‘The wealth of the Church towers above everything, all must bow to enter the nunnery, it’s not the steep hill that breaks backs but the will of God…


Twisting from Bajawa to Ruteng, along, around and over the mountain range, in some places the road in so good its as if when the landscape was formed it came complete with tarmac.  In other places nature is belittling human effort to control the land by tossing boulders as if they are pebbles; around one hairpin we have to dodge a fresh rock that is bigger than the 4×4 we are in.  We will spend the next four days partnering Ayo Indonesia who has a packed schedule in store.  Since they begun their work they have listened to communities and together negotiated strategies forward; from agriculture and roads to advocacy and education.

At the Ayo Indonesia office they have recalled field staff and invited people from local organisations, including Indonesia’s national family planning organisation; there are over twentyfive community activists.  One of the women immediately asks Inna why she does this work focusing on abortion.  Sometimes this could be a principled ‘why’ as in ‘how dare you’, at other times it is a ‘why’ of passing curiosity.  It is always a question that deserves a succinct answer because since 2009 women having abortions and those avocating on abortion face a fifteen year jail sentence.  Conversation then goes from sex and gender to contraception rights and informed choices.  Inna is explaining that women not only have a right to contraception but a right to know the related side effects and an option to refuse.  In the past Indonesia’s national family planning organisation has provided contraception without telling people of the side effects, not only breaking some medical principles but endangering women’s bodies and relationships.  The representative today reacts to by talking about the culture of Flores and Manggari, how if women were informed many would refuse to use contraception.  Inna responds by suggesting that its not simply about chucking information at people but how they are informed and also explaining coping strategies.  I had a conversation with one women whose mother suffered from heavy bleeding for over twentyfive years, nobody knew that she had a intrauterine device and not even she believed that it was the cause of the heavy bleeding until last year when it was ‘discovered’ and removed.  At the end, as always, people are asking for more information and copies of presentations.

Over one hundred nuns look after a sparkling building, six nuns look after almost two hundred orphans, the logic isn’t in the distance…

Later that day we are taken to an orphanage where some one hundred and fifty children, many with visual, hearing and speaking disabilities, are awaiting us.  There isn’t time to work in smaller groups and we must sieze the opportunity.  ‘Salamat sore’ [good afternoon] I say, ‘salamat sore’ they roar back.  The concert has begun.   So that those with physical disabilities are included from the beginning I suggested doing a few brief Shakti exercises and when it comes to describing the the female reproductive system I had the idea for everyone to touch their own eyes (ovaries), follow the eyebrows (fallopian tubes), down the nose (cervix) to the nostrils (vagina).  Perhaps I am not the first to have this idea but I am happy to see so many children doing the actions; the idea for the male reproductive system was certainly less original!  We do workshops with four or five big groups of children at schools, orphanages and nunneries.  The children are invariably split into groups, asked to think of changes during puberty, and then to feedback in front of everyone.  At times these moments are like concerts with someone coyly saying ‘menstruation’ followed by houls of laughter and Inna cheekily asking ‘what did they say’ getting more and more to shout ‘menstruation’; it is and excellent to watch as permission is granted to say taboo words and discuss subjects, for some, for the first time.  At other times these moments are like politcal rallies with everybody listening with great intensity and taking notes as Inna writes a keyword.

Ayo Indonesia also take us to do a workshop with one of the villages that they have worked with.  Over twenty villagers greet us; the older they are the darker they are, from all those years under the sun in the fields I guess.  We are treated to an organic lunch fresh from their labour.  There are also eight students from a nearby college doing a two month field study in the village.  Its hot under the tin roof and I go out for a break.  Quickly the students have followed me and I feel guilty because I assume they want to practice English.  They introduce themselves and we chat and then I ask them why they left the workshop, was it not interesting.  They embarrasingly reply that ‘too many taboo words are being used’.  I ask what words but none want to say.  Having met so many children over the past few days that have really embraced the opportunity to discuss these topics it is suprising to hear this from people in thier early twenties.  I say lets go back in and they gradually follow as Inna is explaining about cervix exminations and breast examinations.  I can tell they are uncomfortable throughout.  At the end of the four days in Ruteng Inna tells me we have met over fourhundred people!

Conservative nuns, good nuns, nice nuns, polite nuns.  Don’t think none, don’t talk none, don’t see none…

I, like Inna and Ayo Indonesia, appreciate the satellite workshops as an opportunity not just to present information to others but to learn from communities about sexuality and reproduction.  We know that we cannot rely on governments to meet our daily needs or to save us in times of crisis.  Only by listening to each other and being willing to take on projects together, with or without government assistance, can we find solutions to the problems we face.  These people are too busy for protesting; they are living their lives, not demanding to be told how to live.


Martin Ruddock
Author: Martin Ruddock


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