Today is Independence Day in Indonesia. Preparation for this important holiday has been underway for weeks. Red and white flags and banners have been flying everywhere since the beginning of the month. Communities have been weeding yards and roadsides, painting buildings and gates, and tirelessly organizing special events.
About a week ago I attended a meeting of a village planning committee to discuss the budget for the local Independence Day carnival. The process was very…transparent. Every detail of every aspect was discussed at great length.
Last night I attended an event hosted by the local government. The head of the sub-district gave a very long speech about local issues where he saw room for improvement. He urged everyone to look past differences of ethnicity and embrace Indonesian diversity, to work together as one community. I was surprised how much I understood, considering the speech was in Indonesian (mixed with Javanese), but maybe local politics in Indonesia just isn’t all that different from local politics in the US.
The head of the sub-district was followed by an elderly gentleman who spoke about the value of independence and gave a summary of Indonesian history since the end of the Dutch colonial period, much of which he took from his own experience. He counted in Dutch, sang a song in Japanese, skipped over the middle bit of modern Indonesian history but made the point that Indonesia has overcome hardship before and will continue to do so. I imagine the event went on for another few hours, but I took my leave after the history lesson.
Today I joined students and teachers from several local schools, including my own, at a large stadium. The students lined up on the soccer field, and for several hours, they just stood and baked in the equatorial sun. It didn’t take long for them to start dropping like flies, but the Red Cross had set up tents, where students who succumbed to the heat could recover. Every few minutes some Red Cross volunteers or boy scouts would run into the ranks of students and carry one or two out, often on a stretcher. From time to time there would be a display of marching, a bout of saluting or a round of singing. All the while, the students stood and baked.
I asked why events like this had to be so long, hot and perpendicular, when everyone knew that dozens and dozens of students would faint. Apparently, that’s just how it is. Someone higher up (who I’m sure gets to sit in the shade) decided that Indonesian school children would display their love of country by standing in the heat for hours.