News - September 22, 2016

‘Dutch efficiency doesn’t get you anywhere’

Liza van Kapel

Who? Jinthe Roelofs, Master’s student of Forest and Nature Conservation
What? Thesis research on conflicts between local residents and honey bears
Where? Sumatra, Indonesia

‘I am very glad I was with two other students in Indonesia, because we faced quite a language barrier. In fact nobody spoke English, not even the staff, whereas we had been told they did. The villagers we interviewed only spoke a local language. An interpreter wrote it down for us in Indonesian and it was translated into (poor) English afterwards. This meant we couldn’t steer things during the interview, so it was difficult to get the kinds of information we were looking for.

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We had been asked by the Sumatra Rain Forest Institute, an NGO, to investigate conflicts between honey bears and the local population. Honey bears destroy the harvest. No one knows the extent of this, or under what circumstances it happens, so that is what we tried to find out in the interviews.

Our cross-cultural experience was great. To start with, Dutch efficiency gets you nowhere. In the first weeks I got irritated by how slowly everything goes but after a while I liked it better than the Dutch pace. Life was much more primitive there too: there were frequent power cuts and we had to “shower” with a bucket of water. When we arrived there weren’t even any beds for us: we made ourselves beds with a thin mattress and outdoor chair cushions.

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The way people react when they see white people is very funny. The idea that you can make money out of whites hasn’t reached there yet, so everyone is very helpful. Although I was often laughed at when I tried to do “men’s jobs” like buying wood.

The way children respond to you varies a lot. In accessible villages I was surrounded by children who took photos of me and wanted to touch me. That was amusing at first, though it made it almost impossible for me to wash in the river. The children in the remote villages were shy, though. Besides getting to know the fascinating culture, the reckless drives on which I often nearly fell out of the pickup were another unforgettable highlight of my stay.’