Death to the budget! Graves in Sumba

Sumba is a graveyard of bodies and good intentions. Physically, it is littered with impressive megalithic tombs and their hideous modern counterparts. Financially, it is littered with development projects that haven’t quite developed anything. “Megalithic” sounds ancient, and many are, but they are still being built today. The tomb in the photo above was built in the 1970s; it took several hundred people the best part of a year to drag the stones on wooden rollers from the quarry to…


Moncong putih: nyoblos atau main belakang?

With individuals and political parties jumping in and out of bed with one another with gay abandon, it’s quite hard for a new (re)arrival to figure out what’s going on in Indonesian politics. I am somewhat incorrectly on the record as a supporter of PDIP (a story too long to tell, but perhaps this banner, modified ahead of the last election, will give an idea…). I thus have to express dismay at the apparent bullying of PDIP in its former…


Spinning around Sumba

Sumba is well known for its weaving; back in the day, villagers used to wait til the pods of the kapok tree kapas bush burst open to yield their cotton, then patiently spin it in to thread with nothing but a little wooden top (a jenny? am I making that up?) gyrating on a broken plate fragment. It’s rare these days. Trying to follow all the steps involved described by Mama Lakabobo, shown here with a whole year’s production, I…


Repel hazardous trespasser!

You can see the hazardous trespasser reflected in the glass. For what it’s worth, a more correct translation would read: For our mutual well-being, please wear your ID card. Perhaps they are worried about all the dodgy visitors going cap in hand to the top floor of the building, home of the Ford Foundation, which funds all sorts of hazardous enterprises, including programmes that aim to increase accountability in government.


Yoga in Bali: to laugh or to cry?

Ubud is an expatirate encampment in the hills of Bali made famous by a dashing Brazilian who rode in on a white charger and saved Elizabeth Gilbert from boring the world to death with sun salutations. And it’s here that I’m suffering an attack of incurable Yoga Rage. In a town where it is virtually impossible to get Indonesian school books or a pair of sandals without beadwork, there are a dozen or more shops selling yoga kit. Touchy feely…


Waiting for SBY

The most common activity for any traveller in Indonesia is, without question, waiting around. One of the next most common activities is guessing WHY we’re waiting around. Sometimes, the ferry captain forgets the waters are tidal and a ferry will get stranded on its belly for six or eight hours. Sometimes, one has to wait until the bus driver’s mother-in-law has finished her dinner. This weekend, I spent several hours waiting for The President. Me, I just had to wait…


Hair today, gone tomorrow

There’s only so much of one’s time one can spend thinking about other people’s sex lives. I feel as though I’ve been doing it for a very long time — there’s more than you want to know about it over at The Wisdom. Now for something completely different. For the next year or so, I’ll be rediscovering an old passion: Indonesia. I brushed against it 30 years ago, and fell properly in love in the late 1980s, when I worked…


About Portrait Indonesia

In late 2011, epidemiologist, writer and adventurer Elizabeth Pisani granted herself a sabbatical from the day job and set off to rediscover Indonesia, a country she has wandered, loved and been baffled by for decades. On this site she will share photos and occasional musings from her journey, which, if all goes well, will cover some 10,000 kilometers. The journey will form the backbone of a book (and a multimedia BookPlus), which will include also reflections on her earlier incarnations…