The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Saturday, December 10, 2016


Being there
Dear Auntie Dwi – thank you for asking if I’m safe following the 212 Big Protest.  That’s what they call it after the date, and that the numbers are sending us a sign, but didn’t say what it meant. In our street the trash collector lives at 212 and his house has a sign. Maybe that’s it.
Did Mom warn you I was going?  I didn’t want to ’cause I had really important things to do like buying the new nail varnish. But they said everyone must or their names would be given to the Political Actors.
Anyway the bus was real good and I got to sleep a lot while Mohamad was wagging his finger and sermonizing which never stopped during the 12-hour journey. Then my friend Dwi who gets travel sick threw up all over him and he went wild. 
He said she must be possessed by a demon she’d swallowed. I told him she’d only eaten chocolate. “Must be Chinese,” he said. “Just like your smartphone,” I replied.  “You’ll be in the harem come the caliphate,” he snarled and we all sang K-Pop to make him mad.  
Or maybe you saw me on TV?  Check the pictures on Metro – I’m in the seventh row on the nineteenth line on the left of Monas.  Or maybe the right – I can’t remember - it was so much fun.
I was wearing white, which really doesn’t suit my complexion.  But they said it made us look pure.  Funny, ya?  And I got to keep the jilbab though I’ll probably give it to my sister.  I want to feel the wind in my hair, like in the TV ads.
For days I’ve eaten absolutely nothing – there was so much free food and all too, too delicious. I’m getting fat and it’s dis-gust-ing.  Every ten minutes someone was giving me a lunch box or telling me to wave a poster.  I don’t know what they said because the writing was all spooky and red with a picture of a prisoner shaking bars.
Someone said his name was Pak Ahok and he’s a bad man, but the cartoon made him look like a sad man. I wanted to cry.
They also said he’s Chinese, but I thought he was born here, so doesn’t that make him Indonesian? He looks a bit like Uncle Julius who I think goes to a church. Anyway, who cares?
The really, really major moment was when we got to see the President.  Well, he was rather far away but people who were closer took pictures that we could see on WhatsApp.  I don’t know what he said – It might have been about a football game with Vietnam.
More important was what he wore – the coolest jacket you have ever seen, I swear.  It made him look like Tom Cruise in that old Top Gun movie I saw on TV One last week, though I couldn’t understand what he was saying because the Indonesian captions made no sense.
”Oh, my God,” I said, but some gloomy guy added that was blasphemy and I might go to prison.  So I told him to go to hell.  He said this world’s already there. But I looked out and saw the sun was shining.  Lovely.
He was a freak.  Not like this totally yummy cop who came along and told us to keep moving. Polisi ganteng screamed Dwi who was OK once off the bus, though Mohamad was still trying to clean vomit off his gamis.  It made me think he’d never washed anything in his life.
Anyway, back to the cop, so cute in his tight pants and mirror sunglasses. Gorgeous. And he noticed little me, particularly when I accidentally dropped my poster.
“Here you are M’bak,” he said, “please take more care.” His voice was warm honey.  His name badge said Antonius.  “I think he’s Catholic,” whispered Dwi who noticed my red face. “No problem,” I said as my knees turned to jelly. “I’ll convert. Where do I go?”
“Be serious,” she snapped, “we’re here to protest. This isn’t a peace march.” “Why not?” I replied. “Aren’t we all one – like, you know, unity in diversity?”  Duncan Graham

(First pub lished in J Plus The Jakarta Post 10 December 2016

No comments: