HECTOR’S DAIRY Bali Advertiser, Sep. 30, 2015

by 8 Degrees of Latitude

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Rabid Response

An eight-year-old boy from Batur Tengah in Bangli died of rabies in mid-September, and a woman has died in Buleleng from the disease, the latest victims of the seven-year outbreak of the disease in Bali. Their deaths are yet another tragic reminder that the authorities here long ago dropped the ball over rabies, an entirely preventable disease, after making a good start on combating it in 2009-2010.

Sadder still is that the methodology of their anti-rabies campaign is now focused on killing dogs, including vaccinated ones and family pets, instead of on vaccination, humane reduction of numbers through sterilisation, and firm, well resourced community education. Most sadly of all, rabies has become a bureaucratic battleground, a venue for fractious argument, and the latest environment in which the local bureaucratic view that foreigners should just shut up about problems since these problems (which are sometimes presented as not being problems at all) are nothing to do with them.

The sensitive nature of advocacy is well understood among the foreign cohort here that does that sort of thing. They’re not doing it for money, except in the sense of spending it, since there’s very little money to be made in lending a hand. That applies in animal welfare just as much as it does in education, rural and remote health and village infrastructure, and a lot else.

The particular problems of animal welfare groups are well known. They have national licences that govern their establishment and permit them to work in the field. But the provincial and district administrations are responsible for a range of subsidiary permits and permissions, and these of course can be held up at will or withdrawn at a moment’s notice. As was the case with a sterilization and vaccination day held recently in Gianyar regency and funded by the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA). Public order police shut down the event even though the village concerned had sought that assistance and advised the authorities of this. The nose of the relevant regency factotum was out of joint, apparently.

There’s a rare outbreak of rabies in Penang, an island off the western coast of Malaysia. It is an isolated event involving only a few dogs, and is exactly analogous with Bali’s situation in 2008 since the disease was imported. The authorities there are mass-killing dogs as a result, in the face of protest and advice that this is not the way to go, and yet again in clear breach of effective disease control measures that everyone else knows work very well. Sadly, unless they see sense and work with organisations – including NGOs with runs on the board in terms of animal welfare and health – the result in Penang will be same as in Bali. The disease will spread and people will die.

The bottom line in public health (we’ll keep saying this until someone wakes up) is that rabies is a controllable disease with proper countermeasures and is not a threat in Bali to people who are fully vaccinated against it and who if they are bitten by a suspect animal have the money to obtain the necessary post-exposure booster shots. That excludes the bulk of the Balinese population, for whom such protection is a sick joke. Government clinics often do not have rabies vaccine in stock. Immunoglobulin, the expensive additional necessity in preventing rabies in people who do not have pre-exposure protection, is unobtainable.

It would be wrong to keep silent while the national government looks the other way and the local authorities kill people’s pets and destroy whatever vestiges still exist of the vaccinated dog screen so painstakingly and expensively put in place in 2009-2010. We must again conclude and publicly note that the inmates have escaped and are running the asylum.

A Fond Farewell

Family business has taken The Diary yet again to Western Australia, Bali’s southern suburb. This time it was to farewell the feisty lady whom we long ago dubbed World’s Best Mother-in-Law. It was a sad occasion, of course, as such things always are, but there were lots of laughs as well. The MiL was more dear friend than in-law; moreover, one with a wicked wit which she sometimes allowed herself to let loose on the unsuspecting crowd.

We managed to have a little conversation, she and The Diary, before nature took its inevitable final step. And it was instructive of times past and lovely memories. The MiL, aside from being a gentle jokester when the feeling was upon her, was an inveterate traveller and shopper including in Bali, where she has Balinese friends. She was also responsible for the marriage that has sustained The Diary through three decades. She arrived in Port Moresby in 1982 – The Diary and the would-be Distaff were living there at the time – with a wedding cake and a bridesmaid and it would have been such a shame to waste the cake.

There was one outstanding question to which The Diary had always sought an answer. Not about the wedding (the cake was fabulous) but about an incident in Vanuatu a decade later. We were holidaying there, The Diary, the Distaff and the MiL, and one day hired a little sailboat, a catamaran, for a breezy self-sail tour of the Erakor lagoon. The breeze faded to nothing shortly afterwards, leaving us becalmed mid-lagoon. The Diary knew that sooner or later a boat would motor out and retrieve us, but as time passed the feeling grew strongly that the MiL would really like The Diary to get out of the boat into the chest-deep water and push the boat back to base. The Diary did not do this, for Erakor lagoon is where barracuda breed and toes seemed more important than timeliness.

In our last little chat, the day she died, The Diary made a final attempt to secure an answer as to the MiL’s wishes on that long-gone day, helped along by a warmly firm squeeze of the hand. The hint of a wicked smile appeared. So now we know. Farewell, feisty lady. You’re a trouper.

No Sax Please, We’re Closed

We’ve been going to The Jazz Café Ubud since, well, forever, so it was very sad to hear that it closed its doors for the last time on Sep. 19. The last night was quite a party, it seems, and that’s fitting indeed for an Ubud institution and a place where fine musical fare was available in a great jazz atmosphere.

It won’t have been making money, since it was a place where regulars were apt to drop in and sit on a single drink all evening – they were there for the music of course, but such is the focused self interest of many that the commercial viability of the establishments they frequent is at most secondary matter to them. There are other places in Ubud to listen to jazz, but none we know of that comes even close to The Jazz Café.

Musical Chairs

It used to be said, not least by Australians themselves, that Australian politics were both parochial and boring. It has lost the boring part of things – for those who enjoy such shenanigans anyway – in recent years with the development of mid-term party room coups that unseat prime ministers and install in their place a rival contender.

The Labor Party started this curious art form, when it saw off Kevin Rudd and installed Julia Gillard before then uninstalling Gillard and screwing Rudd back into the socket as its preferred light on the hill. It has now spread to the Liberal Party, the larger part of the conservative coalition that has run Australia since the national elections in 2013. Tony Abbott, who was a good opposition leader but for most observers a poor and uncommunicative prime minister, had his Julius Caesar moment on Sep. 14. He was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull, a lawyer and merchant banker, whose social views are less restrictive and far less prescriptive and whose economic advocacy may turn out to be both more palatable and of better effect than that of his predecessor. Time will tell.

It was good to see that Julie Bishop remained foreign minister and Andrew Robb trade minister in the cabinet changes. Political diplomacy requires a mannered and quiet approach.

Feeling Bookish

The 2015 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival kicks off today (Sep. 30). It is a firm fixture in Bali’s festival calendar, puts our island firmly in the international spotlight, and promotes Indonesian writing to a very wide audience indeed. It is an annual event that is not to be missed.

Hector tweets @ scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the print and on line editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliiadvertiser.biz