Day: 12

Distance covered: 959 km (596 miles)

Subjects found: 5

The Human, Earth Project is a journey to discover one hundred human stories from across southern Asia; some of those stories are more touching than others. 

We’re currently on the slopes of Mount Rinjani, in Lombok, Indonesia. When we returned yesterday to the village of the two porters I photographed on the mountain five years ago – Nuryadi (on the left) and Sitra (on the right) – Marinho and I heard something truly special. 

Nuryadi has not yet returned from Malaysia. We spoke to his wife, Salni, and realised that there had been a misunderstanding. Nuryadi isn’t flying back from Malaysia at all; he’s flying back from Sumatra, in western Indonesia. 

He’s being smuggled across the straits from Malaysia, where he’s been working illegally harvesting palm oil these past three years. His boat hasn’t yet been able to leave, due to intense surveillance along the Malaysian coastline. I can imagine him there, huddled in some filthy hold, a wad of banknotes tied to his body. 

Why would he take such risks, so far from his native village? 

Because in his village, there are very few options for a man like Nuryadi, whose family was never able to support his education. Working as a porter is difficult, physically demanding work that involves hauling large loads up and down steep and rocky trails. 

An educated man might be able to find better-paid, less strenuous work in the towns and cities nearby. A man who speaks English might find work as a guide on the mountain, and carry no loads. For an uneducated man like Nuryadi, however, the only real alternatives here are a life of porting, or a life of poverty spent planting rice. 

Nuryadi’s wife Salni is a beautiful, intelligent woman. Salni never received an education and spends her days working in construction, hauling rocks and dirt in a basket balanced on her head. An education here costs 200,000 to 300,000 rupiah per month (US $18 to $27), she says, plus the costs of a uniform, shoes and books. 

Four years ago, Nuryadi and Salni had a child, a little girl named Junita. Determined to give Junita better options in life, Nuryadi resolved to leave his village and endure the life of an illegal immigrant in Malaysia to support the education of a daughter who can’t even remember him. 

They don’t know when Nuryadi will be able to come home. While she waits to see her husband again after three long years, Salni dreams that one day her daughter will learn to read, write and use a computer, and perhaps find work in an office or restaurant. 

We were with Sitra, the second porter, when a government official came to take the census. She had to fill out the forms herself. Of the 22 members in Sitra’s extended family, the majority never attended school, including Sitra himself. 

Nuryadi and Sitra’s stories are not unusual here. If possible, we’ll return to their village in the coming days, in the hope of speaking to Nuryadi himself. In the meantime, we’ll turn south again, to see what clues Lombok TV has found for us…

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