Monday, November 20, 2006

Bogor, Indonesia

This morning I listened to the BBC news report on George Bush's visit to Indonesia. My initial reaction was to apologize to the Indonesians (and the world). The global community and America desperately need better-than-Bush. Now!

But beyond politics, I was drawn to the report because I have been to Bogor. In February and March 2001, Barry and I visited our good friend who was teaching at the Jakarta International School. It was my first time in Asia and the experiences changed me forever.

Here's the Bogor I remember: We saw flying foxes (tropical fruit bats) hanging in huge trees. The Presidential Palace is a large white mansion, a remnent of colonial rule. There is a wide main thoroughfare, vast lawns, high fences, and roe deer roaming the grounds. We walked through botanical gardens and saw a raffesia (corpse flower) well beyond its bloom.

We were the only people from a western country in the gardens that day. Two men approached us, one selling postcards and one selling small silver spoons with figures from Indonesian puppetry. The two men spoke English and we spent the next few hours with them as they became our guides.

One man had been a teacher and the other, an engineer. When the Asian markets crashed in the late 90's, these men lost their jobs and like so many others now sold souvenirs. They told us few tourists came to Bogor those days, especially after Suharto was driven out and the American businesses fled.

We rode back to Jakarta on smooth highways. As we approached the city center, there were tall, western-style skyscrapers, emblazoned with the names and logos of American banks and insurance companies -- and all were abandoned. There's a river/ canal that also runs through the center and along its banks were cardboard huts where families lived and ate and washed. I watched an elderly woman dip water from that brown sludge that carried the refuse of 12 million people to the harbor and on to the Java Sea.

It wasn't all poverty and stereotypic images -- not at all. There were trees and vibrant markets and everywhere, families together. We visited museums along with multiple school groups, all dressed in different uniforms. We visited the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. We were a great curiosity and that created so many memorable, thoughtful conversations.

My credo is: We are all just people. This is what I learned in Asia, across the length of Java and Bali, in the botanical gardens of Bogor.

I still have those tiny silver spoons. I wonder what George Bush will bring back from Indonesia?

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