Workshop Contrasts in Nusa Tenggara Timur

By Martin Ruddock

From the air I can see beautiful oceans, so many shades of blue, leading to long white sand beaches.  Inland the scenery quickly becomes barren shades of brown earth and hard grey rock with rusty corregated tin roofs to match.  It looks more like some BBC stereotype of a nameless African village than the Indonesia I am familiar with.  Carrying only hand luggage I exit the airport within thirty seconds and the ojek driver quickly picks me out amongst the crowd.  On the back of his motor I go to the homestay, grab something to eat, meet Inna, and straight to the workshop.

 

SONY DSCThrough the massive gateway of the Universitas Nusa Cendana, along a road that quickly becomes a broken mess of potholes and stones, and up a long steep hill to an isolated building.  It looks new from the outside but inside it is empty and worn, with graffiti on the walls and broken chairs stacked up.  We are confronted by fifteen young men; they are not talkative and look overly serious for students.  We share some sweets and get everybody to introduce themselves.  With ease they come out of their shells and I watch as Inna adjusts the workshop to match the atmosphere and conversation.  Like some stereotype of teenage boys they are keen to talk about sex, sexual pleasure and pornography.  It is inevitable that when the condoms come out they will be playing games with them.  Having dealt with questions such as ‘how does a woman squirt like on porno films’, ‘does size matter’, and ‘how to cope with impotency’ they all clasp hands and pray to Jesus at the end of the workshop; Kupang is largely Protestant.  The second day is much smoother and we discuss the reality of sex before marriage and abortion.  Although we did encourage them to invite women none appear.

On the third day in Kupang we are supposed to meet a women’s group but they cancelled, not wanting to discuss abortion.  A friend close to one of the organizers has been discovered to have attempted a ‘cassava abortion’ and consequently the women want to meet again.  A ‘cassava abortion’ is when a woman uses the cassava plant to make rough yet sharp ended blades, usually at least four, and inserts them as far into her vagina as possible.  She will then try to induce the pregnancy by walking around for a number of hours and remove the sticks… but not all of them, at least two will remain inside her for a few days.  This is obviously highly dangerous and sometimes fatal.  Unfortunately for this group Inna can only meet for an hour today and I must visit immigration to ‘fix’ my passport.

The next day we are on the first flight out of Kupang and within an hour we land in Bajawa, Flores.  Despite being so close to each other Kupang seemed as if it was built on rocks and Bajawa is lush green farm land.  The host’s driver meets us at the airport and we immediately begin our ascent into a beautiful mountain range to the sound of country music… well Bajawa is almost perfect!  We arrive at the host’s house and find the workshop has been cancelled again; Inna immediately starts on a plan to hold a more impromptu gathering.  We drive to another organizer’s house where Jesus hangs on the walls and men are soldering in the front.  After a brief discussion the two women are texting friends to come over.  Within an hour there are ten older women cramped into the front room with noise, men and sparks flying right outside.  While we all introduce ourselves some of the women reveal that they have snuck away from their husbands, pretending to go to the market, so they cannot be too long but they are excited to meet us and to learn new things.  They also make it clear that they don’t want to talk about abortion so Inna starts explaining about post-abortion depression to which some respond that they know of such cases.  Somehow this leads into a discussion about body exploration and a few Shakti exercises.  The Shakti exercises involve talking about emotions and then gentle tapping of their own and each others bodies.  The women look scared at the beginning but they really get into it and at the end of the workshop they are laughing their heads off.  Inna tells me that usually the Shakti workshop is much longer and at the end the group is usually in tears.  During the Shakti bit I remained silent, just taking photos, but it was beautiful to watch Catholic and Muslim women embrace and learn something new together… totally against the mass media stereotype.  Upon leaving they admit that perhaps they should discuss hard topics such as abortion and if there is chance in the future they would also like to discuss domestic violence.

We were originally supposed to stay at the host’s house but something changed and she kindly booked us a room at a homestay; one room two beds.  At about ten o’clock that evening I was working on Inna’s laptop and she was trying to sleep when there was a knock at the door.  I ignored it and continued to ignore it when it repeated a number of times.  Eventually I answered the door where a group of about eight men confronted me, the following ensued;
‘What do you want?’
‘Your passport’
‘Why?’
‘We are police’
‘You are not in uniform, where’s your ID, and why is he filming?’ [They give me some paperwork] ‘Well you can’t have my passport, it’s in Kupang’ [I give them some paperwork]
Inna is out of bed and quickly they want to talk to her alone with the door shut on me.  Inna comes back into the room and says we have to go to the station.  I get the impression that I don’t really have to go but she does but as if I would leave her to go alone despite how tough she may be.

I am a bit confused because we are in a Catholic area where Sharia law will not apply even if it is Ramadan, so perhaps they want some money to which I am already preparing myself to refuse.  However Inna knows the law and there is a law stating that unmarried couples aren’t allowed to share a room, some hotels proudly advertise the statute number, but these fine officers don’t know this law.  The law only applies to Indonesians, so I’m not in trouble, when the questions come they all focus on whether we were having sex to which Inna is replying you can’t prove anything even if we were (obviously we were not).  The officers ‘argue’ that proof doesn’t matter because what matters is what others will think, Inna tells them why that is ridiculous.  I don’t think it was logic that won them over but rather the fact that we had been invited to Bajawa by Dr. Nor and she had booked the room for us; she turned out to be one of the senior officers brother-in-law and it would be a bit embarrassing for them to arrest Inna.  It wouldn’t look right to others!

Peace…

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