My first photo exhibition

So the great news of the day is that I’m opening my very first solo exhibition today in Rennes, France. Going international straight away, how awesome is that!

The topic is From Destruction to Construction, Indonesia and it has the collection of my favorite photos from my two years living and travelling around that part of the world. It is accompanied by small stories to purvey a sense of an atmosphere, but it is all unfortunately in French.

Photography exhibition of Berit RenserI feel Indonesia has something creative and destructive in it simultaneously. It has found a way to hold together 17,000 islands as one nation, while still praising its far-reaching differences. It has survived to keep together six religions as neighbours and sometimes mix it up so naturally that one starts to see the hypocricy of the presented conflict of civilizations in the Western world.

But then again, Indonesia can well be perfectly self-destructive. Overflowing with dangers of natural resources, spiced up with the carelessness of their own surroundings – a lot that the country has to offer has been destroyed internally, just to be soon built up again.

Maybe that’s why foreigners praise Indonesia – even though a chaos at a first sight, it follows its natural cycles of destruction and creation at its own pace.

All the photos are also for sale at a very affordable price and in case someone from the blog is interested to get something nice on the wall, you can write me a personal letter.

And great thanks for Marie who has helped me to take care of all this mess in France!

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Want to keep your toe? Pay a few million.

In Indonesia better don’t get sick or have an accident – this leads you down the hopeless world of money and corruption.

“I lost my toe, I lost my toe!” a dear Indonesian friend of mine screams on the other side when Marie picks up the phone. She is panicking and her speech doesn’t make much sense. All we know is the address of the hospital and we take off immediately.

Our friend is resting on a bed of a shared ward, her foot wrapped in bandage and her mood generally good. She would find out the next day if she can keep her toe or it will be cut off for good. But what shocked us even more than the horrific view on her bleeding toe was the story how she had been treated on her arrival.

In stead of proposing an immediate surgery, the doctor asked the amount of money she had with her. After finding a few hundred rupiahs from her wallet (20-30 euros) and promising to pay the rest after the treatment, the caretaker didn’t find it sufficient and took the girl with a toe loosely hanging on her foot to an ATM to withdraw more cash. On a motorbike!

That’s how our friend bought her toe back.

But the saga never ended. To claim the money back from insurance to cover the broken bike and the broken limb, one needs a police report. Still a few months after the accident, she is running between police offices to prove that she indeed had it. Though the proof had been collected long time ago.

The story ends as most of the bureaucratic stories in Indonesia end. She gets her paper to claim the losses at the insurance, but only if she pays a 1.5 million b r i b e (130 euros, which is probably more than the officers monthly pay).

Want to keep your toe? Have some cash for the doctor and some extra for the police saved in your pocket.

Here is the picture she managed to take and the information of the police officer who takes advantage of victims:

Polri DIY, Sleman, Sektor Depok Timur, Jln. Ring road Utara, Mancasan, Condong Jatur. Central Jawa, Indonesia.

Brigadir Riris Dianto

This corruptor asked 1.5 million rupiahs to write a document that says my friend indeed had a motorbike accident to get the money back from the health insurance. 

Everyone who is against endless corruption in Indonesia, please share this story and let’s hope one day the corruptors will finally be punished. 

Serial: Let’s Do the Leaves, Jogja!

By the time of the grand clean-up day I had reached the state of nonchalance as nothing seemed to be working out anyway. The environmental ministry had changed its boss who in turn sent us only three trucks instead of the promised 40. Companies that had been bragging about excessive supports had sunk into silence. And out of the volunteers who praised the flexibilities of rubber-time, only 10 were really reliable and saving us from going thoroughly mad. But even though, two of them ended up in hospital, two went off to a planned trip and one got busy with exams. Intended cleaning was sinking from the ambition of doing the full city and became an action around the riverside only.

To my great surprise, on the final day, the river was full of people. Hundreds of individuals stood in the water, a trash bag in one hand and a glove in the other. The environmental minister was sunbathing against a pier and was observing the workers, doing nothing himself. And the garbage collectors kept throwing huge bags of trash into the trucks. Only when I went closer, a dim reality loomed. Green grass flashed from the mouth of the bin and packaging still floated down the river.

Plastic into sea, grass to the landfill

Old men were sitting on the riverbanks and pulling out grass from between the stones of the pedestrian road. It was then thrown into the river which in turn carried it along to where the volunteers were standing. They, in turn, collected it and stuffed it into a plastic bag and finally sent it off to the garbage truck. When, on the other hand, they saw a piece of plastic floating by, they opened their legs to let it pass towards the sea.

But please tell them that this is biodegradable and can dispose in the water. Instead, the problem is with the plastic packaging,” we tried to find some local to guide the cleaners.

We already said so, but it changed nothing,” he answered with the usual smile. The smile that Indonesians love to get on their face when there is nothing they can do about a problem. 

I then tried my luck myself. A young guy was sitting in satisfaction claiming that it’s all done. There was an immense trash pile at his back, untouched. I started cleaning it myself, bit by bit, and asked if anyone cared to help. But they all shrug and answered:

“This is not on our territory, but a sewage canal that belongs to the house. Anyway, it all goes to the river in the end anyway and the problem will solve in a few days by itself.”

I really didn’t know what to reply to this, but only to accept the reality that our words were just received by smiling walls.

But to be fair to the others, let’s end this post with a positive vibe. We also did have a group of people working their asses off to go through all of this and a large group of people actually cleaning what was necessary. I guess we should be happy for what was done and hope someone will take it another step further next year.

Cultural differences from a new angle

Let’s Do It! project opened a brand new reality within these months. Suddenly everything that I had believed and promoted concerning travelling, cultural differences and any of the kind, turned into a naïve shallow approach of faraway places. I used to believe, deep in my heart, that all the people of the world are existentially the same and, despite all the variations, have similar needs, wishes and hopes, that are made distinctive only by traditionally learned behaviors.

But during the project it grew more apparent that cultural peculiarities are like roots collecting its energy from somewhere so unfathomably deep down in a gulf, that in need to proceed the tiniest change, the whole rootstock should be extracted. To say that the bottle of coke doesn’t belong to the sea, the whole system of material values should be given a new sense. To reduce bureaucracy even the subordination inside of families need to be reassessed. To give up corruption, the cult of giving gifts should be started with.

But also the other way around. To exercise us with the flexibilities of all operations, the traditional belief in responsibilities, transparency, keeping promises and structured worldview all need to be fractured.

** Read how it really works: http://www.letsdoitworld.org and do not get discouraged by my subjective blog posts about leading the project. The stories are intended to be entertaining, therefore I will mostly describe the conflicts instead of successful moments, which there were plenty as well. How ever it all sounds to you, I still believe this one one truly amazing project and should be carried out in all parts of the world. Hopefully, with your help.

Serial: The Rotten Green

While reading, check out Marie’s Indonesian pop song which talks about cleaning Jogja from trash.

It was the same week when our gathering took place in one courtyard as an initiative of a local guy. With the address tag in our hands, we found our way to Indonesia’s largest green organization Walhi.

As far as we knew our early arrival concerned checking over the place and talking about the night’s logistics. Instead, we landed in the middle of an internal meeting, 15 sceptical faces staring at us and waiting for a great performance.

Indonesian green force now demanded a presentation of something that we were still in the process of figuring out ourselves. Heart beating inside, we opened our computers and held a speech on our plans for the future, but especially for the forthcoming night. They observed, waggled their heads and finally asked the important questions.

So what could be these important questions. Like “what will you do with all the collected trash in the end?” or “what is your funding plan?”. No, this organization focused on something else.

Very interesting project, but let us now talk about the important things – what will our position be in this project?” asked the boss with dollar signs blinking in his eyes.

Well, we are opened for co-operation and hope to established a mutually accepted partnership. Especially as we have the same goals concerning the environment. We would need to discuss Walhi’s role, how would you like to contribute to the wellbeing of the city. But as we were invited here to plan tonight, maybe we could fix a separate meeting for this negotiation?”

“Sure-sure. But still, what will be Walhi’s position in your project? Who will be obeying who? Walhi cannot afford obeying to Let’s Do It, Jogja!” he said while drawing different niveaus in the sky, the one above referring to them and the one below to us.

But we never asked you to obey us, it is supposed to be a co-operation to achieve same goals. It all depends what will be the most suitable area for us to work together.”

If you wish, Walhi can take all responsibility for your project to work.”

Please understand, the organization is a world-wide one and we are not here to look for someone to lead us.”

Well you need a steering committee, Walhi can take this role.”

Somewhere at the resonant steering committee our negotiation stopped when the boss’s shirt turned wet of sweat and he opened the top bottom. And us being utterly confused because instead of borrowing their garden for the night as one of their members had offered us, we were now standing in a position to negotiate who will lead the project. Therefore we tried to lead the conversation back to the tracks.

“Maybe we should discuss about the essence of the project to see if our visions correspond to each other and how would you see it working?”

“Yes, sure. We were thinking that we should collect the trash and throw it in front of the government offices, they should be responsible!”

Really, a very brilliant solution.

Men’s shirts dripping of sweat, we stopped the conversation but continued having several of similar kinds. As we were not willing to leave the responsibility to Walhi who wanted to pick a fight with the government, they now started indoctrinating our volunteers. Each time they met someone they gave them pressure to make us reconsider our viewpoint until one day a representative from Walhi came to talk to us in our office.

“You know what, Walhi thinks this cooperation cannot last.”

This was such a good news of ending this oppressing relationship with the rotten green force that we spurted out (though in Indonesian polite-mannered way) all that we thought of this situation. After exchanging ideas for almost an hour and making clear of everything (again) the gentleman stood up,

Alright. We will talk about it in Walhi to see if we want to continue the cooperation.”

This was the last drop into the cup of patience that was already splashing out frustration. We confirmed politely that we didn’t have time for these power games and left the weird situation for ever. Even though our hearts crippled for leaving the largest green NGO of Indonesia, we indeed received many more evidences that the organization didn’t really care about the environment after all.

** Read how it really works: http://www.letsdoitworld.org and do not get discouraged by my subjective blog posts about leading the project. The stories are intended to be entertaining, therefore I will mostly describe the conflicts instead of successful moments, which there were plenty as well. How ever it all sounds to you, I still believe this one one truly amazing project and should be carried out in all parts of the world. Hopefully, with your help.

Serial: Garbage rivers and trash hills

Less than a week had passed since our lavish speech, when fifty volunteers gathered under one open roof, watched the introduction video and promised to take pictures of trash to map the problem point in town. We drew lines on the map and off they went, each of us with our mobile phones.

One has to mention that all sorts of people came to help us with the garbadge issue. The ones who threw their fag-ends between the trees and the ones who packed banana leaves into plastic bags instead of throwing them in bushes. And also those who returned with pictures of hay stating it to be litter.

I also went to take some pics. Crawled in the shadows of banana trees of river sides that formerly seemed so tropic but now blinded my exotic eye for ever. In stead of water there streamed plastic bags and worn-out clothes, bottles and cans, sickening remnants of irresponsible consumption. The banks of river now became archeological points of interest, as below a riverhouse and visible trace back to decades could be found.

Image

There, standing between those crying trees, nauseating, the shivers of fear struck me. Did I really decided to go through with this?

***

Well, while taking pics I fortunately also saw some weird and funny stuff like this:

Image(sorry for the poor quality of mobile pics)

** Read how it really works: http://www.letsdoitworld.org and do not get discouraged by my subjective blog posts about leading the project. The stories are intended to be entertaining, therefore I will mostly describe the conflicts instead of successful moments, which there were plenty as well. How ever it all sounds to you, I still believe this one one truly amazing project and should be carried out in all parts of the world. Hopefully, with your help.

Serial: Me, the future garbage collector

I’ve never had such a long writing break as I had this year. But I had also never been involved in such a mad project as Let’s Do It! was.

Almost suffocating in the haze of workload I still ask myself from time to time, how on earth I got dragged down this whirlpool.

I, Berit Renser, former semiotician and a hobby anthropologist, a photographer and travel writer, suddenly lead a garbage collection movement in a country, where the neighbouring wealthy Singapore and Japan export their leftovers and where throwing a bottle out of the car window is so natural act that drawing an admonishing attention at it, the offender doesn’t even understand what the crime had been.

To clean Indonesia, you must be joking! was my first thought, when a friend of mine offered me that chance. But as if hypnotized, we started our engines, which from that moment on suffered from the agony of tiredness, to announce the citizens that we had an enormous project in progress.

The situation was pitiful, but our large mouths formed flying castles. Berit Renser and Marie Le Ferrand, garbage problem resolvers from Europe leading an international NGO’s local branch started their mission now in Jogja and strolled overbearingly through newspaper editorials, with the press release in hands and a glowing smiles on faces.

In private meeting rooms we gave airy answers to each question we hadn’t solved yet and to add credit to our project we blurted out the most authoritative: “In the headquarters in Europe…”. Then they placed us standing under the large newspaper logo, snapped a few photos and flew us to the local media.

Our unreasonable self-confidence worked and since the first email to our official mailbox we never again had a proper sleep. Only a week later since the first steps of pride we found ourselves at a birthday party of Indonesia’s largest environmental organization. Our new friend, an elderly active woman had taken us there and after the speech of a few professors, she pushed us to the microphone. Having the full attention, we held a sumptuous spiel on material we had mastered online and received a resonant applause. Someone even squeezed my hand and congratulated us.

Finally our new friend made a conclusion of our performance:

“But before we start teaching the citizens, we should reconsider our own habits. From now on, dear listeners, we shall all start throwing our trash in the bin, what do you say?”

People exulted. Seemed like we had just uncovered the world’s biggest secret. A crowd gathered around us and wished to become a volunteer in Let’s Do It. In the one, that we didn’t have yet.

We planned our first meeting for the next weekend where volunteers were planned to map the illegal waste all around the city. It was probably the last moment when we had the chance to escape this mad project.

Read how it really works: http://www.letsdoitworld.org and do not get discouraged by my future subjective blog posts about leading the project. The stories are intended to be entertaining, therefore I will mostly describe the conflicts instead of successful moments.