Indonesia

Hike skirts, not prices: diversion for Indonesian politicians

Indonesians think about sex, or at least search for it on the internet, more than most: Indonesian was the number one language for Google searches on sex last year, and the country ranked 6th overall in sex searches (the good fellow Moslems of Pakistan led the pack for the umpteenth year; indeed seven out of the top 10 sex-searchers are Moslem-majority nations). If the legislator caught with a long-lens camera watching porn in Indonesia’s national parliament is in any way…


The essentials of life: handphones where there’s no power

Just a couple of years ago, it was a source of wonder: “Wah! In Indonesia, even the hookers/farmers/becak drivers have cell-phones!” The citified loved to take photos of small buffalo-riding Javanese children or half-naked Papuan adults busily chatting on their cell-phones (HP, or “hah pay” in Indonesian, from the English Hand Phone). Now, cell-phones are such a universality that no-one even bothers to take note. But I still find it amusing that cell phones have entrenched themselves quite so firmly…


What drugs are they on? Madness in Indonesia’s jails

I spent Nyepi, the Hindu day of silence, in Bali. Things have quietened down a bit here, but earlier in the month prisoners in Kerobokan, the main jail, went on the rampage. Officially the riot was about overcrowding, though the trigger seems to have been some spat about drug dealing. It is old news that drugs are cheaper inside Indonesia’s jails than outside. But it is the link between drugs and overcrowding in jails that we need to be thinking…


Taking tea with the dead. Again.

“Taking Tea with the Dead” — the working title of the book I’m not quite getting around to writing — was taken from an experience over 20 years ago, when I was invited in to meet the grandmother of some random villager in Sumba. I was a little put out, on being introduced to Granny, to find that she had died the day before. I picked this piece of exotica as my working title because I was pretty sure that…


What’s a man without his weapon?

“Like throwing salt into the sea” : an Indonesian expression for futile activity. Called to mind by this banner at the airport in West Sumba. “Stop Violence!” proclaims the banner. It reminds us that, under a 1951 law, we can be jailed for 10 years for carrying sharp weapons without a permit. On the right of the banner, an illustration of some of the sharp weapons in question.


What’s wrong with Indonesian penises?

Reading the newspapers in cities across Papua, I cannot help but notice the full-colour ads for penis extensions. In only half an hour, with no invasive anything, men can see their organs grow, thicken, harden, for ever. The ads are explicit about the results, down to the last half centimetre; clients can choose both the length and girth of their organ, up to 20 cm by 6 cm (the more modest promise diameters of just 5.5). All of this with…


Note to Papuan politicians: Democracy is for grown-ups

When a senior Papuan politician said recently that Papua was not ready for democracy I was mildly shocked. “The people are not mature yet, neither are the political elite. They are not ready to accept defeat, which results in them resorting to violence. Organizers of elections in the regencies are terrorized and intimidated. People are prone anarchic acts,” Yop Kagoya, the deputy speaker of Papua legislative council,told the Jakarta Post. There’s no shortage of vociferous calls for self-determination for Indonesia’s…


Which is worse: HIV or corruption?

After another giant geographic leap (roughly the equivalent of London to Tehran) I find myself in Manokwari, West Papua. Tanah Papua, Indonesia’s eastern extremity, has the country’s highest rates of HIV, and also its highest levels of stigma. Which makes me wonder who came up with this commitment, made on an ageing poster that has pride of place outside the provincial Governor’s office. It declares: The West Papua government will lead the fight against: KKN (Corruption, Collusion and Nepotism) Narcotics…


Headhunters stand up against religious thuggery

One of the mysteries of life in Indonesia is how the government and the security forces allow absolute chaos, sometimes even mass murder, to develop in totally predictable ways. As groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam or FPI in Indonesian) move around the country beating up hookers and inciting violence against non-Moslems, the President and his ministers play Three Monkeys — see no evil, hear no evil, and therefore never have to speak about any evil. …


Take the Money Politics and run

It’s local election season in many areas of Indonesia. That means posters of well-fed used car salesmen promising vaguely to fight corruption and enrich the “rakyat”, the majority of Indonesians who live from day to day or month to month. It also means that towns and villages are filled with “Tim Sukses” — swarms of volunteers who try to get the vote out for their candidate, often with the help of envelopes of cash.