I’ll admit that I’ve occasionally been a little homesick (and Haversick) in Indonesia. Yesterday was the first time in my life that I was not in America for the 4th of July. There were no fireworks; no day off from work; no delicious cheddar cheeseburgers, hotdogs, grilled bbq chicken, shrimp cocktails, corn on the cob, Caesar salad (definitely miss my Mom’s salad dressing), and watermelon. Clearly I could go for a barbeque right now. One of my favorite things about Indonesia though is the food, and even on the 4th of July it is a great cure for homesickness. We recently discovered that the Gule and Soto restaurant we go to for lunch, which Colin detailed in his earlier post transforms into a delicious seafood restaurant at night. It has been by far my favorite restaurant here, and it is quite affordable. For my 4th of July dinner I had a hot plate with shrimp, squid, chicken and vegetables covered in a spicy “sweet and sour sauce.” I think Colin might have to adjust his rankings based on this restaurant- move over Milas, we’ve got a new number one.
Laksmi and I have had some fascinating interviews this week. Last Friday afternoon we went to a Mosque for Friday (Jum’at) prayers. The mosque was small, so many people prayed on the street outside. The street had been barred off from other streets so that no cars or motorbikes would interrupt the prayer session. In order to participate in midday prayers on Friday, one must be a Muslim man, so Laksmi and I just watched from the back. I think my favorite part about observing the prayer session was watching two little boys goofing around while praying next to their father. It reminded me of those times in synagogue when me and my friends would sneak off to play tag while our parents were focused on services. Judaism is not a recognized religion in Indonesia. Indonesia officially recognizes only six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Every Indonesian citizen is required to have an identification card that lists one of these six religions. While many of the Indonesians I have met recognize that I am a foreigner, I wonder if they would perceive me differently if they knew that I was Jewish? Laksmi and I have had some interesting conversations about Judaism, especially about the Holocaust, which is not discussed often in high school history classes in Indonesia. Laksmi is curious about everything. Our conversations, in addition to Judaism, range from discussions about American and Indonesian sports (especially basketball- waking up to see that Steve Nash was signing with the Lakers instead of the Knicks was devastating today), to comparisons of Indonesian and American democracy. She is also studying to be a medical student, so sometimes we talk about science and public health.
On Sunday, in addition to interviewing Dede Oetomo, who Alex detailed in his post below, Laksmi and I went to the Jogja Arts Festival to interview some artists for our research project on freedom of expression in Indonesian society. We spoke with one artist who paints with his feet because he does not have arms. He said that he does not make political statements with his artwork because he would not be able to protect himself if he angered the wrong people in society. He sticks to painting nature. Many of our other interviewees have said that the acts of violence committed by hard-line Islamic organizations over the last 14 years have intimidated advocates for pluralism, but it has also motivated many activists to respond peacefully in their struggle for freedom of expression. Laksmi and I also interviewed a book critic at the private library Indonesian Buku to discuss the recent book burnings in Jakarta. A major publishing organization in Indonesia burned its own books because members of hard-line organizations were offended that the book referred to Muhammad as “a pirate and a murderer.” It is fascinating how much power religion commands in Indonesian society.
Today Laksmi and I attended a lecture on Indonesian democracy given by Alissa Wahid, the daughter of the first democratically elected president of Indonesia following the fall of Suharto, Abdurrahman Wahid. Mrs. Wahid spoke of the complexities of uniting the diverse cultures that exist in Indonesia. Indonesia is the fourth largest nation in the world behind China, India, and the United States. Unlike the three nations ahead of it that are mostly connected by land, Indonesia is an archipelago of approximately 19,000 islands. Also the concept of Indonesia as a nation is less than 70 years old. Bahasa Indonesia, the national language, did not exist until the unification of the Indonesian archipelago. In addition to Bahasa Indonesia, there are more than 300 other native languages spoken in Indonesia. So imagine trying to unite millions of people with over 200 different cultural identities, who speak many different languages, and are spread out over 19,000 different islands behind the concept of one state and one national government: a pretty intimidating endeavor to say the least.
That’s all for now. On Friday we will be traveling to Ngawi, Sari’s (our program coordinator) village in East Java. It is about two hours away from Jogja by train and I am excited to explore the countryside of Java!