Debbie Martyr of FFI
Three am in a share taxi from Padang to Kerinci. The drive should take seven hours but we’ve already done that, with two hours to go, because the driver keeps stopping for caffeine injections (otherwise known as coffee) because he drove down yesterday (275km) and was told to drive straight back with tonight’s passengers because there was no replacement driver (again).
Under such circumstances sleep is not the best possible option, not least since one wants to be able to gracefully abandon ship if the share-taxi looks like going over a cliff or, almost as bad, crash into a roadside sate stall (imagine, the utter ignominy of dying covered n turmeric-flavoured peanut sauce).
The share taxi is empty except for the driver and a man picked up a few minutes ago who transpires to be driver’s younger brother hitching a lift back to Kerinci for the weekend. Salutations are exchanged and I shut one eye and pretend to sleep while watching, with the other, for cliffs, sleeping waterbuffalo in middle of road not to mention mobile sate stalls.
Then I wake up. I can’t help it. The brothers are using a north Kerinci dialect but the words ‘dealer’ and ‘tiger’ and ‘skin’ and ‘price’ are a great deal more effective than ginseng coffee with condensed milk at the restaurant in Sungai Kalu as a wake me-up.
For the next 15 minutes they discuss how to find somebody prepared to pay more than the $1150 for a tiger skin that younger brother (who works for an organization that really shouldn’t be involved in illegal activities) has been offered, to date, as intermediary or broker for poacher.
‘Share taxi’ driver suggests various names, younger brother sighs and responds by citing the price offered by x, y and z (one of whom the team didn’t know dabbled in the trade). Share taxi driver says he will try and help but is dangerous. They are then very rude – or very complimentary –depending on ones perspective, about the Kerinci tiger team.
No arrests yet, on this one (investigations, as they say, proceed) but a similar incident a couple of years back at a hotel in Padang where I spent a spell-bound hour listening to two men discussing a tiger skin for sale and how they could safely get it out of the area, led directly to the arrest of two tiger poachers.
I think there are some valuable lessons in this one, firstly, never assume that the ‘stupid foreigner’ on the next door table or seat behind you in the share-taxi doesn’t understand every word you are saying. Second, in England, perhaps better to use somebody from Siulak who speaks good English to get ‘the story’ for next week’s front page splash than hacking into people’s voice mail and ending up on everybody else’s front page.