Thursday, August 3, 2017

Tanimbar Kei People Vs The Man

On the way back from Tanimbar Kei, Maluku--which isn't Tanimbar, nor Kei--I sat in a speed boat with a few dozen people. We were heading to the main islands of Tual and it was going to be about a couple of hours before we reached Kei Island. I sat there along with my travel mates, our local friends, and a few other locals that were heading the same way.

Traveling for an hour, and Kei still not insight, we came across a luxurious boat. It was probably a yacht, white with blue details. It was about three floors and had a dock for a small boat and a jet ski. Not thinking too much about it, suddenly the locals were suspicious of of the boat. They questioned, who was it? Did they ask permission to the village people, those that live off the water and islands around the area? The boat skipper suddenly was asked to turn the boat towards the yacht.

Once arriving, the locals asked asked for the captain. He wasn't there as explained by the crew, which weren't very friendly. Apparently the boat was from Bali and was charted by a family. They had sailed this far to enjoy the beautiful sea of Maluku. A few minutes in, the situation didn't get any better. The locals interrogated the crew with a raised tone. The crew put on a hard stoned face, as if refusing the locals their rights of any answer. My friends and I held our tongue as this is not our fight. We just sat and observed.

It was a very awkward situation for me. During my travels, I'm rarely on the 'local's' side of things, most of the time I'm the intruder, no matter how close I am to the locals. In this boat, I became the locals and I could see how these boat crews looked at us, especially when the locals were pissed off knowing these visitors had no permit to enter their waters. I'm not supposed to judge, but I couldn't help it. I did feel undermined by the crew and it was an awful, awful feeling.

Failed to get any form of responsibility, the boat backed out to continue the ride. Until, someone spotted a small boat in the distance. The locals turned the boat and headed to the speck close to Pulau Kelapa. Arriving at the small boat we found the captain, a Caucasian man and his guests, a man and his son that had just ascended from their dive. Again, the people asked their purpose of visit and questioned their permit.

It was one of the most uncomfortable moments in my life. The people on the boat tried to wiggle their way out with 'smart but not smart' excuses that 'the sea belonged to everyone' and that they had asked permission from the people in Banda to roam the ocean. It felt like they underestimated the knowledge of the locals, whose arguments were very spot on at the time. Still holding my tongue, it was annoying to see 'educated' people diving the foreign waters without a local guide. It was reckless and dangerous. Interestingly, his son looked ashamed. It was also heart breaking to see how they provided very ignorant answers without respect. It was predictable but my feelings towards the situation was unexpected.

For a minute, I felt sad being in the position of the locals, even when I'm not. I suddenly could see how snobbish outsiders can be to the locals and suddenly contemplate whether I had treated the locals in the same manner in the past.

If I did, I send forgiveness in my prayers tonight.

In the mean time, I'll keep the name of that boat I saw in the Tanimbar Kei waters and remember the face of the man that sat a little too relaxed to be considered polite. For now, I 'cukstaw' the manner of a  high-end society member did in the waters of Tanimbar Kei.