Calling all writers…UWRF 2015!

Calling all writers…or readers, poets, short story tellers, journalists, memoirists, documentarians, stand-up comedians, photographers, political activists…

Despite the creeping menace of censorship that threatened to shut down the 2015 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, the show has gone on with a few parts missing. It’s gut-wrenching to know that there is still such fear around freedom.

Brave soldier, Philip!!!

Brave soldier, Philip!!!

This year I waffled. Should I volunteer again? I’ve given time and energy to this event for the past three years. I’ve met people who have become important to me, dear friends like Philip, faithful soldier, who is back from San Diego, USA, to offer his blood, sweat, and tears for the cause.

Or…

Should I buy the 4-day pass?

Being the decisive person I am, I vacillated right up to the day before the festival. By that time it was far too late to volunteer so I had the option to buy a ticket…or not. That morning I woke up to a lecture, stern self-talk from left brain to right that went something like this: “Idiot! You call yourself a writer. Here you are, living walking distance from one of the most celebrated writers’ festivals in the world, and you’re actually wondering whether or not you should attend? What are you thinking!”

I didn’t walk, I ran to the box office as soon as it opened and bought my ticket. That very evening was a kick-off book launch at Nomad, a popular restaurant at the intersection of Jalan Raya and Gautama streets. As soon as I walked in, a glass of wine was shoved in my hand and a tray of exotic canapes held under my nose, compliments of Nomad. Stormy

The book being launched was, Stormy with a Chance of Fried Rice, in which author, Pat Walsh tells the story of his twelve months in the megacity of Jakarta where he lived while editing the painful human rights report entitled, Chega! which recounts the horrors of victims of the Suharto years in Timor-Leste.

That set the tone. This morning at 8:30, Ketut dropped me at the Neka Museum where the first session of the day was a panel discussion by four Indonesian writers.

nekaKetut is always a little shocked when we arrive at a destination and there’s nobody there. I like to be early, especially when I expect a standing-room-only crowd and want to snag a seat toward the front.  neka2As it turned out, I had my choice of seating, but within twenty minutes the shuttle buses arrived and the place was jammed with humanity.

PanelWhat followed was an hour of fascination. Two of the four authors spoke in English and the other two had interpreters. What was brought home to me with poignant clarity as I strained to understand the writers who spoke in Indonesian, was the beautiful complexity of that language. I’ve studied enough to understand most of what was said. But I was unprepared for the impact of hearing the message twice: first in the panelist’s own language, eloquently, with humor and subtle cultural nuances, then in English. Being unable to understand a speaker in his own language is like seeing the sunrise through a shaded window. Now, suddenly, the shade had been thrown open and the fullness of morning shone through.

XinranThat heady experience was followed by an interview with Xinran, the feisty Chinese woman who wrote Buy Me the Sky, a book that tells how the one-child policy in China has turned the family structure of that country upside down. As luck, or fate, may have it, the headlines this morning CHINA ABANDONS ONE-CHILD POLICY AFTER 35 YEARS appeared just hours before her interview.

The next group comprised of a journalist, an attorney, and a ‘citizen’, hashed over Jokowi’s first year as the seventh President of Indonesia. In his campaign, touted as a man for the people, he went up against the military might of Prabowo and won. But not much has changed. Does that sound familiar?

All this before lunch.

One of the problems at this festival is a mixed blessing. There are simply too many choices. I heard four of the twenty-four offerings available to me in the main program today. I could have attended six if I wanted to skip lunch and by-pass another book launch. I opted to eat. And the opportunity to learn about Indonesians who were drawn into the colonial quest for pearls from Adrian Vickers, who wrote The Pearl Frontier, seduced me. The lure of a little more wine and tasty appetizers my have had some influence on my decision to by-pass another panel discussion and go for the launch.

Early again, a friend and I settled in at The Elephant, another of Ubud’s fine eateries, and I ordered an Americano mocha. That, of course, identified me immediately as a coffee dunce. “Do you want an Americano…or a mocha,” the very respectful, very young wait person asked. I revised my order and the mocha was delicious. It’s the reason I’m still awake and able to write this post.

9780824840020Adrian Vickers mesmerized his crowd. We heard about Broome, Australia, where Asians who were indentured into the pearl trade lived and many intermarried with the aboriginal people there. The fishermen of Indonesia knew where to find the pearls, but most of the first divers  were Japanese. Later, Indonesians learned how to free-dive, braving sharks and sea snakes to plunge into the depths for the treasures at the bottom of the sea. It wasn’t the divers who got rich. Like so many other tales of Indonesia, this, too, is a story of exploitation.

I can’t believe how my horizons have been broadened, my awareness heightened, my sensitivities enhanced, my consciousness raised. Being in the presence of these brilliant minds humbles me, makes me want to be a better person. It’s heartbreak and joy all in one package, and it’s only the second day.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Diane Struble
    Oct 30, 2015 @ 13:31:02

    Sounds perfect for you. Sorry the new president of Indonesia has failed to make it a better country apparently (I have no knowledge in this regard), but we can hope that it will happen in the future. Governing is tricky, but no excuses for inhumanity. Looking forward to your next report.

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  2. Carol Frei
    Oct 30, 2015 @ 17:02:35

    Awesome job on your blog girlfriend. We ARE so lucky to have this festival in our ‘hood. It is amazing!

    See you today somewhere, somehow. cf

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  3. sageblessings
    Oct 30, 2015 @ 18:06:34

    Certainly glad yu bought that ticket!!

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  4. Nanci
    Oct 30, 2015 @ 20:23:46

    Sounds like a great time, Sherry. By chance are you planning to hear Michael Chabon speak? I’ve read 3 of his novels and I enjoyed them but my husband hated them. He’s the only author at UWRF whose name I recognize. Hope you enjpy the rest of the conference. How very cool you get to participate this year!

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  5. Alexsandra Trevor
    Oct 30, 2015 @ 22:36:59

    Your writing puts it all in perspective. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

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