Today is Indonesia’s 70th Hari Kemerdekaan, Independence Day. This morning I spoke with a young man from Amed in northeast Bali as he drove a French couple and I from there to Sanur. Normally around a three hour trip we arrived in just under two. Wayan drove furiously, frequently pummeling the horn with clenched fist and wrenching the gears like they were encrusted with rust. Judging by our conversation he was equally incensed by his place in life and the state of his island home as he was by other vehicles on the winding road. It was not the sentiment I expected on the 70th anniversary of Indonesia’s independence.
Mana semuanya? Where is everyone? I enquired, as the streets and marketplaces seemed unusually still. Di sawah, di toko. Bekerja. In the rice fields, in the shops. Working, he replied dryly. Perplexed I asked, Gak berlibur? Gak merayakan Hari Kemerdekaan? They’re not on holiday, not celebrating Independence Day? Wayan said Balinese don’t observe public holidays and only stop work for ceremonial days, of which there are many. Very many. He then spoke bitterly about how it is becoming increasingly difficult to secure permanent employment as each year Balinese Hindus must participate in dozens of ceremonies, and so employers now favour Javanese, who only observe public holidays and at the end of Ramadan, Idul Fitri.
Javanese are also to blame for all crime in Bali, continued Wayan’s invective as he careered around bends, the tiered rice fields and coconut palms a blur, the French woman in the back fraught and pale. Because of karma an unchained bicycle in a Balinese village stands safe, stated Wayan, as does a motorbike with keys in the ignition. Doors need not be locked. A Balinese would never steal anything, for they know if they do what will come for them. As the streets fluttered with red and white flags, banners and bunting, I was saddened to witness Wayan’s revulsion towards his fellow Indonesians, to hear his scathing condemnations of orang Jawa yang jahat, ‘evil Javanese men’, on August 17 2015. But it was yet another countless reminder of Indonesia’s dizzying dissimilarities and confounding disparities, and that 70 years after it became a nation many are still unable or refuse to embrace Indonesia’s official national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika. Unity in Diversity.
I know better, however, to believe someone when they say Balinese do not observe public holidays. The whole golden afternoon I strolled Sanur’s sands, big smile permanently in place. There were thousands of red shirts amongst the throng, and most boats had a flag-topped mast. I sat and chatted with a young mother and father as we munched on sweet and spicy grilled corn, wiping the kernels from our chin with a grin, while their children splashed in the shallows. A nation of 250 million across 18,000 islands, and here was I, an Australian, a foreigner, feeling completely at home.
Fellow AVID volunteer Beau Newham posted these stirring words today: “The founders of Indonesia understood the strength in supporting and confirming the diversity of Indonesia. I hope that dream continues to live on for many years to come.” Well said, my friend.
Selamat Hari Kemerdekaan, my Indonesia, my second home.
Beautifully written and observed; I am pleased and relieved that you survived your frenzied meanderings around the rice fields and terraces. Here’s to more patriotic adventures.