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.


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.

We’re not in Kansas anymore!

We’re not in Kansas anymore! This photo of voters in New Guinea portrays more eloquently than words the collision of worlds as all of democratic Indonesia turns out to elect its new president. The information in this article, reposted from The Guardian, compares this election with the extraordinary grassroots success of Obama in the United States.

Jokowi and Prabowo both claim victory in early Indonesian election results

Papuans vote in Jayapura in the remote eastern Indonesian province.

Voters in Jayapura, in the remote eastern Papuan province. Analysts fear the dual claims of victory could lead to a constitutional standoff. Photo: Liva Lazore/AFP/Getty

The Guardian, Wednesday 9 July 2014 16.13 BST

by: Kate Lamb, Jakarta

A historic presidential election in Indonesia was precariously balanced on Wednesday after both candidates declared themselves winners, raising the prospect of a tense standoff in the Islamic world’s biggest democracy.

Just hours after the polls closed, Joko Widodo, the governor of Jakarta who has made the fight against corruption and social injustice key policies, gave a live television address claiming victory, setting off scenes of jubilation among his supporters.

“We are grateful that based on the counting of the quick counts, Jokowi-JK has won,” he said, referring to his own nickname and the initials of his running mate, Jusuf Kalla. He cited one of the early post-election counts, which samples votes from around the country and which gave him about 52% of vote compared with about 48% for his rival, Prabowo Subianto, an ex-general and son-in-law of the former dictator Suharto.

“This is the victory of all people of Indonesia,” Jokowi later told supporters. Another credible quick count by the pollster Saiful Mujani with similar figures gave Jokowi 52.95% and Prabowo 47.05%.

But his opponent was in no mood to concede, appearing on television later to say: “We are grateful from the incoming data that we received the mandate of the people.”

Numerous quick counts cited on television channels showed significant variations in result, depending on the political affiliation of the TV channel. The quick counts conducted by the Centre for Policy Studies and the Indonesia Voice Network, put Prabowo in front by 1% to 4%.

Political analyst Yohanes Sulaiman said: “I think basically we are going to be in limbo. Are you actually willing to tell Prabowo to his face: ‘Hey, you are wrong’?”

Prabowo, who was dismissed from the Indonesian army special forces for ordering the kidnapping of pro-democracy activists in 1998, is known to have a short temper.

His supporters admire him for his firmness, arguing that Indonesia, a nation strung across 17,000 islands and home to hundreds of ethnic groups and cultures, needs a strong, unifying leader.

Other analysts believe the dual claim could end up in a long drawn-out constitutional battle that is unlikely to be resolved for months.

The elections are seen as a crucial test of democracy in the world’s fourth most populous country, as they should result in Indonesia’s first democratic transfer of power from one elected leader to another. Indonesia has offered a respectable example, in recent years, of a Muslim-majority country that threw off dictatorship and blossomed economically under a democratic system.

On his official Twitter account, the outgoing president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has publicly endorsed Prabowo, urged for peace to be preserved.

He asked both camps to “restrain themselves and not to mass on the streets to celebrate, until an official KPU [election commission] announcement”.

Yudhoyono repeated his comments several hours later, adding that the conflicting counts did not qualify as the “official results”.

Authorities said up to 250,000 police officers were on standby across the country and while there are fears that the conflicting declarations could cause unrest, as of Wednesday evening there were no reported incidents.

Before the election several credible pollsters had placed Jokowi ahead of Prabowo, but maintained that the race was too close to call.

At the polls, voters appeared to be equally divided over their choice of the next president.

Voting preferences were more pronounced across demographic lines. First-time voters, who account for a third of the 187 million electorate, tended to favour Jokowi.

Anis Komariah, 28, commenting on Jokowi’s reputation for clean governance as she voted in south Jakarta, said: “He is the type of person that is sincere, and the parties that support him, he didn’t offer them ministerial positions.”

Young voters, who have taken to social media in huge numbers during the election – at one point on Wednesday six out of 10 top trending hashtags worldwide referred to Indonesia’s election – believe that Jokowi represents a clean break with the past.

Older voters who are likely to have vivid memories of the mass riots that led to the fall of Suharto in 1998, say they favour Prabowo, seeing him as a strong, commanding leader who they believed would better unify the country.

Rofiq Mohammad, a 48-year-old voter, said: “I think a strong leader is important because we don’t want a situation like the Middle East.

“If things get unstable, everything will go bad and maybe so bad that it will be difficult to come back again. Indonesian stability is the most important.”

However, there appeared to be a consensus among voters in the world’s third-largest democracy that the election should go ahead peacefully amid fears that riots could break out in the event of a tight or contested result. Official results are not expected for two weeks.

Edward Gunawan, a film producer who flew home to Indonesia from Bangkok in the middle of a shoot so he could vote for the first time, said that in recent weeks selfies and pictures of food had vanished from his social media feeds.

“It’s interesting that your news feed is suddenly filled with very serious stuff, but I see it as a very encouraging sign,” said Gunawan, who likened the mood to the election of US president Barack Obama in 2008. “My generation and even the younger generation are getting involved and getting excited about the political process.”

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