These are the two questions I get asked the most on the road:
Q: How far do you usually ride in a day?
A: Depends where I’m going, because getting to communities is more important than cycling distance. But usually, 100-150 km. Less on an easy day, more on a hard day.
Second most FAQ
Q: How did you end up doing this campaign?
A: It was nearly 4 years ago when I first heard about West Papua. A friend of mine needed support with running a small human rights club at our university, which she’d ended up coordinating when all the other members graduated. She asked me if I’d ever heard of West Papua before, which I hadn’t, and we went on from there. It’s funny how such seemingly benign moments can occasionally trigger bigger things.
I began to learn more and more about the place, and it became obvious that the struggle of it’s people had borne allies everywhere. The human rights activist working to get political prisoners out of jail. The environmentalist working to curb the unchecked spread of legal and illegal logging. The politician bravely standing up to challenge their governments priorities. For some reason, and more so than I’d ever felt before when charged with thinking about a global issue, It seemed obvious that I had something to contribute – obvious to the point of being obligatory. I wasn’t a lawyer, a scientist, or a politician, but I had spent nearly 6 years working closely with young children, and that’s a really good way to learn about how to tell a good story. “This story needs to be told”, I figured, “So why not? I could be a storyteller”.
The idea of bicycling for it followed absentmindedly from an alliterative phrase I’d daydreamed up. Pedalling for Papua was born.
During Summer 2012 I rode from the West Coast to the East Coast of Canada, doing a presentation about my time in West Papua the previous Autumn. This summer, in the campaign’s second incarnation, I have thus far ridden from Victoria to Toronto, doing a new multimedia presentation along the way based on interviews I conducted with West Papuan refugees who live all over the world. By the beginning of December I’ll have been through 7 countries, and if the current rate keeps up, I’ll have done over 100 awareness raising events, blending spoken word poetry with ukulele to create (what I’ve been told is) an engaging and informative interpretation of this all too often forgotten corner of the world’s struggle over the past 5 decades.
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet a group of people whose advocacy for West Papua is also carried through music – the members of Blue King Brown. Our tour schedules coincided during the Winnipeg Folk Festival, so I was lucky enough to experience first hand the energy and power they bring to this mission. Waving the banned Morning Star Flag in front of a crowd already alive with music reminded me of how beauty begets beauty, and of how art makes peace.
During my conversation with them after the show, we talked about Benny Wenda and the incredible international tour he just recently completed. Having escaped from an Indonesian jail where he was being held as a political prisoner many years ago, Benny and his family have been living in exile in the UK. This is why the UK has become a hotbed of West Papuan activism, with the Free West Papua Campaign having opened an office in Oxford earlier this year. This talk, given by Benny’s lawyer, advocate and friend Jennifer Robinson, was part of his tour. It reached a live audience of thousands, and an online audience of tens of thousands.
Just recently, I received word from a contact of mine that a young woman from Scotland named Natalie will be riding her bicycle through Europe to raise awareness about West Papua as well. Although I’ve yet to meet her in person, I’m happy to call her my friend. And I’m proud to say that she partially credits the Pedalling for Papua campaign as her inspiration to undertake the tour.
There’s so much going on. It makes it hard to shake the feeling that momentum is building.
For 50 years West Papuans have lived under conditions that many have dubbed genocidal. Hundreds of thousands of West Papuan people have died as a result of the continuing occupation in their land, they are increasingly economically marginalized, and their identity as Indigenous peoples has been outright denied by the government charged with upholding their rights.
I realize that this situation is not unique. All around the world people struggle every day in taking back that which was taken from them. Land. Power. Choice. Even the right to breathe can be mistaken for a commodity.
I have been blessed in life with security, plenty, and a robust education. I am also privileged enough to be aware of the injustice inherent in these rights being all to frequently treated as privileges. That is, not for everybody.
It is an act of reconciliation for me, between the context of privilege in which I live and the context of injustice to which I hope to lend support, to see such talented and diverse artists, activists and everyday folks telling this story in solidarity with each other. This is why, I think, my alliterative daydream of cycling this story has proven useful. I believe that the reason people ask me how far I usually ride in a day more frequently than anything else is because it’s interesting to hear about a challenge. Storytelling romanticizes struggle so as to to make it palatable and perhaps even palpable for those listening in. The cycling itself is useless except as an adventure for myself. It is the narrative context this adventure surrounds the West Papuan story in which creates social value. It reveals an accessible point of entry for those who might not otherwise have made the time to listen. Like music, poetry or heartfelt oration, it is a vessel for telling a deeper story, and creating a more lasting impression.
So here’s to the audiences. The West Papuan people’s story, like all stories, cannot survive without you. And just now, because of you, it is not only surviving, but growing. I believe, in fact, that it is starting to thrive.