Finally A Prologue

PROLOG

Hai. Selamat datang di The Hope Center. Apakah ini merupakan kunjungan pertamamu? Kalau begitu biar kujelaskan terlebih dahulu mengenai tempat ini.

The Hope Center merupakan tempat rehabilitasi para penderita penyakit otak Alzheimer, serta pusat penelitian penyakit itu sendiri.

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Small Country: A Novel by Gaël Faye, Thoughts and Reflections

I had to stop writing because I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer. I’ve been crying for a while now while reading Gaël Faye’s Small Country as his main character, Gabriel, was writing his letter for his late-cousin, Christian, who had become one of the many unfortunate victims of the Tutsi genocide. Faye’s eloquence in describing the lost innocence and childhood as Gabriel’s got slowly entangled in the Rwandan genocide, although far away in Burundi, from a privileged perspective as a mixed race kid with a French father and a Rwandan mother who was lucky enough to escape her homeland to Burundi and sought asylum.


Initially, of course, Gaby’s innocence is shown all over from his privilege and ignorance of the world and the people surrounding him, the privilege that makes me want to slap this kid for real if I ever encountered one. Then again, when we were kids, how could we not be ignorant? We were born ignorant in the first place–a blank piece of paper only to be written by the environment and the people we’re living in and with.


And even as Gabriel slowly realized the reality of the war entangling his mother’s homeland in Rwanda and his own in Burundi, he still somewhat insist on escaping it, finding refuge in Madame Economopoulos’ books he frequented more and more in the latter chapter.


From the very beginning, we already see and feel the stark contrast of what I, again, see as a privilege, in the background of Gabriel’s parents. His father, Michel, eager for more adventures in the exotic African continent he’s built his life on, and his mother, longing instead for a life free of fear, and home of safety, for herself and her children, in the utopian European continent.


Where you see gently undulating hills, I see the poverty of the people who live there. Where you marvel at the beautiful lakes, I’m already breathing in the methane that sleeps below those waters. You fled the peace and quiet of your France to seek out adventure in Africa.
You came here from Europe in search of a playground where you could eke out the dreams of your spoiled childhood in the West…

Maman


It wouldn’t be fair for me to overgeneralize, but I can relate as much as hearing the same things from Europeans coming over to my own country sometimes, which oftentimes puzzle me and my friends who mostly dream of leaving the country instead and build our future in the utopian America or Europe (well, not so much for the former anymore now…) Somehow in the midst of chaos that me and my friends usually try to escape and avoid, they see the beauty in it instead, and the chaos have given them the adrenaline rush they feel they need, something that seems to be lacking from their neatly ordered home country in the West.


Yet even his parents’ connections and wealth could not protect Gabriel forever from the turbulence coming to his neighborhood, and they seeped deep not only into his family, but also his childhood friends. Slowly his relatives are either killed or missing, even when initially things seemed to be looking up. The rift between his parents that was brought up in the earlier chapters now seemed like a trivial matter in comparison. The loss affected them, but especially his mother.


Genocide is an oil slick: those who don’t drown in it are polluted for life.

It broke up the brotherhood he’s built with his childhood friends and they slowly took side and forced him too as well. And when Gabriel chose the world inside his readings, he not only managed to tune out the disorder of his now broken world, but it disconnected him too from his friends.


I was from a place, surrounded by family, friends, acquaintances and by warmth. I have found that place again, but it is empty of those who populated it, who gave it life and body and flesh.

Gabriel

It’s a sad and heartbreaking recount of a lost childhood, in a very twisted turn of events because of the ethnic conflicts, and only because, as mentioned by Gabriel’s father: “Because they don’t have the same nose.”
And it is unfortunately true in other parts of the worlds, not only in Rwanda. When I think about what Faye had written there, my mind somehow jumped instead to the current mass protests in Hong Kong. Of course it is not a war, but the current political protest itself has divided the country and generations–putting it very generally: between deciding who started the violence and riots first, was it the protesters or the police? Parents fear for their kids’ safety (I believe the young protesters too), but at the same time worrying about their future. Or those who think that this protest simply causes more harm and that it should stop anyway.
Of course, this is a different level to the Rwandan genocide, but at its core, war itself is a conflict, and conflict is caused by many different reasons, sometimes something very trivial.


In Indonesia alone, many conflicts has risen due to the differences in ethnic or religion–oftentimes, these two causes are intertwined.


I ended up googling about the genocide itself (putting them on the list of place with museums I’d like to visit, of course, maybe in the next lifetime), and I don’t know which one kills me more: The recount of the genocide itself, the details of the atrocities happening, the sexual violence, or the fact that by now, the genocide is commemorated in the country, wept, and acknowledged. Yes, I am comparing to the massacres happening in my own country following the 30 September Movement, the anti-communist purge that took place between the course of 1965-1967, killing 800,000~2 million people, a figure that no one, until today could really put a pin on, because eventually there are just so many murders, mass graves, brothers killing each others, neighbors turned on one another, shifting allegiance, and killing under the pressure of you kill or be killed. In the Rwandan genocide, however, I read even in Faye’s book on killings that I’d perceive as revenge killings (this then brought to my mind Bersiap, of course, where prisoners of wars and people of Dutch origins in Indonesia, of Eurasian descents were killed in retaliation after Indonesia declared independence–and still not many Indonesians are even aware that this event ever took place).


The Nyamata Genocide Memorial Centre used a former church located south of Kigali to commemorate the genocide. Denying it is considered a crime in Rwanda.


How are the Indonesian governments still insist and successfully persist on denying the 1965 killings? How are we so far left behind, and are we ever going to be able to catch up?

Random Sketch from Japan #3

Yesterday marks the day the first time Tokyo was hit by a heavy snow since 2014… And by god I swear it was cold. As beautiful as it looks, it definitely doesn’t feel as pretty with my legs freezing and I could hardly feel my fingers even with my gloves on…

I guess I am just not made for the cold, because when everyone else get excited upon having their first snow, my reaction upon seeing the weather forecast yesterday morning instead was…, “Well, fuck.”

May tomorrow be magically warmer than today (I tend to doubt it, of course…)

Random Sketch from Japan #2

Made with Paper / fiftythree.com

Like, I’ve always had anxieties for as long as I could remember, but I thought as I grew up, they are finally gone forever. …or so I thought. Grad school happen and anxieties are ushered back in. Basically every day of my student life, these are. I bet Charlie Brown is my true kindred spirit in this.

P.S. Let’s be noted that it simply says “much better scores than expected,” but not “good scores” (yep, I’ve learned to lower my expectations to worse than the worst outcome possible…)

Random Sketch from Japan #1

4 years of undergrad, 4+ years of full-time work (and being in front of classes and interpreting in panel discussions in front of hundreds of people), this is still happening.

…yes, I went all the way to Japan to become like this…

3.25 AM

3.25 AM

My eyes were wide open for no reason—at least, not one I could think of.

Maybe I simply slept for too long the night before.

I closed my eyes for a couple minutes before finally deciding that it was useless. If I wasn’t going to sleep, then I’d better get productive doing something. Then it would probably feel as if I’ve finally accomplished something meaningful, would it not?

I turned on the reading light and opened the textbook near my fūton to continue my last reading. I tried scrutinizing the text but realizing that I could make very little sense of what I’ve been reading and that I kept on reading the same paragraph over and over again.

So I finally got up and decided to make myself a cup of a warm hot chocolate.

I moved to my cushion and opened my MacBook to read a summary I made for a class last week. Maybe this one would be easier to digest, I thought to myself, as I opened the Pages application and scrolled through the document.

I tried reading the words out loud, kept denying that my mind kept wandering and wandering elsewhere—everywhere, basically, and tried to comprehend as much of what I’ve been reading—which was basically very, very, very little.

I finally opened my facebook instead. Not sure of what I was actually looking for there, I ended up searching for Word Porn. One of my favorite pages where I spent most of my procrastinations, reading beautifully composed words, if not at all nonsensical. Despite knowing how empty words could be most of the time, I strangely find solace in reading these neatly typed fonts—as long as there is no grammatical errors made—reading quotes or short stories or simply short poems about someone or something, which could be about just anyone, including me. As much as I hate nonsensical motivators and self-help books, somehow I could never compare these words as of the same level as those two I just mentioned. These words, short though they might be, always take my minds elsewhere—wandering and wandering in some fantasy and fictional world elsewhere, where I would construct and deconstruct stories based on the words I read on the page—and sometimes, it would take me into my memory palace, where I stored many of my valued irreplaceable moments—what I always referred to as the “bottled moments,” as if they were some kind of old books I could reread again and again from time to time, or rewatching my favorite movies where I could just skip to my favorite scenes and replay it for maybe a thousand times more. These are, of course, the happy moments, which I cling on to very keenly and hold on to very tightly, since, deep down I realize that these are one of the things that really keep me going on, moving on with my life and survive anything that pass by.

Then without premonition or warning of any kind, I felt tears rolling down my eyes.

I wasn’t even reading anything sad, and the last quotes I read did not even take out any sad memories from my memory palace, yet there I was, starring blankly at the screen—obviously no longer reading whatever I have in front of me, but trying to digest what just happened and wondering.

Of course, by now I’ve come to accept, no matter how unsensical it is, or how confusing it is, that sometimes—or many times, it is completely okay to just cry without any reason. Although, since I don’t really believe that anyone could truly cry without any reason at all, perhaps the best way to put it is that it is alright to cry without comprehending at all the reason why. Maybe I would eventually find out, or maybe not at all, but maybe it is okay to just dip in the sadness—or dwell in whatever it is I am feeling when the tears just roll out—without first investigating the cause. There is always a reason, I think, of why anyone cry at all. Sadness—of course, frustration, anger, jealousy, rage, pity, compassion, love, and maybe even madness, but I believe it is never really out of nothing. There must always be a reason why anyone is crying, but is the reason that important? This was a question I used to ask myself years ago.

“It’s okay. We girls sometimes just feel that deep sadness, and it’s okay if you don’t understand it, you know. It happens, and there’s nothing abnormal in it,” my confidant, and the closest person in my life at that time said the words to me as I was crying and frustratingly telling her that I don’t know why I really cry. I remember feeling deeply ashamed and stupid, as I felt completely embarrassed for being caught off-guard crying, and making everybody coming at me and asked if I’d been hurt or something. I felt exposed and weak, and she then just hugged me tightly until I stopped crying. As she said those words I felt a bit of relief. That I’m not abnormal for crying for no reason at all, and that maybe, maybe, it wasn’t at all that weird. I still felt exposed and weak, but it was not like there was anything I could do to turn back the time and hid myself elsewhere so no one would see me crying anyway.

And those are the words I’ve been holding on to now, as an excuse, or a justification, or whatever you’d like to term it, whenever I feel like crying, and I’ve been using the same words as well to stop finding the reason why whenever I cry. I mean, come on, I have my feelings turned up and down already, and I still have to think of why it happened? It’s just too much. I could just drown myself in the emotional roller coaster of sadness or frustration or whatever emotions I am feeling and just wait until it passes without having to feel burdened with the obligation to find out why now, so why make my life even more complicated?

So that’s what I’m doing right now. Crying. Just that. For god knows why. And just wait until it passes. At least I am alone in my room, and no one could see me. I am not exposed right now so I could let out all my emotions—burying my face on the pillow and cry my heart out, pouring and burying all my emotions there, without feeling bad or ashamed, or even fear that anyone would ever find out. Then I’d pass this, so that later today I could resume my life as if nothing unusual has happened.

4.05 AM

I’m fine. I’m okay now.

The Many Taboos of Being Gay

The Many Taboos of Being Gay is a stage performance consisting of four different scripts, four different plays, depicting the dilemmatic contradictions surrounding the life of homosexuals, be it stemming from the pretext of religion or the society’s expectations. I just saw this played performed at Teater Salihara last night.

Before I moved on with the summary of the play itself, I thought it wouldn’t really hurt summarising the social perception and condition on the issue in the country as a background.

So in recent times in the country, the issue of homosexuality has made it into the national news’ headline. Of course, this has previously been an undiscussed issue long buried or simply avoided in the country for some time, but the general opinion of the society especially in more rural areas where education access are still more difficult compared to, of course, in urban areas, is that homosexuality is abnormal–this is, however, an argument usually backed up with religion. I would rather not create an assumption that all Indonesians are extremists or chauvinistic, nor are they conservatives in a bad way. In fact, having been a secular state for so long, Indonesia is actually far from becoming extreme as of now, and the fact that the country’s majority is Moslem has got nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, the issue first came into public’s attention when a support group called Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies (SGRC) at one of the university in the capital city said to offer a counseling for the LGBT groups. Protests on the group’s existence claim this fear, which I consider to be groundless, of the growing number of LGBT “invading” the campus. To make matter worse, our Minister Technology and Higher Education, M. Nasir responded on the issue by making a statement on denying access for those belonging or identifying themselves in and within the LGBT group into the campus. Our brilliant vice president then followed by saying that international organization–the UN included, yes–should stop channeling funds for any activities or community events, or research which is related on LGBT.

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 6.49.49 PM
Photo taken from thinkprogress.org

Ever since that day I no longer shocked when I saw a big banner with “Indonesia Darurat LGBT” (Indonesia Emergency State: LGBT)–which then basically mention this propaganda that LGBT is a disease and that it should not be allowed in the country itself–hung outside of a local mosque near Thamrin City.

So the debate on homosexuality escalated (well, why shouldn’t it, especially when you got the minister and the vice president supporting this baseless fear already), and for some time, that’s pretty much all I see in the newspapers. Oh, and added with another minister saying that homosexuality could be cured when you poured hot, boiling water to them. I’m beginning to doubt this is already the 21st century…

Anyway, I wouldn’t really want to give the impression that the play itself stemmed from this background, nor would I claim to assume that the script/playwriter bore this in mind back then as they wrote the play. They might or they might not, I think we shall not assume so just because I do so.

Anyway, The Many Taboos of Being Gay  features four different scripts, all set for two players each. In short, they’re gay, they struggled, and they’re still human beings nonetheless.

In the first play, Sweet Hunk o’ Trash, Rob met Gene and asked him to dance together, but he reluctantly refused, thinking that it would be too awkward for two guys to dance together. But as Rob smooth talked him and they talked more about their works and passion (explicitly and implicitly), Gene slowly warmed up to him.

The second play, Twenty Dollars Drink, however, was what has truly stole the show for me. Set in a fancy restaurant in town, Bete and Star, ex-lovers, decided to meet with each other to resolve undiscussed issues. Both used to be actors at a theater company, before Star finally gained fame and was now a star. Bete, on the other hand, was already married and no longer an actor. The tension was quite high in the beginning of the play, as Bete was obviously pissed off, and Star, looking awkward in front of Bete, finally broke the ice talking about the award he received three months ago. Turns out Bete was extremely pissed off at how he felt Star had treated him now that he’d become famous. What really stole the show for me, I guess, is the inner conflict within each character here. His anger, perceived by Star as envy and jealousy, was then revealed as frustration towards the people around him who seemed to have left him now, including Star, as he continued struggling in life trying to survive with his child. Star, on the other hand, stroke me at first as perhaps being a bit too cocky, but later revealed that he neither enjoy his new fame as it brought along with it responsibilities and unwanted attention he did not want, just like “whoring” to a lot of people now, as he put it.

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Photo taken from Salihara’s facebook page.

Then in the third play, Frozen Dog, I was intrigued to see how the play might turn out, as the two main characters in the play are pastors. Kevin wrote to his superior to have Vinny as his roommate, and later revealed that this is because he fell in love with Vinny. Unfortunately for him, Vinny had other thing in mind. Not only he fell for someone else, but he was also dead set on devoting his life for god, hence deciding to commit celibacy. Weighed down by the moral doctrine dictated by both the society and their faith, Kevin tried to show Vinny the extent of his love and devotion.

The last play, Uncle Chick, I think, is another gem. This explores further on the relationship which could occur within the family dinasty itself as Brian turned to his gay uncle to “guide him” and “direct him” as he bore the moral responsibility as his godfather. The uncle, Chick, however, had been meaning to avoid it, under the pretext that living as a homosexual in this world is not easy. As he tried to drive Brian away and dealt with his past instead–also seemed to be weighed down by the prevailing values and stigma the society from his day has implicated on homosexuals in general–Brian was dead set on showing him that such a thing should not instead dictate their way of life, nor should it become a pretext to prevent them to have a relationship.

These plays truly drew me in with the social issue they brought up, and I personally wish more people would see this play without any initial prejudice, hoping that watching this would instead open more and more minds that there truly is no different between them and us, and that they are just human beings like us.

I love how they display the inner conflict of each character, and the actors are excellent in showing these–between the humour, the sarcasm, the frustration, anger and love–I just love these intensity that I felt on the stage. And they all made it so believable and natural, so I guess they did a magnificent job after all.

I sure hope that I would see more of each of these play, since I think on a bigger scale, it could also show more explicitly on the context surrounding the story, which I think would be just as interesting to explore to see how the people around them would treat them and react, and how, should they do have any problem about it, they reconciliate with it. The cultural and social background here were mostly implied through the interaction of each character which affect their attitudes in treating their own homosexuality in relation to their work, or in finding their place within the society, but on a bigger scale, I suppose it would be interesting to see how that would be depicted in a bigger and longer play.

The only trivial thing that quite puzzled me is the perceived insistence to use Western names in all play, despite the fact that the plays were all set you in Indonesia, which made me start to wonder if the scripts were all adapted from foreign plays. Then again, thinking of the trend in the country to name kids in western-sounding names–something which has started quite long even before I was born, I suspect–this shouldn’t have bugged me too much. Besides, this is a tiny trivial detail (I could however, overthink and make an over-assumption on how this could be the byproduct of the impact of the global culture in the country).

That aside, I think the play is a genius concept.