Indonesia by Diana Rahim (Verkur)

Saturday, 10 October 2015

I was in Bogor not too long ago. The room I was in faced the mountains and the air was clear. I don’t think any two people are looking at the same mountain. I remember how a lady once complained about the way her best friend exclaimed at the beauty of a sunset, gushing about the beauty of life, the earth and spilling with love for humanity. Annoyed, she told her best friend – “why do you have to make everything so spiritual!” She found it a bit much and I found the incident funny, precisely because I am prone to such excessiveness. The lady found the sunset’s beauty in its colours not in projected abstractions; in the way they struck the eye and everything it hits. A beauty from simple reality divorced from the world of spiritual abstraction.

I always love going back to Indonesia. I say “back” because I always think of it as a place where I’ll always return to. Part of my blood is from there and the people look a little more like me compared to the country I come from. I get to speak my mother tongue a little more, the cigarettes are cheaper (10 times cheaper!) and so are the avocado juices. But mostly, going back always unearths that part of me that tends to excess. I won’t verbalize it, but I’ll stand facing the mountains, or look people and my mind would come up with pretentious platitudes like – desire is defined by absence. Or between two people, presence is always an illusion.

I was in Indonesia (first Bogor then Jakarta) for an advocacy learning trip, and would spend the next 6 days meeting different organisations and groups. These pictures were taken on the first day and none were taken for the next 5 days because my film advance lever got stuck. The next 5 days would be filled with heavy conversations, late nights, a pervasive fatigue and a particularly lonely night when I felt so lonely I sang sardonically my favourite simon and garfunkel song -- ‘me and room service baby we are living a life of sin,’ except there was no whiskey one could order from room service as far as I could tell so I spent a long time face-down on the pillow bubbling with platitudes, but this time of the morbid kind – at birth we are first estranged from the mother, then we are estranged from people, and finally we are estranged from life. My morbid platitudes are always longer. It sounds funny when I’m writing it now. One can do nothing in the recounting of such moments but laugh.

Bogor has a disproportionate amount of Arab tourists. Even their signs accommodate for the presence of these tourists by having an Arabic translation. There is a mosque up the mountain where you have to take off your shoes, roll up your pants above your ankles and walk across a moat that surrounds it. In the night the water was cold, dark and glittering. We made a new friend who told us he smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day but in his last health check up his lungs were clear. His secret, he said, was downing 6 big bottles of water a day and I’ve been hydrating myself consistently ever since.

The last time I went to Indonesia for a conference, I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor of a simple wooden house that served as an branch office for one of their leading grassroots feminist organizations, Solidaritas Perempuan. And as I rifled through the materials they shared, I thought – look how they don’t dumb it down to the people they’re reaching out to. How they have complete faith in your ability to understand. How they quote Simone De Beavoir.

There is a tendency for first-worlders to go into another country and assume through a superficial analysis of the surroundings and its people, that the place is ‘simpler,’ in comparison I suppose, with our busier more ‘advanced’ societies. We would then proceed with that same refrain, beaten to death already by this point, of how simple living teaches us first-wolders so much about slowing down and appreciating the simple things in life more, and god forbid, to appreciate what we have so much more.

Yet people are never as simple (even if their surroundings belie you) if you bothered to have a proper conversation with them. I have never left any place thinking that the word “simple” could ever be used as a descriptor. They have mountains. They have more flowers than we do – how could those things be reduced to mere simplicity? 

I am beginning to ramble, but like I said, the place unearths a part of me that tends to excess. 

Love & light, 

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© Dipped in Rococo ~ lifestyle in analog Maira Gall.