Articles by Elizabeth Pisani

Vocab lessons for expat lawyers in Indonesia

So Indonesia is going to require expatriate lawyers to take an ethics test, in Indonesian. I think this is a splendid idea; though they are not actually allowed to practice law in Indonesia, foreigners certainly have a lot to learn from Indonesian lawyers when it comes to ethics. Here’s some essential vocab to get them started: Suap “Salary supplementation”. It literally means “to spoonfeed” and some cynics translate it as “bribe”, but they haven’t studied legal ethics in Indonesia. Cuci…


The FPI is (half) right: they must be more responsible thugs

With a first draft of Indonesia Etc: Exploring the Improbable Nation now sitting on my editor’s desk, I finally have time to get back to musing on this blog about Indonesia’s delights and contradictions. In writing the book, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the way language and culture mirror one another. And I’ve also found myself inadvertently agreeing with the leadership of the ever-more-thuggish Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), though not in a good way. Back in…


What does it take to get Indonesia into the New York Times?

In an average month, the world’s fourth most populous nation makes it in to the major newspaper of the world’s third most populous nation about three times. I know, because the New York Times has a very handy service that allows you to set up alerts; every time they run a story mentioning Indonesia, I get a heads up in my in-box. I got one of those alerts today. “Buddhist-Muslim Tensions Spread as 8 Detainees Die in Indonesia”, the headline…


Indonesia doesn’t give a fart for satire

As I struggle to pin the gloriously frustrating realities of Indonesia to the page, friends ask: wouldn’t it be easier to write the book as fiction? But as I look at the headlines that are churned out day after day: women must ride side-saddle on motorbikes, MPs will spend over half a million dollars travelling to Europe to check out witchcraft regulations, I think: “Fiction? You couldn’t make this up.” Indeed when the witchcraft trip hit the headlines, I commented…


Better politics is the only medicine for Indonesia’s health system

The picture above was taken in Lombok, in what I thought was an abandoned health centre. There was a little lab, a couple of consulting rooms, a dispensary, all mouldering with neglect. But on a door to a room in the back yard I saw a sign “The midwife is IN”. I knocked on the door, and to my amazement there she was. Could this derelict place be a living Puskesmas, a village health centre? I asked where the rest…



“The minister is shocked” shock

The always provocative Unspun asks how it is that Indonesia’s minister of health is shocked at the country’s HIV prevention failure. It’s a good question, most especially since before becoming minister just a few months ago, Nafsiah Mboi spent six years at the helm of the National AIDS Commission. The failure was highlighted in the new UNAIDS report on the state of the epidemic. They estimate that the rate of new HIV infections in 2011 was more than 25% higher…


Indonesia’s iron-fisted seducer takes in the Rothschilds

The US elections, taking place as I write, have not been much on the radar screens in the parts of Indonesia I’ve been in lately. Unlike the Indonesian elections, which are not due until 2014. Dashing out in front of the pack is Prabowo Subianto, a Suharto clone who is not, actually, a presidential candidate yet, according to his office. Odd, then, that I stumbled on to two shiny new ambulances parked incongruously outside a Moslem saint’s grave in Lombok…


That sinking feeling: will Indonesia neglect her colonial gem?

Earlier this month, almost exactly a year after I started this Indonesian Odyssey, I finally set foot in Java. Except that I didn’t quite. As I clambered off the boat at Semarang before dawn, my feet plunged in to water, calf-deep. Semarang is Java’s third largest port; the Pelni boats were ranged four deep along the wharf. And every one of the thousands of passengers getting off here had to wade to dry land. Because Semarang is sinking. The city…


The Great Divide: inequity on Indonesia’s highways

After many months on the high seas and highways of Indonesia I’ve finally made it into the Javanese heartland, and I’m in shock. The cause of my shock is, principally, shock absorbers: those things that I had assumed had been rattled out of every bus in the archipelago….