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To know more is to care less about the differences between nationalities, races, and species.
Art Wolfe

For more than a month I pondered Indonesia while tramping the sultry outback of her unwieldy geography. I hiked the central highlands of Papua and felt the palpable tension between native Dani and the transmigrants from Java; I drove to Yogyakarta, the ancient Javanese capital, to visit Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument in the world; I cruised the Sekonyer River of Kalimantan to Tanjung Puting National Park for a glimpse of the endangered orangutan; I came face to face with a giant dragon on Komodo Island; and I visited the isolated Christian enclave of Tana Toraja on Sulawesi, to witness some of the most elaborate celebrations of death on the planet. Day after day I was struck by the seeming impossibilities of this complex island nation.


On my last day in Indonesia I relax and sip tea on the veranda of my room in a Jakarta high rise hotel. Suspended inches above a calm eastern ocean is a consolidation of brooding, pastel purple fog, made heavier by industrial fumes from nearby. Occasionally the sky is split by a flash of heat lightning, that strangely silent atmospheric tantrum. Off in the other direction sprawls the megacity, the heartbeat of Indonesia, crawling with cars and blanketed by the smoggy soup they exhale (no converters here). But who's noticing? All those cars spell progress to this poor nation.

As I sat in the twilight I wondered if Indonesia could do it, hold together because they wanted to, not, as in Suharto days, because they had to. To do so will require sweeping changes to foster an attitude based on respect for human rights regardless of ethnicity or religion. My impression is that it will be a struggle, but Indonesia will muddle through, and maybe someday even live up to their high-minded founding motto-unity in diversity.

© Danny Kimberlin 2015