Archive for October, 2006

Sholat Idul Fitri, Purwokerto

pohon mangga di kampung The mango trees in Suroto’s mother’s kampung (village) are loaded, providing one of the pleasure of life there, with unlimited mango asem and spicy/ sweet sambal, as well as one of the nuisances, with mangos constantly falling to the street and in yards, splattering their juice on the ground or denting the tops of heads.

candy sholat.jpg

Hari Raya Idul Fitri, the end of Ramadan, marked the beginning of the Indonesian Lebaran holiday, and was a fantistic experience for me. I spent the week in Purwokerto, a few hours East of Bandung and West of Jogyakarta in Java.

One of the more interesting events for me was the prayer on the morning of the first day of Lebaran, the Sholat Idul Fitri. Masses gather at mosques all around, but the largest gathering occurs each year at the Alun-Alun, the large field in front of the town’s government center and central mosque. This is the tradition all around Indonesia, in every city or town. We woke at 5:30 in the morning to make our way there, finding a parking place for Suroto’s motor bike in the crowd. He donned his prayer mat and topi, and I stayed as inconspicuous as possible towards the back of the crowd.

white clothes sholat idul fitri

The traditional clothing worn by women when praying made a sea of white, a massive wave sweeping across its surface as everyone bowed down in unison. After the formal prayer, however, the sea erupted in color as the coverings were taken off.

after prayer sholat idul fitri

Local Politics

You will be happy to check out the Doonesberry strip for today, Sunday, 29 October 2006.

This is an article about the Chinese province of Yunnan, in the South West of the coutry, where I am going to spend the second half of my year abroad. I’m going to be studying at Yunnan University, in the capitol city of Kunming. Thought the article was interesting. “China’s 20 year growth spurt”

There was an aweful accident a few days ago, here in Purwokerto, the very city that I have spent the past week. Scary enough, a bridge collapsed in the same park, Batu Raden, that we had visited the day before. “The fatality has become seven, two of those injured have died,” Police chief of Baturaden district of the province named only Sudrajad told Xinhua by telephone.
I spent my holiday in the city of Purwokerto, a four-hour drive to the East of Jakarta along the recently constructed toll road. A graduate of Jenderal Soedirman University there and long-time local activist and business-person, his network is comprised of intellectuals, politicians and religious leaders. Following him as he made his rounds of visits with friends and associates that he has not seen since he left town a few months ago, I gained an insight into the workings of local Indonesian political culture that has been altogether enlightening, has deepened my appreciation for the complexities of Indonesia, and has pointed out some of the promises and dangers in the rapid development of the young democracy of this crucial country.

more on that later…

Lebaran Damage Report

October 19, 2006                    Indonesian Holidays                  Ted Meinhover

selamat lebaran

Ah yes, it’s Christmas time once again. Everyone has a vacation from school, families pack into cars or board airplanes for long journeys to grandma’s house, back to the hometown. People are in a frenzy to stock up on excessive amounts of food and necessities, anticipating the few days of the year when stores will close down. Mothers and grandmas conspire in preparation for grand feasts, refusing to alter generations-old recipes, even though Cousin Amy is going to bring a tofu-turkey for her vegan diet anyway. Children dream of gifts to be unwrapped.

But it’s not Christmas at all – it’s not even December. And this is certainly not snowy Minnesota – the tree branches hang heavy with mangoes and coconuts. This is Indonesia, and this is Lebaran.

The end of the work day on Friday, October 20, is the beginning of Mudik, the Indonesian tradition of “balik kampung,” or returning to one’s hometown to celebrate Idul Fitri, or Lebaran, the end of Ramadan. Indonesian Muslims (which make up 90 percent of the fourth largest population in the world) have been fasting for a whole month, the holiest month on the Islamic calendar. They are eager to return home and celebrate its conclusion with friends, family, and lots of traditional and not so traditional foods.

traffic jam

The traditional balik kampung, Mudik, inspires mass movement within the Indonesian population. Although there were classes today, the University of Indonesia here in Jakarta was virtually empty. The capital city draws people from all over the Indonesian archipelago, which is made up of over 16,000 separate islands. Jakarta becomes a ghost town for a week as its millions of inhabitants flood back to their respective towns and villages and islands. This mass movement presents challenges to the country’s infrastructure as well as the patience of every individual. The systems that connect the country, including trains, highways, boats and airplanes, are not entirely well developed, an important consideration in light of the prediction that 15 million people will be moving within the same moment this year.

I don’t hesitate to call it chaos, even insanity – but it is a good chaos, a well practiced chaos, a holiday chaos. The government makes proclamations and it dominates the headlines for a month every year, and then it’s over.

And people deal with it, suffering together. Stories of 18 hour train rides from Surabaya to Jakarta with nothing to do but stand upright in the crowd, wedged between a newborn and a chain smoker, are not uncommon. The traffic jams are an unavoidable reality. Transportation in Indonesia requires patience and endurance in the first place – during Lebaran, they are the only way to making it through the experience without coming to despise the world.

In a country where the majority has to work very hard for what they have, where not much is easy, reaching your destination at all is the important thing. The struggle to get there is what life is all about. I anticipate the solidarity I will build with the Indonesian masses as I follow my friend to his hometown, halfway across the large island of Java. Perhaps by suffering together, by sweating together, we can come to understand each other a little more.

Ted Meinhover 

Indonesia On the UN Security Council

Some News Links on INDONESIA:

Indonesia vows to maintain religious pluralism

Indonesia to Join UN Security Council

Global Indonesia: Indonesia Takes Seat on the UN Security Council

Ted Meinhover

Indonesia recently won a seat on the UN Security Council. It will join the Council for one year beginning in January 2007. Indonesia was chosen with over 80 percent of the votes at the 61st session of the United Nations General Council on Monday in New York.

Although temporary, it is an opportunity for Indonesia to nurture its maturing role as a member of the global community, strengthen its own young democracy, and manifest its aspirations to engage in international relations that are mutually beneficial.

Indonesia’s politicians are sold on the mission of the United Nations to promote global peace, and are committed to being part of making that mission a reality, even as the country struggles with its own domestic problems such as poverty.

Indonesia has the opportunity to play an important role in contemporary conflicts due to the fact that it is an overwhelmingly Islamic country. The country is committed to establishing itself as a member of the global community, modern country with progressive policies, and it also shares an Islamic identity with many who currently suffer from conflict. The country has very strong ties with countries in the Middle East as well as countries in Europe, Asia, and America.

Indonesia is also an important player regionally, in Asia, where the world is facing the serious issue of North Korea.

Both the Middle East and North Korea have become major global issues that threaten global security. This was recognized by Indonesia’s vice president Kalla on his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, as well as President Yudyohano. “With Indonesia in the Security Council, we have to be serious in our international dealings. We have to reinforce peace processes in all regions, and promote global stability,” Kalla said.

Political Cartoonography and Bubur Kacang Ijo

Not that I would ever advocate a political position, especially not a controversial one; even suggesting one is the farthest thing from from my mind…

However, you might want to check out the current story line in the Doonesbury. Don’t tell, but he is writing about how fear is leading us to make destructive decisions. Metaphorically, of course. I prefer the daily dose on the NYTimes website
Otherwise, I think that has a good archive – you can see the days that you may have missed.


Also, for those of you you that may not have wandered the streets of Jakarta, feeling the cool air of the morning before the day begins to swell with heat, finding a rickety bench at the warkop for a bowl of sweet and awesomely amazing Bubur Kacang Ijo, here is a link to a simple recipe. Bubur Kacang Ijo!!!

Who’s Afraid? Indonesian Radicalism, unifinished

Download this piece: Siapa Takut? Who’s Afraid?
“Siapa Takut?”

Imagine you’re playing a game of checkers. Better yet, go find your neighbor or roommate, ask him or her to join you for a round; it’s fun and you should be more social anyway. Your pieces are black. Your opponent’s pieces, however, begin to change colors, morphing from a homogenous team of red circles to a variety of shades. There are some blue, some brown, some green, some seem to waiver in between. The color of some of your pieces seems to change a little bit as well, until the end of your team and the beginning of your enemy’s is unclear.

Living and studying here in Indonesia, the world often feels like a game in which the rules, playing field and teams are blurred and constantly shifting. The causes of and solutions to the challenges facing me and my generation, including global terrorism, environmental degradation, massive inequalities, and the real cause of yesterday’s diarrhea leave me in a state of constant awe as I navigate this foreign land. My faith in humanity strong, I am convinced that we all truly desire and will aspire toward universal social justice, if only given the chance. Each evening I find myself still clinging to this formerly irrepressible optimism, but somewhat desperately as another day of dirty Jakarta air and depressing news reports about the rise of militant Islam threaten to drain me of hope and happiness.

It is the fasting month for a majority of Indonesians, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan for a global community of believers, and with its observance the contradictions and ambiguities run rampant in Jakarta. Families make merry, taking advantage of the holiday super-sales at the grocery stores, preparing for the week-long Idul Fitri celebration – everyone who can will “balik kampung,” return to their home towns. Stores will close for a week, and families will gather and make up for the fasting of the past month. The night air is filled with the long prayers from the mosque and the early mornings are filled with more of the same. The day begins at 3 A.M. with Sahur, the meal and prayers before beginning the day’s fasting; people prepare for the inner struggle against the temptation of excess and seek a spiritual peace within the world’s chaos. Meanwhile the newspaper headlines blare out their reminders of the bombings that have occurred during this time each year, starting with Bali in 2002, reminding all of a boiling hatred that contradicts the spirit of the holiday.

Coming from the perspective of an American in Indonesia, my participation in this public discourse on terrorism both builds solidarity with my local friends and strengthens the obvious divisions between us. The common wisdom, of course, is that the “terrorists” are people that share a radical form of Islam and have become militant against what they see as a threat to their religion. In a country with the largest Muslim population in the world, a shared identity through religion makes the situation all the more complex; that is one of the strengths of the terrorists, that they can claim to be representing the 90 percent Islamic majority. However, the vast majority of Indonesian Muslims disagrees with the interpretation of these radicals and strongly condemns the use of violence. Even Muslims that are seen as extremely pious, leaders who preach the fundamentals of the faith and are highly respected in society certainly do not advocate violence or radicalism.

The Islamic organization Mohamadia and the Jakarta-based Center for Moderate Muslims (, for example, are led by some of the most respected religious leaders in Indonesia. They actively promote a progressive, tolerant and peaceful Islam, in Indonesia and around the world. One of CMM’s activities is to work with the many Islamic primary schools in Indonesia to promote modern curriculums as well as tolerance in terms of religion. Especially in poverty stricken areas, these Islamic religious schools, or pesantren, can be the only formal education available, and are vulnerable to influence from radicals that take advantage of the opportunity to spread their ideology.

This radical ideology is one that is challenging Indonesian tradition, however; Mohamadia and NU or Nahdlatul Ulama claim a joint membership comprises a majority of Indonesia’s population. This majority, in fact, practices a very moderate form of Islam, and the country and culture prides itself on its pluralism, its commitment to democracy, and its tolerance. In a recent poll, a vast majority said that they were not in favor of the implementation of Islamic Sharia law in Indonesia, for example. The implementation of this Islamic law is seen as one of the main goals of those willing to use violence in the promotion of their religion. Indonesia’s constitution today recognizes religion, but does not allow for religious law to become part of national law.

Being a strong Muslim in Indonesia is far from being a radical and does not mean a person has any sympathy for Islamic terrorists. Among Indonesians that I have spoken with, most are as afraid as the foreigners of these radicals and the bombs that they have used; they see them as a threat to their way of life and the unity of their country and its shaky democracy, as well as an affront to their religion. “Siapa Takut,” Who’s Afraid, is the slogan that you can see posted around the capital city, on billboards and in newspapers and magazines.

Terrorism in Indonesia is both a domestic problem and part of a global phenomenon. The country suffers from massive social and economic disenfranchisement, with a ruling elite and oppressed poor; these lines of disparity and conflict can often be drawn along religious and ethnic lines. Generally low levels of education and widespread government corruption exacerbate and reinforce the problem. All of these conditions can lend themselves to extremism if left unchecked and allowed to ferment. Stopping terrorism, at least in a reactive way, is a mainstay in the government’s rhetoric; officials and national police spokespeople frequent the news media on the subject. However, more needs to be done to combat the basic social problems of poverty and education.

Terrorism and its roots are hardly simply domestic, however, although the domestic conditions increase its volatility. Islamic movements here in Indonesia did not become violent before the 1980s brought contact with outsiders from places like Afghanistan and Egypt, when an international ideology focusing on combating a Western influence began to bloom. Religion becomes an effective, border-crossing solidarity-builder and commitment-holder, especially when a common enemy can be constructed. This solidarity is strengthened with the fractious issue of Palestine, and even more so since the invasions of the predominantly Muslim countries of Afghanistan, Iraq and recently Lebanon.

A strategic and security research group in Jakarta, CSIS, says that bombings in Indonesia have been related to anti-Western, or more specifically anti-American, sentiment. Even as a majority rejects extremism and violence, even centrists are still put off by a negative perception of American greed, arrogance and carelessness.

It’s difficult for me to accept that a place becomes a terrorist target simply because it is frequented by “bule,” Caucasian foreigners, or even because it has restaurants or stores identified as Western – in fact, one analysis defined a terror target as “anywhere that provides a space for American or Western interests.” I feel that a certain naivety on my part, one that has made my life and travels so successful and fun, is no longer possible, and it pisses me off.

Many of the people I am meeting and the events that I am seeing offer a great deal of hope, revitalizing that goodness of humanity that I want so much to embrace. Many here recognize the delicate nature of Indonesia’s young democracy and our diverse world, and believe their religion has a peaceful place within it. A constant dialogue goes on in the press and at the universities regarding Islam, Indonesia’s pluralist society, and the challenges to making it all work within a peaceful and just democracy. Invited into homes for dinner, perhaps to break the fast, I have never experienced anything but smiles and hospitality. There may be a lively discussion around America’s foreign policy, and Western-based multi-national corporations may be demonized, but I am recognized as an individual.

And so, faced with so many ambiguities and insecurities, we find ourselves squatting under a mango tree, sweating in the shade, playing a game of checkers with the neighbor who is cracking jokes in Indonesian that laugh at, pretending we understand – or at least that’s where I find myself. Either way, we’re both staring at the board, trying to figure out the teams, looking for the next perfect move.

Apa Kabar?

As the sun rises to its peak in the late morning, the world of urban Indonesia can turn unbearably hot, something agreed upon by the bule and locals alike. This explains some of the excess, I suppose, when it comes to the use of air conditioners in some offices, buildings and public transportations. It was necessary to buy a hat last time I rode the train.
the hat of ted's head

This was a great response that i received regarding my last post. Environmental degradation is one of those things that is so omnipresent, that affects our lives so much and that we all know is horible, but is so complex and massive a problem that most of us just prefer not to talk about it, until it’s put right in front of our face.

“It’s sad, but I don’t think most people
consider the tough realities of living in a 2nd or 3rd world metropolis, or
those forces that have compelled (forced) individuals who’s families have
been tied to rural lands for centuries to move to these urban jungles.
There’s something very unnatural about it that seems to screams to the
western world to “wake-up”, only to fall upon the deaf ears of those too
obsessed with the great deceiver “the material world” to listen. Maybe
someday this will change…it will have too right?”

And another response:

“Mere wallowing in sorrow is one thing, but it seems that articulating a response to what you find depressing (the fog of the engines of corporate, industrial, money-generating power) is a very, very good use of your time, as well as mine as a reader.

Of course human innovations crafted in response to the harshest urban places can be very beautiful, and downright incredible, but that beauty of course does not excuse, or validate the inhumane conditions that spur humans to try to live well, or as best they can, within them. I mean, such innovations (the homes and living arrangements people can make as squatters, or in slums can be amazing)  may validate human struggles, and human abilities to endure, to be sure. But only focusing on such things is a distraction from the real need to critique the love lacking of one human for another that allows the atrocity of people living in urban oblivion in the first place. ”

Me and pals in BIPA classThis is me and a few of my Korean classmates. Their families are working in Jakarta, I believe, and they are taking this class to learn he language a bit, since they’re living here anyway, i guess… Class is going well, though as usual it seems to be more of a supplement to rest of the awesome things that I seem to run into each day. Four day week this week, then I enter the massive crowd that will spread out from Jakarta as they ‘balik kampung,’ go home for the Lebaran holiday.

An Evil Wind in Jakarta

Going to the countryside, a small town, the highlands, is like hiding yourself in some quiet place to be alone to wait for the last stages of some fatal disease to run its course. It’s like staring at a lone bright spot as darkness closes all around. The march of environmental degradation in Indonesia makes up so much of the lifestyle for me, and its progressive march seems unstoppable.

At times, when eyes sting and nostrils burn, this simple fact of life makes me feel like Jakarta has changed, even in my short time here. I feel less healthy, weaker; I feel less hope. It truly lowers the quality of life for the people here. In my daily experience, there is no such thing as a refuge, a quiet place to ponder, a soft patch of grass to sunbathe on. Everywhere is the explosions of man’s machinery and its slimy residue; at the very least, the boom and scream of motorbikes is never far. Looking across the lake in the campus’s park at dawn, a haze already blankets the world in the morning light. Open fires are omnipresent, in neighborhoods and in the middle of the city – with so many people in Java, so little space, and such poor public services, there is nowhere else for the trash to go.

When I do finally get out of the city, visiting friends and their families in Klaten or in Purwokerto, breathing the fresher air, feeling a cool and moist breeze on my skin for once, it’s like drinking a wheatgrass shot with a fresh squeezed orange juice chaser, breathing from a tank of pure oxygen, and injecting adrenaline-laced Redbull through an IV tube. And then, after the high, you’re left with an immense sadness, because you can feel the cloud of slime creeping its way over the archipelago, towards the trees and blue sky.

And that does not even scratch the surface of what’s going on in places like Borneo, Papua, Sumatra, where so much forest and irreplaceable jungle is getting raped and torched every day. There are many battles to be fought in any attempt to solve or at least slow this problem, everything from poverty to corrupt government, to the presence of unethical multinational corporations to overpopulation, as well as traditional practice and the need to feed the world. More often though it seems to be the calling of a quick buck.

Anyway, sorry for the depressing thoughts. That’s just one of the downsides, amidst a lot of upsides, I assure you. A couple of related articles that popped up today, below.

I try not to send too many emails, wouldn’t want to clutter your in box- even the crazy and bizarre becomes boring after a while, if it becomes to routine! Hope you all are well. Talk to you soon. Ted Andy

Indonesia apologises for polluting its neighbours

Plane falls off runway because of haze

A long day

Here’s a story about the anniversary of the bombings in Bali.

Have you ever lay on a concrete floor, too tired to do anything to relieve your discomfort and too uncomfortable to actually sleep, the air literally sticking to your skin, ravaged by vicious nyamuk, mosquitos?
Well, you should try it; it means that you’ve had, if not a productive, at least a busy day.
I followed my friend, the journalist and activist, to a discussion in Central Jakarta yesterday afternoon, hanging on to the back of his motorbike as we zigzagged through the chaos of Jakarta traffic until we arrived at the hotel conference room full of NGO activists, academics, and government officials. They were discussing how to best design government policy so that all the seperate and unique Daerah, separate areas that make up Indonesia, can function and provide necessary services in this era of decentralization in the country – without the country falling apart of course. Before Reformasi it was not an issue, because the authoritarian government did not allow for any regional autonomy, but simply suppressed them and extracted wealth from them.
I spent the night with him at his small, 2 room concrete flat in the middle of his South Jakarta neighborhood, playing ping pong in the alley, meeting the neighbors were always outside, grabbing bowls of bakso kampung as the candle lit vendors passed by. Chatting, chatting, chatting. Very few doors in the kampung remain closed very long, especially during the steamy city night, especially during Ramadan when everything comes alive at night. We talked all night, and of course Sahur, the meal and prayer before the fasting of the day begins, is around 3 am. Imam put me on the back of his motorbike once again around 6, driving me through the cool morning air back to the University of Indonesia so that I could go back to class. It’s been a long day.