At this point, perhaps you’re thinking we should have started field work by now. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Beginning a new project in a foreign country takes what most of don’t have these days…time. And lots of it.
I have been living in Indonesia for three months now, all of which have been used to prep for my ten months in the field, in Riau, Sumatra. Why so long, you may ask?
First of all, most people in Riau do not speak English, and many don’t even use the official language of Indonesia, Bahasia Indonesia. I have been studying this language intensively for three months, and I still feel like it’s impossible sometimes. Imagine trying to communicate in a similar yet different language, Bahasa Melayu, and add on top of that a thick regional dialect, plus slang. You’ve got yourself a Bahas-stew; a thick soup of languages that I’ll be trying to lap up and dish out while I’m in the field.
In addition to understanding the language itself, I’ve been trying to better understand the Indonesian culture. A big part of this, at least for Foreign Researchers, is navigating the bureaucracy, or bureau-crazy, as some Indonesians call it. There is red tape everywhere here! You’d think collecting tiger poop was easy…after all it’s just glorified poop scooping. Who cares who collects it, right? Wrong! In order to collect tiger poop, one first must apply for a Foreign Researcher Permit, then one must apply for an Entrance Permit for each protected area you wish to visit, then you must apply for a Sample Collecting Permit, on which, you must list the number of samples you will collect (which requires time travel to the end of your field work), and finally, after all samples are collected you must obtain a Transport Permit. None of this process is done electronically – all permits are applied for and granted by a series of paper (gasp!) letters that are sent between offices. This process could be made into a board game; at any point, you could fill out a form incorrectly and have to take the nearest slide back down to the beginning square. Alternatively, you can advance to the nearest square with a ladder and hire a company to complete the process for you and jump up a few steps. Unfortunately, I landed on a square with a slide, so I’ve had to start the process over. Hopefully this won’t delay field work too long.
The last piece of the puzzle to setting up a successful field season is building relationships. This work would be impossible to complete alone. I have had the great fortune to develop a relationship with the World Wildlife Fund Indonesia, and their staff have been invaluably helpful along this process. I will be joining some of their teams in the field. The Wildlife Lab at the Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia have also been wildly helpful (pun intended) in organizing logistics, navigating permits and hiring undergraduates to help in the field. Finally, the Eijkman Institute of Molecular Ecology has been a great help in ordering supplies for laboratory work, once we collect samples.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of moving pieces! And these steps are in addition to the furious fundraising I’ve been doing as well. But, it does finally feels like everything is falling together, slowly and piece by piece. I will be leaving Yogyakarta on February 5th, heading towards Jakarta to prepare collection tubes. Only a few days after that, I’ll be in Riau, my home for the next 10 months. I can’t wait to get the journey started!