His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences
She’s Off Her Face (Book)
Susi Johnston, the long-term American expatriate whose situation in regard to the property she lives in at Mengwi is as disgraceful as it is well known, has dropped off the social medium preferred by gazillions of virtual chatterers. She has deactivated her Facebook. She told us, when we inquired, that she was fed up with her situation (who could blame her?) and was upset by what she sees as abandonment by former friends. It is all very sad.
Her legal argument over title to her villa, which she shared with her late Italian husband, Bruno Piazza, remains unresolved. Some local grub, name known to police, decided that she should have it instead. Johnston’s house has been invaded. She has been threatened with violent harm. Her personal space has been violated. She has been the target of people who have planted illegal products in her home so she would be charged with a crime. But she is the victim and because of this has been a virtual prisoner in her villa for three years. She can’t even find a pembantu willing in the circumstances to be paid (very well) to keep house.
The police have done little except camp at her place 24/7 to “protect” her. In the process they have destroyed her life. The courts have done nothing except shuffle bumf. That’s no surprise but excuse us if we duck around a corner to vomit in disgust. The American consular system apparently cannot help her (or perhaps it will not).
In Johnston’s view the invidious situation of “nominee ownership” of property here means no one is safe unless everyone stands together. Foreigners cannot own freehold residential property in Indonesia. There is apparently still the quaint belief – though this is not a peculiarly Indonesian thing – that if filthy foreigners own land they might dig it up and steal away with it in the night. In fact it is Jakarta and Surabaya money – some of it black – that is the chief agency of land theft and the egregious despoliation that inevitably follows. But the unofficial and legally unsound nominee system which stands in the stead of outright foreign freehold ownership can work quite well if there is goodwill on each side.
Of course, it also enriches a lot of lawyers in Bali, among them practitioners whose acquisitive origins lie elsewhere, via the labyrinthine nature of Indonesian law and the fat brown envelope culture that underpins it.
It would have been lovely to be at the Makassar Jazz Festival on the first weekend in November. Australian singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu was performing there, for the first time. He sings in the Gumatj dialect of Yolngu Matha, as did the Aboriginal rock group Yothu Yindi. Greg Moriarty, the Australian ambassador to Indonesia, had the good fortune to be in the audience.
Gurrumul’s music often enlivens The Cage and offers a spiritual lift. Particularly the haunting tracks Wiyathul and Bapa from his debut 2008 album Gurrumul, both of which on a hot, still night, remain capable of dampening an eye even after years of listening to them. He has done a lot of work since 2008, including last year’s collaboration with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He has immensely strengthened cross-cultural links with the Balanda (the Australian settler community) through his music.
It’s entirely appropriate that Gurrumul should perform in Makassar. His traditional country on northern Australia’s littoral has links with Makassar that stretch back four hundred years, from the time in the 17th century when traders from Sulawesi first made contact. His own language contains modified words from Makassar now used in Bahasa Indonesia.
Moriarty was in South Sulawesi at the start of a visit to eastern Indonesia. Among other things on his schedule was a visit to an Australian-funded water project at Bantimurung that will increase the number of low-income households with access to piped water and sewerage.
He then went on to visit Papua province as part of Australia’s long-term support for economic development in eastern Indonesia.
In Aid of a Better Life
Among the lesser known things that Australian diplomatic and consular missions do is fund low-level self-help projects generally at community level to help local people have a better life. It’s not the sort of thing that often gets noticed. Actually that’s a good thing, because otherwise some whingeing so-and-sos in the Special Biosphere would inevitably assert that “their” government was wasting their money.
The consulate-general in Bali – which also looks after Australian interests in West Nusa Tenggara (Lombok and Sumbawa) – has an active annual program in which development grants go to local not-for-profit organizations to support projects and ideas that would not be possible without that assistance. Grants range from $2,500 to $15,000 (Australian).
It’s a lengthy list (which really deserves wide publicity, despite the caution noted in the first paragraph) but there are three that caught our eye as brightly illuminating both the principle and the practice of local assistance.
One is Dria-Raba, a government school for the blind in Denpasar. The Australians provided musical instruments and the fit-out for a music room. Like most government schools in Indonesia Dria-Raba needs to find the bulk of its funding from elsewhere than the public purse. Because of its special needs it is heavily reliant on volunteers.
In East Bali the Direct Aid Program funded the building of three early childhood learning centres. This enabled women employed at the new East Bali Cashews factory to continue to work as their children could be looked after during the day.
In Ubud, where several organizations are trying to get on top of the growing pile of garbage created by tourism and development, the Australians funded building of an environmental waste management facility (it’s a Rotary Club Ubud project) at the Monkey Forest whose product also feeds the monkeys, eliminating the expensive need to purchase feed.
There’s an interesting book launch at Bar Luna, Ubud, on Sunday (Nov. 16): Sons of Abraham: A Candid Conversation about the Issues that Divide and Unite Muslims and Jews by Rabbi Marc Schneier and Imam Shamsi Ali.
Rabbi Schneier, president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, is the eighteenth generation of a distinguished rabbinical dynasty. He grew up deeply suspicious of Muslims, believing them all to be anti-Semitic (though that would be difficult for many Muslims who, being Arab, are Semites themselves). Imam Shamsi Ali, Imam of the Jamaica Muslim Center in New York, spent his childhood in a small Indonesian village, studied in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and believed that all Jews wanted to destroy Muslims. Coming from positions of mutual mistrust, it seemed unthinkable that these orthodox religious leaders would ever see eye to eye.
But in Sons of Abraham (Random House) – and the Bahasa Indonesia version Anak-Anak Ibrahim (Noura Book Publishing) – Rabbi Schneier and Imam Ali tell the story of how they became friends. They offer a candid look at the contentious theological and political issues that so often divide Muslims and Jews and clarify erroneous ideas that extremists in each religion use to justify harmful behaviour.
Another warning about overdevelopment has surfaced, this time in Bali Discovery and the online Surf Life journal. It reports that the Bali chapter of the Association of Tourism Intellectuals (this is not necessarily an oxymoron) is alarmed that accommodation development in Bali is following an unclear path. As a deflective euphemism, that’s almost up there with the Japanese Emperor advising his people in a national radio broadcast in August 1945 that he was surrendering because the war had developed in ways not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.
Association chairman Putu Anom said that while new starred hotels were once confined to a specific area, these days inexpensive city hotels stood side-by-side with them, resulting in unhealthy price competition. Well, there’s always a protectionist argument that can be advanced, even if it should be ignored. It’s certainly true that Bali’s greed-first policy is creating an ever-spreading rash of significantly sub-iconic blots on the landscape.
The Surf Life piece had a photo captioned to indicate the particular blot on the landscape depicted was another hotel. It isn’t. It’s actually worse. Someone with a ready supply of facilitation funds is wrecking the cliff just east of the Banyan Tree on the southern Bukit to create a jet-ski centre where Generation Vroom can disturb the peace, frighten the local fish, and damage the coral.
Killer at Large
A nine-year-old girl from Kubu in Karangasem, East Bali, has died of rabies. This is a shocking and unnecessary tragedy. It is also a bleak indictment of the Bali authorities’ condign failure, now of six years’ duration, to act effectively to control the outbreak to prevent the disease becoming endemic. It’s not that they’ve been short of advice, expert assistance, or funds, after all.
Hector tweets @scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper and online at baliadvertiser.biz