Give Peace a Chance

Trip Start Jun 02, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Friday, August 8, 2008

The monkeys were out in full force this morning, shimmying along the electrical wires strung through the trees, leaping nimbly up tree trunks and swinging from branch to branch. Tiny hairy human beings with an equal lack of morality. Looking for bananas and whatever else they can find.
It is Friday, the Muslim holy day, today. No boats will be out on the water until noon. I sat under the thatch-roof gazebo around the communal restaurant table, sipping my morning Acehnese coffee with a couple of interesting blokes from London I met last night. They had displayed an impressive knowledge of Trailer Park Boys, just about the funniest thing going in Canadian comedy (and with exports like Jim Carey, Eugene Levy of American Pie fame, and Mike Meyers, "Austin Powers," Canada has a hell of a lot of good stuff).
Bubbles is my favourite. He has big bug eyes behind Coke bottle glasses, a love for cats and a sweetness betrayed only by his evil ventriloquist's doll, Conky (my favourite episode). His buddies Ricky and Julian are always coming up with hair-brained schemes to make money, which usually end up in a little lighthearted gunplay or a trip to jail. J-Rock, a white rapper who's convinced he's black, reminds me fondly of friends back in Surrey, British Columbia, among the original Slim Shady's before Eminem became a big a name in the home of gangsta wannabes everywhere.
Other subjects of conversation: the two Canadian kids in South Park, Terrence and Phillip, who have no jaws so their heads look like cracked eggs when they talk, and the episode of the Simpsons when the kids end up on an island in a remake of William Golding's Lord of the Flies (also the episode where Ralph Wiggum eats poisonous berries and cries, "It tastes like burning!"-a quote that can be utilized often when sampling Indonesian food.)
All the while, glowering at me from the corner, was Diar, the local trouble maker whose attention was making me nervous. The yellows of his eyes rolled like egg yolks in their sockets. He sucked on his cigarette; the tobacco crackled and sparks flew up to the roof.   He spoke in Indonesian so the others wouldn't understand "Kamu sombong," he said, using the familiar kamu instead of the formal anda (saying anda is a sign of respect when you don't know someone well, like using vouz in French).
He accused me of being arrogant, like a westerner. Maybe I am part of some national character. Maybe the arrogance of westerners is my birthright. I, too, see it in numerous but not all, tourists, who act like every place they go is their god-given right. An old sentiment hung over from colonial times, still lingering but not dead yet. The brutality of the Dutch, who killed so many in their conquest of this land for trade and profit, has not been forgotten; some have a lingering mistrust. But the Achenese got on with the English. In Elizabethan times, the powerful Sultan Ala-uddin of Banda Aceh once greatly admired Queen Elizabeth I, and they exchanged letters and gifts.
Arrogance is also a self-protective mechanism, to avoid letting in people that might possibly hurt you in some way. Larger picture aside, I think my mistake was being too friendly at the outset. Besides, what have Canadians ever done to people abroad (aside from what happened to our own First Nations) on a mass scale?
"Kamu guru, Wendy. Tapis tidak sopan. You just throw me out like that," he said of my efforts to get him off my balcony without making a scene. Then, something unintelligible because Diar speaks partly in Indonesia, Acehnese, English and something else his own altogether. He didn't grasp the fact that his aggressive behaviour toward guests would make them naturally wary of him. One of the English guys looked at me as if to say, "What is going on?" Diar then launched into the same story he had told me, about being in GAM, and fighting in the jungle, and how he left the country to work on the shipping lines.
Two things struck me about this scene. First, that many people like Diar and Felix, the guide from Bukit Lawang, have a story to tell. It may be arresting; it may or may not be embellished, true or accurate. It may be a sad story or full of adventure and intrigue. It may be told to show off, threaten, or gain sympathy, and maybe some sympathy cash. The old, "Poor me! The world owes me!" sob story.
Another thing is that the teller gets to be the hero or anti-hero of the story with each telling. I wonder if Diar sees himself as a kind of freedom fighter, like Che Guevera stood up for the people of Latin America. Che's visage, proudly looking out on the horizon of a better future, is a common sight on T-shirts around Indonesia. His image and what it stands for has become so iconic that it has become a national archetype. Multiple replications of Che peer out in newspaper photos of demonstrations in Jakarta and around the country. Freedom, rebellion, the common man standing up in the face of corruption and adversity. The men here sense it, even if they don't consciously think about what it means. It is what Aceh stands for.
"Aceh is rich," Diar said. Resentment cut into his sunken cheeks, making two large creases down the sides of his face. "Jakarta take, take take. But it is ours. The oil, the gas, the coffee. If no Aceh, no Indonesia. Indonesia would not exist without Aceh."
He has put in a nutshell why GAM formed to fight the Indonesian army. Since the 1970s, an estimated 12,000 people have gone missing in this province, "disappeared" by militia forces. Their families and loved ones never saw or heard from them again. The tsunami brought about a peace deal between the two sides, ostensibly putting a stop to the fighting.
"Is there not peace now, since the tsunami?" I asked.
He was quiet, and took another slug of beer. Diar is a very small man. Standing next to me has the stature of a young boy. But his face is older than his years, wizened and a little crazed. His good side and bad side chase each other across his face like the currents on the surface of the Andaman.
"No worries," he said. "I see the police in Sabang all the time. We remember. We went to school together." They may have gone to school together, but they are also on different sides of the fence ideologically . Nothing is ever black and white. I think about how many friendships and betrayals have occurred, how many have still yet to occur, especially during the coming elections.
But this is all so serious compared to when I started out talking about Trailer Park Boys. That's how it is here; so many funny things happen, and serious things at the same time. Nothing like a little TPB or Southpark to keep it all in perspective.
The boys left to go to the beach, and I started down the path, heading for some hammock time. Just as I reached my bungalow, a monkey crossed my path and hissed at me. I looked up to find four others crouched on a rock, glowering at me and baring their teeth. They had been getting into the box of garbage I collected, lifting the t-shirt I found drifting in the coral, and dumped it in the dirt. Alas, no food. The one on the ground came at me and hissed again. Paul, the schoolteacher from England, had told me he encountered them on the path one morning, so I guess today was my turn. I swung my broom at them, an angry mother shooing off a pesky gang of schoolchildren, and they scampered away.
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