This weekend The Diary is in Lombok. It’s a favourite place. We’re catching up with friends in Senggigi and spending a little time dangling the toes in the limpid waters surrounding Gili Trawangan. It’s not quite Robinson Crusoe territory, but the Gilis are a great getaway. And there will be a fun return to Bali: on a fast boat. Hopefully ours will be one that is not illegally overloaded and the seas will be prettily small.
There is another side to Lombok, of course. It is a poisonous place where the small expatriate population contains a disproportionate number of acquisitive low-life specimens whose interests apparently lie in stirring up trouble and benefiting themselves in circumstances where anywhere else they’d end up behind bars. And that’s not the bars that serve beer.
It is poisonous too among those indigenous to the island, and settler communities from elsewhere in Indonesia. Tolerance is consistently the missing ingredient. That is notably the case where expatriates are deemed by the mob to have transgressed some immutable law, which should for accuracy actually be spelled lore.
You can’t complain about unnecessarily loud noise from a mosque or a prayer room without having your villa trashed and facing charges under ridiculous application of otherwise sensible laws meant to govern interfaith relations in this country of five constitutionally recognised religions. Neither can you can complain that someone had vandalised your statuary without a mob coming round to complete the job.
And if they do it’s your fault and the police, whose standard operating procedure seems to be to do nothing, or at least as little as possible, will never prosecute the perpetrators for criminal damage.
If you’re an Indonesian, if you are, say, a follower of Saudi-style Wahhabi Islam or you worship God according to the Ahmadiyah rites that others have declared heretical, you risk having your house burned and being run out of town. If you’re a villager around Tanak Awu, where the new international airport is being built, you’ll basically get nothing for your trouble (or your land) except the prospect of big aircraft flying low overhead sometime in the indeterminate future. These aircraft will then deposit (or remove) hordes of tourists whose Lombok adventure will begin and end with a shambolic and wholly inadequate road system that will have to get them – somehow – from out in the sticks where the new airport is going to be, to their distant holiday accommodation, which may or may not be idyllic.
But don’t get us wrong. Lombok’s a lovely place. No. Really.
There is no pleasure at all in recording that the 2012 date for Bali being rabies free (precisely October 28, 2012, according to the legend retailed by chief medical officer Nyoman Sutedja) has now slipped back to 2013. We heard this news when the Bali authorities said that in the absence of promised funding for vaccination and other anti-rabies programmes from the national government, the provincial budget would wear whatever portion of the Rp15 billion needed to be spent ahead of the Ministry of Finance actually managing to energise itself enough to do its job. On that, we recommend that no one waits up, or worse, holds their breath.
These funds were first promised last February and have been conspicuously absent by non-delivery ever since. They have been delayed by that ubiquitous Indonesian bureaucratic glue made from bumbling incompetence, wall-to-wall ennui and total lack of interest. If the funds were for road building, or paying for nice little study tours by sundry bureaucrats, it would be annoying. But it’s about saving lives. That makes it criminal.
Also criminal, in the context of rabies, an entirely preventable disease, is the continuous litany of astonishing claims about progress when it is perfectly plain we’re all being had.
A night out in Legian – especially a Saturday night – is not on The Diary’s list of regular Must Do’s. It’s tourist territory for one thing. While tourists are welcome to come and spend their money, they are not, generally speaking, living entities that should take up more than a nanosecond of a resident’s time. It’s different if you’re in the tourism business, of course, but The Diary has never believed in self-flagellation.
Nonetheless, for a variety of reasons, last Saturday night saw us abroad – the double entendre is intended – in the crowded Jl Padma precinct. It was spectacular and not a little frightening. Ranks upon ranks of men in Bintang singlets, and women in very little at all, shuffled past our vantage point, scuffing their flip-flops and looking bored, lost, or merely vacant.
The Diary observed to his companions at one point, sotto voce of course against the unlikely prospect that one of the passers-by might prove sentient, that thereabouts it would apparently be possible to conduct an entire conversation utilising only the two essential vocalisations employed by the mass of holidaying Australians: air, and nair. The first is an affirmative, the second a negative. Fortunately the night was not a total loss. We decamped to a nearby Japanese restaurant, out of earshot of the hordes. The singlet brigade would never venture into such an establishment for fear of being made to use those funny little wooden stick things and to eat with their mouths closed.
It was Thanksgiving this week, the annual tribute Americans pay to the first-year survival of the Pilgrims on the Massachusetts shore, after they had departed Europe with their goods and chattels, and the plague bacillus and sundry other killer bugs, to colonise “English America.” Turkeys have been paying the price ever since.
But The Diary is indebted to a Twitter friend – no stranger to Bali incidentally – who this week, ahead of the hols, advised that another essential ingredient of today’s Thanksgiving feasts, the cranberry, bounces when ripe.
There you go.
Anas Urbaningrum, chairman of the Democratic Party, has a novel view of the Gayus Tambunan case. He says it should not be brought into the political sphere. This is the “not my fault – my friend did it” approach to evading responsibility writ very large indeed.
In a democratic state, nothing can be quarantined from politics. The people rule, not unaccountable bureaucrats or (in this case) the police. It might suit political leaders – even chairmen of parties that actually describe themselves as Democratic – to run for cover. But there’s nowhere to hide on this one. The fact that poor Gayus Tambunan felt so stressed facing all those corruption charges and didn’t like being locked up, and thought he deserved a little holiday break in Bali, and apparently bribed nine police to facilitate this amazing plan, is directly a responsibility of those who govern this country.
So we can ignore – or better, have a hollow laugh at – the self-serving claims to the contrary voiced by the chairman of the Democratic Party in Bali last weekend.
Australia’s role in Afghanistan is very well understood regionally and by its major military allies. It is chiefly at home in the Special Biosphere that successive governments – from both sides of politics – have run into trouble. It’s a tough place and an even tougher call, Afghanistan, a situation not helped by the fact that President Karzai is a very slippery customer. It’s not advanced much, either, by astonishing oversights such as the absence of a Farsi interpreter at last weekend’s Lisbon NATO conference on Afghanistan. Since Karzai speaks Farsi, we must assume someone failed to tick all the boxes.
But here’s a comment Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard made at the conference – it was in the context of her statement that Australian troops might be among the last to end a combat role because Oruzgan province, where they chiefly operate, is significantly deprived – that puts the Afghanistan conundrum in sharp perspective:
“The male literacy rate in Oruzgan is less than 10 percent and the female literacy rate is less than 1 percent – so in terms of the capacity-building work that needs to happen to support effective governance there is a lot to do.”
Gillard’s statement also answers – or it should – the naysayers who claim everyone should just leave the Afghans alone to muddle on.
The Diary continues to attract critical acclaim. We had a little note this week that said: “God, you’re boring.” Interestingly, it came from someone whose email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.