This is the last post from Indonesia; a journey that began 18 months ago in Jakarta and continued on to Aceh and a few places in between. So, as I draw the conclusions to this chapter, I can see that in the final analysis the balance sheet is looking good.
Surely, I could say that professionally I wish I had done more, better, faster or been more creative, but in the end the final achievements were far higher than it was expected. On the personal front, it has been a period of growth and learning, bagging more scores in the ever expanding game of cross-cultural communications, failing miserably at managing long distance relations, establishing and consolidating new or relationships that seemed to be on hold for a time.
The start of this chapter, which now seems such a long time ago, provided its fair share of challenges under an overarching theme of ‘loss’—the passing of a few close people, a shortfall in understandings and acceptance for the reasons why we do what we do.
But perhaps, the most trying time were the first six months spent in Jakarta—by far the most difficult city that I lived in. Despite all efforts to avoid well-worn cliques, describing Jakarta as a place of stark contrasts is the closest I can think of to succinctly describe a city where I met some of the most committed and motivated people on the side of just and some of the nastiest, self-centred, egotistical individuals thinking they were on the side of just; some old fashion conservatives, holding out dated values and radical creators bordering on the bizarre; vomitous opulence and wealth and abject poverty and misery. All this enclosed in a massive city brimming with humanity living under the illusion of the ‘rags to riches’ fairytale that seems to be hurrying down a one way street to oblivion.
The move north to Aceh was a welcome change of pace and a dire need to preserve sanity and regain control after a massive overdose of brutish urban living going increasingly wild. Don’t get me wrong, Aceh is no easy street by any stretch of the imagination—fundamentalism, prohibitionism, homophobia, xenophobia and chauvinism mixed daily with dashes of progressive thinking, pluralism, attempts at defeating the ugly spectre of corruption and radical-ish ideology give shape to a society that is constantly fermenting in changes and forming its identity on the pride of the past, the renewal imposed by a destructive tsunami and reconciliation after almost 30 years of armed conflict.
Aceh can be a teacher of many lessons; give new meaning to concepts such as reconstruction and rebuilding, especially when the starting point is zero; show that precarious living means just that—one day you have it, the next it’s gone; prove that serving the heroes of the revolution until they occupy the seats of power doesn’t guarantee you any favours in peace time. But Aceh can also show you kinds of courage, determination and resilience cast deep in self-belief and the conviction that ‘if it is to be, it’s up to me’.
In Aceh I also gained a new appreciation for religious philosophy, and that the beauty of the written scriptures is more often than not turned into an instrument of oppression arbitrarily used to subjugate its believers, and that the politicisation of Islam is a formidable weapon in the self-serving hands of those who disguise power into justice.
While living in Aceh a few people heeded to my calls that it is truly a magical place. The Fox, seizing every opportunity to splash colours on a wall, and in people’s lives; Nathan, in his quest to find the answer to simple living; and Tiziana and Carlo, escaping, even if for a short while, the severity of the northern winter, made it to the tip of Sumatra and understood my acclaims. For those who planned to visit but for various reasons did not make it, I hope you don’t see it as a missed opportunity and will seize the chance to go at the next opening and see for yourself.
For now, as I sift through what to take and what to leave behind, I realise that in 18 months I have accumulated a lot of stuff, for some I will find a piece of sky to sit under and process it all pondering on how what it has been will shape what will be; for other more corporeal stuff I will rekindle with the ability to fit all I need in one backpack and reacquaint myself with the pleasures of giving away the surplus, for in a few hours I will be back in black, or at least in Melbourne, a city fashionably obsessed with black.
Yes, Melbourne, a nice place with lots of nice people and nice things in a nice country with lots of nice people and nice things. And yet, that thought fails to ignite the excitement or anticipation about being among the familiar that long periods of absence may bring. But I do look forward to catching up with a few people who will have to endure my stories of wander and in the process, help me trace the next while.
So, to Aceh my heartfelt thanks for a memorable time filled with growth and learning. May the scars of foreign occupation, nature’s fury and armed bloodshed be the mound for you to reach the greatest heights. Your people are ready.
Foto: Mr Squot; Banda Aceh ‘11