Article

The Jungle is Looking Back

| posted on July 22, 2010

Letter to Surfer magazine from anonymous surfer:

Re: Giving Back: Surfing’s Legacy

I read “The Jungle is Looking Back” and was blown away by the amazing
dedication and work of Dr Dave Jenkins and crew (Amanda, Ben, Andrew, Liz
and Ollie). I was equally stunned to learn that few surfers have responded to
the cause (even those surfers making six figures!).

Time to step up for those guys and humanity. They are making the world a
better place. Enclosed is a check for $5,000 as well as a challenge. I
will match every dollar donated up to an additional $5,000 through the end of
this year. Let’s make part of surfing’s legacy that of giving back.

If you print this letter please print my name as anonymous – it’s not about
me, it’s about SurfAid.

At the End of the World, Deep in a Malarial Jungle, A Small Crew of Barefoot Surfing Doctors Just Might Help to Save The World…And Surfing’s Lost Soul.

Straddling a large driftwood teak log washed up on the sinking beach, Yanto lights a black-market Marlboro and checks an incoming swell setting up off E-Bay. He douses the match, takes a long drag and speaks in a low, woody voice.

“The Mentawai people do not want just money,” he says, watching the first wave hike up over the shallow reef and begin steaming north. “They need education and medicine. But they need a plan right from the beginning or you will have another Nias. What they see right now is a lot of money for the boats, but none to cure malaria. They are beginning to question what surfing is doing for them.”

At the end of good day of waves, surfers aboard big white boats, surfed out and satiated with fresh fish, lie under gently flapping tarpaulins sipping cold Bintangs. Only then, in possible moments of bored introspection, they contemplate what lies behind the mute, unbroken wall of primeval jungle barricading the islands less than 100 feet away.

What they don’t realize is that the jungle is looking back. Behind that jungle facade, over 60,000 people exist in virtual isolation from the rest of the western world save an international group of surfing doctors determined to break the cycle of malaria, the TK cause of death in the world.

Yanto, a Mentawai native, tells me that the villagers see the surfers as inconceivably rich. The surfers are big, well fed, rowdy and seemingly don’t have to work to feed their families.

Yanto, 33, was born in Maura Siberut, a small copra port on Siberut’s east side, before there was electricity or even a cash economy. He learned English and how to surf from European hippie backpackers transiting Sumatra 15 years ago. A professional guide, Yanto runs “cultural tours” upriver to remote jungle villages on Siberut, the Mentawai’s largest and most populous island. Under Yanto’s bemused watch, western tourists with a yen for the esoteric can brave dengue fever to swelter in traditional thatched umas watching tattooed shamans in loincloths divine chicken entrails and perform the “Dance of No Meaning.”

Yantos’ feelings for his birthplace are ambivalent. A cultured man with a tailored haircut and a house across the strait in Padang, he receives many of his clients via email. He enjoys good health, alternative rock and air conditioning. He has no desire to grovel in the mud or return to the ghost-filled night forest. He does not hear the calling to become a shaman.

Still, this is his home. He sees the unstoppable mutations globalization is inflicting on his people. A pragmatist, Yanto knows there’s no going back. He reasons that the only thing he might be able to change is change.