I have recently returned to the comfortable and sickeningly easy life I have in Melbourne, Australia, from Palembang, Indonesia.
I am slightly shell shocked by the experience, slightly poisoned by the smoke haze, completely frazzled by the stimulation, and quietly reflective as the days pass and memories move further into the past.
I had the chance to be a mystery voyeur in a 16 hour drive, through the southern regencies of South Sumatra. I was in the back of a car much like every other car around me, with tinted glass just as they all had, and from this vantage, no-one saw the Bule and went crazy.
People got about the stuff of life. Cleaning dishes in the river, being kids, sleeping in the hot afternoon, trucking logs, burning fields, sweeping doorways, hanging washing. A naked woman bathed in the open air shower behind her small wooden shack. Goats crossed the road. Schoolkids rode motorbikes home.
I didn’t take a lot of photographs, because it felt good to be in virgin territory for the whitefella. I am sure more whitefella’s have traveled the same paths, but I saw none of them when I was there. And people looked genuinely stunned to see my big white flesh glistening in the sun as I walked confidently through their spaces.
In a sense, being clearly at lease 10 times wealthier than most people around me gave me a perspective I do not have in my hometown and indeed have never felt in my life. Being unable to understand cultural, vernacular and local cues and hues, that has happened before. But not to this extent.
Being the white giant, with all the pre-conceived privilege that affords me, that is probably my take home.
Indonesia is apparently newly developed. The emerging middle class is as irritatingly obsessed with labels as our own (no more guilty than me). But the percentage of its wealth it spends attaining labels that will allow it to post well on Facebook, is possibly significantly higher. It makes me embarrassed, like an older sister, who has influenced her siblings so much that they mimic all of my worst behaviours. I want to say no, don’t do this, don’t follow our path, we fucked up!
A true land of contrast. A glimpse into the past, and future, all at once.