I’m always happy to see the Boys in Brown (in Indonesia that’s the police) supporting a good cause. Right now, they’ve decided to take on what I think is the biggest blight on this gloriously haphazard nation. Not corruption (that would be a stretch for the police), not a bloated and ineffectual civil service (ditto), but litter. Indonesians have gone from wrapping food in banana leaves to dressing food, drink, shampoo, sweets, virtually everything in shiny plastic wrappers. The national obsession with buying things in tiny quantities — just enough hair gel to achieve the Bus Station Lout look for a single spiky Saturday night — means there is an awful lot of wrapping around. And all of it gets discarded on the spot, as soon as its contents have been consumed.
Out the bus window, onto the floor of the airplane, over the side of the ferry into the sea — the possibilities for littering are endless, and all enthusiastically embraced. On an otherwise gorgeous and totally deserted beach in East Sumba a couple of weeks ago I counted 57 discarded plastic drinks containers in the shade of a single tree. A big tree, but still. At sea, those people who obey the “Keep this Ship Clean” signs and dutifully put their empty drink can in a bin can be forgiven for wondering why they bother — when the bins are full, a staff member will himself dump their contents over the side of the ship into the sea. Comments about this behaviour draw only blank looks: what behaviour?
So I’m thrilled that the police have nice new banners trashing litter. “Let’s work together to support and carry out the CLEAN INDONSIA MOVEMENT!” It would be more convincing, perhaps, if the police had spent as much time clearing up the garbage in their own yard as they did putting up the banner.