Saturday, October 14, 2006

Remembering the 2002 Bali Bomb

So it was four years ago, the bomb that all but ruined the tourist industry in Bali, the bomb that killed 202 people from 22 countries.

I had to go pick up my man from the airport, so I just left several hours early and went straight to Kuta beach, site of the blast.

I was to learn something about how people choose to memorialize tragedies.

I wandered down to the area near the Hard Rock, where, crowded in a small swath of the wide sand beach, maybe 1,000 people were gathering for one of the memorials in the area. This was the Billabong Paddle for Peace rally. In this day and age, it is no big deal, I guess, for a peace rally or memorial to have a commercial sponsor. Oh well.

I was overdressed, as usual, in linen shirt and trousers, holding my sunblock umbrella against the setting sun. Everyone else was dressed for a beach party... bikinis, shorts, tattoos, etc. There were also about ten or fifteen local ladies in lacy kebayas and batik sarongs (pakaian adat). A number of kids raced around, scooping up flower petals and tossing them. Maybe 100 surfers sat in rank and file with their boards, festooned with flower petals and looking like some kind of warriors or human sacrifices... up higher on the sandy slope they did have a kind of altitude over the rest of us. I waited in the crowd, up near a white cloth "wall", taking in the ceremony. All seemingly very casual, but planned and orchestrated. To my embarassment, they played the Australian national anthem on the PA, followed by a highly sappy version of Waltzing Matilda, all verses, and then the great Aussie ballad True Blue.

Possibly the most obnoxious moment was courtesy of some helicopter company, which sent a copter roaring over to the ceremony area, hovering over the shore break at a frighteningly low altitude and even more frighteningly high decibel level. Drunk and carefree participants waved at the chopper like it was an angel from heaven, or at least a good pal.

Many of those present were drinking from bottles of Bintang Beer. Many gals (even, horrors, my age) were cavorting like pinup girls in revealing bikinis. I had invaded an Australian memorial! Kids let loose turtles in the sea, we were asked to introduce ourselves to the people around us, and there was a moment of silence at sunset, while the surfers who'd paddled out to form a circle just past the breakers, held hands.

I was moved by the beautiful sunset, by the candles we each were given, and by the 22 gongs for the 22 nations who lost people. But I felt like an intruder in a party to which I was not invited, when I had to sit through True Blue and the anthem. A strange mix of sombre sacred and party hearty profane.

Perhaps craving a show of dignity, I grabbed a juice at the Harris Hotel and went to the Legian Protestant Church to take in the ceremony there. Olga of the Bali International Women's Association had sent me an email notice of this memorial. And, all being welcome, I decided to go there and pay some Christian style respects to the innocents killed by the bomb.

The church service was on the order of charismatic Christianity, with lots of songs about love, no hymns, and a Power Point illustrative slide show to help us see the words of songs and prayers, in Indonesian as well as English, with dreamy renditions of nature, the bomb site, and Jesus. Christians from all over the island took part, and there was even an interpretive dance about faith in Jesus.

There was St Francis of Asisi's prayer, about being an instrument of God. Yeah, inspirational, I suppose, but very humble in that turn-the-cheek way. "Nothing we can do about it" was the attitude, and may as well take comfort in the fact that Jesus loves us, and so on. A sucker for dramatic lighting, I was moved by the candle lighting ceremony in the dimmed church (a cute white Balinese style structure without walls), but that darned synthesizer continued to wail music during our 2 minutes of silence.

Funny thing, the noise factor. I'm clinically 40% deaf, and yet I am keenly aware of the lack of true silence. The chopper, the synthesizer, dogs barking, chickens crowing... Bali may never find peace.

So really I got to see how amazingly different people can be in memorializing victims and remembering a tragedy. Both ceremonies taking a fairly light touch, despite the glaring overtones of Jesus and Australia. No acrimony toward the perpetrators, not even a hint of their horrible act of murder. I was not directly affected by the bomb at the Sari Club those 4 years ago, but I have always viewed the event with disgust. Sometimes anger, but I can imagine only a fraction of the anger that victims' families must feel. If I'd been simmering in vengeful and sorrowful thoughts for four years, would I take any comfort in an Aussie beach singalong and an evening of lightweight Jesus songs?

Strange capper to these events was watching a tape on the Discovery channel called Bombali, aired on our satellite network and taped by me so that I could watch it yesterday. Very unabashedly presenting the party and pickup scene at the Sari Club that fateful night.

Dig, the bombers were portrayed as misled robots in a ridiculous but well planned mini jihad against immoral white people, but there was no hesitation to show that the Sari Club was a good place for revelling football players to pick up cute young backpackers. Look, I feel it's anyone's right to go to bars and drink and even get drunk if you feel like it, which are actually big aspects of the Australian social life. If you go to a beach town and see a lively bar, packed with celebrants from a weekend of sporting events, why NOT go in? But to hear several interviews with witnesses and victims' families, many dressed as skimpily as western culture allows, was at moments a little embarassing.

Fact: there are a bunch of Muslims who think I'm immoral for having my wine with dinner last night, for wearing this sleeveless shirt today, and for not believing that there is one true God whose prophet was Mohammed. Fact: there are a bunch of Muslims who would like to see me dead for these things. Now, I weigh this against a personal belief that most Muslims are good people, and many probably think that as long as I don't go into their cities dressed like this or drinking like that, I'm okay.

But to see the Australian production, with no bones about the hard partying at the Sari Club, was to look at both sides of the event. I don't think this was intentional. But it made me think.

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