And So This Is Christmas…

Christmas day is almost over here in Java, it is just beginning on the other side of the world in Minnesota.

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Every year, my family puts together a card, a collage of pictures that do their best to  sum up the multitude of projects, activities and major events in the lives of the members of the family over the previous 12 months. As we embrace the future (which is better than the alternative…), a webpage has developed parallel to the traditional paper card. Pleas take a look: Meinhover Family 2006 Card, to all our friends and family.

The internet cafe here in South East Asia a source of comfort when feeling the need to escape the reality of my sometimes lonely tropical world, I often enjoy the swinging Minnesotan sounds of RadioK, the University of Minnesota’s awesome student radio station, and The Current, another awesome radion station of Minnesota Public Radio, both of which can be listened to online.

This year I give thanks for those friends that I have made that have made life beautiful.

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Musim Hujan: The Season of Love

Ah yes, the rainy season in Indonesia. Flowers and fruit suddenly hang off the trees in abundance, the air is cleaner and more comfortable, the earth seems suddenly more alive. It’s like a tropical version of Bambi, Disney love ala equitorial island.
But instead of cute little bunny rabits and shy deer, we have… toads. Huge, loud, and bountiful toads.
The sun set last night, a light rain continuing to fall into the evening. It finally subsided, leaving the world of Kukusan damp and cool, in a deep darkness that seemed to absorb all light and sound. Until, all of a sudden, out of this deep calm, rose an orchestra of chirps, croaks and near growls as thousands of toads began emerging from wherever they had been hiding. I walked out of my kos, and the sound reverberated off the walls like a locomotive that never finished passing. At the bottom of the stairs, filling the road and the yard, was an orgy of toad passion, swarms of them ribbitting in passion and ecstacy, ambling clumsily across the pavement or falling into the grass, flinging their massive, gnarley bodies into crowds of their comrades, hoping to land on top of a willing partner.
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And then there are these lovely little fellows, the large-winged, blind-flying insects that have suddenly become ubiquitous. If my sources are correct, they have a life span of about two hours, which is apparently enough time to find a mate, make a whole bunch of babies, fly around and annoy me, crashing into my face once in a while, and then seemingly die in mid-air so that their big wings are scattered all over the floor.
One final note of rainy season wildlife in Jakarta: The gutters, previously dry and supposedly comfortable, are now filled with water on a daily basis. The rats that had been living there, peacefully out of sight, have now taken to the streets in protest. Some the size of a large cat, they are not nearly as shy as one would hope – people living at the street level don’t leave their doors open, anyway…

Notes on Language, Floods and Sambal

An update on the floods in Aceh and North Sumatra, as of Xmas day afternoon. The number of casualties has been raised dramatically since yesterday, and now over 70 are confirmed killed and over 100,000 have fled their homes, most from a single district in Aceh.
Floods raging in Northern Sumatra add a certain element of uncertainty to the trip I am meant to take in a few days. The paper this morning, Kompas, that is, the largest daily in Indonesia, said there were at least 18 dead, 2 missing, and over 70,000 people displaced from their homes. Kasihan mereka. Like Aceh has not received enough “Christmas Presents” in the form of killer natural disasters the past few years…

grafiti

Nothing sums up the Indonesian eating experience like the ubiquitous sambal, or chile sauce, in its infinite forms and flavors and recipes. Above, in its mass produced, bottled form, it is enshrined on a pillar under an underpass of the tollway in South Jakarta, next to the Tama Jagakarsa University campus.

As you dealve in deeper and deeper, it seems that the expanse of language grows wider and wider. Language is indeed a window through which to see the world, and each language offers a language of a different tint.

For example, take the number of different ways that one can talk about “clouds” in Bahasa Indonesia. In general, I think the word is awan. However, there is also mega, but only if it’s a big white fluffy one in a blue sky. There is also gerombolan, if the sky is dark and it is going to rain soon.

There are also a seemingly countless number of ways to talk about death. If you die as the victim of an accident or disaster, you are a korban, if you are killed by a murderer, seorang membunuh anda, you are tewas. If your grandpa dies, he meninggal. If an animal dies, it is mati. I forget the word for someone that dies as a hero, a pahlawan, but there is one… And many others…

Saying Goodbye Sucks

My last bunch of Pisang Ambon, Ambon bananas, from the grinning old man at Pasar Minngu, he and his harvest sitting under a blue tarp where I catch the bus to go back to Depok. My last goodbye with Endri and Imam after a last long night of chatting and tea on the floor of their simple apartment, last wrestling match with little Faiz, my last bakso kampung as we ran out to catch the man pushing his cart by late at night, eating the warm soup with pleasure after the passing of the chilly night rain.

Now back on Jalan Margonda, my last Sunday afternoon at the internet cafe. Time to go home and do the packing of bags that should, I suppose, be done before I walk out the door of my kos, for good.

a day in the life

pirated cd's
“Arghh…” That’s right, it’s the pirate, the multimedia pirate. I guess I won’t venture an opinion about the whole pirated cd, dvd and vcd thing that is so prominent in all the places that I’ve lived in South East Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The opinions amongst my friends and colleagues on the issue range from passionately opposed to the free distribution of media to passionate supporters and practicers of the free-flow of information and entertainment. Who am I to start ruccus? There is the occasional police crackdown, of course; the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia, apparently eager to please international commercial organizations and to cooperate with the foreign governments (the USA) that get really angry with the piracy, order the occasional sweep of street vendors and mall kiosks. The stalls on the street, like this fellow at Pasar Minggu, disappear for a while, but seem to spring up once again in a relatively short time. It’s pretty openly recognized that the actions are largely just for show – governments don’t like bad press, but the occasional story in the international press makes everything seem “all right.” Even if the intentions of the governments are genuine, there is still the problem that local police enforcers make a pretty penny from looking the other way so that the sellers can continue to operate. The law will still make their sweeps, and the vendors will still all pack up and flee in a hurry, but a mysterious call is received on one of the multiple hand phones of the pirates before anything happens, and it seems that no one is ever really caught.

a full train

I took the train into town the other day, to buy my ticket for my little excursion to Jogyakarta. It was the fullest I have ever experienced on the Depok-Jakarta line. I feel so justified after sweating my way through the urban landscape, suffering together with all my fellow human beings. Solidarity!

Elections in Aceh

The first widescale elections in the Indonesian province of Aceh in thirty years seem to have concluded successfully, meaning that a majority have chosen those that are to represent them in government. The question that still remains, however, is whether the establishment of democratic government and the election of new leadership will help the province, which nurtured an unproductive culture of violence and fear during the long war of independence with the Indonesian government before it was devestated by the Asian tsunami in 2004, recover and develop and become a functional unit within larger Indonesia, or whether it will only serve as a new manifestation of a worrisome balance of power status quo.

One of the largest challenges to democracy and peace in Aceh is the empowerment of the civil society that has been suppressed during thirty years of conflict. An elite class and a patron-client system is well established, the powerful maintaining a balance and the poor kept in their place. The new government, along with the disruption to the status quo vis-a-vis the tsunami disaster and the end of the conflict, has an opportunity to reshape the society and promote justice, rights and equality for all.

At this point, it appears that Irwandi Yousuf, a former leader of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), the organization that warred with Indonesia for so long, has been elected as governor of Aceh. “Indonesia’s ex-rebel leader sweeps polls” (gulf news).

Another important unknown in Aceh is how the new government there is going to develop in light of the special powers it has to draft legislation based on Syaria, or Islamic law. This practice, which is illegal in most other Indonesian provinces, is allowed in Aceh by virtue the special autonomy it gained through the peace agreement with Jakarta following the end of the conflict. This is but a single instant, but it could signify the kind of developments that might take place in Aceh, developments that could mean the controversy over the region’s autonomy and new government is far from over. “Draft law calls for amputation of thieves’ hands in Indonesia’s Aceh” (Internatioal Herald Tribune).

Indonesia Damage Report: Human Rights and the Danger of Poverty

The occurance of the International Day of Human Rights on December 10 was observed by a number of people here in Jakarta. The timing of this year’s theme, poverty, could not be more timely in Indonesia. The World Bank recently released a report on Indonesia, saying that poverty was one of the main obstacles to be overcome by Indonesia on its road to economic success. Please see an article in the Tehran Times, “poverty rematins a major challeng to Indonesia: World Bank.”

homeless man at staseun tebet

A homeless man, sitting at the Tebet bus station

While I may not agree with the ideology or methods of international financial istitutions like the World Bank on all occasions, I can certainly agree with the assessment that a focus on increasing the lot of all people, especially the poor, is absolutely vital to the success of any country. Indonesia is definitely on a track to become a more and more powerful economy – however, a majority of the people here are in danger of not benifitting from that growing economy. As it is, only a few, elite and powerful, actors are in a position to be involved in growth and development. The development of Indonesia’s economy has to occur in a way that lets the majority of Indonesians participate and benefit, not in a way that further concentrates wealth and control. The level of poverty is a threat to the very functioning of a healthy civil society.

A civil society that is not healthy is a breeding ground for instability, violence, and could surely be identified as one of the root causes for the form of terrorism that the Western world is so frightened of in this age of globalization.

Speaking of civil society, today is also a monumental day in Aceh because the first election in over 30 years is a part of the long process of civil society revitalization after so many years of conflict. The ability to communicate, organize and take action within a democratic environment is essential to a productive society.

As of now, it appears that the elections are going to occur successfully. Actually, several of the leaders of the former Free Aceh Movement are running in the election to fill important government posts.

My friend, whose birthday is today, was born in Aceh and is there today, participating in that province’s first election during his lifetime. He is celebrating his 30th birthday – he was born the same year that the conflict in Aceh, between the Indonesian military and GAM, the Free Aceh Movement. Today is not only a celebration of the start of his life, but the start of a new life for all the people in Aceh.

Here is an article from the Jakarta Post today: (Click link here aceh election jkta post 11 Dec.txt)

Acehnese vote for peace
Nani Afrida and Ati Nurbaiti
, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh, December 11, 2006.

Signs of the Post-national

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Signs of the “post-national” are everywhere around us, whether you’re here in Indonesia or on the other side of the world in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Having gone to the Chinese embassy in Jakarta today to apply for a visa, it is still very obvious that the nation-state goes a very long way in defining who we are and how we interact with others in this world. However, signs that the borders between these states are getting hazy, that culture and capital and everything else is flowing around the globe with increasing fluidity are unavoidable.

As President Bush listens to the recommendations of the special committee on Iraq, the conflict in the Middle East gives some interesting insight into how we are all connected.

The Indonesian relationship with the crisis in the Middle East is complex. On the one hand, Indonesia is a proud member of the United Nations and actively participates in a dialogue about the promotion of peaceful global resolution and the promotion of human rights around the world, even as it struggles with problems of its own. On the other hand, there is most definitely an affinity felt by the majority of Indonesians, based on a shared religion and identities as “third world” countries. In both cases, Indonesians feel very strongly about finding a resolution to the conflicts that they see killing people every day. Both of these identities seem to find conflict with the United States, for people often see America’s policy as harming both multi-lateral peace-building efforts as well as being disproportionately hostile and even arrogant towards third-world countries (who they feel the USA is trying to dominate) and the Islamic world (who they feel is the target of aggression from America).the girls of protest.jpg

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What are Indonesians saying about the recommendations, and what do they think the Bush administration is going to do? The most striking headline that I saw today was that the report urged the administration to find resolutions to the problems in Iraq as far as the US was concerned, but not go so far as to resolve the problems in Iraq. In other words, people see the United States as making an attempt to cut and run, to get out, brush off the dust and walk away from the country as its cities continue to burn and bombs continue to explode.

The Indonesian president SBY has recently announced a possible plan that will involve Indnosia in the conflict in Iraq. One of the proposals is to send forces into the country from Muslim countries.

“Indonesia proposes Muslim-led intervention force for chaotic Iraq” Endy M. Bayuni and Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Bandung muslim force in iraq.htm

“We’re friends to the Iraqis, and we’re a friend of the United States too, and of all the parties directly involved in the conflict,” said Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda. “There has to be something that we can contribute.”

Human Rights Photography: Part II

poverty is a violation of human rights

Last night was another event for International Human Rights Day (Hari Internasional HAM), which is being held on December 10th this year. The event, sponsored by the Indonesian National Committee on Human Rights (KOMNAS HAM), included the viewing of a documentary film, “War Photographer,” about an American photographer that uses his photos of poverty and conflict in a hope to raise peoples’ concern for Human Rights.

The theme of this year’s Human Rights day is, of course, Poverty – an issue that is so very important and so horrifically present here in Indonesia. For a third night in a row, students, artists, journalists, researchers and others gathered at Gedung dua8 in Kemand Utara to learn about and celebrate Human Rights, and to promote the urgency of action in Indonesia. The week of events is organized by students from the Jakarta school of Journalism, where my friend Muni is studying photojournalism.

As I talked with Muni, I could definitely relate to the passion she expressed about her goals of taking pictures that mean something, shaping the world by shaping the way people see it, what they see, so that they become more human and are moved to make their world a more humanitarian one. Many of her photographs that were displayed in the gallery there were of poverty, the old women that dig through trash behind the train station at Cawang, children knocking on car windows asking for money.

I asked her how hard it was to stand there, taking pictures of people that have so much less, seeing human suffering and interacting wtih it by photographing it. She replied that it was very hard, that sometimes she felt aweful – but that her pictures could, in a grander sense, change the world for people like that.

Then, as we watched the documentary about the war time photographer, as he walked through piles of rotting bodies in Kosovo, I leaned closer to her wide-eyed face and asked her whether she could do that. She raised her eyebrows, unsure, and let out a deep sigh. Indeed, talking about poverty, human rights, human suffering is one thing. Confronting it face to face and doing something is truly another.
Poverty as a human rights issue: from Kerry Collison webpage- an observer of Indonesia.

Vital Information

picture of ted from veena

From the unplanned beauty of the urban chaos Jakarta, in the midst of a city where it never pays to be in a hurry, I share with you some of the websites that have struck my interest as of late.

Go Kunming. A blog for expats living in Kunming, the capital city of the Yunnan province, in Southern China. This is the city, of course, in which I will be spending the second half of my year abroad.

Bartele’s Expat newsletter. The owner of a bar in Jakarta, been around for a long time.

Kerry B Collison. Current affairs and event alerts, in Indonseia. This guy has a very interesting history, and has turned his past into a very interesting and, by the looks of it, prosperous present.

Tea Birds. A blog, nothing but pictures of girls tea’ing.

Travelling Shoes. A very strange, very cool photo gallery.

A Day in the Life of a Food Ninja. What could be more fun. This page is kind of lame, but there are some cool links. And I just can’t help it, I like the title.

Warren Ellis‘ blog. The man is brilliant and crude. If you have any taste for comics, bow down…

JakartAss. Somebody’s blog, about living in Jakarta. I can relate.

Peter Pan, my favorite Indonesian pop band. Everyone’s favorite Indonesian pop band…