Is that it?
I’ve travelled a fair bit in my 26 years, and the shock of ending a trip has never failed to deliver. Add to this that, as I’ve said before this was not a normal trip.
Over the past 6 months I’ve travelled nearly 12,000 kilometers through 7 countries, participating in nearly 70 events aimed at transforming the beautiful and tragic story of West Papua into a household topic.
And now I’m done? I feel like grammatically speaking that should be a statement rather than a question, but it doesn’t feel quite right. The open ended nature of a question matches my sentiment towards this situation more closely. So, for now, we’ll leave it at that.
As to the end itself? Well that was a statement.
After 6 months of cycling almost exclusively by myself over hills and highways, along coastal bluffs and parkland motorways, I found myself in a curious situation. I was riding with others! Just 22 kilometers away from the end of the road, also known as downtown Melbourne, I was joined by 19 solidarity cyclists bearing West Papuan Morning Star flags on their bikes. We rode as a pack along a beautiful, quiet and wonderfully off-the-main-road cycling route that I never would have found by myself. After two hours of easy riding and frequent breaks, we arrived in a frenzy of activity. I was not prepared.
I crossed a busy street and ended up in a concert. Members of the West Papuan refugee community in Melbourne gave me a traditional welcome that was at least loud enough to drown out the noise of a thriving metropolis centre on a Sunday afternoon. I hoped off my bike and was ushered into the throng. I was asked to remove my shoes and socks (which after about a week straight on the road was not, strictly speaking, socially acceptable) before having them ‘washed‘ in a beautiful hand crafted, bird of paradise painted bowl. Standing alongside Australian rapper and activist Izzy Brown, who was receiving the same honor for her role in the legendary Freedom Flotilla, I felt…overwhelmed.
We continued down the road with the new, much bigger crew in tow. Arriving at the lawn of St. Paul’s Cathedral for a beautiful community rally. I was honored to speak on the same platform as so many dedicated and intelligent members of this exceptional community. Greens Senator Richard Di Natale, whose constant support and vigilance for the West Papuan struggle has been a beacon within the Australian Capital, spoke of the need for Australia to meet it’s international human rights obligations and address this issue justly. Jacob Rumbiak, a West Papuan leader and legend whose escape from political imprisonment more than 20 years ago has led to his being both an inspiration to and an exile from West Papua today, bravely shared his story with the growing audience of supporters and curious passers by. I shared a poem, and was humbled throughout.
After escaping from the wonderful but slightly exhausting throng long enough to grab some food with my folks (who were awesome enough to come to Australia to see me in!), I went to Kindness House, where the 45th and final (again – ?) presentation of the tour would take place. It went well, and after an admittedly emotional striking of my gear, I settled in for 4 days of follow up events and media in what I’m now keen to call one of my favourite cities in the world (and I’ve seen a few).
It was a whirlwind day, and enough so to make me forget, however briefly, that celebrating West Papuan flag day in an Australian city, with onlookers and speakers and music and sausages for sale, was not only an special honor but a regional privilege. Our dispersal that day involved little more than a quick clean up. A few hundred miles north, this was not the case.
December 1st, 2013 saw a historic flag raising take place in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Where, For the first time in history, the Morning Star flag was flown at a Papua New Guinea government building. As West Papua’s closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea has a major role to play in this ongoing struggle. The dedication to this fact was in evidence as three of the events organizers were arrested before the planned march was broken up by police.
And in West Papua itself, shots were fired into the crowd, killing at least one.
This has been a long, hard road for me. An adventure, yes, but exhausting. But looking at this in a larger field of view reminds me that this fight, like all struggles for peace and fairness, will not be won quietly or quickly. The martyrdom of activists on the ground in West Papua, and all over the world, should act as a rallying cry for those of us that enjoy both freedom and movement and speech to continue using our incredible privilege to amplify those voices which are so unjustly muted by oppressive conditions.
This, too, is not a question.
People keep asking me what my plans are for after this campaign is over, and I’ve been loath to commit myself to any one answer. The shifting conditions of our world-in-peril demand versatility, and I want to meet that challenge head on. But wherever I end up, be it law school or a traveling caravan, this is a story that will never leave me.
The West Papuan struggle is part of me. I took it up, and now, through the amazing support I’ve received over these past few years and months, I can also say that it has been given to me. There’s too much responsibility in that distinction to just say this is it.
So…is that it?
Simply put, no.