In 1980 seven-year-old Sabine Kuegler and her family went to live in a remote jungle area of West Papua among the recently discovered Fayu - a tribe untouched by modern civilisation. Her childhood was spent hunting, shooting poisonous spiders with arrows and chewing on pieces of bat-wing in place of gum. She also learns how brutal nature can be - and sees the effect of war and hatred on tribal peoples.
After the death of her Fayu-brother, Ohri, Sabine decides to leave the jungle and, aged seventeen, she goes to a boarding school in Switzerland - a traumatic change for a girl who acts and feels like one of the Fayu. 'Fear is something I learnt here' she says. 'In the Lost Valley, with a lost tribe, I was happy. In the rest of the world it was I who was lost.'
Here is Sabine Kuegler's remarkable true story of a childhood lived out in the Indonesian jungle, and the struggle to conform to European society that followed.
|Publisher:||Little, Brown and Company|
|Product dimensions:||4.90(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
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Child of the JungleThe True Story of a Girl Caught Between Two Worlds
By Sabine Kuegler
WARNER BOOKSCopyright © 2005 Droemersche Verlagsantalt Th. Knaur Nachf
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMY STORY
Germany, 1989. It is the beginning of October, and I am seventeen years old. The clothes I am wearing were given to me-dark, oversized pants held in place by a brown belt, a striped pullover that hangs down almost to my knees, and ankle-high shoes that are causing me great discomfort. I have hardly ever worn real shoes before, so this is a new kind of pain for me. The jacket I am wearing looks like something from another generation-it's dark blue with a hood that falls over my eyes when I try to put it on.
I am shivering from the cold; the icy wind is biting into my ears and nose. My hands have gone numb. Having barely known the winter, I don't know how to dress properly and do not have on gloves or a vest or even a hat.
I am at the central train station in Hamburg. I gasp as a bitter wind whistles past, clenching me in its icy embrace. It is shortly past nine or maybe ten, I don't remember anymore. Someone had dropped me off at the station with instructions about how to find the right train. So confusing, so many numbers involved. After some time, I find the right platform-number 14. Clenching my small bag tightly against me, I put down the suitcase containing the few possessions I was able to bring with me. I look at the ticket in my hand for the hundredth time, trying to memorize the number of the train car. Terribly nervous, with all my senses on overload, I carefully watch the unfamiliar white faces swirling around me, ready to defend myself should anyone attack me. But no one seems to even notice me.
An announcement blares through the speakers, but before I can understand it, the message is swallowed by commotion around me. Wide-eyed, I watch the scenario unfolding in front of me.
Then, for the first time in my life, I come face to face with a real train. It comes rushing toward me so fast, I step back in fright. This train looks different from those I had seen in pictures. It doesn't even have a smokestack. Instead, it is big and ominous, like a long, white snake slithering out of a black hole.
When the train finally draws to a halt, people start pushing and shoving to get on. I hang back for a few seconds, motionless, forgetting the cold as I stare with a mixture of curiosity and fear at the sight in front of me. A number on the side of the train car catches my eye. I compare it with the number on my ticket and realize they are not the same. I look to the left and then to the right. The train seems to go on forever. Blindly, I turn and hurry to the end of the train. Suddenly, there is a whistle; I startle and frantically look around. A man in uniform is holding up a strange baton. I start to panic when I realize that this must have something to do with the train's departure. Jumping through the nearest door, I get aboard just in time. The train is already starting to move.
Standing still for a moment, I am unsure of what to do next. My heart is beating so quickly. I spot what seem to be doors connecting the cars, so I set off toward the front of the train, making sure not to make eye contact with any of the passengers as I pass. I start sweating as I push my way forward; there seems to be no end to the line of cars. Suddenly, I find myself in a car that looks nicer than the ones I had passed through earlier; it's the first-class car. I have reached the front of the train and still not found the right number! My eyes fill with tears.
At that moment, a man comes out of a compartment and notices me. I turn away quickly, but he still approaches me, asking if he can help. I glance at him; he looks to be in his thirties and is wearing a dark business suit. He has brown hair, and his eyes are a brilliant blue. I show him the ticket and ask if he knows where to find the car with this number.
A man in uniform comes walking down the aisle and joins us. When asked if he can help, he glances at my ticket and tells me in an offhand manner that I am on the wrong train. I feel the color drain out of my face. Noticing my fear, the conductor quickly tries to calm me down by explaining that there are two trains going to the same destination. Struggling to contain overwhelming panic, I ask him what I should do. He instructs me to get off at the next stop and take the next incoming train on the same platform. After checking the ticket of the blue-eyed man next to me, the conductor says good-bye and moves on. Standing alone with this stranger on a dark train in a foreign country, I feel a wave of helplessness and vulnerability wash over me. Wild fears of rape and murder shoot through my mind. All the terrifying stories I had heard, the dangers of this modern world suddenly seem much more real now. How can I protect myself? I have no bow and arrow or even a knife on me.
The man smiles at me and asks if I would like to join him in his compartment until the next station. I shake my head, saying that I would prefer to stand in the corridor. He tries again, explaining that I would be much more comfortable seated in a compartment. Now I am convinced he is dangerous and up to no good. I say no, pick up my suitcase, and take refuge in the little corridor between the cars. He follows, asking where I am from. Hamburg, I tell him, my voice shaking, silently praying that he goes away.
To my great relief, the train starts slowing down. I am standing at the exit door of the train car, but when the train comes to a stop, I suddenly realize I don't know how to open the door. I panic-what do I have to do, push or pull? I rattle the door handle harder, but nothing happens. The stranger reaches past me and pulls a red lever, opening the door. A gust of bitter wind blows into my face. What a relief to see the platform in front of me! One step and I will be out of danger. I mutter a quick thanks and clamber outside. As the door closes behind me, I turn to catch the last glimpse of the stranger at the window of the departing train.
There is no one else on the platform. It looks deserted and dark apart from a few dim lights above me. I start to shiver again. I can hear my teeth chattering and find myself longing for the comforting heat of the rain forest. I do not know what city I am in or what I will do if the next train doesn't come. Will I freeze to death here?
After what seems like an eternity, the next train finally arrives. This time, I am relieved to find the right car. I get on and notice a rack in the corridor filled with suitcases. Though I am convinced that my luggage will be stolen since I cannot guard it from my seat, I leave it there. By now I simply don't care anymore. My legs feel weak, my feet hurt, and I am exhausted.
Sitting down, I look for a seat belt but cannot find one, so I check the seat next to me. None there either. I look around and notice that no one is wearing a seat belt. This strikes me as odd, but maybe it is the way things are done here. After all, this country is foreign to me, even if my passport says I belong here.
Still shivering, I settle down. The gentle movement of the train starts to calm me. I take my shoes off and tuck my feet up under me to warm them, pulling my jacket tight around me. I gaze out the window and notice the moon. It looks so small and dim, like a fading flower. My eyes fill with tears that run down my cold cheeks. Even the moon here is a stranger to me, so unlike the one I am accustomed to. The moon I know is proud, so full of life and strength that its brightness casts my shadow on the ground.
I wearily lay my head back and close my eyes. The train continues to pick up speed. In my mind, I leave this cold, dark place and flee back into the familiar. Blue, white and green colors drift past my mind's eye. I am flying back into the warmth. The sun is shining, and its rays are flying with me. They dance around me, wrapping my whole body in their welcoming embrace. Visions of green fields envelop me, followed by colorful towns full of people, and then deep, dark valleys with narrow rivers etched through them. I can see the dense vegetation of great forests rolling their way over land.
Then the sea, vast and shimmering, stretching out beyond the endless horizon. And finally my beloved jungle with proud, tall trees forming a beautiful emerald carpet as far as the eye can see. This is a sight I have seen many times but which never fails to fill me with awe. The mighty jungle of West Papua. The lost valley. My home!
Excerpted from Child of the Jungle by Sabine Kuegler Copyright © 2005 by Droemersche Verlagsantalt Th. Knaur Nachf. Excerpted by permission.
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