Some weeks feel great in this city and fly by in a haze of friendly waves and scarey ojek rides, good food and funny days at work. Other times, the hidden undercurrents of the city seep into my daily existence and I realize that I feel happy and free here mostly because I do not belong here and am thus not constrained by the rules of the city. I suppose that the sense of freedom comes from not having to follow the rules from home; there is no risk of a seat-belt fine, or being in trouble for jaywalking or not wearing a bike helmet. Obviously the longer I live here, I see that there are so many written and unwritten rules that govern the lives of Indonesians, that in comparison, having to pay $600 for not wearing my seat-belt in Melbourne is like getting off scot-free. No one here tells me the rules that I should be following, as an outsider, we are often considered so far away from the norm, that it seems the rules do not apply to us.
I have been reminded of this constantly. If I was an Indonesian I would have been shunned from my community for living “in sin” with my boyfriend. If I expressed my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, I may be thrown in jail. As a woman, I would not always be able to be free to make my own decisions about my life, and my parents or husband would have the right to dictate what is and is not possible. I listen to my female friends and colleagues telling me how they have to resign from their dream jobs because their husband doesn’t allow them to come home after 6, or cheat on them because the women apparently didn’t accompany them enough when they went out, and I bite my tongue as there is no point to have a conversation like I would have with my friends at home, like, “He said WHAT to you? What a prick!”. I inwardly cringe knowing that there is no feminist movement coming to Indonesia. If anything, sometimes it feels that the opposite is coming.
Ignorance blinded me to the fact that the state philosophy of Pancasila means it is illegal to be Indonesian and not have a religion. The jailing of an Indonesian who wrote on his Facebook page “there is no god”, his possible life sentence and his disownment from his community woke me up to that one. The cancellation of the Lady Gaga concert because she may corrupt morals and the raiding of the discussion of the Muslim feminist Irshad Manji at Salihara, all woke me up to the rules and the rule makers of this country. Discussions about these issues are kept to a minimum as ideas are set in place about what it means to be a good Muslim, with the Islamic Defenders Front seeming to be concreting their position as the keepers of morality. It doesn’t matter if they use violence to uphold their version of morality, or accept bribes to surpass their moral code, they have the police and politicians running scared. Even if people know they are a bunch of crazies.
Of course this city is full of corruption, it’s a clear fact like Jakarta has a lot of traffic. It is accepted and understood and little is done about it as they both go hand in hand. At some points in this blog I have said that I wish that I could learn the patience of an Indonesian person and people have commented that it is not patience, but blind acceptance, the thought that you can’t change anything so why bother? It feels uncomfortable for me to accept this as truth. But while the majority of Indonesians follow a religion that allows no questions to be asked, it makes me wonder. How can a society move forward when you are taught to not ask questions? Even stupid ones? I have plenty of them.