My Book Out in Indonesia!

This is to all our Indonesian readers. My book about life in Indonesia (hilarious, as one fan mail said) is now available across the country and almost in every bookshop. So don’t hesitate to buy and read it. Waiting for your feedback!



It was only recently when people were beheaded in Kalimantan

On our way back to the city we finally hear what has made Kalimantan so scary to the rest of Indonesians. Namely, if you say dayak to an Indonesian, he immediately remembers the year 2001, the year this traditional Kalimantan tribe committed a real genocide. Although conflicts between the emigrated Madurans and native Dayaks had been going on for years, and there had been fatalities on both sides, it were the local tribes who’d finally come out from the jungle and according to their old tradition cut the heads of their enemies off. Neo-headhunting, as the revival of the old culture is called here.

The locals tell scary stories. Although the official documents tell that there were about half a thousand people killed, then the number the locals talk about is about six times bigger. According to them all Maduran children, women, the young and the old had lost their heads, which later had been found in a hotel room belonging to one Maduran. If we ask why the police didn’t get involved, they say that the conflict lasted for three days and they too were scared. Namely, the Dayak tribe who was responsible for the event is connected with black powers.

The chief of the tribe is told to be from South Kalimantan and everybody knows he’s the evil himself and there’s nobody who could be saved from his desire of revenge. With his weapon that reminds of a boomerang and that’s invisible can destroy anybody, because whenever it’s sent into the air it cuts off heads and then turns back to its owner. You can also be sure that there’s no Dayak who’d mistake in the origin of his victim because thanks to the black magic ceremonies carried out before help to tell the difference between a Maduran and any other person from Kalimantan. Everybody knows who were between the carnages but nobody dares to arrest the run-away tribe elder.

This is what can happen on an island where the colonialists, following the transmigration program, have sent strangers among the natives, the strangers then cut the forest, dig gold and finally call locals primitive forest people.

Harsh trading and floating oranges

 Driving a boat - here the woman is the boss

We get back to the town and our only aim is  to be alone, at least for a while, and enjoy the beauty of it, without explaining of our nationality or posing for another photo. We found ourselves a refugee hotel, which owner is a gay man, a lawyer by his profession,  in a pink pajama. We open a bottle of local wine and delve into the darkest corner one could find here. For the extension of the evening, early in the morning, at 5am,  our host takes us for a ride on his motor boat along the river.
All river edges are full of houses that combine a kind of a village. With the raising sun in the background we can see the silhouettes of mosques between the floating houses. In contrast we can see families in their back yards brushing their teeth with the river water, some of them are foamy all over. We can also see how the son of the family goes along the little bridges and reaches a little house, and from the half-open door we can see him defecating into the river. Her sister is taking water from the river just by him and cleansing her teeth. If this river had seemed a little dirty a few hundred kilometers towards the source, then now the view is a bit eerie.

A river of fruits. Just catch it if you can.

But on the river there are other things happening, too. Besides washing and defecating one can do some shopping on the river as well. So, early in the morning there are ladies with food products in their boats. Next to them there are even bigger ladies with bigger boats who are there to buy in large amounts and are now looking for the best offerer. The boats are passing each other and the wholesale prices are told. The last one is looking around indifferently and shows the way to row. There are no deals made during the whole time. Only Terje’s trying to catch oranges and sweets while hanging over the edge of the boat.

„Ibu, ibuu..“ she yells and watches how the boats filled with goods are sailing past her. “But I don’t know how to do it, not yet,” she waves her hands to get her orange. Until Terje makes her choice and makes the women around her laugh, because she’s not buying ten kilos or even one kilo, but invests minutes to select the one and only fruit, the boat man and the seller try to keep the boats in line.

Ten more minutes and the morning river market is finished, the boats start going home. Now there’s some yelling and a few oars rise from the water and splash into it. Namely it is now the wholesale buyers make their decisions and best deals and the sweetest goods find their new homes at this very last moment.

But we’re sailing towards a quai, ask for a coffee, lay down and with our legs over the edge of the boat and our heads still a bit dizzy from the wine, get going back home.

Revel of whistles or Kalimantan Christian funerals

Ravel of whistles, balloons, alcohol and pagan games – what kind of festival is this? This, my dears, is a jungle christian funeral.

Even if in jungle, this monkey is tied by his leg.

We had to go to Konut because this is the only place to see traditional Kalimantan houses. However, a common name for Indonesian culture seems to be revival. Because every time they have decided to modernize everything and teach the people of the forest live like civilized souls they’ve understood the importance of a tourist trap they’d miss and started rebuilding everything as thoroughly as possible. Dance, music, patterns and buildings have now become objects that have to remind the forgotten culture and carry it on in history. In Konut there’s one of the houses that have survived the different policies and has now, after renovation, been made suitable for living. 

At first the idea of a house where all the people of the village lives seems a bit exotic. But when in Konut, where there are regular houses too and only one shed of ten flats on docks, we see that there’s not much exotic has survived. One simple terraced house, I think. Only the walls of the flats do not reach the roof so that if you wish you could throw an apple core into your neighbour’s room                                                    
If one kid runs, full house of 20 families is immediately awake.
The town itself is in chaos. The festival here seems to be the same as in the previous village, even the faces and merchants seem to be the same, but there’s people ranting on the streets, there were the gambling den and rooster fights should be taking place. Everybody wants to take a photo of us, everybody wants our attention, everybody’s yelling and touching. And our annoyance to the village increases with every second.

Me, the most interesting object.
Before long we understand what’s the cause of the chaos. Namely, someone from a Christian family has died and today there’s the funeral. People from the surrounding villages and towns have flocked, because death matters to everybody. The whole village is involved, and how: the children are sold whistles and balloons, ice cream and pop corn. Men drink alcohol and roll dices. The roosters are killing each other. At the same time about ten men, with their knees feeble, are carrying the coffin to the cemetery. Women, over crying each other, follow them.

It takes 16 uncoordinated men to carry one coffin.

Spending our first night in this traditional house and hearing all the steps made in flats around us we make a quick decision and leave Kalimantan villages and stardom behind us. We have only one dream: to be invisible and to be in silence.


Praise the cock!?

 Thrilling blood – notes on Kalimantan cock fighting

Everyone who’s ever had to do with the literary classics of academic anthropology will remember Clifford Greetz’s article about cock fighting on Bali. Greetz wrote that cock fighting isn’t simply a fight between two roosters, it could also be considered as a competition between men. Not only the two roosters have a big role, what also matter are the pride, virility, honour and status of the owners.

Namely, the men subconsciously identify themselves with their rooster. It is almost like a surrogate of its owner’s personality, a symbolic expression of his ego. As cock has two meanings in English, I’m not sure whether we should say that the rooster is a separately operating penis, but it’s definitely a symbol of masculinity. There are people who think that Geertz was exaggerating. There are those who think that Geertz took too Freudian measures to get under the skin of the poor Balians. And there are those who think that Geertz invented the whole story just to get fame. But one thing is sure – cock fighting has always had its special place in different societies throughout the world.
And when I was hanging there, in Kalimantan woods, leaning on the cock fighting fence, I could feel that there was a kind of power common to wild men living there. And should there be any bigger ceremony held in Kalimantan woods – weddings, funerals, or the holy bone purifying ceremonies – there are handfuls of colourful feathers, scarlet blood and money, money, money flown into the air.
So, praise the cock (no, no way!) and for this matter have wonderful Easter holidays!Tomboys or female-to-male transgenders are also part of the local Kalimantan community. This of course doesn’t eliminate discrimination on different levels. But this is how they live, with other men they place bets on roosters and are active in the spheres and circuits originally common to men.
Expert knowledge – how to tie the knife

The winning cock and its happy owner

Is missis happy to go to the jungle?

While in Central Kalimantan, we surely wanted to go deep into the jungle. We only needed someone to guide us. But things turned out hilarious.

An Estonian guidebook would suggest us to wear fully covering clothes and shoes. A local only whistles on that.
„Tomorrow we’re going to the jungle and collect rubber,” I send Terje a text while she’s looking for options to get away from the village. Meanwhile I’ve found ourselves a new house at a local intellectual’s and new friends, from the resque squad, who finally agree to direct us to the jungle. Still, this is what we’ve been waiting from since our arrival in Kalimantan.
That’s where our flip flops are from.

The next morning we get up at 5 am to be at the agreed place at the agreed time so that we wouldn’t disappoint the workers who’ve agreed to take us with them. A woman always has to prove herself twice. We put on heavy pants we’ve got from the Christians, Terje’s wearing rubber boots she’s bought for going to the forest, I take my bandana and put a knife on my belt. Like two scouts we’re ready to face the forest. 

The clock’s ticking but there’s nobody. There’s nobody waiting for us at the agreed time at the agreed place and our neighbour tells the men left hours ago. Nevertheless, half an hour later there’s a young man with a huge smile knocking on our door.

“This is the missis-man,” I already see Terje’s  asquint eyes.
The young man tears his smile even wider, it’s just like his teeth would like to jump out his mouth, and then shouts happily: “Would missises like to have breakfast before we go?” We understand that they’ve chosen to send the bit more naive guy to accompany us. Ok, we’ll eat.
„Would missises like noodles or rice?”
„Whatever you like and are used with. Rice is good enough.”
„With or without egg?“
„Really, we don’t care, everything’s fine.”
„Would missises like fried or yellow rice?“
„Seriously, whatever. We eat what’s out there to have.“
„Do missises prefer fish or chicken?”
Terje becomes angry for a second, takes the boy by his collar and decides to go to the market with him. Maybe it’ll be quicker that way. But the missis-talk doesn’t go anywhere.

According to Terje, the conversation went on like that:
„Is missis happy to ride a motorbike?” he asks while driving.
„Yes, missis is happy.“
„Is misses happy to look at potatoes?“ he asks at the market.
„Yes, missis is happy, but could we hurry up.“
„But does missis know how to boil a potato?“
Finally I saw them coming back. The guy was carrying a huge cardboard box he then puts in the middle of the table. I open the box and start counting: 10 packages of instant noodles, 8 eggs, a kilo of donuts and a bag full of Coca-Cola products. The young man takes the box and it seems he’s going somewhere.
„This is how you’re going to the jungle? With a box full of instant noodles. Come on, put them into a back bag, it’s easier that way.”
The young man takes the box and presses it into his back bag. Soon his friend, wearing flip-flops arrives and takes the bag with sodas. This is how we get going towards the jungle, the boys wearing flip-flops and carrying the week’s food, we dressed as if we’re going to a nuclear war, absolutely ready for the journey.

Half of the jungle that we pass is of orderly planted gum trees that people come and cut one by one, they place a bamboo bowl under it, and a few days later they collect the produce, dry it and a huge smelly rubber lump is sold to the industry. The other half is ancient, there the young man looks for the natural medicines we’ve asked for. Be it with the malaria and kidney pills as it may, we collect a huge amount of dark red roots that, according to the boy, “make you happy when you’re already married.” The latter is an Indonesian metaphor for saying “when you’re already having sex”, because basically you shouldn’t do it if you’re not married. Having got our afrodisiacs and having our future victims chosen we continue our journey.

An hour later we’re at a water fall we can finally lay down and remind ourselves that we’re alone in the nature and with the nature. Soon the boys set up a fire and start cooking our ten packs of instant noodles. And although our young man had left an impression of a sissy in the town then in the jungle he’s like a fish in the water and can surprise the city girls with his knowledge of biology again and again.