I met an inspiring woman about a week ago. She introduced herself as Ivo – although with Butet as her middle name I’m sure she’s a Batak. It was a job-related meeting but we soon could talk like we’ve met long before this meeting.
She started her career as an accountant with Arthur Andersen (AA). What she did and experienced after AA are what really inspired me. She joined World Vision – an International NGO – and was stationed in Wamena, West Papua, after 3-year stint with AA. I repeatedly asked her what the key factor that made her chose World Vision and Wamena. She said, at first she didn’t know, it seemed just like a spur of the moment. But, only much later she realized that it’s the need to empower the local people in remote areas that enabled her to make this firm decision. (One day in the lift of BNI 46 Tower, when she’s still working for AA, she heard comments from two Caucasian expatriates behind her that said something like this: “These Indonesians only have Pentium 1 intelligence but they demand Windows XP.”) This was the trigger that put that fire in her heart – the burning fire to prove that Indonesians will not stay underdeveloped (and stupid) for the rest of their life.
She spent 6 years in Wamena and 3 years in Nias (during tsunami recovery). And below I listed down the things that caught my attention, provoked more thought, or just downright silly….
On Modern Gadgets
She said she didn’t miss television, radio, mobile phone (with the text messaging capability), internet (with e-mailing capability), computer, electricity, and the clubbing while she was in those remote areas. She only used her mobile phone to be functioned as clock or alarm. Furthermore she said, “If we can’t send message or report through e-mail, we still can use fax machine. Even if we don’t have fax machine we can still send our letters via post office. Right?” Stuj sek deh! *smile* I asked her how soon she could cope with the silence in the remote areas compared to the hustle and bustle of the big city like Jakarta. She said that it’s no big deal for her. Wow! (I guess only a few number of people miss Jakarta’s baseline decibel. It’s too overwhelming.)
There she could experience the other spectrum of poverty. In most urban areas in the big cities we see many slums, beggars, street kids, and other types of poverty caused by urban development such as lack of access to education, health care, economic network, etc. Yet, in Wamena it shows different spectrum – people that are not aware that they are manipulated and cheated. Their stone-age life and culture are preserved mostly for the sake of tourism.
On Casual Sex
After the October 6, 2000 incident, Wamena was left with unbalance proportion of men and women. After three months the authority felt that the male group couldn’t suppress their sexual need anymore. Then, they flew in prostitutes from other cities – as far as East Java to come to Wamena. The atmosphere was tensed with competition – gimana enggak – if around 1,000 men had to compete for around 400 women. Well, it’s easy to predict that it’s the fertile field for HIV/AIDS and other STDs.
PSK (Pekerja Seks Komersial) or prostitutes are as young as 10-year old girl. The local pimps usually gather the young prostitutes (usually around 10 to 17 years old) in their houses and expose them to a lot of X-rated movies. Then, these pimps ‘coach’ the girls how to seduce and satisfy their clients. The special-treated clients usually are politicians, members of parliament, or bureaucrats within the province or other territories. Such casual approach on intimacy is another seed of HIV/AIDS outbreak – and yet the local politicians and bureaucrats never approve any HIV/AIDS survey. Thus, we cannot find the real statistics about HIV/AIDS and other STDs in Wamena. *sigh*
These young girls know pretty well how to apply their rates among different target groups. If you’re somebody that they respect then they offer the intimacy for you for free. If you’re one of their friends, then you could pay them for around IDR 2,000. (My goodness!) But, if you’re politicians, member of parliaments, or bureaucrats the pricing is around IDR 500,000. The sad part of this whole situation is that these girls think that this casual sex is OK, as natural as the air they breathe. Then again, the HIV/AIDS campaign of Abstinence-Faithful-Condom is hardly successful in the area. *sigh*
On Tribal War
Hatred and vengeance are kept alive from generation to generation. So, tribal wars are still common. Is it fair to expect the local people that are pretty much live in stone-age culture to make quantum leap and adopt modern live smoothly – while at the same time we would like them to preserve their stone-age life and culture as one of tourist attractions to the land of Papua?
In Papua people can see the meaning of true man (manusia sejati) – where hatred, anger, sadness, happiness, disappointment, etc. are bluntly exposed. It made me recall the movie titled Apocalypto. The winner of any war is treated as hero within their tribe – a young girl is usually presented as trophy for this hero in the ceremony.
On The Wild Nature and The Old Way
Wamena is located in the grand valley of Baliem River, or famously called Baliem Valley (Lembah Baliem). The Baliem Valley’s altitude is about 1,420 meters above sea level and was once dubbed Shangri La. The incredibly lush and fertile valley is surrounded on all sides by towering peaks of 2,500 to 3,000 meters. High mountains surrounded Baliem Valley is usually overwhelming for new comers. Had been living deep down the remote areas had sharpened her connection to the mother earth. She always asked the local people when there were any environment or weather changes she observed around her. For example, the calmness and eerie silence always precede the ice frost that would sweep the valley, the earthquake would usually recede within the count of thirty, etc. She said see saw the most beautiful night sky there… the dark sky that are full with stars.
The Papuans already knew about family planning, not via contraception though. A man (husband) is not allowed to live with his wife after she delivers their baby. The separation usually takes two years during which the man (husband) can ‘marry’ other woman.
When I labeled them as cute experiences, I literally meant cute. *smile*
Can you imagine:
- the clothes that you just washed and left dry outside could disappear in minutes?
- the clothes, TV, and radio that you kept inside a locked room could disappear?
- when you woke up in the morning you had to play tug-of-war with someone outside the window that seemed very keen to possess your blanket?
- your lost jet pump was offered to you by someone within the same day?
- that you need to specify what you want in details? (Maksudnya kalo mau barter paku dan kaca dengan kayu dan batu maka harus dikatakan dengan jelas bahwa kayu dan batu harus dibawa ke tempat kita. Kalo nggak, ya anda ambil kayu dan batunya ndiri di hutan. *smile*)
Aceh was so exotic to the outside world until tsunami tragedy opened up the door for the outside world to land their feet on its soil and meet up face-to-face with the local people. Organizations ‘compete’ to put Aceh on their donor list as it could raise their prestige. She said she had the trouble to see so many expatriate-activists that were stationed for the reason other
than the noble act of helping local people. Aceh people are rich and proud of themselves. Jadi susah untuk menerima masukan orang lain. Although the elite Moslem clerics fight to have Islamic law – known locally as Syariah Law – as Aceh foundation for local government law, it’s actually not widely supported by the majority of Aceh people. She said one of her colleague, a local Aceh woman, voiced her concern about it. On one occasion, a Peter Pan show in Aceh, female spectators were separated from male spectators. What irritated her was that all women were required to wear hijab while the men could enter the show as they pleased – ibaratnya kalo cowo mo buka baju atau telanjang dada ya boleh-boleh aja, tapi para cewe musti tertutup baju dari kepala sampe kaki. Aceh society is unique – the ruling elite limit the opportunity for women in many social aspects despite their historical realm that the women are the backbone of their society.
She said four NGO workers from World Vision survived plane crash – Garuda Indonesia flight GA 200, a Boeing 737-400 plane – that carried 133 passengers and seven crews at around 7AM at Yogya on March 7, 2007. Jokingly she said that’s because World Vision’s activists are protected by ‘invincible power’. They have experienced countless miracles… kalo belum waktunya, ya nggak akan mati.
When I kept repeating how great and terrific what she’s done, she said that nothing’s great and terrific about it. She made the choice freely and went through it without regret. She said she measured her success in those two areas by the level of local people empowerment after she or her team leave the remote areas. She was successfully coached the local Nias people to handle World Vision’s day-to-day administrative activities.
Indonesia need more people like her…. orang yang kagak hanya mikirin dirinya sendiri. Tops deh pokoknya! *smile*