Joys of Being an MK - Small World Encounters
Posted by Evan at 9:16 am on July 13th, 2008
No matter how many times this happens I don't think I will ever get used to it. It can happen anywhere: a bus stop, a restaurant, a church, while at work, or at the grocery store. It might come up during normal conversation, it might come up because you hear an out-of-place language or accent, or it might come up because you smell certain scents which are out of place yet distinctly recognizable.
What follows is the most incredible Small World Encounter I have had so far.
While waiting at the bus stop outside Rockwell Collins to go home on Thursday, very ready to enjoy a three day weekend - courtesy of the Fourth of July, two other Rockwell Collins employees walked up. One looked to be African American while the other was hard to place. The African American began to make conversation, inquiring why they had not seen me at the bus stop previously. I explained that, as I had no car, I had been getting a ride with one of my apartment mates. Unfortunately that apartment mate was called away by prior commitments and so I had spent the week bumming rides off my other apartment mates and other Rockwell employees in the apartment building with the result being that on this Thursday afternoon I had decided it was time to try taking the bus home.
The African American then inquired where I was from; I responded that I grew up in Indonesia and then I asked where he had grown up. He said that he was from South Africa (so he wasn't really African American, just African). The other individual, who had so far been very quiet, now asked where in Indonesia I had lived, to which I replied that I had lived on the islands of Kalimantan and Papua. I inquired where he was from and he said he was from Indonesia, the island of Papua to be precise.
At this point I realized that this would likely become a Small World Encounter, little did I realize how incredible it would be!
I asked where he was from on the island and he responded, not quite convinced that I had actually lived there, that he was from Timika (which is a mining town on the southern coast of the island, home of the U.S. mining company Freeport). I acknowledged that I knew where this was and that I had in fact passed through it on several occasions while en route to and from Bali. He asked where I had lived and I told him that I had lived in Sentani (a town on the north coast, home of Hillcrest International School and the main base for MAF on the island).
Our conversation continued as we boarded the bus and began the 45 minute trip back to the apartments (it turns out that we live in apartments which are right next to each other). He knew of MAF, which is not surprising, but then he told me that his mother had actually worked for MAF in Wamena before moving to Timika to work for Freeport. We discussed Bahasa (the Indonesian language), papeda, batu bakar, beetlenut, Wamena, Nabire, Sentani, Jayapura, and more. It was amazing! Halfway through the trip home we realized that we hadn't even introduced ourselves! The guy from Papua is Ritchie and the guy from South Africa is Danny.
Ritchie was born in Wamena, in the Baliem Valley, a "Dani right down to his soul" as he says. The Baliem Valley is an area so remote from modern civilization that many of its inhabitants still wear traditional dress and don't have electricity or running water or televisions or internet access or even cell phones. The only way to get goods into and out of the valley is by air which means the valley has been slow to develop and catch up with the outside world, though great strides are being made (not always for the better, unfortunately). The tribe originating in this valley is the Dani tribe.
It is not uncommon for Indonesians to make it to the United States but those who do so are primarily of Chinese descent (and therefore have the money and family connections to make the opportunity possible) or are from Java (and have money as well as access to the vast majority of the opportunities available for academic study in the U.S.). But for a Dani, a man from arguably one of the most remote and poorest regions in the world, to make it to the U.S. is truly incredible. Yet more incredible than that is the fact that we met each other. In the middle of "nowhere" (for this is not a major city like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, which people from outside the U.S. are likely to know about and thus gravitate towards), while waiting for a bus, two individuals who had grown up 12,000 miles away met each other.
But making this encounter still more incredible is that, after telling my parents about this encounter, my dad informed me that they know who Ritchie's mother is. My parents have met her!
Apparently it was not random enough for two people, who had never before met but who had both grown up on the same island at the "edge of civilization", to encounter each other on the opposite side of the world; our parents had met each other.
I find it hard to believe that a more incredible meeting could take place. Of course had I been told ahead of time that this meeting was going to take place I would have found it difficult to believe too, so I'm looking forward to being amazed again!