Saras Dewi

 

 

“We are lacking individuals who genuinely recognize the liberty they have; to think about who they are, their place in this world, and to take action.”

 

Saras Dewi

Poet, Author, Activist, Philosophy Professor & Lecturer – University of Indonesia |
On her relationship with intuition, our need for critical thinking, and how teaching has changed her life.

 

There is an inherent truth within the melancholic sound of a “Ney”- a traditional flute made from a single giant reed found by the river banks of the Middle East. As a center piece in the music of the Sufis – an Islamic order centered around mysticism – its voice echoes that of a cry – a yearning – to both know and return to the reed bed from where it had been cut off from. It is, in essence, symbolic of ourselves – in that within the soul of each human being lies a yearning to know their true place in this world, and return to where they belong.

To understand – let alone achieve – the aforementioned in a commercially driven world is an enduringly difficult task; over a thousand years after the birth of Sufiism, the philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson famously acknowledged, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

This is a virtue that Saras Dewi – Professor and Lecturer of Philosophy at the University of Indonesia – is championing in both her work and life. Many in Bali will know her as the immensely gifted singer of Lembayung Bali, and others for her impressive feats in academia; authoring philosophy books such as Hak Azasi Manusia (Human Rights), and Cinta Bukan Cokelat (Love Is Not Chocolate), including an anthology of poems called Jiwa Putih (White Soul). Her recent publication, titled Ekofenomenology (Ecophenomenology), explores the imbalanced relationship between Nature, mankind, and technology from a philosophical perspective.

Manusia had the privilege of interviewing Saras at the 2018 Ubud Writers and Readers festival. Ever discerning and sharp, she explains her relationship with intuition, the sustaining impact teaching has had one her life, and stresses the need for philosophy at a crucial point in time. She also gives prudent advice on finding a better relationship to nature for those living in cities.

 


Saras, why would an understanding of Philosophy, however basic or thorough, be important for the world we live in today?

 

We tend to view philosophy as something distant from our everyday lives because we often attribute very complex theories to it. But scholars and researchers are faced with a task to prove otherwise. Philosophy is simply about the freedom to explore and express our minds, and to question life around us.

With the current events going on in the world right now, that kind of critical thinking and healthy criticism is desperately needed. We need critical individuals engaging in the world; an act itself that is very philosophical.

The basic ideas of liberty, freedom and a sense of compassion are all philosophical pursuits, and at its bare essence, philosophy is the act of thinking for yourself. The quote, “Sapere Aude” (Dare to Know), by Immanuel Kant comes to mind. Yet we are seeing a lot of the opposite these days.

“I believe that a deeper, more authentic self is shown when it is in harmony with nature and its cycles.”

External forces can heavily influence what individuals think about, and are seemingly able to dictate what they say! It’s all too common. We are lacking individuals who genuinely recognize the liberty they have; to think about who they are, their place in this world, and to take action.

In Bali, for instance, our culture and spirit are essentially bound to nature – our source. Yet I see an increasing amount of distractions that lead a lot of Balinese away from that source – towards a life that is, in my opinion, unrealistic. I believe that a deeper, more authentic self is shown when it is in harmony with nature and its cycles.

Yet how does one find that relationship with nature in an increasingly urbanized Indonesia? Especially those who are born and raised completely urban environments?

 

I have great hope that those who live in cities will have some access to this relationship through literature. And by literature, I don’t mean Instagram captions, and tweets reduced to 250 characters. I mean reading great works of writing that are centered around nature, and truth.

Living in Bali, we are surrounded by nature, and so it is more difficult to differentiate ourselves from it. But I also live in Jakarta, where we are forced into the rhythms of urban life. It shouldn’t be as bad as it is though, and we can do better with our cities… if we have the right intention.

Ecofenomenology – Saras Dewi

 

What are some specific teachings that you’ve embraced in your life the most?   

 

There are two great philosophers that have influenced me: Felix Gautarri and Gilles Deleuze – both are French post-structuralists. In a broader sense, they both explain how we shouldn’t bind ourselves to either Western or Eastern philosophies (they were students of Michel Foucault, who leaned more towards Eastern philosophy). I find that very interesting, and I think we have to view both as equals and find how they overlap in various ways.

“I felt awkward navigating through Balinese society.”

My life has always been around that dynamic. I was raised in a very traditional Balinese way, but my family was very vocal about politics. They enrolled me at a school that adopted western perspectives on free speech and thought.

So, I felt awkward navigating through Balinese society. My parents were both Muslim and Hindu, yet it was very hard for me to think about religion. I found it difficult in the beginning to comprehend why it was a big deal to have different values coexisting peacefully – yet now that Indonesia is becoming increasingly conservative and polarized, I can see why. Now is a crucial time to exercise some common sense.

“I don’t believe humans are entirely good or evil. We simply become better at being aware of ourselves.”


What is your relationship to Intuition?

 

To give you some context, I’m a huge fan of science. I love logical positivism, where the only trustworthy method for practical understanding is the scientific method. I certainly think Indonesia is definitely lacking that.

Yet, I understand why philosophers rebuke that claim because they are aware of the mysterious ways in which humans can intuitively know about the world. Therefore, on a wholesome level, I believe intuition forms a part of our reasoning, but incorporating direct experience and logic creates a more rounded human being.

Fundamentally, I don’t believe humans are entirely good or evil. We simply become better at being aware of ourselves, and intuition is one of the tools that we use by feeling that helps with our reasoning.

The fields of Neuroscience and Neurophilosophy are definitely working to better translate the phenomena of intuition – the success of which goes hand in hand with our advances in technology. Of course, there are “languages” that we haven’t scientifically made sense of, yet can begin doing so intuitively.

 

Describe what goes through your mind when you teach. What do you feel? And how has your relationship to your students changed you?  

 

There was definitely was a sense of anger in the beginning; I was keen to reveal realities of our world without any sugar-coating. But this realism plays a strong part in why I am teaching. I feel obligated to do it especially at this particular point in time with Indonesian society.

As the years go by, I find that teaching also plays a part in my own learning about the young minds of Indonesia. I realize now, that that is what is most rewarding to me – to learn what is inside these young minds and then collaborate with them. This interaction is what keeps me going.

Of course, I also care about my own research and the things I am accomplishing with my colleagues within the scientific community. But apart from those duties, I’m still here and hopeful because of the experiences I’ve had with my students.

“There is huge gap in Indonesia between the academic communities and the realities of suffering and poverty that exist in life.”

I took some of my students to several political rallies, or, more rather, they asked me if we should go! They wanted to know the heart of politics and where it takes place. Being with this kind of spirit is what encourages me. It makes me who I am today, and that is what teaching means to me. It’s a very personal view of mine.

However, I always tell them that I can only go so far as teaching Philosophy in my class; the beautiful ideas of Liberty and Freedom look great on paper – but exercising it outside the classroom is a completely different thing. There is huge gap in Indonesia between the academic communities and the realities of suffering and poverty that exist in life. It’s a gap that I am trying to eliminate, and I know it’s a hard task, but the wave of young Indonesian thinkers that I am seeing now gives me confidence for the years ahead.

Will Buckingham

With:

                                                                 

 

“Genuine creativity involves a certain reticence in the exercise of power, keeping a space open for larger things to take their course; for larger patterns to emerge.”

 

Will Buckingham

Philosopher & Writer
On the Different kinds of power, Living with equilibrium, and what governments can learn from The Moomins.

 

Power. The mere sight of the word can evoke feelings of both seduction and disgust, yet it remains an immovable presence, woven into the very heart of human history. But are there – beyond the desire to control and influence the behavior of others – hidden essences of power that behave in ways we cannot see? What are the differences between the power that is gained from grasping, and the power that is gained from letting go?

One thing is for certain – despite the innately fluid nature that makes it difficult to measure – power is something that affects us all, whether we are aware of it or not.

On a sunlit terrace in Ubud, below a convocation of writers and readers, Manusia took a moment to interview a man who has spent years contemplating and writing about the human experience. Captivated by what he sees as the “sheer malleability of human existence,” Will Buckingham has lived in the spaces in between philosophy, storytelling and anthropology – forging new imaginative paths of deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

His curiosity took him to Indonesia’s Tanimbar Islands in 1994, where the then new anthropologist’s visceral experiences eventually led to him leaving the practice of anthropology behind. Will later wrote about anthropology and the ambivalences of power in his memoir Stealing With Eyes – one among the many works he has published in various genres. He is also co-founder of Wind and Bones, a project exploring the intersection between creativity, writing and social justice currently based in Yangon, Myanmar.

In this brief interview, Will addresses different ways of approaching philosophy – reflecting on the ones that have made the biggest impact on his life, as well as his intriguing relationship with power. He concludes, smilingly, with the one book he feels should be required reading for all governments.


Was there a moment in your life that sparked your passion and curiosity for philosophy?

 

I’ve always liked to step back and think about life whilst living it, and appreciated this kind of double perspective. But I actually found philosophy quite boring when I was younger. I still do at times, to be honest, even if I’ve always had philosophical tendencies. Because of this, back when I was studying anthropology, I had friends who would say to me, ‘ You really should be a philosopher,’ and my response was usually, ‘Why would I want to be one of those? They don’t seem to be much fun.’

But there’s a big distinction between philosophy as an academic discipline – which is something I have never been particularly interested in – and philosophy as a process of deeper reflection on life. I’ve always been preoccupied by questions about what it actually means to exist and to be human, what it means to relate to others and the world of which we are a part. So it is this latter approach which I find more engaging.

The philosophers of the ancient world were not academics. They weren’t writing scholarly papers. They were engaging in experiments in how to live thoughtfully and how to think better about how to live. So the kinds of philosophers that interest me are philosophers like Confucius, going around and trying to demonstrate to people how to better order their lives, or the Epicureans in ancient Greece, living in their experimental communities. What I’m interested in is this thoughtful engagement with life. I am interested in how we can do something creative about the fact of living.

 

What are a few different philosophies that you personally have found to be the most intriguing and why? 

 

My PhD in Philosophy was on Ethics and the work of Emmanuel Levinas. His main focus was the face-to-face relationship with others – the responsibility you have when encountering another human being, the fact that you are answerable for your existence. I was fascinated by Levinas’s emphasis on the primacy of responsibility, before you’ve even had a chance to ask yourself “What ought I do?” But as I went on there was also a lot about Levinas that I found increasingly unappealing, particularly his taste for high drama, and the religious tenor of his language.

“As I went on there was also a lot about Levinas that I found increasingly unappealing.”

Increasingly I am drawn to the Chinese traditions of thought. One book that I particularly love is a book by Francois Jullien called In Praise of Blandness. For me at least, Jullien’s book highlights something central to the Western philosophical tradition, and the culture that has come from it: the emphasis upon drama. In much Western philosophy, life is seen as a kind of drama, with the self as the heroic protagonist (usually a tragic hero) in this drama. What Jullien highlights in his book, as a counterbalance to this, is the whole aesthetic in Chinese thought of ‘That which has no taste,’ ‘That which is bland’, or ‘That which has no color’. To Western-trained ears, ‘blandness’ might seem like a bad thing; but Jullien shows how in the Chinese tradition, it has had a strongly positive value.

“To Western-trained ears, ‘blandness’ might seem like a bad thing; but Jullien shows how in the Chinese tradition, it has had a strongly positive value.”

Reading Jullien led me to something that I now think about all the time: the idea of the de-escalation of internal drama as one of the most important arts of living. It’s not something I’ve written much about yet, nor something I’ve found a particularly rigorous or systematic way of practicing, but it is something I am hugely preoccupied by.

By nature, I’m quite a drama queen. But since reading Jullien, I have engaged in quite a few little experiments in practicing blandness, in the de-escalation of internal drama, and I can see that there is a huge value in this.

When I manage to practice this a little more systematically, I find that life takes on a very different flavor. There aren’t all these ups and downs, all these upheavals. It isn’t a deep spiritual experience – I’m suspicious of those as well (because they are often expressed in dramatic terms). Instead, it is more a sense of equilibrium, a sense of things being simply what they are, without adding all that intensity and drama. I think there’s something in all that! I think that Edward Slingerland’s book on Trying not to Try, which also has the advantage of being nice and accessible, also touches on some of these themes.

How is humanity, at our time, transforming and evolving from a philosophical standpoint? Are we seeing new philosophies sprout out? Or old ones re-emerging?

 

Academic philosophy is often quite hung up on the ‘next big thing’, although I’m not sure that philosophy really progresses or evolves like this or whether the next big thing in academic philosophy is ever that big, or that interesting. However, in terms of genuine and thoughtful engagement with life, I’m sure there are wider cultural transformations going on all around us, even if it’s hard to see where things are heading. I neither have great hope, nor great despair, but that’s perhaps just me trying to de-escalate the drama!

 

One thing that is interesting at the moment is the questioning or even dissolving of certain distinctions and categories. One obvious example is that of gender. It’s fascinating how uneasy people are when you start questioning gender categories. And obviously anthropology has a role here as well (I was reading recently about the five genders of Buginese culture). The current exploration of the nature of gender is another thing that feels like a work-in-progress, without any clarity about where things are going. But when it comes to the breakdown of old certainties, the interesting thing may not be the replacing of old certainties with new one. Instead, the interesting thing may be the opportunity this breakdown gives us to face the genuine complexity of being human.

Another quite common narrative about cultural change is that through globalization everything in the world is being flattened out. Traditional cultures are dying, we’re all becoming more interconnected and more the same. But I don’t know if that’s true. Difference seems to spread and multiply wherever you are, especially when you’re not looking. So the world remains interesting.

“Difference seems to spread and multiply wherever you are, especially when you’re not looking.”

I was in the Tanimbar islands over 20 years ago, and I remember meeting a French guy who was outraged because the island and culture weren’t “primitive” enough! He got really angry with me about it, although I wasn’t sure that it was entirely my fault! And it’s true that there has been massive cultural change in Tanimbar over the past century. Since the first Catholic missions came in 1910, Tanimbar that has experienced huge, and probably often traumatic, cultural upheavals. Nevertheless, after some time in Tanimbar, I realized that it really was quite a unique and singular place. I remember saying to the French guy, “Yes, this place is rather ordinary, but it is also quite strange.” You just need to know how or where to look.

Since then, things have continued to change in Tanimbar. Today I can I read tweets on my Twitter timeline from once remote villages. But if I were to return (which I hope to), I suspect I’d find that there is still something stubbornly Tanimbarese about the place, across all of these changes. Recently, I wrote about how everywhere is both exotic, and mundane. Both of those things are true, I think, wherever you are. And I think that they will go on being true.


What is your relationship to power; of yours and of others around you?

 

Suddenly I start squirming! My main relationship with power would be one of unease, I think. One of the philosophers I love, Michel Serres, talks about investing some of your power in holding back from power. For Serres, genuine creativity involves a certain reticence in the exercise of power, keeping a space open for larger things to take their course, for larger patterns to emerge. We’re back again with trying not to try, I think.

I myself am increasingly aware that I’m in a massively privileged position. I’m a white, more-or-less heterosexual male who comes from a fairly comfortable middle-class background in one of the richest countries in the world. So that does put me in a position of power. These days, part of my strategy in dealing with the fact of power is to try and hold back, to attempt to slip away from that power and privilege to leave room for others.

One of the interesting things about the current cultural moment is that people are much more aware of aware of the dynamics of power, so people like me are increasingly held accountable for the power that we have. And that can’t be a bad thing.

“Genuine creativity involves a certain reticence in the exercise of power, keeping a space open for larger things to take their course, for larger patterns to emerge.”

Nevertheless, power works in all sorts of different ways, so our assumptions about who has power and who doesn’t, and in which situations, are not always accurate. There are different kinds of power.

Coming back to the philosopher, Levinas, one of the things he argues is that in encountering another person, we are always subject to a demand. Levinas says that the other person we encounter has a certain height and destitution. By ‘destitution’ he means that we encounter the other person’s need. This might seem like a position of lesser power. But Levinas also emphasizes the other person’s ‘height’, meaning that in encountering them we encounter an ethical demand to respond to and meet their need, and so in a very real sense, they have a power over us.

For example, if I encounter somebody begging on the street, putting out their hand for money, from one point of view I have the power and they don’t. But on a subtle level, in that gesture of putting a hand out, I am now subject to them. Being aware of the ways in which we are subject to others in our face-to-face encounters, holding back and making space for this demand, can open us up to a greater awareness of the complexities of power dynamics, and how they play out in human life.

“Our assumptions about who has power and who doesn’t, and in which situations, are not always accurate.”

My book Stealing With the Eyes is all about navigating these dynamics in the Tanimbar islands of Indonesia. I was in Tanimbar to study the work of sculptors who worked in wood and stone, and the book is an attempt to respond to the charge put to me by one of the sculptors I met: the charge that I came to Tanimbar to ‘curi mata’, to steal with my eyes. The power dynamics of my time in Tanimbar were complex: the book explores adat, the power of the ancestors, the power of witches and the power to heal, the power of church and state, and my own power and culpability as a researcher.

In the end, I gave up the practice of anthropology due to my unease with all of these power imbalances involved, and the book explores all this. But even in saying ‘I gave up the practice of anthropology’, I realize that I’m not being quite accurate. The picture was much more complex. It wasn’t that I made an empowered decision to give up anthropology out of my unease. Instead, I crashed out of my PhD in anthropology with some kind of sickness that, I knew, my Tanimbarese friends would either blame on bad adat, or on witchcraft.

The decision to turn my back on anthropology was the end-result of recurrent fever, sickness, endless sleepless nights, and a rumbling ethical discomfort about my culpability in all these power imbalances that, in many ways, made life more difficult for those who were so kind to me in Tanimbar. So, in a way, the collapse of my anthropological career was not an autonomous decision to give up, so much as it was a justifiable stripping of my power when I came to the realization that I simply couldn’t do this anymore.

“The decision to turn my back on anthropology was the end-result of recurrent fever, sickness, endless sleepless nights, and a rumbling ethical discomfort about my culpability in all these power imbalances.”

 

If you could recommend one book that would be required reading for those working in government, what would it be?

 

It would have to be the children’s book, Comet in Moominland (Tove Jansson), which was written during the tensions of the Cold War. Effectively, the story is about a great disaster looming – a comet coming to Moominland – and the Moomins don’t know what to do about it. In the book, there is no heroic saving-of-the-world. Instead the Moomin characters, knowing that perhaps there is nothing they can do to stop the comet, commit themselves to finding out more about the comet, to understanding the reality of the situation they are in. They go on a long and dangerous journey to the lonely mountains and talk the astronomers, who tell them the comet is going to hit at a particular time, maybe 3 or 4 seconds before or after. And then they come home, gather together in a cave, and together they eat cake. Fortunately, the comet misses, and after an anxious night, a new day dawns and the world goes on.

I find this vision compelling: it suggests that the two things worth cultivating in the face of disaster are knowledge and friendship. The Moomin characters cultivate knowledge of the comet, but also a deeper knowledge of each other. And they cultivate friendship not only with each other, but also with the world as a whole, and even – in one extraordinary passage where the character Moomintroll meditates on the loneliness of comets –with the comet that is coming to potentially destroy them.

“The two things worth cultivating in the face of disaster are knowledge and friendship.”

So I read Comet in Moominland as a book is about what to do when the end of the world, or the apocalypse, is almost upon us. And this is a situation that we are all in with the looming threat of global warming. What Comet in Moominland teaches is the terrifying thought that such problems may or may not be solvable.

Of course, if there are potential solutions, we should put them in place. But on the other hand, not all problems have solutions. Here’s the terrifying thought: maybe we are all fucked. What then? Well, even then, there are things we can do. We can keep cultivating knowledge and understanding, and we can commit ourselves to friendship with each other and with the world. This may in fact be the best way of finding solutions to our problems. But if it turns out that there are no solutions, it may also be the very best we can do for each other, and for the planet as a whole.

 

If you would like to know more about Will, visit:

www.willbuckingham.com

If you would like to get in touch with Will, you can do so at:

email: will@willbuckingham.com
twitter: @willbuckingham

Lisa Siregar

With: 

 

“Not everyone will understand where you are coming from and what you are doing.”

Lisa Siregar

Features Editor | Jakarta Globe
On adjusting to different perspectives, avoiding the spotlight, and bringing voices of women to the forefront.

 

 

One can leaf over any given newspaper today and most likely find a column depicting unique perspectives for the abstract, hilarious, fascinating or downright horrifying world around us. This is the world of feature writing – a place that can, at times, offer softer spaces for contemplation and understanding from the hard-format crisp and of everyday news.

With equal parts creativity and curiosity, the feature writer selects, examines and scrutinizes culture and society in its endless facets – books, history, science, television, sports, film or the arts – and funnels ideas through an internal maze of possibility to produce creative and inventive work at varying depth and length.

As the editor of the features desk at Jakarta Globe, Lisa Siregar stands on a unique literary foundation; A love for writing and culture synthesized with unique experience gained as a social researcher for Kompas Litbang, LIPI (The Indonesian Institute of Sciences and the Ford Foundation in her earlier years.

Manusia had the privilege of interviewing the speakers of this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, where we had a short chat with Lisa. In this interview, she reveals the opportunity and responsibility of her position to bring fresh perspectives of women in culture to Jakarta Globe’s readers. She also tells a story on learning adaptability on an eye-opening experience researching in a small village in Central Java, what has become more important to her over the years, and more!

 

You worked as a a social researcher for Kompas Litbang, LIPI (Indonesian institute of sciences) and the Ford Foundation. For those who don’t know, can you give a brief explanation of what a social researcher does?

 

I studied sociology in university, and that is simply about gaining a deeper understanding of society and the changes that happen in it. Social research mostly requires talking to people, and there are of course a lot of different methodologies involved, such as quantitative (using computational, statistical, and mathematical tools for results), and qualitative (understanding underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations) research.

It’s challenging and exhausting work. You have many focus groups and discussions, and have to call people endlessly on the phone. At Kompas they would have a room where they give you a list of phone numbers, and a list of questions. You just had to call these people, say you’re from Kompas doing research about a subject, and ask them these questions.

Many people weren’t keen, but you just have to do it! All of this work is for a data bank that is needed by the Kompas journalists. So, it’s like a research and development department for the statistics in the news.

So, as a journalist with a background in social research, I can trust the statistical information I get, because I was there too doing the social research work, and therefore I can also understand the philosophical issues behind whatever phenomena I am confronted with. I get the best of both worlds!

“I get the best of both worlds!”

 

What particular project you worked on gave you the most excitement and why?

 

It was a university assignment when I was studying Sociology in University of Indonesia. In my third year I had to go to a village in central Java for two weeks to conduct some real social research for the first time!

I was researching political education and wanted to find out how politics affects the people there, or if they even bother thinking about it. I realized how hard it was to do; not everyone will understand where you are coming from and what you are doing. They all had such different perspectives.

For example, I would ask where I could meet a particular person, to which they said he was close, when in fact he was an hour away! Even their sense of distance was completely different from mine!

“Not everyone will understand where you are coming from and what you are doing.”

 

I had to change the way I talked, how I looked and acted just so others wouldn’t be so scared or hesitant! It’s a whole different mindset and you have to blend in to become one of them.

I lived in Jakarta, and so the experience was so transformative for me because I got to see what these villagers talked about – and it was so out of touch with any aspect of modernity that I was used to – and yet – I still had to find a way to make them understand what I wanted to ask. I had to be adaptable, and it was the most challenging and rewarding experience I’ve had. I loved it.

“It’s a whole different mindset and you have to blend in to become one of them.”


You’ve written about a diverse amount of topics as a feature writer. What are some the themes that you are personally most attracted to and why?

 

 

I like the topic of gender, and I consider myself a feminist. I like to look for women in my stories, and I like delivering their voices. Working in media, I do have some power and responsibility to push these voices to the front and bring them to a larger audience.

Even in my panels, I like to refer to them and ask women what they think. I want to challenge the stereotypes here and I want people to see it happening. So that applies to writing about film, music, and fashion; I would tell my reporters to get stories about women!

“I like to look for women in my stories, and I like delivering their voices.”

Are there any Books, Music or Movies that have played an important part in shaping your life?

 

 

I enjoy any movie with a female leading role. Frances Ha by Noah Baumbach is my favorite movie, as I can relate to the story! Amelie (by jean-pierre jeunette) is another one.

More recently could be Sekala Niskala by Kamila Andini – a truly beautiful one. It has incredible Balinese dancing choreography made with local communities. I do traditional dancing as well – both Balinese and Javanese – and when I saw this movie, I cried! It had everything that I loved.


What has become more important for you over the years? and what has become less?

 

 

It’s a tough question! At the beginning of my career, I was surrounded with such great people and I wanted to appear great as well. I was sort of obsessed with making my name known and wanted to see my name on the byline on the paper!

But now, because I run the desk, and in fact, I became the editor of the desk that I started with. I’m only concerned with the topics and the message that we present and send out. I personally think that keeping your name out of the spotlight is better! You just feel more comfortable and have more room to work.

“I was sort of obsessed with making my name known and wanted to see my name on the byline on the paper!”

 

If you would like to get in touch with Lisa, you can do so at :

Email: lipsiregar@gmail.com

Endy Bayuni

With :

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“Have humility in knowing that you’re not as great as you probably think you are – with all your flaws – but carry on and do your job.”

 

Endy Bayuni

Senior Editor | Jakarta Post
On finding wisdom in a time of information, achieving unity through freedom, and advice to his younger self.

 

Our age, like many that have come before us, is rife with boundless intrigue and complexity brought by the continual birth of new information at every moment of every day. The stark difference we see today, however, is in the great magnitude and speed at which this reality is unfolding; there are simply more of us, digesting more information, at a rate faster than ever before.

As a seemingly natural consequence, it has become easy to assume that passive consumption of information automatically renders to more wisdom – but that rarely is the case.

If anything, our time, more than ever, yearns for men and women who can give proper context and interpretation of information to transmute into deeper understanding of the human condition.

Few occupations in society house the responsibility of such a task as journalism; a profession that is, today, largely predicated on the speed of reporting, often at the expense of accuracy and true wisdom.

Here in Indonesia, sits a man who has stood in the middle of this dynamic for over three decades. A former Indonesian correspondent for Reuters and Agence France-Presse, and Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2003/4, Endy Bayuni currently stands as Senior Editor of the Jakarta Post – one of Indonesia’s oldest and most credible English newspapers.

Manusia had the privilege of interviewing Endy at this year’s Ubud Readers and Writers Festival. Calm, composed and thoughtful; he recognizes a dire need for courage in journalists to transcend the habitual churning of cold and objective facts, and instead, learn to convey purpose, with piercing insight into the greatest questions of humanity through explorative and engaging storytelling.

It is a responsibility he feels, is owed to the public, and to the world at large – a perspective many of us can find solace in. Endy also shares a personal view on how we can move closer to unity, reflects on what he has loved most in his life as a journalist, and ends in honest and sage advice to his younger self.

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We live in a time full of readily accessible information on the internet, yet some people assume that more information would equate to more wisdom in society – but is that always the case?

 

 

It’s not always the case, but that would probably reflect my bias! News today is defined by technology, and technology means speed. Everyone wants the story now, and there’s just not enough time for people to reflect on the bigger picture – let alone the journalists!

That means that the wisdom, as you’ve said, is almost gone. As a journalist, there’s not enough time to really think and ask, “should I put this story up? or not?” Many editors today would just tell the journalists to put it up.

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“As a journalist, there’s not enough time to really think and ask, ‘Should I put this story up? or not?’ “

It’s what we’re seeing now, and it’s a dangerous thing. As a reaction, we see too many people fighting and bullying one another as well as the rise of hate speech.

Part of that wisdom comes with experience too. In the old days, the media was led by chief editors who were in their 60’s and 70’s. Now, they are in their 30’s – it’s a big age difference in the amount of life experience. Editors today are faster and more aggressive, but one element that’s missing is that wisdom which usually comes from the years of experience.

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“It’s a big age difference in the amount of life experience.”

 

As a person who works with, and makes sense of information, how do you go about turning it into wisdom for a better world?

 

 

I simply have to give myself time to really sit with the story I’m working on. These stories will consequently impact those whom I’m writing about, and those who will be reading them. It’s not a form of censorship, but the cultivation of a degree of wisdom that is necessary for good journalism.

There are times where I won’t put out a story because the consequences would be severe for the people. There has to be a moral component to journalism – something that is disappearing in this age of competition always trying to be the first.

Often, journalists know they’ve gotten the story wrong, but just put it out anyways! You can’t do that. Being in print, we learn more from our mistakes, but when publishing online, you can quickly remove a story.

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“There are times where I won’t put out a story because the consequences would be severe for the people.”

 

Do you think journalists need to be reminded of that responsibility?

 

 

As writers, we need to understand that we have the power to influence, and that power brings responsibility. Anyone serious about this profession will always go back to the basics – which means having a sense of public service. Journalism is a type of public service and many people have forgotten that.

Of course, we need to put up a story fast, but it needs to be credible and accurate. If you could choose between speed and accuracy, which would you choose? Accuracy of course.

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“As writers, we need to understand that we have the power to influence, and that power brings responsibility.”

 

In this fast world we live in, I’ve mentioned the need for re-training journalists to cater to a niche audience that wants to know the story behind the news, though the number of people in that particular group might be smaller.

But that’s something that many journalists are just not equipped to do, because many traditional journalists are trained to simply tell things as they are. They are essentially trained to tell the punchline at the beginning, and so, people lose the incentive to read beyond that – but I feel there’s an art to storytelling that can still convey the news, but is engaging and relevant.

 

“They are essentially trained to tell the punchline at the beginning.”

 

Looking back from where you are now, what are some of the things that you have personally loved most about both your life and career?

 

 

I’d say, it would be the formality it brings, compared to other jobs! On a daily basis, I don’t really need to dress up or be too rigid!

But mostly, the joy is from the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life; from those who are marginalized, to those in power. I don’t think there’s any other job that gives you the privilege of meeting all these people, and having them want to talk to you because they have stories to share – that plays a big role in the enjoyment of being a journalist.

Another one would be that I get to tell those stories – some of which I get to know before anyone else! There is a feeling of satisfaction I get that you just can’t put a value on. It’s the reason why many journalists accept jobs, even though the pay is low.

So many journalists can get better paying jobs with the skills that they have, but they stay journalists because of that feeling; it outweighs having the small salary!

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“There is a feeling of satisfaction I get that you just can’t put a value on.”

 

From all your interactions and experiences with different people of different backgrounds, have you noticed any universal obstacles we seem to share, either as individuals or collectively, that hinder the unity and common ground many of us desire?

 

 

I have this internal debate on what unity is, and this is my opinion after growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, when the government kept promoting unity, but we as a people didn’t have freedom. Maybe unity is the ultimate goal, but it is something that has to come from each of us voluntarily. We tried to impose unity in East Timor, but they didn’t want it because we didn’t give them total freedom. We can’t just impose unity.

Unity shouldn’t come at the expense of people’s freedom. To me, freedom comes first. If the outcome of that freedom means that we are united as one nation, one family or one community, then that’s great.
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“Unity shouldn’t come at the expense of people’s freedom.”

 

However, with individual freedom, we have to work to make sure that each one of us feels safe and has a sense of belonging. That’s the unity I believe in, but it’s definitely a challenge. It’s something we wish for as a nation, but as a democracy, we have to go through elections and polls etc. Unity is a process.

Despite conflicts and tensions, unity is good and is something worth fighting for, but not with the use of force: that sense of unity has to come from within.

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“With individual freedom, we have to work to make sure that each one of us feels safe and has a sense of belonging.”

 

Knowing what you know now as a journalist, what advice would you give your younger self?

 

 

I started the job when I was 18, and I think I was a little arrogant! As journalists, we think we know everything, but we don’t.

In fact, we often make mistakes, but with that being said, humility is an important part of this profession of writing, and probably every profession! So my advice would be to have humility in knowing that you’re not as great as you probably think you are – with all your flaws – but carry on and do your job.

I’m sure I’ve lost a lot of my friends and professional colleagues because of my attitude – so humility is something I teach in journalism. It’s the first quality you need.


If you would like to get in touch with Endy, you can do so at:

Email : endy@thejakartapost.com

Butet Manurung

With:

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“There are no stupid people; only those who don’t listen to their hearts.”

Butet Manurung

Anthropologist, Author & Founder | Sokola Institute
On learning acceptance, following a higher calling and how the indigenous teach critical thinking.

 

In 2003, a lone anthropologist trudged bravely through the dense rainforests of Jambi in Sumatra. Seven weary hours had passed since the start of the trek under harsh sunlight that pierced through the canopies, when suddenly, amidst the dizzying crescendo of flies and cricket chirps, a spirited cry echoed from ahead – “Teacher!”

From a simple wooden shelter, children dressed only in simple garments around their waists, leapt and ran towards her in unison. She had finally reached her destination, one of the few isolated indigenous communities native to the Bukit Duabelas National Park; she had reached the “Orang Rimba”.

In the ensuing days, a rugged blackboard was pulled out. She began to write letters of the alphabet and pronounce each one for the children to respond to. Mathematics would soon follow. She had been here before – in fact, she had been making this journey for years.

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Source: SOKOLA

Any curious observer would see, with clarity, the purpose of her visits; education, and perhaps more specifically, Indonesian literacy. But why would such a rich culture, adept in their own language and ways of life, seek such help?

The Orang Rimba, are one of many tribes who have seen their homes devastated by the injustice brought by companies, and their illegal logging exploits. Without even a basic understanding of the Indonesian language, their rights as citizens of the country have little ground to be defended under law. As the lone anthropologist saw it, the Orang Rimba cannot depend solely on the help of others – they would need to learn to stand on their own.

And so, the SOKOLA Institute was born – a non-profit organization providing educational opportunities for marginalized people in remote areas of Indonesia. Since it’s inception, it has seen 15 schools open up around Indonesia with an estimated 10,000 people involved.

Her story was penned into a book, and further commemorated into the successful film, Sokola Rimba, raising her fame even more and earning her multiple awards as an anthropologist and educator, including a prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award.

It is the story of Butet Manurung, one that has captured and enriched the imagination thousands of people around the world – story that has endearingly touched their hearts. In a time where we yearn for meaning and remembrance, Butet stands as a beacon of hope – a bridge between the old and the new, reminding us of who we once were and where we came from.

Manusia had the privilege of interviewing Butet at this year’s Ubud Readers and Writers Festival. Passionate, and tactful as she is known to be, she reveals how the indigenous can teach us critical thinking, how she has changed since starting SOKOLA, whilst giving poignant advice for the youth of Indonesia.

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Butet, we know the story of Sokola Rimba, but there was also trust to be gained by other Indigenous communities that you sought to help afterward such as Sokola Pesisir, Sokola Kajang, and others. How much easier was it to gain that initial trust? And how do you know when to even help a community?

 

From our experience in Rimba, and the mistakes we’ve made, we’ve learnt a lot in how to approach a new Indigenous community and respect their ways, despite how we can often, without knowing, violate certain rules of their culture.

But rooted in that knowledge and experience, we’ve made our initial approach process easier and we haven’t encountered any strong aggression towards what we have to offer.

However, there have been times where we are told up front by these communities that they don’t need outside education, or we discover ourselves that it is not a priority for them.

I’ll give you an example – we were looking to establish a Sokola in Timor and encountered the Boti tribe. After living with them for some time, we realized that they were completely fine on their own and didn’t need the education we offered.

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“There have been times where we are told up front by these communities that they don’t need outside education”

We have to weigh out which tribes need our education, and we have a criterion for that; one important factor is a strong tradition that still dictates their everyday way of life, the second, is evidence of injustice or harm towards a tribe when interacting with the outside world, or even a complete unfamiliarity with their rights as Indonesian citizens.

These two factors within a tribe make our approach easier and more welcomed.
If a tribe has no strong tradition, they are usually looking towards formal Indonesian education, and if their interaction with the outside world doesn’t harm them in any way, then our presence isn’t really needed, and is, naturally, not attractive to them. In such cases, our programs won’t work – they might even damage their way of life.

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Source: Jurnal Asia

Personally, have you always trusted yourself in doing the right thing?

 

That depends! As an educator and anthropologist, I’m very confident in what I do and I’ve always trusted that. But when I’m confronted with politics or business, then that’s another story! From fundraising and merchandising, we at Sokola are still learning how to be financially sustainable as an organization.

 

Was there a moment where you found out your cause was bigger than you thought?

 

Indeed! it was a year into my life in the jungle; I was really isolated and had no contact with the outside world, and I had found myself fighting with illegal loggers. I took photos of them; the movie (Sokola Rimba) showed me running and escaping within 5 seconds, but in reality, it was an 11-hour chase.

I realized that this encounter was only one tiny part of Indonesia, and that illegal logging was probably happening everywhere!

I really believe that education and awareness is the answer, so I made a map of the illegal loggers in the area. I recorded their GPS coordinates, and counted how many there were. There were around 10,000 of them, and this was just around one river. There were 3 in the whole park.

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With the information, we went to court with the help of the governor, and we still lost. The big bosses of the logging industry have backup from Jakarta. How can you not be frustrated?

Education will empower the locals so that they can advocate for themselves. A prime example is the Rimba people; just last month, they successfully influenced the national forestry department to make new regulations that are based in their culture and way of life for the conservation park where they live in. This was a victory 12 years in the making.

“We went to court with the help of the governor, and we still lost.”

You’ve described how modern education given to indigenous peoples should not be a replacement of their knowledge, but an extension of it. With that in mind, what indigenous knowledge or ways of life can we incorporate into modern curriculum as an extension of what we know today?

Sure! The first thing we in the modern world can learn and implement is indigenous methodology itself. The notion of “School” in an indigenous sense is actually very research based, which is something that we are sorely lacking in Indonesia’s national curriculum.

From a young age, the Rimba people learn by going out and researching. They ask questions from their observations; “Why is the vegetation around an area like this?”, “Which direction does the wind blow?”, from that they can make traps and shelter. This is all done by research, analysis and critical thinking.

They are naturally very pragmatic and therefore often critique something. Whenever I began to teach them something new, they would ask how it would directly be useful for their own lives. Would learning multiplication help chase the illegal loggers away? If there was no direct connection, they wouldn’t want to learn.

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Source: SOKOLA

“If there was no direct connection, they wouldn’t want to learn.”

We’re not used to incorporating critical thinking in our modern curriculum. Our kids only sit there to absorb and remember! In fact, there are no indigenous communities that aren’t critical in some way – if so, they must have already been influenced by some program that eventually turns them into consumers; one that trains them to just absorb and not think.

Another thing that indigenous can teach us all is ancestor knowledge. If we want to be true Indonesians, we have to be authentic in knowing where we came from and not simply adopt western ways of life. It’s a shame that we Indonesians have adopted curriculums from outside. I think every province should have their own educational curriculum according to their way of life.

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“We’re not used to incorporating critical thinking in our modern curriculum. Our kids only sit there to absorb and remember!”

How have you evolved and changed as a person since starting the first Sokola? What has become more important for you now and what has become less important for you?

I lived for a long time in Rimba before I even began Sokola. There, I had my own transformational process – the process of turning from Butet who is from the city, to Butet who is a student of the Rimba people. I had to learn how to see and think like them.

I was alone too, which was an advantage. If you want to go learn about a people or a culture, go alone – otherwise you’re almost in another community within a community. Being alone allows you to blend easier.

But back to my process, here’s an example of it; we would go out setting traps for animals to eat, and one day we found a wounded bear cub inside one of them, with its mother crying outside. The kids that I was with proceeded to begin killing the cub, but its mother then began to chase us all!

The kids managed to climb up a tree and left me crying for my life as I couldn’t climb and they thought, “Our teacher is so stupid! She’s been here for three years but still can’t climb a tree!” Eventually they came down and helped me up; these were 8-year-olds!

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“I had to learn how to see and think like them.”

They eventually chased away the mother, and I cried and begged them not to kill the cub as I felt sorry, but they told me to be quiet, because God will hear my words and not send anymore food to their traps. So, I learned from then that anything that came into the traps was to be food for that day, no matter what.

I had to learn to think from their culture. That applies to everything else I found shocking; I had to learn to be accepting of it.

That would be my biggest transformation – learning to see the perspective of others and be tolerant.

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“That would be my biggest transformation – learning to see the perspective of others and be tolerant.”

Finally, if you can give one message to those who are looking to make a positive impact on the world, what would that message be?

 

There are no stupid people; only those who don’t listen to their hearts. I believe that we’ve all come into this world with our own passions and talents and those who don’t listen to the call of their hearts will only look back in regret.

Those who listen will truly be useful to others, because when you are happy and totally invested in what you do, you can fully maximize your potential, despite anything that might come up against you.

If you’re starting out in your passion, I strongly support volunteering in any field. The rest will follow if it is truly meant for you.

 


If you would like to get in touch with Butet, you can do so at:

Email : butet_manurung@yahoo.com
HP : +628157118389
Instagram : @butet_manurung

If you would like to know more about the SOKOLA Institute, visit

http://www.sokola.org

Facebook : Sokola Indonesia

Ade Putri Paramadita

“I don’t pursue happiness. I don’t pursue anything. I just see what happens, and I let go of expectations.”

 

Ade Putri Paramadita


Cultural Writer & Culinary Storyteller
On what makes great storytelling, having a sanctuary,
and learning to say “No.”     

 

Mavericks. They are the men and women led by an instinctive curiosity that drives them to learn and share in a manner tuned to their inner worlds. They are here. They are a plenty.  

Those outside looking in often shrug their shoulders and scratch their heads in bewilderment as they struggle to place them into the confines of a box. Any effort to do so, however, is done in vain; it is simply their innate nature to find their way out of it.

As a former radio host, MTV Trax Writer, road-manager for renowned punk rock band Superman Is Dead and heavy metal band Seringai, Ade Putri Paramadita knows all about redefining, as much as being defined; her tattoos, piercings and sharp gaze have enticed and unsettled plenty upon first glance.  

The Jakarta native is one of a few genuine cultural personalities garnering a following in Indonesia, most notably, for her expansive culinary storytelling exploits – but it doesn’t end there.

A somewhat jack of all trades, Ade could, at any given day, be documenting and photographing the delicacies of a quiet village within the archipelago, appear as a guest speaker or host at some of the nation’s most unique culinary events, be sharing her latest progression in CrossFit on Instagram, or tending to her duties as Co-Founder of Beergembira, a dedicated educational media platform on all things beer-related.           

Speaking to Ade, you will find a woman that is warm-hearted and simple as much as she is vivacious and straightforward. Her life is an example of the willingness to explore the worlds that ignite her curiosity, create vocations out of them, and share her insights for the sake of sharing, with no strings attached.

Simply put, what makes Ade interesting, is that she is interested – a quality we can all consider in setting our own barometers for success.   

In an engaging interview, she reveals where that drive and curiosity comes from, the qualities that she believes makes a great storyteller and what “Home” means to her. She also unveils her own views on happiness, her greatest fear, the link between a culture and the food they eat, and an unlikely cross-cultural dish she loves most.

 

Enter, Ade

 

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Ade, in your own words, what makes a great storyteller?

 

Passion! If you don’t have it and just work to get paid, that will make the difference in storytelling. With passion, your work will be more sincere, it will be done and said with more love.

My stories are a product of my own exploration; from conversations with people and seeing their processes. I want to know these things, not to get paid, but because of my curiosity to discover something new to share to others. There is a sharing aspect to it.  

There are certainly other qualities that make a great storyteller, and many people have stories but simply don’t know how to tell them in a way that excites others or arouses the curiosity to want to know more.

Of course there’s an element of natural talent, but it’s something that can be learned – most notably, where to start the story. It’s what we think of first when wanting to tell a story right? Where do we begin? I never would start a story with the main point of it.

 

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Image Credit : Matt Oldfield

 

“Where do we begin? I never would start a story with the main point of it.”

 

I can talk to you plainly about garlic for example and within a minute, I’m sure you’d walk out the room. But what if I said, “Hey! I see what you’re eating – in Indonesia, we have an equivalent of that, but instead of using garlic, we use…”

So there’s an art to arousing curiosity in the beginning of the story, then you can build on that to present what you want to share. We do so with sentences, with visuals, or through demonstration of the process. You can cook while telling a story for example, and in during that, you can ask people to come and smell and taste the raw ingredients.

The way you tell a story matters. Not everyone can fantasize or imagine what something can look like. It matters to the listener when you show them how to add lemongrass and lime, rather that telling them – especially when they can’t cook. You have to be ready to tell your story to everyone, which means having outlets that incorporate the senses.

 

Taken by @indrakepakisan @pukupictures
Image Credit: @indrakepakisan @pukupictures

 

“You have to be ready to tell your story to everyone, which means having outlets that incorporate the senses.”

 

Why are you a storyteller? Was there a moment when you knew your life would revolve around food?

 

I grew up in a family that loved to eat. My mother had a catering service and my grandfather would take some members of the family abroad just for lunch or dinner. I didn’t get much pocket money back then, but I saved and saved until I had enough money just to buy caviar! We all were foodies from before!

Why did I decide to become a culinary storyteller? Back in the day, I used to have a Multiply account, which was a lot like Myspace, but you could write down stories.

I didn’t know much about food that time, but I loved sharing what I experienced wherever I went to eat. I documented things like the restaurants I went to and meeting and talking to waiters – the entire experience of eating there, and not only about the food I ate.
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“I saved and saved until I had enough money just to buy caviar!”

 

From there I kept on writing, then I got an offer for Radio Female in Jakarta where they had a show called “Food for Fun”. We explored food in a fun and lighthearted way, like food you would have on a first date for example. That job put me in a position where I had to constantly find more angles to talk about in the world of food.

I also worked for MTV Trax Magazine and was asked to write about music, but I asked if I can write about food instead. There weren’t many magazine columns dedicated to food and reviewing restaurants at the time. So from that point, I decided to go further into it and tell more people about my discoveries.

There were a lot of good food bloggers already, but they were all saying the same things and limited to only giving their opinion. I wanted to write something more, so I spoke to the chefs and owners, and I also took the recipes home and put a twist on them. I don’t say if a dish is good or not, I simply describe the experience of what I taste and the colors I see.

 

 

 

Who else would you consider to have done a great job in culinary storytelling? Why?

 

The late Pak Bondan Winarno. As a former journalist, his use of language was incredibly descriptive in a way that was welcoming and not boisterous. He wrote in such an exciting and enthusiastic tone and I didn’t want to put down his books.

His experience was incredibly vast, and he taught me as a writer to always ask questions to chefs because we can’t always leave things to assumption. You can taste turmeric in a dish for example, but you have to make sure.

You can’t just go about on your assumptions then write about it without being 100% sure. You’re sharing this to other people!

 

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Bondan Winarno | Image Credit: AirMagz

 

As a former journalist, his use of language was incredibly descriptive in a way that was welcoming and not boisterous”

 

He would say things like “Go to Sanur and try this Squid Lawar. The family running it is in their 3rd generation, and it started off like this..”  Doesn’t that make you want to try the food even more? to appreciate every bite? You will appreciate everything more once you know the story behind things.    

It goes both ways too! Chefs and owners will appreciate it too if you’re excited about their story. It becomes an exchange.              

 

Do you think you can tell about the characteristics of a people or a culture by the food they eat? What is one of the best examples you know?

 

Oh yeah! There are many cultures where entire gatherings are based solely around food and the act of eating together. Some of the Manadonese people in Sulawesi, for example, live on open grasslands , and the grandmother would prepare a big vat to cook Bubur Manado (Manadonese Porridge) and the members would go out together and literally find anything out on the fields that can be added to their bubur.

The whole point is to cook together, eat together, and drink together around music. You can see how open they are as a culture, from the willingness to add in whatever they find.

You see that they aren’t fundamentally a culture of individualism – it’s about the whole. This can be found throughout Sulawesi. They gather around to eat and drink a lot, despite sometimes struggling to afford all of it and without the need for a special occasion too. You can notice that they are a culture that like to make other people happy.

 

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“You can see how open they are as a culture, from the willingness to add in whatever they find.”


I’ve never ran into the opposite. But the Javanese, particularly in Jogja or Solo, like to take Dutch dishes and turn them into their own.

There are some recipes that are named as Keraton (Ruling Class) recipes – but all of these dishes are actually Dutch, and changed to fit the Indonesian tongue. Selat Solo for example is actually Beef Stock, from the Netherlands, but made sweeter.

Other Javanese food is very rural, like Sate Kere, which is made from tempe because they weren’t capable of buying beef, but they put so many spices onto it that it tastes like beef! Through those two examples, you notice how the caste system is ingrained within society, where people are categorized based on who they’ve descended from or how much money they make.

Even now, there are cultures that are still like that in Java, where you find people who can’t eat the things we others eat because you’re not on the same “level.”

This is why Jokowi (President of Indonesia) won people’s hearts, because he invited people to come eat together, especially around street food. He treats you as the same.

 

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What is your greatest fear?

 

My biggest fear is that I actually try to be fearless. Trying to kill all my fear, actually makes me scared. “What am I trying to prove?”,  I thought. I was afraid of heights, so I went wall climbing. I was afraid of being upside down, and so I learnt how to do handstand pushups – all to prove myself that there was nothing to be afraid of.

My friends ask me, “There has to be something or someone you’re always afraid of!”, and recently I remembered how afraid I was to eat something still living – but, for once, I thought “It’s OK, I’m human.”

Killing things right on the spot is just not my thing. I’m not sure that will change, and that’s probably good. As human beings, we need a little fear.
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“As human beings, we need a little fear.”

 

What self-limiting beliefs did you have to change to become the person you are today?

 

Several years ago, I had a huge life change due to a break up from a long term relationship. I really was in a comfortable time in my life, but it made me realize that not everything I thought was “good” for me was actually good. From that moment, I’ve really learnt acceptance and to go with the flow.

 

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“I’ve really learnt acceptance and to go with the flow.”

 

What’s one thing right now you wish you could be better at?

 

Managing myself! I’m really good at managing people, but not myself. I was also the type of person to always say “Yes” to any offer. I’m now learning to sometimes say “No”.

I always try to please and help others, but I learnt that sometimes you can’t. How can you help others when you can’t even help yourself? If you don’t have time for yourself, how would you have time for others? That’s something I can be better at.

 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

 

Something you don’t have to pursue. I don’t pursue happiness. I don’t pursue anything. It’s all about process. Looking for happiness – you might get there – and it can turn out to be something you weren’t even looking for. I don’t really have goals, and that means things often come as a surprise.

I’m easily pleased, and if I find something that makes me happy, I simply embrace it, because tomorrow it might not be there.   

 

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“I don’t really have goals, and that means things often come as a surprise.”

 

You seem to have the drive to create projects or vocations from the things you’re passionate about most, whether that be in music or food. Where does that drive come from?

 

I’m a bipolar type 2 – it’s a little crazy somehow, my brain just can’t stop thinking, and that’s how I get a lot of ideas. Sometimes I close my eyes to sleep, but then I get an idea which I just have to type out and send to people.  

I meet a variety of different people and like actually giving them all my ideas. I love it when they take them; I don’t feel bothered, I feel proud. I think it started around when I was in my early 20’s –  I used to take a lot of drugs, maybe it came from that!

 

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In a digital age of quickly digested life experiences that are easily forgotten, what do you think are ways we can explore the things we love in a more meaningful and richer way?

 

So, with Aku Cinta Makanan Indonesia – a community I am involved as the PR, we’ve been working with a travel agent to do these culinary trips – a multidimensional culinary experience. We take you to the markets to see what they have, and I invite the vendors to tell stories of their produce.

We then go to the farms and fields, see how farmers harvest and forage for crops, and teach you how to do it. We then head over to watch the villagers cook in a hands-on demo. You can try the food, and then we eat together.

It’s something you won’t forget easily, because you’ve experienced the process. You can’t get these in big cities, and too many places nowadays open just for aesthetics, but they have no story about the food or drink they serve.

So I would love for others to take that kind of mindset and do it themselves; to go deep in whatever they do, whether that’s exploring culture or food. From that deep experience you will develop an appreciation for places and cultures and will naturally want to share them.

 

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Image Credit: Ade Putri Paramadita

 

“I would love for others to take that kind of mindset and do it themselves; to go deep in whatever they do.”

 

When you hear the word “Home”, what comes to mind?

 

I rented this small room in Jakarta; it’s more of a cocoon. I love being there because it’s like a sanctuary where I can just do nothing. I’m a person who loves meeting people, but sometimes I just need to turn off everything and be by myself without people telling me what to do.

This room even feels more homey to me than my own mother’s home! It’s very messy. My son told me that messy rooms are a sign that you have too many things on your mind, and I say “Yeah! I’m twisted somehow!”

 

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Ade’s Sanctuary| Image Credit: Ade Putri Paramadita

 

“Sometimes I just need to turn off everything and be by myself without people telling me what to do.”

 

When you hear the word “Home”, what dish comes to mind?

 

Any form of Balinese nasi campur. There are a lot of spices, but they’re always balanced with plenty of meat and vegetables. You have spicy, salty, umami, and sometimes sweetness too. It’s an organized mess that you want to pour yourself into. Most even come with their own broths!  

 

What would you like to change about the world for the better?

 

People nowadays just look for more money for a living – they don’t do things that make them happy. There’s too much greed, and I would want that to change.  

 

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People nowadays just look for more money for a living – they don’t do things that make them happy.”

 

What is your most treasured possession?

 

My bicycle. It was given to me by my ex boyfriend! After we broke up, I decided to sell my car and use the bike to go to as many places as I could.

I was followed on it by some muggers one early morning, and I told my friend who was in a car behind me, “Let’s go face them!” I wasn’t about to let my bike go, so I got off and tried to fight them off! This bike is like my own kid!      

 

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Image Credit: Ade Putri Paramadita

 

What is the most unlikely cross-cultural dish you’ve tried and loved?

 

Gohu Tuna, from Ternate in Maluku. It’s one of Indonesia’s 3 ceviche dishes and came about because the Spanish were there, and it was inspired by their cuisine.

People think its like sushi, but the raw tuna is cooked with the acidity of lemon cui (key lime) and mixed with chillies, red onions, coriander and coconut oil to give it fragrance. It’s so so good. It’s surprisingly more well known in northern Maluku.

 

 

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Gohu Tuna | Image Credit: Prima Rasa

 


 

If you would like to get in touch with Ade, you can email her at

hello@adeputri.com

If you would like to know more about Ade, visit :

https://adeputri.com/

Aleix Oriol

“I saw people who have lost everything; children who have lost their parents. But I also saw that the human spirit can be unbreakable.”

Aleix Oriol

Photojournalist & Writer
On finding relationship to suffering, confronting truth, and his idea of perfect happiness.

 

You and I are bound by fundamental undercurrents of the human experience; building blocks of reality have been arduously meditated on over the centuries by philosophers, artists, poets and presidents, and surpass that of our own human species. What binds you and I, and everyone else is the reality that, however subtle or monumental, we all find happiness, and all suffer together.

From the violent moment of our birth into this world, we cry. As blossoming children, we begin to laugh and smile; this cycle spins – to the moment of our last breath – without cessation.

What is your relationship to suffering – of your own, and of others? And how can you find meaning in the midst of it? These are answers that each person – each generation – must discover for themselves.

One man’s decision to follow his calling has brought him face to face with some of the worst suffering known in recent times. Having travelled to over 60 countries, humbly plying his trade as a photojournalist and writer, Aleix Oriol has witnessed and documented one of the tragic consequences of war; the refugee crises that has spilled into Iraq, Syria, Greece and Lebanon to name a few.

Exposure to such distraught and loss to may lead one to question, is suffering necessary to life? Necessary or not, it exists – and yet, as Aleix has been made to understand, there is a duality to such an inescapable facet of our existence; within the rugged ruins of a devastated city, the beauty of the ordinary, everyday joys were held closer to his heart – yet – his deeply profound moments of self transcendence abroad were counterbalanced by the drudgery of everyday life back home.

Despite the tidal waves of emotion, Aleix took up the responsibility to tell the stories of those whose voices cannot be heard – truths that many of us are unwilling to face – acknowledging, in the process, that life is not about avoiding suffering, but in deciding what is worth suffering for.

Now, based in Bali, he aims to continue this calling wherever it may lead him. he is honest and true to his work – a man not concerned with grand recognition or awards. In our compelling interview, he calmly revisits his experiences and how they have seen him relate to his own suffering; leaving room to meditate on his perfect idea of happiness, his most memorable photographic moment, and how he overcame a prejudiced childhood environment.

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Aleix, for those who aren’t too familiar with Photojournalism, tell us, what does a photojournalist do and why you think are they important.

 

A photojournalist documents what many people are not willing to document. They go the extra mile to photograph conflict and situations that aren’t really suitable for conventional journalists.

What they do is really important, especially now when so many photojournalists are being threatened by governments. Some have been killed or kidnapped. Some had their freedom taken away from them just because they wanted to inform and report on the situations. Now more than ever, they are really important.

Of course, there are many types of photojournalists, and some have their own specific focuses; refugees, injustice, or the environment for example. They shed light on any situation where people can’t really speak for themselves and don’t have a voice. It’s very important for a photojournalist to be there.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

They often travel with someone who is a natural writer or a journalist, who writes the articles, while the photojournalists take the images that really strike the people. I feel that you can read an article, but without the powerful images to go with it, something will feel missing.

There are many situations today where people need to be informed and we have all these platforms that are outside mass media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – we have everything we need. It’s important to have people out there to tell the unbiased truth. Sometimes that’s impossible because their company heavily edits the content, but a reliable media source will tell the story as it is. That’s our goal as photojournalists – to show reality as it is.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

“That’s our goal as photojournalists – to show reality as it is.”

It can sometimes be very precarious. Journalism now is not as respected or valued as before, and the money paid to freelancers today is ridiculously bad. Therefore, a lot of journalists unite and create associations so that they can promote their work together and sell their projects in a more collaborative way.

Photojournalism is also fine line to walk in terms of ethics. There are some who have no ethics at all because the pressure is so high on them to get that perfect shot without respecting the people. For example, at any given arrival spot for refugee boats, you can have up to 20 photojournalists waiting.

I saw that in Greece, where we waited for boats that were coming from Turkey. They arrived with people having spent days at sea. They were hungry, freezing and thirsty. When they arrived, some people were already pointing their huge cameras right in front of their faces to get their initial reaction upon landing.

I felt disgusted and I didn’t like that. Many were complaining about it too. It’s important to know, in any situation, that you are first a human being, then you are a photographer. These are human beings you’re documenting, not “subjects” for you to get awards or recognition.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

You started as a travel photographer, what made you want to dive into photojournalism? Was there a certain key moment?

 

It was a coincidence actually, and it felt like a natural evolution. I was selling some articles for travel magazines at the time, and during one of the trips, I found myself in Iraq. I knew there were refugee camps around the area that I was staying in, and thought “Wow, I have to see this.”

I was already into activism and politics because I wanted to understand how and why the world works the way it does. This was an opportunity to know, first hand, what was going on in a refugee camp. I didn’t want to read anymore newspapers and see statistics because at the end of the day, these events get turned into numbers, and you feel numb after a while. All you read is “100 dead here,” or “100,000 refugees are there.” I wanted to see faces, names, families and feel their feelings.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

“I wanted to see faces, names, families and feel their feelings.”

 

My path in photojournalism started from there, and it just took off. I spent my own money going to different places, and I wasn’t even sure that I was going to sell my work. But I found a magazine in Spain that was publishing sensitive issues like immigration in an open manner. I felt comfortable working with them and started doing it more and more.

I still do some travel photography, but I lose touch sometimes because it’s a bit too “light”, especially after doing photojournalism. I want to do something a bit more meaningful to me. Of course, if you go the extra mile, you can make amazing travel photography, but for me, it just felt like I wasn’t helping people.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

As you mentioned, the transition seems pretty natural. Is that something that often happens to travel photographers?

 
Yes! It does. Many photojournalists are travelers first, then make the transition to focus on different issues to cover. Every year I want to go deeper and deeper into more intense environments or situations – you almost become an adrenaline junkie and want more and more!

It’s actually an interesting issue about this job – if you do it full time, you can never go back to doing anything else. The “rush” is impossible to get anywhere else, and you can end up becoming a war photographer.

 

Has that ever tempted you?

 

It did! I’m not a war photographer, but my first contact with a war zone was in Syria and that was by chance also! As always, when you start a trip, it’s very organic and you never know what’s going to happen. You evolve as your trip is evolving.

I was in Turkey, right on the border with Syria, and ended up in a community center ran by Kurdish people who were helping smuggle journalists into Syria. They were so generous, as they would just give you accommodation and tell you when it’s safe to cross. There, I met a lot of photographers and journalists; it was my first contact with real professionals working for huge agencies and media outlets.

While at the community center, on the border with Syria, we waited for a week, doing nothing but just wait, and wait. That’s the life of a journalist too. It requires a lot of patience because of the negotiations involved and the political issues. There are plenty of hours to fill.

Suddenly, we got the call and we managed to get smuggled into Syria. We were in an area that was recently liberated from ISIS and stayed there for a week. I felt bad – really, really bad. It was a shock to me because everything was devastated.

(more on the story later on the interview)

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

“I felt bad – really, really bad. It was a shock to me because everything was devastated.”

 

Every project is different, but are there certain things you always look for within yourself in every photography project?

 

I listen a lot to what people say when they see my work, because when you’re always looking at your own stuff, you lose perspective. I can see my work 100 times but then can’t seem to remember what my point was.

But if you ask people, they would point out one common thing, and that is that I capture feelings and emotions. The eyes of the people I capture tell a story. Even though you don’t know their story, there’s enough shown for your mind to create your own ideas about what that person is telling you. It can be pain, fear, or joy. If you don’t know how to capture that, then I think your photos will be empty.

So what I aspire to do is to simply capture emotion. I want the photos to have a voice. If there wasn’t any text, I want the photos to speak for themselves.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

“The eyes of the people I capture tell a story.”

 

In your own opinion, what do you hope your photographs can contribute to society as a whole?

 

I just want people to know the unbiased truth. I’ve done conferences in small community centers – in neighborhoods with a lot of working class people who sometimes can’t afford go to an exhibition, which can cost a bit of money to go to. These are humble conferences where I want people to see the whole picture.

99% of where they get their information is from the mainstream media, and so in the exhibitions, they realize many things that are actually happening in different countries.

I also did exhibitions with the local town council with official money involved. This meant that some politicians came into my conferences. I try not to be too politically correct in front of them and I tell it as it is. It can be uncomfortable.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

“I try not to be too politically correct in front of them and I tell it as it is. It can be uncomfortable.”

Ultimately, my responsibility as a person going to these places is to show where we can be doing more. I’m just trying to get people to think outside of the box.

The current system we live in makes reality become more uniform, where we have to think the same way, watch the same things, eat the same things. There’s so much more out there.

You have to think for yourself, and if you see something wrong, say it. Don’t be afraid.

 

What is one of your most memorable photographic moments?

 

For the simplicity of it, it is the photo of the girl looking right at the camera from the tent. I was walking around a camp in Iraq and there was a little girl. She was silent but she was following me around and I was talking to her. She would just smile.

When it came to that moment when I saw her looking out her tent and the lighting was good, I prepared the camera. But then, she stopped smiling for the picture. There was suddenly a slight intensity to her look – one of a kid who has been through a lot.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

That’s one of the moments that stuck to my mind. It was so simple, yet the deep connection was there, despite her being someone who I couldn’t communicate with. It was a humbling experience.

We all have our inner child inside of us. As you can see in my pictures, kids are a very important part of my photography. For some reason, children can move you more so than an adult would.

Children are so pure, and people become deeply touched when seeing children go through horrible situations like that because they haven’t developed the tools to cope with them.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

“We all have our inner child inside of us. As you can see in my pictures, kids are a very important part of my photography.”

 

You’ve travelled to over 60 countries and there’s a lot information to process when travelling and photographing in environments outside your comfort zone. Is this adaptability something you’ve always naturally had? 

 

 

I was very fearful as a kid; very shy and always afraid. That’s why I started travelling – to get out of my comfort zone. I started travelling when I was really young like any other backpacker from Europe who wanted to see the world.

I had then developed the urge to go off the beaten path and explore places that were away from the mainstream spots. At some point, I knew that I had to somehow use these skills that I’ve developed travelling for my photography projects.

But as a photojournalist, sometimes you get to a place where you have no idea what to do or where to go, which is why it’s crucial to find a “fixer” or a local who is more knowledgeable, and that helps you to adapt.

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“I was very fearful as a kid; very shy and always afraid.”

What are some of the self-limiting beliefs you had to change over the years to become the person you are today?

 

We all are defined by our environment to some degree. I was born and raised in Spain – a catholic country. My parents and grandparents lived through a dictatorship in a very tight regime. This defined them and their beliefs that they passed on to me. That means that I was brought into this world with beliefs that are already engrained in me without even knowing that they were there.

Spain was not as cosmopolitan as it is today. 30 or 40 years ago, all you saw were Spanish people of different origin. There was no diversity, and that limits you because you never see anything different.

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So growing up in that environment can make a little bit discriminatory, especially as a kid soaking it all in. In Spain, for example, gypsies were looked down upon.

When I started developing myself as a young adult, I saw a lot of prejudice within that way of life, and so I started to remove myself from it. Travelling opened my mind and perspectives. My prejudice and preconceptions about social class and social status were blown away. I thank migration because it managed to turn Spain into a multicultural place.


And what about your current perspective on Fear?

Fear is the key to everything when developing yourself as a person. It can limit you and prevent you from doing what you love. Fearing that you’re not good enough, and that you’re not special in any way – for me I’m still struggling with that! Even when I travel to new places, I’m still scared in some way.

The truth is, all these insecurities will always be there. But you have to learn to use that to your benefit. It’s about acknowledging, “Yes, I am very scared, but I will go.” And when you’re there, it becomes, “I’m still scared, but I’m here.” It’s a difficult process to go through, but if you can do it, you will be liberated. You work hard, but then welcome the results that come.

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“It’s a difficult process to go through, but if you can do it, you will be liberated.”

Suffering is something we all share on different levels. How has confronting the suffering you’ve seen during your time in Iraq, Syria and other places changed your relationship with it?

 

As you’ve said, we all suffer in different ways in life. But when you’ve witnessed the kind of suffering that is life threatening – situations where people have lost everything (as I have seen), then you’re forced to find a healthy way to integrate it into your life.

It’s really tough, especially in times where you can’t do anything directly about it. I didn’t know how to deal with it back then; I was taking photos and talking to people – soaking everything in like a sponge.

I saw people who have lost everything; children who have lost their parents. But I also saw that the human spirit can be unbreakable. Despite losing everything, they had the will to persevere and continue to survive and rebuild their cities.

So there’s always a duality. Despite the situation, they were very welcoming and grateful that we were there. But they were also wondering why we came, and why we weren’t at our homes. My heart was mixed with pain and joy.

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“I saw people who have lost everything; children who have lost their parents. But I also saw that the human spirit can be unbreakable.”

I felt very anxious a lot of the time. You don’t know how safe it is. There could be an attack at any moment because there were still a lot of hidden ISIS members around the city even after it was liberated, and they didn’t know how to find them.

There were emotional moments where people would break down in front of you, and you can’t help but do the same if you really connect to them on an emotional level, instead of just being a person there asking questions. I’ve seen journalists who do that and just go. For me, however, it was about being with the people.

I’ve had my moments, and in the end of the day, I learned that if you want to be in photojournalism, you have to have some strength and skills to process these situations, because there is a price to pay. Your heart can grow cold like a rock, but it can break down to make a new one. That’s what happened to me at least. But for some people, it can be the other way around.

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“Your heart can grow cold like a rock, but it can break down to make a new one.”

Since then, I try my best to be more grateful and make everything relative; not to get stuck on petty issues that I shouldn’t really care about. Not being able to afford the latest shoes, or buying a new motorcycle – they don’t really matter to me. What matters is having people that truly care about you, doing things that you love, and being kind to others.

I like to think that I have always been compassionate, but there were times where I’ve turned my head and looked the other way, because it’s easier, and you don’t want to suffer. But when you’ve seen real suffering, you can’t help but notice the small ways in which we suffer in our every day life. It made me want to help people more.


So, when heading out to these places, there is an acceptance you have to carry – that these things happen and you will see them?
 

 

Totally. Sometimes it’s a selfless thing to do. I’m going to put my life and my mental health in jeopardy so that other people’s voices are heard. I was willing to pay the price, and I did. But looking back, I was just doing my little part.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

After being in a situation like that for the first time, what did it feel like to then come back?

 

I was supposed to head to Georgia and Armenia after Syria, but the shock from the experience caused me to just return to Turkey and book a flight back home to Barcelona. When I came back to Turkey, I initially thought, “If I knew what I was getting into in the first place, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Looking back at the time doesn’t make me feel “happy,” because nobody can be happy after being in a place like that. But as I said, I feel like I did my little part, and that was worth it.

The issue of coming back happens a lot with war photographers. They have to deal with a lot of mental health issues after absorbing so many things. For me, it was difficult in the weeks after going to Syria. I was still suffering from the experience from a bit of trauma of course. I stayed flat on the sofa for two weeks.

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“It was difficult in the weeks after going to Syria.”

It was bad, not because the entire experience was intense, but it was addicting. As I said before, it can leave you wanting for more. Crossing borders and having tanks pointing their guns at you – how can you possibly find that in your everyday life? How can you find the same emotions while doing something greater than yourself?

I’m not saying I have delusions of grandeur, I’m just a normal person. But in terms of personal development, coming back home felt like nothing made sense anymore. I was in a very intense situation where every experience was life-changing, and now everything was the same.

How do you deal with that when people don’t understand what you’ve been through? Many people enjoyed hearing my stories for about 15 minutes, but then quickly wanted to change the subject after being confronted with this reality.

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“I was in a very intense situation where every experience was life-changing, and now everything was the same.”


Despite coming face to face with suffering on that level, what were some moments of joy that you’ve experienced there?   

 

They were the little moments of normality these people had within very abnormal life circumstances. Nothing is normal living in a refugee camp with all the tents, but you find joy when you share a little moment playing football, being silly with the kids, or playing backgammon with a father, or talking to the women of the family if they are open enough to talk to you.

 

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Having this closeness is the key. It makes us forget that we’re here and what has happened, and I feel happy.

Of course I can’t speak for all of them. Many are still extremely traumatized and don’t want to talk, but there are little “capsules of happiness” that came from those who were so generous and open to foreigners.

 

What have you been more aware of in your own life as a result of your experience?  

 

I’ve been made more aware of how lucky we are to live in a place where there are no bombs falling from the sky or shootings on the street. I have to remind myself of that, because we all can get very spoilt. Sometimes I feel guilty for having all these things, but I need to deal with that properly by just appreciating the little things, like eating or going to the cinema with a friend.

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“Sometimes I feel guilty for having all these things, but I need to deal with that properly by just appreciating the little things.”

 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

 

This is tough! But for me, it’s very cliché, and that is that happiness is not a destination, but more of a journey. No one is going to be happy all the time, and for me, happiness a succession of little moments that make me feel grateful and fulfilled. These small moments give you the will to keep going.

Happiness to me, is also accepting what you have, and not demanding for more than you can handle. I’ve had my problems with that; in trying to reach too much too fast.

In this time of social media, there’s always the pressure to be the best at what you do; we are fed the idea that we have to do big and grandiose things. This competitiveness brings misery and frustration because not all of us can be the best – so why not just be who you are, and enjoy it?

 

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“Why not just be who you are, and enjoy it?”

 

What would you like to change about the world for the better?

 

Inequality, injustice and greed. If we can limit those, then we can fix a lot of problems.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give to those wanting to go into photojournalism?

 

Don’t do it! But if you decide to anyways, persevere. You have to be really passionate about it because it’s going to give you a lot of challenges; mentally and economically. It’s going to be hard and it’s going to take a lot of time. Many doors will be closed, but the more you work the more they will open.

 

If you could describe living in Indonesia in one word, what would it be?

 

Comfortable, and stimulating! I know that’s two words, but that’s what I’d use.

 


If you would like to get in touch with Aleix you can email him at:

aleixoriol1@gmail.com

If you would like to know more about Aleix, visit:

http://www.aleixoriol.com/

Helianti Hilman

“You don’t know what you’ll love doing until you explore and explore.”

Helianti Hilman

Founder | Javara
On growing consciously, practicing what you preach, and advice for young Indonesians.

 

Somewhere in a bustling Japanese city, delicate hands scatter a dash of Krayan salt, harvested from northern Kalimantan, over warm fish and rice. In Switzerland, a knife glazes creamy organic cashew butter from Flores over freshly baked bread, and in America, a bowl of Menthik Susu, a milky white rice grain native to Yogyakarta, carefully rinsed and cooked, awaits hungry mouths for supper.

Each of these ingredients stem from the wellspring that is Javara, a company spearheading the awareness and revival of organic artisanal Indonesian food products throughout the world.

At the helm of this endeavor sits a resolute and determined social entrepreneur in Helianti Hilman – a woman keen on showcasing the stories and behind the archipelago’s indigenous farmers and their way of life.

One can ponder the audacity and ambition behind a company with such a vision; working closely with some 50,000 farmers to craft more than 600 products is no easy feat. But growth at this scale, by her own admission, shouldn’t be done for the sake of it.

Equally merited for Javara’s success is a deeply rooted sense of responsibility to improve the livelihoods of the smallholder organic farmers they work with. By paying them more, providing technological assistance and quality control, and celebrating their stories on their products, Javara’s model effectively helps to preserve their native indigenous food heritage.

Such is why Helianti was recognized as a Forbes Indonesia Global Rising Star 2014 and awarded the Social Entrepreneur of the Year award by the Schwab Foundation in the ensuing year.

Manusia was invited to interview some of the speakers of Southeast Asia’s leading culinary event, the Ubud Food Festival where we had a short interview with Helianti. A calm and thoughtful woman, she fondly reflects on what true ambition means, the endearing moment that spurred her on to growth, and reveals the habit that has helped her the most over the years.

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One would imagine the amount of ambition needed for Javara to grow as big as it is today. Was ambition something you’ve always had?

 

Good question! It’s something I have never really reflected on, and honestly, I never thought this would end up being my passion as I grew up. I’m not an agronomist or a food technologist – I was a lawyer before doing any of this. I don’t think this ambition was something I had from the beginning.

I was privileged to grow up around a coffee plantation in a very remote area, so all this travelling to remote places and meeting young farmers was not something new to me when I started.

I was also raised by a strong-willed mother who had strong social interests – she was the first social entrepreneur I knew, and I think that’s something I inherited in my DNA!

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“I don’t think this ambition was something I had from the beginning.”

But I think Javara is growing organically – it’s not about simply growing “big” for the sake of it. A lot of times when our investors asked for a business plan, I tell them, “What business plan?”

When it comes down to it, it’s about truly discovering ways to serve farmers better, and give customers with healthier options.

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Image Credit : Javara

 “It’s not about simply growing “big” for the sake of it.”

 

If ambition wasn’t something you had at the beginning, was there a moment that changed you or gave you the inspiration to grow?

 

Something that definitely influenced our growth happened when my parents passed away. The time between their deaths was very short, and before they passed, they wrote me a long love letter that basically was about Javara. One of the biggest messages of the letter was them telling me “We love what you do, but if you keep it small, it will blow away like dust.” Simply put, Javara won’t have a systemic impact.

Their mandate was not in making Javara “big”, but in creating a philosophy, and business models that would change the current system.

If Javara is too small, few people will notice, appreciate and adopt our system. So we grow big to get people to see that this is a better way of doing business, and has a social impact for the producers as well.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra

 

How has Javara changed you over the years? What has become more important to you? What has become less important?

 

Personally, to be exposed to farmers who carry indigenous wisdom and knowledge about healthy consumption as well as a diversity of ingredients and indigenous food relationships, changed the way I saw food and our food systems.

That’s something I passed down to my son, who I had after Javara. It’s been a privilege for me to go through this journey because I can take this understanding that I have and pass down the experience to my son. As he grows up at this moment, I already am seeing the impact of that.

Secondly, I think I was trying so hard create a success story and send that message out to inspire people, but now I understand that I need to share my failures as well, so that others may prepare.

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“Now I understand that I need to share my failures as well, so that others may prepare.”

When you’re on a journey like mine, it’s not always pretty, and there are a lot of consequences. Indonesia, being an archipelago is hard to travel through, especially outside of Java where there is little development. The disparity is huge.

I believe it’s important for people to know that it’s OK to fail sometimes. You’ll be alright – as long as you keep true to your integrity in your actions. That understanding is very important.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra

“You’ll be alright – as long as you keep true to your integrity in your actions.”

 

What are some of the specific habits that you’ve developed over the years that have helped you?

 

I became really interested in collecting seeds for any edible plants and herbs in all my travels over the years. From that, I developed my family’s food diversity garden in an effort to understand the ingredients more.

What I’m trying to allude to is that you can’t tell people what to do unless you understand it, and are doing it yourself.

Find balance in walking the walk, and talking the talk. I think that’s the habit that I’ve grown into. Any time I want to share something to people, I have to reflect and ask “Am I doing it myself? And do I have the integrity to talk about it?” It’s about representing what you talk about.

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“You can’t tell people what to do unless you understand it, and are doing it yourself.”


What advice would you give to young Indonesians?

 

It’s important for us to explore the world. Just see as much as possible. As far as we know, you only live once, so, it’s important for any young person to just go out there and explore the options before really deciding which direction you want to focus on. You don’t know what you’ll love doing until you explore and explore.

 


 

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