In the Time of Madness: Indonesia on the Edge of Chaosby Richard Lloyd Parry
In the last years of the twentieth century, foreign correspondent Richard Lloyd Parry found himself in the vast island nation of Indonesia as its mystical leader, General Suharto, was losing his hold on the country. After thirty-two years, dictatorship was giving way to a new era of chaos and superstition, the "time of madness" predicted centuries before. On the… See more details below
In the last years of the twentieth century, foreign correspondent Richard Lloyd Parry found himself in the vast island nation of Indonesia as its mystical leader, General Suharto, was losing his hold on the country. After thirty-two years, dictatorship was giving way to a new era of chaos and superstition, the "time of madness" predicted centuries before. On the island of Borneo, tribesmen embarked on a savage war of headhunting and cannibalism. Jungles burned uncontrollably, money lost its value, planes crashed, and volcanoes erupted. After the tumultuous fall of Suharto came the vote on independence for the tiny occupied country of East Timor. And it was here, trapped in the besieged compound of the United Nations, that Lloyd Parry reached his own breaking point.
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BAD DREAMS IN BALI 1996
Buru, Fakfak, Manokwari,Everything I learned about Indonesia added to my excitement and confusion. The country was made up of 17,500 islands, ranging from seaweed-covered rocks to the largest on earth. The distance from one end to the other was broader than the span of the Atlantic Ocean or as great as the distance between Britain and Iraq. Its 235 million people were made up of 300 ethnic groups and spoke 365 languages. As an independent republic Indonesia was fifty years old, but it sounded more like an unwieldy empire than a modern nation state. I had travelled a good deal, but never to a country of which I knew so little. All my ignorance of the world, all the experience I had to come, seemed to be stored up in the shapes of those islands, and in their names. This is a book about violence, and about being afraid. After the crushing of the democracy demonstrators, I returned to Indonesia again and again. I stayed for weeks at a time, usually at moments of crisis and tumult. I was young and avid, with a callous innocence common among young men. Although I prided myself on deploring violence, if it should -- tragically -- break out, I wanted to witness it for myself. In Borneo, I saw heads severed from their bodies and men eating human flesh. In Jakarta, I saw burned corpses in the street, and shots were fired around and towards me. I encountered death, but remained untouched; these experiences felt like important ones. Secretly, I imagined that they had imparted something to my character, an invisible shell which would stand me in good stead the next time I found myself in violent or unpredictable circumstances. But then I went to East Timor, where I discovered that such experience is never externalised, only absorbed, and that it builds up inside one, like a toxin. In East Timor, I became afraid, and couldn't control my fear. I ran away, and afterwards I was ashamed. I resist the idea of defining experiences, when an entire life comes to its point. But I am haunted by that period. For a long time I believed that I had lost something good about myself in East Timor: my strength and will; courage. In three years of travelling in Indonesia, I had found myself at the heart of things. I could land anywhere, it seemed, and within a few hours the dramas of the vast country would create themselves around me. Cars and guides would be found, victims and perpetrators would appear, and marvellous and terrible scenes would enact themselves before my eyes. I loved the intoxication of leaving behind the town and travelling into the forest by road, by boat or on foot. And I loved to sleep next to the jungle, and to wake up the next morning in the tang of strange dreams. But after East Timor, there was never such glamour again. On my last night in Bali, I stayed up late with my book of Indonesian history; as I expected, when I finally fell asleep, Colonel Mehmet was waiting. He seemed to know what I had been reading, and to be angry about it. 'Yes!' he bellowed. 'Very funny this terrible thing is.' But there was a quiver of anxiety in his voice and I could tell that he was losing spirit. 'Go away, Colonel,' I said, because my new knowledge had made me powerful. 'You not always can keep your eyes shut!' he barked, but his voice was becoming weaker. 'It is not good for you to find you cannot make your dream.' 'Goodbye, Colonel Mehmet,' I said. 'To the destructive element . . .' the colonel wailed, but he was already fading and trailing away, '. . . submit yourself!' I hung up the phone and found myself lying on the outdoor bed with my eyes open, wide awake in the mouth of the jungle. I left Bali a few hours later. In Jakarta, the broken glass had been cleared up, the opposition headquarters had been hosed down and boarded over, but the soldiers were still on the streets and it was as hot and tense as before. I flew out of Indonesia the next day, as the government began to arrest people accused of orchestrating the riots. Trade unionists and young political activists were being picked up from their homes in Jakarta and Yogyakarta. Twenty-eight people, the newspapers reported, had been seized for political activities in Bali. Copyright © 2005 by Richard Lloyd Parry. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
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