Give the Banjars the Job of Fixing Our Rabies Risk

By Hector

Some semblance of common sense may at last be creeping into the Bali government’s shambolic response to the rabies outbreak, now of two years’ admitted duration. We don’t mean its commitment to a vaccination-only policy in regard to dealing with the unpleasant statistical fact that nearly 11.5 percent of Bali’s dogs must be assumed to be carrying the virus. That’s just idiocy if it’s not combined with real action to control both dogs themselves and their incontinent breeding, and the lackadaisical ownership customs that Governor Pastika has lately noted are social and religious questions of great magnitude. (By which he means they’re staying in the too-hard basket.)

There was a meeting last week in the Ungasan area – that’s where the outbreak was first, criminally far too late in the piece, officially conceded in November 2008 after several unexplained deaths – at which, on the reported comments of officials present, the first tentative steps might have been taken to locate dog control – and therefore the fight against rabies – at banjar (local community) level.

Of course, as in any society, there are good community governments and bad ones; energetic leaders and idle ones; courageous leaders and craven ones. But with a killer like rabies about – and there is no cure for the disease once its symptoms appear: it’s a death sentence – it makes good sense to give local communities the power and resources to deal with the problem at its source. Few banjar leaders would look with equanimity at unnecessary deaths among those who are their immediate neighbours. It’s not a political issue at that level. It’s not something you can just have a debate about (heated or otherwise) in the legislature and then go on to discussing increasing your lunch money.

Formally giving banjars the job of controlling dogs might set Bali on the road to proper registration and veterinary control of domestic animals. Rabies control should be vaccine-based for registered domestic dogs, which as the animal rightists point out will keep strange dogs out of their neighbourhoods. It should also mandate culling – which is informally proceeding anyway – to reduce overall numbers.

This of itself might go some way towards solving what the provincial authorities obviously regard as the chief impediment to their continued quiet life: the fact that so many people are turning up seeking post-exposure vaccination. They put out figures suggesting a large increase in the number of dog bites, but don’t have the wit (apparently) to realise that in a dog-ridden place like Bali, it’s not that the number of bites has necessarily increased. It’s just that when well over one in 10 of dogs must be regarded as a direct rabies risk, and there is as yet no mechanism – at any level – to deduce which among a pack of strange dogs might transmit the disease, it’s rather better to safe than sorry (or in this case dead). If the risk was of catching some treatable disease, a measure of equanimity is feasible and may indeed be sensible in most instances. But you can’t wait until it’s obvious you have rabies. At that point you have two, three, maybe up to six, horrific days of life left in you.

All this won’t please the ladies of the poor-little-doggies brigade or their attendant overseas conga line of softheads. But to take up that wonderful exit line of Clark Gable’s, as he went with the wind: Frankly my dears, we don’t give a damn. We have more than a hundred dead people on our collective conscience. That’s something we should all give a damn about.

Well, I Never

The Diary was quietly minding its own business one evening recently – dining with the Distaff and some friends – when a most unusual event took place. A fellow diner engaged us in conversation and on hearing that one of those present was Hector from The Bali Times became even more voluble and visibly excited.

He then asked The Diary to stand up. The Diary did so, briefly pondering the wisdom of doing so. A handshake and a hug were administered. This, excusing the absence of sang-froid, which seems to have disappeared from western civilisation, is much better than a rusty fork up the nose. The unsought and undeserved accolade was accompanied by further kind words and a bottle of Two Islands cab sav, ordered in appreciation for telling it like it is.

Well, it’s nice to be thought kindly of. We were not dining in Ubud, by the way. We were enjoying Thai fusion at the excellent Kat’s Kitchen in Ungasan.
Lights Out

PLN, which quite deliciously spells PLAN less an absolutely essential element, and which on its record you wouldn’t trust to acquire the candles for a child’s birthday cake and keep them alight long enough for the kids to have a party, seems to be up to its old tricks again.

Inexplicable – not to mention unexplained and distressingly frequent – blackouts have been hitting various areas recently. We know that Canggu, Seminyak and Ungasan are particular favourites of PLN’s plug-puller squad, which seems to be the most active business unit in that shambles of a state-owned corporation. Perhaps there are others.

PLN got new top-level management after 2009’s Bali shemozzle, though not because of that, Bali not rating an ephemeral flicker on Jakarta’s political light bulb. The lights had gone out once too often in Jakarta, you see, inconveniencing legislators and plutocrats in their plush vehicles and even plusher accommodations. It has apparently done us no good; well, not in Bali, anyway. We would waste our breath expressing surprise. State-owned corporations never work efficiently, anywhere. Here, they are universally public service rest homes.

The new management got straight into the business of making heroic claims about its commitment to excellence. Unfortunately, the old Indonesian problem remains to the fore: it’s no good getting lots of lovely new equipment if you don’t look after it. (Hint: Repair and maintenance means “to repair and maintain.”)

A Bali power utility would at least help to make blackouts a local political issue that provincial leaders could not then excuse as the fault of someone else (“My friend did it” is a refrain heard as often at lofty levels as anywhere) and who might therefore worry about keeping all those votes they won with their portmanteaux of promissory notes.

Lighten Up

The Diary is frequently called to account for spending far too long reading lots of earnest stuff (often late at night) that some believe is better left alone. Such correctives are always ignored. Someone’s got to read the earnest stuff, and anyway The Diary likes to do so. It is recreational in its own way.

But last weekend The Diary took a break, in the wake of the departure of some lovely friends who, after a tropical break, were returning to the rather more brisk delights of an Oregon autumn and winter and bequeathed their holiday reading material to the library at The Cage. Saturday afternoon – well, three hours of it – was thus passed, pleasantly, rereading an M.C. Beaton Hamish Macbeth mystery. It was Death of a Scriptwriter. The names of several scribblers worthy of this sanction flashed into The Diary’s mind during this exercise, which was taken, as all exercise should be, supine on the sofa. But it was a nice relaxing read. And we even forgot, after a while, to prop at the oddities of American spelling.

Budding Idea

The engaging Diana Darling, who among other things writes for The Bud, Sophie Digby’s lovely little Ubud quarterly glossy, has come out as an eavesdropper. She admits this by implication in her column in the latest issue, reporting on the musings of a tableful of folk (one of them a large handsome man according to darling Diana) about the state of the traffic in that self-proclaimed pearl of a burg.

There was a passable idea, apparently. It was to erect a large sign on the southern side of Sukawati proclaiming “Ubud,” the idea being that all the tourist buses could stop there, their camera-ready contents could swarm out and take each other’s pictures a thousand times, and then mob the attendant trinket stalls.

There is a certain superficial attraction to this idea. Especially for people who live in the far south of Bali and find the nearly-two-hour transit time and traffic-on-arrival a little too much. But we must reject the idea. Those big buses may be a nuisance in Ubud’s streets, which are barely wide enough for a motorbike and a kaki lima (food cart) to pass each other with a reasonable margin for error, but they do serve a purpose: they remind the dysfunctional denizens of the place that Ubud’s part of Planet Earth.

Mango Madness

We were intrigued to read in The Bali Times last week that our near neighbours in Australia’s Northern Territory – capital city Darwin, a place once known to our notional flag-carrier Garuda – who produce, among many other things, large crops of mangoes, have come up with the idea of naming one variety after Kylie Minogue.

Minogue, as we know, rose to fame by appearing in that tiresome Aussie TV series Neighbours (The Diary’s dear old mum was an addict even in faraway Britain) and then went on to warble widely, acquiring the vacuous status of superstar that is ordained by the Age of Inconsequence in which we live.
Australian mangoes are all right, if you can’t get a real one. But they do tend to be a little tart.
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One Response to “Give the Banjars the Job of Fixing Our Rabies Risk”

  1. Tim Says:

    Dear Diary,

    I assume Ubud’s in the clear but has anyone actually seen a vaccination team elsewhere?, and how do I check if the mutt trying to eat my leg is actually harmless (apart from rendering me immobile) rather than a fatal disease carrier.

    Which of the 89 dogs in the pack should I encourage to bite me before the rabid ones do?

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