International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, 2006

KOMNAS HAM foto exhibit

I told a friend of mine about this event that I attended last night, the kick off of KOMNAS HAM’s (Indonesian National Committee on Human Rights) campaign against poverty in Indonesia, as part of International Human Rights day 2006. His response was one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking that I’ve gotten. He said he wasn’t sure whether humans were even capable of reaching such a place, but the song is worth singing anyway:

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

My friend Muni has her photographs on display in the photo exhibit at the event, and she invited me to the opening of the galery. It is being held all week at Gedung Dua8 (Building 28), in North Kemang in Jakarta.

muni and her photograph, Human Rights event, Kemang, Dec 4 2006

Ironically, one of the most affluent parts of the capital city is the host of this event which is meant to educate about and build the campaign against the poverty that is plagueing Indonesia, to the point of threatening the very stability of the country.

We can only hope that it’s a place to start. I have faith.

Indonesian Damage Report: Spice, Currency, Condoms

I hate to say it, but I am kind of glad that I am leaving Jakarta before the worst of the rainy season. Precipitation is predicted to peak sometime next month, so I hear. Reading the paper today, there were no less than seven or eight stories that had something to do with the impending disasters that inevitably accompony the rainy season. The city simply does not have the infrastructure to deal with the water, and I am told that finding yourself waist deep somewhere in the middle of the city is not a stretch of the imagination.

In 2002, for example, 31 people died because of the flooding, and over 300,000 people were displaced from their homes.

neighbors in kos

The members of this family, for example, have already become refugees. Usually they reside downstairs, wandering in the grass. The cold air and wet earth drove them up the stairs, however, and I woke this morning to find them curled up in front of my door, absorbing the warm air as it leaked from underneath my door during the night.

My desire for greater global equality and social justice creates a moral conflict for me, as the US dollar hits a 14 year low against the pound and currencies around the world. Perhaps the economic playing field is leveling out a bit – which is great, but raises some hairs on the back of my neck when I consider the possible effects on my estimated budget for my year abroad. Maybe I should have transfered my money to Chinese RMB after all…

mie aceh reebus, Mie Aceh Pidie 2000

I’m not sure exactly what they put in the stuff, but there is something about the mie Aceh at the warung Mie Aceh Pidie 2000 that seems to be addictive. It is famous because it is so very spicy hot, saturating your entire being with a heat that spreads from the top of your stomach – it is claimed, however, that it is made in a magical way that does not result in a stomach ache, despite your indulgence. The fresh avacado-grape juice doesnt’ hurt either.

Vice President of Indonesia, Josef Kalla, promoted the use of condoms and clean needles for drug users as an important way to prevent the spread of AIDS. He made sure to say that he did not promote either casual sex or drug use, of course. This is of note because Kalla is not only a leader of the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, he is also one of the leader of NU, the largest Islamic organization in the country, and is seen as someone who is usually conservative. President George Bush, on the other hand, is strongly preaching a messasge of abstinence as a way to prevent AIDS. Tony Blair mad a statement that the Vatican needs to “wake up” and recognize the importance of contraception.

Indonesian Damage Report: rainy friday afternoon

Sayang may very well be the most flexible and useful words in the Indonesian Language. It can be used to refer to someone that you love – a lover, perhaps, or a mother’s small child. You can use it to express your love for someone. Sayang can also mean pity, or regret. The feeling after a very regrettable event. It can be conjugated to be a noun, a verb, adjective, an expression, even its own sentence.

In this case, it helps us express the negative effects of an otherwise very pleasurable situation. Kesayangan, gado-gado enak sekali, aku dapat makan setiap hari, tetapi pedas banget. Tapi tak bisa berhenti, aku makan terus sampai menbuat perut aku sakit! Kesayangan, gado-gado is so delicious, I can eat it every day, but it’s really spicy. But I can’t stop, I keep eating it until I make my tummy hurt!

A few weeks ago, an elementary boy wound up killing a classmate because they were playing “WWF Smackdown.” Now, the professional wrestling program from the United States has been pulled off the air in Indonesia. Not that I have an opinion, but I have always considered this kind of “entertainment” one of the worst manifestations of American culture. The first time I arrived in South East Asia, in Asia, I was quite surprised to see WWF professional wrestling on the television in the homes of families, in the city and in the village, the angry voices of the inflated wrestlers comically dubbed over in Bahasa Malaysia/ Indonesia. Perhaps it plays to some universal lowest common denominator – I am not comforted by the thought that the act of violence seems to translate so easily across cultures…

The people of Bogor, Indonesia, are lovers of peace! This banner, saying “the citizens of Bogor love peace,” was hung in Bogor, the site of President Bush’s visit last month. It was also the sight of massive demonstrations and a massive police and military presence, and has served as fuel for a debate about international relations that has been going on since.

While the relationship between Indonesia and the United States may not be point of hot debate around American tables and on radio talk shows, but that is certainly not the case here in Indonesia. The pole in today’s Kompas newspaper (largest in Indonesia, on its website, www.kompas.com) asks whether the reader thinks President Bush’s recent visit to Indonesia is more beneficial or more detrimental to Indonesia. Another headline in the paper says that people should not expect America’s foreign policy to change until the presidential elections in 2008, even though the Democrats won power of Congress. The article says that Congress is scared to challenge policies, even though they know the policies are wrong. This is an important statement here, because parts of America’s foreign policy, such as what many see as American exceptionalism, that it is not bound by international law but holds others to it, as well as the unfair treatment of Muslims around the world, are pointed to as some of the root causes of anti-Americanism and even global terrorism.

Demonstration at Bush's visit

Also, just to assure you all that life continues as normal here in Indonesia – with all the ambiguities and insecurities you could ask for – here’s part of the latest friendly message from your good American Embassy

…Avian Influenza
How to Prepare for "Sheltering-In-Place"

Health professionals are concerned that the continued spread of a highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) virus among animals in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe has the potential to significantly threaten human health.  If a virus such as H5N1 mutates and spreads easily from one person to another, avian influenza may break out globally.  While there are no reports of sustained human-to-human transmission of avian influenza, the U.S. government and international health agencies are preparing for a possible pandemic.

Depending on the severity of a pandemic, commercial airlines might
drastically curtail or even cease operations.  Travel restrictions could also impede people from returning to the United States or fleeing to other countries.  For these reasons, it may make more sense to
"shelter-in-place" (i.e., stay home and practice "social distancing" to
avoid contagion) for an appropriate period of time.