Pandemic Diary: Lebak in 1860 and 2021

Arjan and Bonnie, a historian (left)
Ubaidilah Muchtar (right)

Today I watched “After Multatuli Left” (2019), a movie made by Arjan Onderdenwijngaard, a Dutch guy who is also a human right activist living in Depok, West Java. His Indonesian is very fluent and thus he could communicate smoothly with all Indonesians featured in his movie.

The movie is made available online by Erasmus Huis, the public library and cultural center located in the Embassy of the Netherlands to Indonesia. And it goes live only today by online invite.

The movie itself revolves around the social, economic, and political issue of Lebak people, the past colonialism and the currently flourishing new feudalism that firmly holds the area.

Arjan came to Lebak and shot his own movie in 1987 around the village of Badur, a real place where the legendary novel “Max Havelaar” written by Multatuli (a pen name of Dutch author Eduard Douwes Dekker) was set. This place was also where the story of Saidjah and Adinda took place, symbolizing the horrendous oppression of Dutch colonialism in Lebak. The novel was published in 1860.

And what a coincidence that I’ve recently also moved to Lebak. So this made the movie more relatable to me even more. I did see a small brick bridge that was built in 1933 just around my house, which made me question: “Was this the Dutch or Lebaknese person/ people who built this?”

Arjan interviewed some sources: laymen (Wiwi, Rasti Guna and Jumar), merchants (H. Sapari), artists, bureaucrats, and scholars (Bonnie Triyana of Historia). The laymen are represented by some people he shot in his 1987 movie. He deliberately searched them and interviewed them only to ask how their lives went after since.

He found the fact that Lebaknese people haven’t changed that much. They’re still oppressed. Not by the Dutch but by the feudalistic family dinasties now after the Dutch was long gone. And though roads have been built and most people can afford to buy better quality rice and own cell phones, some core characters remain the same. The hardest one to change is they resist changes. Despite their low existence and substandard welfare, they have no willingness and determination to get more education, no plans to change their offsprings’ future, and fail to come out of the vicious circle of poverty and oppression. Kind of eternalized, structural poverty.

Hj. Iti Octavia Jayabaya, SE, MM the first female regent of Lebak, who is also the daughter of the previous Lebak regent, Mulyadi Jayabaya

In 2021, Lebak as I observe with my own eyes has not changed much. There’s still much poverty and thus a lot of people who need help. It’s not the financial help they need most but instead empowerment and mindset change. And that will take perhaps another century. (*/)

Pandemic Diary: Journalists Will Get Vaccinated for FREE and Tax Exemption

The bomb was dropped on February 9th, 2021.

The president announced proudly that journalists are going to get vaccinated soon. And to add to the excitement, they are also exempted from income taxes.


Only for the formally employed journalists though.

I doubt that the government even cares about the freelance journalists. But let’s appreciate this huge step.

And to return the good deeds of the government, the Association of Indonesian Journalists (PWI) pushes an agenda: social media act.

Excuse me?!

So here’s the gist: the act will differentiate the real professional journalists from the amateurish, unregistered, grey journalists.

I understand the idea. As a nation, we are already fed up with hoax and disinformation and misinformation which run rampant even after the election season was over. And such things have caused a lot of conflicts and misunderstandings and chaos among the grassroots, who suffer most but benefit least from this.

I do appreciate this agenda though. It helps clear the messy press landscape in Indonesia.

This could be another step to authoritarianism in the republic. But let me tell you, let’s give this regime the benefit of doubt. (*/)

Pandemic Diary: It Feels Good and Sucks to Have Pets At The Same Time

Bair and his Mara

PETS are another source of psychological and mental relief for those locked down at home. Because pets scarcely disappoint. With humans, you will never know the possibilities.




With pets, you’ll never have these issues. They are cute and honest and playful. No drama. All fun, except the feces management affair.

So when I watch this Mongolian movie “Celestial Camel”, I envy Bair. I don’t envy his living in a desert. Not at all. But I envy him because he has that one pet he is willing to put his life at stake. No doubt. No hesitation. He is simply unstoppable.

One scene I watch over and over again is his cuddling scene after he gives up. Altynka, the celestial camel, is Mara’s cub. Mara is an adult female camel who just gave birth. She and her cub are the family’s treasured pets. So when the father can’t make money, they sell Altynka to a Russian guy looking for a new-born camel for a movie. But the bonds between the human owner and the pet are too strong to cut off. (*/)

Bair and Altynka, cuddling each other like lovers.

Pandemic Diary: Home Entertainment Binge

WIFI is everything I’ve got to entertain my bored mind now. My house in countryside doesn’t have this limitless internet connection so I kind of hate living there. All I can enjoy is the vast skyview and fresh air but definitely I can’t work there. Like getting transported back to the early 20th century. Radio is my one and only savior.

So here I am stuck in my room with a laptop and WIFI.

Netflix is not on the menu because I want to curtail unnecessary expenses.

Free entertainment content is everywhere to find on the web. And I always have tubitv in my sleeve.

Damla Sönmez as Sibel

“Sibel” (2018) might be one of the best movies I’ve ever seen during this pandemic.

It tells us about isolation, being an outcast, and rejected by the rest of humankind.

Sibel is a Turkish girl who is mute and badass enough to shoot any creatures with a rifle. She isn’t a tomboy. She wears her hair long and wavy. She is skinny, far from Xena the Warrior Princess’ looks and tough appearance. But she has her own definition of strength and courage.

Her one and only sister is a rebel and sees her more as someone that puts shame on their family reputation. Their father is a village head and a well-off widower. He owns a shop and the house is more than luxurious.

But Sibel, out of her determination to show her usefulness and strength to the entire village, spends her time out there in fields working as a menial worker.

What is even more horrible is the fact that she is bullied in every possible ways by women around her at work. At one time, she is even beaten. Sibel doesn’t fight back. If she fought back, these old ladies may have been injured badly.

To add to her misery, she cannot shout her frustration. There are scenes when she could not contain her anger and angst after being mistreated by people around her, and she dashed off the woods only to open her mouth. Not even a word was heard because she is a mute. It’s worse than being silenced. Because at least, if you are silenced, you still have your voice.

Sibel does find her own voice after she runs into Ali, a fugitive. At first they fight against each other. Sibel thinks Ali is a wolf she is hunting for so long to prove to the villagers. But Ali thinks Sibel is an armed villager who hunts him to be dragged to the policemen who are roaming the Black Sea area to capture terrorists.

Ali is not a terrorist. At least, he introduces himself as a man from a neighboring village who refuses to be drafted and go to war. He seems to be a pacifist.

Being a mute girl, Sibel never has any romantic experience with men. But with Ali, she starts to discover such feelings as they get closer and intimate. They talk and Ali also learns how to communicate with her by whistling, a language deveoped by the locals there. They seem to be a perfect couple. Both are outcasts. Both are pariahs for their own terms. But they also find strength in each other.

But alas, the police know the hut where Ali is hiding. Sibel wants to help Ali escape by stealing an identity card for him but Ali never shows up. He is simply gone with the wind.

It’s hard to be in her shoes. For once in a lifetime, Sibel finds someone who can understand her and cares about her but it doesn’t last long. Too short. But their bonds are already too deep.

And Sibel gets furious about the loss. Even worse, she is hugely disappointed that her father, a figure she respects, is now looking down on her just like everyone else.

I initially think she might break into pieces but I am wrong. Sibel is too strong to break. She finds her strength again.

For a minute, I wonder if I could just borrow her strength and determination. To find my strength again and emerge stronger and better after the pandemic isolation. (*/)

Sibel and Ali (Erkan Kolçak Köstendil)

Pandemic Diary: 11 Months into a Year of Pandemic

DESPERATION and deliberate ignorance are prevalent around us as the pandemic approaches its first anniversary.

Yes, we’re bored. But we’re also mentally exhausted and jobless (or have overworked) and simply craving for freedom from the virus.

In Indonesia, we are still combatting against such attitude.

Crimes are here and there. And the definition of “crime” is wider now. Creating crowds is also a crime now. Not wearing a mask in public is also one.

And the government gets so desperate about this. The police have always been telling people to wear masks and dispell any crowds but they are limited in number. So they are now asking for laymen’s help. Now laymen are allowed to enforce laws if they see violations of health protocols are being committed by others.

They call this PAM SWAKARSA. Something not new for older citizens living in the New Order (ORBA) when Soeharto, the smiling general and most corrupt president in the country, reigned.

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