Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pray for Indonesia

It's been an eventful week here in Indonesia.

If I see one more person put "pray for Indonesia" as their facebook or blackberry status I might flip.  This is the most populous Muslim country in the world, with millions of people praying five times a day.  If their prayers have not warded off the "wrath of a vengeful god" (which is who prayers are directed to) then is my one half-hearted, unbelieving prayer going to tip the scales? And don't tell me who to believe in or what to pray about anyway! Enough with the rant, onto the real info.

Indonesia is located on the Ring of Fire.  I learned a lot about this in school because Seattle is on the Ring as well, though a much less active part.  Any country on the Ring of Fire is apt to encounter earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.  It happens with the tectonic plate their location on shifts with or against the huge pacific plate. Other major locations on the Ring of Fire?  Japan, California.  All sites of huge earthquakes this century.  The Mount St. Helen's eruption in Oregon that sent ash as far away as Russia?  Great Alaskan quake of '64?  On the Ring of Fire too. I haven't felt one earthquake here which might be because I didn't feel them at home often either.  I've become desensitize to them.
courtesy of  Indonesia is over on the left, near Australia.
When I first arrived in Jakarta I received emails from family and friends frequently asking if I was ok. They'd seen there was an earthquake in Indonesia.  Indonesia is made up of more that 17,000 islands with nearly 2 mil square kilometers, but stretching over 5,000 km in length from the most eastern to western. If there's an earthquake on Sulawesi its not felt in Jakarta usually.  There are literally earthquakes daily here.   Last week there was an earthquake just off the coast of Sumatra, the big island to the west of Java. Notice of the earthquake was disseminated fairly quickly.  I even got a text message from a friend giving me heads up of a tsunami warning after the 7.7 quake. I slept through it. Now the news is known round the world.  The islands of Metawi and North Pagai have been devastated. They were hit by a three meter wave just five minutes after the quake.  Surfing and fishing boats sunk or exploded. As of this moment, the official death toll is 343 with hundreds presumed to have been swept out to sea among the missing.

If that weren't enough for cash strapped and infrastructure crippled Indonesia, there is also a volcanic eruption happening near Yogyakarta in central Java. Mount Merapi is a known active volcano.  I was near it in September for holiday.  The hot ash and gas has killed 33 and the count is growing. The hillsides of the mountain are populated by farmers who know the mountain soil is fertile. Many are refusing to leave their belongings, their land but the ash is raining down more than five miles away now.
courtesy of

courtesy of
Yesterday afternoon in our school staffroom we got to talking about the news coverage of the events.  I began to wonder if this, any of this, would be covered in the US press if it wasn't all happening at the same time.  A co-worker asked "When was the last time you saw anything about Guam, Samoa, the Marshall Islands or Puerto Rico in The American news?". I marveled at the massive flooding in Benin that was barely covered on the BBC website, lord knows I wouldn't find it on any American sites. It reminds me how insular the United States is and how we as individuals must fight to be informed about anything else.  I admit, the US is big and it can be a bit of a task just to stay informed on things within the US. When most people rely on the TV for their news and the TV only covers news outside the area if it has spectacular imagery (i.e. volcanic explosions), I doubt people have the interest or energy to look at BBC, Christian Science Monitor, AP, Reuters or any other source to find out about Albania or Laos.

I was asked by a new class of business students why I am in Indonesia.  Part of my answer was that no one comes here, it's largely unknown by Westerners or maybe specifically Americans. I feel an obligation to tell people about Indonesia; the people, cultures, customs, Islam, etc. My experience here will be unlike any other I can have. Sometimes good, often trying but always different. If I can teach people a little something, even the ability to find Indonesia on a map, and I will consider my mission accomplished.

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