few hours. Tears are running down my face. It’s so good to see happy faces!
I told everyone that we are going to the city to buy more supplies, we just need a list. So, making a list, checking it twice. 4 children are going to be senior high school students. Initial price to get to the school is $200. Crazy expensive. Promised I will cover the fees, but only directly to the school. The chief from another village – Kilise showed up. Started talking and I realized, both villages go to the same school, so it would be so unfair to make one village happy, leaving another behind. It’s children in the end. Checked my budget, yes, I can do it. School supplies, bags and shoes for another village. Happiness is in the air.
Quickly evening approached. With children and adults, we discussed what else they need, decided that solar power lighting in the communal house would be a big help – children can study in evening, being protected from rain and fog, which is often guest here.
Time to leave for another mission. Waiting and waiting, only one future senior high school student showed up. I’m extremely sad and nervous. We left. While trekking down the mountain, was hoping maybe kids will catch us. Yes, miracle, another two were running towards us. One more is missing. Oh, well, if you don’t want to go to school, I cannot help you.
City of Wamena. First school. I’m an alien here. Explained, that I want to cover fees, but want to make it legally, so need a receipt. Impossible they said. Not for me. In an hour, I got my receipt and Elena got a spot in school. Similar story with another school. At least principal spoke some English so was much easier. Joni is in. Third kid explained that his school is in another city, 2 hours flying and free. Ok, no need to pay. You should have told me this much earlier.
Time to get some real books for future scientists. They asked for a dictionary. Take it, children. 4 kids take one. No, guys, take one each. They are deeply surprised. I got all 10 for junior school students and the school itself. Way more different books, a big pile of notebooks, more pens. Maybe you need uniforms? Yes, too shy to ask. Let’s do it. Insane prices for everything. Socks – $5, pants – $20 etc. Doesn’t matter, let’s get everything you need. Solar power, kitchen supplies, more blankets cause it’s so cold at night, big bags of rice – to change sweet potato diet. Endless list.
So tired of bargaining and dealing with unfair businessmen. Yes, I know I’m tourist in your eyes, but do you realize, I don’t need this solar power or 100 kg of rice for myself now? There are locals behind me, who are in big need and someone is trying to help them. After giving a lesson, someone got it.
Out of money, so time to pack and hope, that we got everything they need until my next visit. Hopefully very soon.
The biggest challenge was logistics – getting ready and looking after everyone, counting bags and making sure we have enough hands. Instead of water and food porters asked for cigarettes, well, it’s their world with maybe strange customs for us, but it’s the world they live in. Take it or leave it.
One more time I learned the lesson – smile and big heart it’s much more valuable than knowledge of local language. They can open any doors if you want it.
I want to help and at least try to change their life by providing the best tool they can get – education.
Thanks, everyone who believed in me. I hope I used your money wisely and with a good purpose.
|Guide and porter||$102.84|
- School supplies: $509.93
- School fees: $354.61
- Clothing: $895.96
- Shoes: $265.96
- Transportation: $279.79
- Blankets: $141.84
- Hygiene products: $117.02
- Kitchen supplies: $131.91
- Food: $268.23
- Solar power: $212.77
- Water tanks: $63.83
- Guide and porter: $102.84
- Other expenses: $132.39
- Total: $3,310.40
this project as long as I can, so please, help me!
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Swift code: HABALT22