Waiting for the Rain
Author: Tamara Sundberg
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 10/02/2003
Amongst the muckiness of poverty, walking past shops with aisles of dusty goods, along an empty road, I come across a man whistling. When I stop to ask him what tune he is whistling he tells me, “it is a song my mother used to sing to bring the rain”. He tells me “I’m waiting for the rain”. His song sums up what so many people in Indonesia are doing, “waiting…for the rain”.
I met the man this August on a return trip to Indonesia. It was the day after the bombing of the JW Marriot hotel in Jakarta, which is believed to have been perpetuated by the ‘Jemaah Islamiya’ group, the terrorist organization responsible for the Bali nightclub bombings of Oct 2. 2002.
During my travels across Indonesia, I saw the ongoing devastation that these two bombings, along with other worldwide incidents have had on the people of Indonesia. I have traveled in Indonesia off and on, since 1997, just as Indonesia was undergoing the first pangs of its financial crisis and subsequent political upheaval. Strangely, most times I visited the country it was either facing elections or it was right in the middle of them so in the past there was certainly a thick air of tension. However, nothing I encountered in the past comes close to the feeling that now seems to sit in the deep burrows of its people. In most voices there is a sound of grief, confusion, and distress – yet, the innate resilence and optimism of the Indonesians also shines though; it is this smile, and its acknowledgement of hope that I have always loved coming back to.
Facing an unemployment rate that has rocketed to 8.3%, over the last year, the people of Indonesia, and especially those of Bali, are not ignorant that their very livelihood is shaped by foreign visitors and investors.1 Bali and other areas of Indonesia, which rely heavily on the tourism industry, have taken the brunt of the economic crush caused by the bombings. I saw this first hand while on a boat trip between several islands of Indonesia. After sailing for three days, my co-passengers and I realized that the crew of the boat weren’t eating fresh food but were taking our leftover food into the interior of the boat and eating it. This usually consisted of only rice. Through an Indonesian friend, we asked them if they had any food. They replied that their employers had cut back their pay and had only sent enough food on board to feed the passengers. Subsequently, at the next meal there was a lot of leftover food. However, it’s a clear sign that the already poor and vulnerable and especially those relying on tourists are being affected most by the destruction wrought by the terrorists. This may have been the aim of the bombers – poverty and its chum instability, are often regarded by terrorists as essential in any terrorist toolbox. Further fueling the misery bought about by the economic downturn due to the bombing are the sharp increases in the price of rice, which unfortunately coincided with the attacks. Since the poor spend a relatively large share of their income on food, they have been the largest portion of the population affected by such increases. 2
Economic consequences that can be directly linked to the Bali bombing are most visible in the hospitality sector. In 2002 and 2003 tourist numbers in Bali decreased by 31% and 28% respectively. 3 This economic pain is being felt throughout Indonesia with a mild economic recovery in 2002 being sent into a tailspin by the recent unrest. These loses are having detrimental effects on people whose livelihood depends on the tourist industry. Made, a massage specialist and saleswomen in a hotel in Padang Bai spoke to me about the after effects of the Bali bombing and her fears of what the Jakarta bombing will mean for the tourist industry. “ For 3 months after the bomb my husband and I barely had [enough] food. We [both lost our] jobs. We only [ate] vegetables. My husband and I [had to] become porters in Lombok carrying bags, carrying things, [into the] harbor or [out] to fishing boats. It’s difficult because [in Indonesia] there [is] no money. No people [came] to Bali [after the bombing but] before many people came. I [was] very busy [but] now I’m not busy and now the Jakarta bombing [happened] so no people [will] come to Indonesia.”
While in Indonesia, I was witness to the part-time porter jobs, which Made had told me about. People line the docks, anticipating the arrival of ferries, waiting for them to get close enough to jump aboard. People so determined to secure a job that they scale the walls of the ferries and then run for the lower decks trying to get to grain, rice, tobacco or whatever cargo needs to be carried onshore. It appears to be about survival.
Indonesia looks to be on the road to recovery from its severe economic crisis, and with Indonesia’s overall GDP for 2002 emerging at a stable 3.7%, it can be said that the Bali bombing did not have the affect feared. However, its population is still facing joblessness and a high rate of poverty, and it would be a mistake to deny that Indonesia is in a state of fragility. Its economy appears to be wearing its life jacket but many people, especially those in regions dependent on foreign visitors are sinking fast. It is estimated that 18% of the total population of Indonesia is currently living in a state of poverty. 4 Exacerbating the problem is uncertainty about the veracity of the figures. The Bank of Indonesia posits that the actual unemployment rate may far exceed the 8.3% due in part that the formula, which is used to count the number unemployed, excludes those people losing full-time work and quickly taking on part-time jobs.5
A continuing climate of fear, created by the ongoing threat of extremist activity means that there is little hope of a radical turn around in economic news. Fresh rumours of plans to set off two more bombs, near or on the anniversary of the Oct 12. 2002 bombing, have been issued causing tourists to cancel pending visits to Indonesia. 6 This fragility is possibly most visible through the naked eye. In Ubud, a city that some say is the artistic heart and soul of Bali, where in the wee hours you can hear far off sounds of a sax playing on the wind, streets previously lined with buckets of flowers have been replaced by women laying on the sidewalk in the shade of parked cars. Nearly every other car seems to house a woman, her sleeping kit with baby in tow, and the sounds of change jingling in her semi-empty can. Many shop owners sit on the steps of their shops, nothing new, but instead of their normal hard sale jargon, they give simple friendly greetings to the tourists passing by. Its as if they realize that there is no point in the hard sale that they should just be thankful that the tourists even come. The people of Bali, although seeming to permeate feelings of having nothing no customers, no work, and little hope for any soon are still in good spirits and you could see in their faces resolve that triumph is around the corner.
“In reality it was an attack on Indonesians and foreigners alike. In addition to the tragic loss of life and the potentially huge loss of livelihoods in Bali and in the tourist industry, all Indonesians will be affected by lower growth, investment and job creation. The poor and those vulnerable to falling back into poverty will be especially affected. Our preliminary estimation is that by the end of 2003, there could be 2-3 million more Indonesians living below the poverty line than would have been the case prior to this attack… Indonesia deserves the full support of the international community in this difficult time.” The Director of World Bank Indonesia, Andrew Steer 7
On a flight from Bali to Flores I was seated next to John, a native of Flores, an island whose population is 85% Christian with the other 15% being mostly Muslim. John was accompanying home his recently deceased brother who was killed in the Jakarta bombing. John explained to me that his brother was a Diplomat and had been an Ambassador in Chile for many years. His brother had just recently returned to Indonesia to work in Jakarta with his wife and child. Many of his family members who had been living somewhere off Flores were also on our flight. Upon our arrival in Flores we were greeted by an airport with no workers, per say, except for security guards. John had told me that many people from his village would be at the airport but I underestimated his calculations. The runway looked freshly tarred with the large gathering of people dressed in black. There were at least two hundred people. As we stepped down the stairs of the plane through a tunnel of veil-covered women, sobbing for their son, cousin, uncle the reality of the deep impact the bombings, and continued instability on the region came hammering home. As Made said, “We lost everything.” Made, a native of Bali did lose everything. The shop that he worked at simply was lost to the bombing and he was left standing with empty pockets and no future. He had worked at a Danish tourist company for nearly 17 years. He was a specialized tour-guide and is fluent in Danish. After the bombing the company went completely under taking with it Made’s future job security. Made, now unemployed occasionally is able to taxi people to different locations around Denpasar. He sits in his car by the side of the road and waits to see if anyone needs a ride. “For the first 3 months after the bombing I did not have any work at all and no possibility of any income”. He is though determined to make a living so in his ample free time he studies Japanese independently in the hope that more and more Japanese people will start coming back to the area.
The biggest problem facing Indonesia at the moment is the possibility of future attacks and the governments inability to adequately secure the State against such attacks.8 With increased threat of attack both now and in the future, the Indonesian economy is also facing threat and there are certainly adversities showing through on the macroeconomic stability achieved a year and half before the Bali bombing took place. A friend of mine Gede told me that after the Bali bomb outside of governmental efforts “everywhere and every place in Bali we made our own security to protect our home, because we were afraid that something might happen to our peace again. So the police in Bali worked every night with the public together to protect the peace and our home.” A hairdresser in Lombok stated simply “The tourists don’t come. We have no business. We want them to come.”
Bio: Tamara, a recent graduate with a MA in International Law and the Settlement of Disputes is currently the Programme Manager of the International Peace Studies Department at the University for Peace. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.