Tuned Out but Searching for a Signal

By Hannah Black

When news of the volcanic eruption in Iceland broke last week my mother immediately called from the other side of the world, opening the phone call with “Hi, did you hear about the volcano?”

The names of active volcanoes lining the Indonesian archipelago promptly began running through my head. Rinjani on neighbouring Lombok is said to have been bubbling away recently, I mused. Or perhaps it’s that towering terror Anak Krakatau or the ever-rumbling Merapi. It could be Batur or Agung, our friendly neighbourhood cauldrons.

My dad, who was here on what was meant to be a 12-day visit, immediately went into natural-disaster mode. Since he is the king of worst-case scenarios, I could almost see our escape route being mapped out in his brain.

Interrupting my wheeling thoughts, my mum allayed our fears by informing us that, no, we weren’t about to be mown down by a lava flow unless the island of Bali had floated halfway round the world to Iceland.

“Have you not seen the news today?” my mother queried. I went straight to the TV and switched it on, flipping through the glycerine-tear-strewn and grimly constipated sinetron (soap opera) stars and found the news. Nothing: There was not a single word about the volcano and the shutdown of airports across wide swathes of Europe.

Thinking about it, there was no news from any country other than Indonesia. We kept the news on in the background while cooking dinner and finally after 15 minutes of shots of people sitting around looking bored in court during the Bank Century trial, a teeny-weeny news ticker ran across the bottom of the screen announcing the volcanic eruption in Iceland. 

There was no mention of the ash cloud or the chaos it was causing.

This may seem like an odd subject to write about in a weekly newspaper; but I really do feel cut off from the world sometimes.

As depressing as world news can be most of the time, and as great as it was when I first came to Bali to forget the troubles of other nations, I do genuinely miss being up-to-date on things.

Every day I check the BBC or CNN online, but somehow it feels different to reading a fresh, off-the-press daily newspaper or watching the news as it happens on TV.

I don’t have satellite TV, so I watch very little, which I see as a good thing; but sometimes I crave news programmes so badly I consider shelling out for extra channels.

Of course I also care about what’s happening in Indonesia, but with family and friends spread all over the globe, I do want to feel that I’m not completely out of touch with the goings-on in their parts of the world.

When I watch the news with my in-laws we see nothing but banjir (floods) and corruption cases, and most news is very Jakarta-centric. It’s almost painful to watch the 20 seconds of footage from someone’s mobile phone played over and over again that often constitutes the coverage of an event.

The completely inappropriate horror-movie music played over the voices of reporters and witnesses also drives me so crazy I can’t bear to watch for more than the 20 seconds it takes to watch the shaky footage.

From what I know of Balinese news channels, people actually pay or pick up journalists and cameramen to cover events in their villages, which is obviously why there are days when they cover nothing but the opening of a new warung, free eye checkups and ceremonies for new offices.

How does this help to keep the Balinese up on the progress of their island? Shouldn’t there be stories about new government programmes, healthcare and environmental issues?

I’m reading a book about a Kenyan-born Englishman who was a war correspondent for Reuters. It’s interesting and informative, but has made me wonder how much is going on in the world right now that I have absolutely no clue about. 

Bali is so accessible to foreigners: movie stars film here, celebrity chefs cook seafood on the beaches; and tourists come to soak up the sun and culture – but it’s a one-way street. Many Balinese people know next to nothing about where these people are coming from or the cultures, religions and politics they would find there.

Perhaps it’s about time we made the information highway reach out in all directions instead of burying our heads in the sand and pretending everywhere is as peaceful and slow as our little tropical haven.

Filed under: My Compound Life

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