Comforting Words: Worn Out

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Worn Out

Dette: These are not very "comforting words", but I just feel like I have to share/vent... Your choice if you don't want to post it on the blog. I'll understand. Love, Sonya

As you can see, I chose to post my dear woman-friend's article as the mid-week Words of Comfort. I always ask that you read the posts here with an open heart and mind and a willingness to walk in the other person's shoe without judgement and/or condemnation.

Should you need to discuss anything you read hear, remember you can always contact me via email or join our mailing list and we can speak by telephone.

Words of Comfort
by Sonya

Syndey, Australia, October 2, 2005: Saturday night my partner and I were watching a movie, when suddenly her mobile phone went off. Her friend L sent her a text message from Bali. The bombs had gone off again. L was driving along the highway beside Jimbaran beach, on her way to a meeting in Kuta. The police were putting up roadblocks and re-directing traffic and wouldn't let L through.

Four bombs went off in the sand at a seafood market/restaurant that M and I loved six months earlier during our visit. L and her partner had joined us there for dinner one night as well. Then, the news reports said that there had been simultaneous bombs in a market district of Kuta as well.

We remembered the shop well-- across the street from the shopping centre where we had bought our souvenirs. The now exploded shop had sprayed a light mist of water on all who entered, to help cool down the tourists who weren't accustomed to the Balinese heat. It is not even 48 hours after the bombs as I write this, and the death toll is approaching 100- mostly tourists.

Jimbaran beach restaurant, while an amazing Balinese dining experience, was far beyond the budget of the majority of the Balinese themselves. The shopping centre in Kuta was in the middle of the "only tourists shop here" zone of a very "tourists only" district. In 2002, The Sari club was the place famous among 20-something backpackers as the best place to go for a drink and a night of dancing. Tourists from dozens of countries were killed that night-- but more were Australian than Indonesian.

There is a fundamentalist Muslim group who is either blamed or held responsible for these bombings. Jamaah Islamiyaah [I'm almost certain I have spelt that wrong, so we will just call them JI for short] apparently are sort of the "Indonesian arm" of Al-Quaeda. OH, and they are a recognised political party in the country.

The Australian politicians on the television news [every 5 seconds] are declaring that these bombings are NOT targeting tourists, but I am finding that a VERY difficult story to believe. Restaurants, shops and night clubs that only tourists can afford, that only tourists go to, and the only Indonesian nationals injured are the staff of the place, I just don't see how we can think that tourists are NOT the intended target of these senseless killings.

Ok, so let us add this up: JI targets the main source of income for the country (tourism). Ok, on that point alone, John Howard (Australian Prime Minister) may have a point, that their intent is to weaken the economy and democratic growth of Indonesia. But I get a feeling that there are other causes and conditions that we can consider to factor into this equation. I do not think the JI members just woke up one morning and said: "Let's cripple our country's economy!!" No matter what their goal is, I do not think it started here.

So, one step further back-- the tourists are there and have been going there for a very long time. Among backpackers and budget travellers, Bali has a certain reputation-- it is cheap, and the locals do not really force tourists to obey any social mores. I can only guess, but it is sort of like "we", the locals, have one set of rules, and since "they" (tourists) are only here for a short time, they get a different set of rules. "They" are bringing money into our country, which we need really badly, so let us just tolerate them for a little while and they'll go away.

Hence, the tourists, being mostly 20-something budget backpackers, DO NOT follow any social mores. This is a heavily Muslim country, where all these comparatively rich white folk arrive, start throwing money around, and behave in debaucherous,lewd, morally irresponsible ways. Wait, I think we might have found a problem here.

Now, fine, I have only entered 13 different countries, and given the number of countries that there are in the world, that is a drop in the ocean. However, in that time, I have had a chance to experience only a couple different cultures and religions. Admittedly, very little of this is contact with Muslim nations. I do not think I need first-hand experience, but I might have had a different approach in my travels.

I do not do this often, but let us look at the Bible for some ideas: Ephesians 4, 20-30 talks about changing old ways for new. (4,26-27, 29) "If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin,m and do not stay angry all day. Don't give the Devil a chance. Do not use harmful word, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you."

Another interesting lesson from 1 John 3, 11-12: The message you heard from the very beginning is this: we must love one another. We must not be like Cain, he belonged to the evil one and mudered his own brother Abel. Why did Cain murder him? Because the things he himself did were wrong, and the things his brother did were right. Then there is James 4, which is a long one, so I won't quote, but it talks about Friendship with the World.

It would appear that the Christian interpretation of JI's actions are that they are jealous of the tourists' riches, and that is why they feel they must kill-- I suppose to obtain the riches. This type of action is condemned, as far as I understand this reading from my Bible. Right, one of the commandments says: "Thou shalt not kill", so yah, I guess JI's actions are not popular.

M, being a travel agent, was hauled in to work today, a public holiday, to help the company cope with the glut of cancellations by Australians who have been scared by this, and do not want to go to Bali now. Well, the only similar parallel I can draw is from when I was living in South Korea, and they went through an economic crisis. They had to beg for a bailout from the IMF which totalled something like $47 billion (or was it 47 trillion won?). The currency devalued daily, and things went pretty dismal pretty quick.

For the English teachers who were living in Korea at the time, things went really bad really fast! Those who were trying to pay off student loans "at home" suddenly were unable to eat, for want of sending so much money home. Student numbers plummeted in our colleges, as the Koreans did not want to offer foreign language tuition anymore.

And the racism-- amazing. Suddenly, overnight, my white skin made me a target for any and all Koreans who were frustrated with the economic situation of their country.

Somehow, they felt that the IMF, a foreign [lit: non-Korean] institution, was represented in me. Overnight, I went from living in a comfortable city of 1.6 million to being scared of 1 599 990 people. (I may have made 10 friends since my arrival. I tried to just fit in as best I could. I could not change the colour of my skin, but I started picking up the local language and customs and keeping and spending my money within Korea.

Those who had to pay off debts, well, they just left in droves. They had been the drunkards and those who were not really interested in teaching anyway, they were just interested in fast money. I would not say that the Koreans' racism was justified in all cases, but there certainly were some who were "living offensively" and flouting their "western ways" in the face of the Koreans they encountered. Some Korean friends asked me: "Why do foreigners behave like that?" and I rarely had an answer.

I am sure that if the Korean religious structure would have tolerated violent action, there would have been a Korean faction of JI targeting tourists and blowing things up. No question in my mind.

So, how to avoid the situation? What's the moral of the story? Different approach, same lesson. Tourists should be sensitive to the fact that they are guests in someone else's home. Think of it as going to dinner at a friend's house. Your friend may invite you over for dinner to enjoy each other's company. Your rules that you have for your home may not be the same as the rules your friend has for his home.

The difference does not make your home right or his rules wrong-- different house, different owners, so there are different rules. If you blatantly disregard your friend's requests to follow his "house rules", he will stop inviting you over. Just as if someone blatantly flouted your 'house rules', you would probably not invite that friend to your home any more.

I am still scared. I may not think "Bali" when I look at my next vacation plans. The next time M heads to Bali for work, I doubt I will sleep the whole time she is gone. I doubt the Australians will be vacationing there in droves as has been the case over past years.

Fear is powerful-- and in that respect, the terrorists may have won a small battle.

However, for any tourist who has been to Bali and has taken advantage of the 'freedom' and behaved in ways that were uncomfortable for the Balinese to deal with, I think you are just as much to thank for these deaths as JI. You have done just as much as JI to create and detonate those bombs.

Laws of kharma and dependent origination may be Buddhist concepts, but the chain of cause and effect proves true. I know that justice officials will soon start looking for "those responsible for the bombings," and while there may be JI members who do need to be imprisoned and punished for their choices, I offer that there are causes further back in the chain which lead to these members looking at violence as an acceptable means to a solution.

There may have been innocent victims, but I believe that the guilty parties are far more numerous.

"May all beings be happy."


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