Dear All,

Warm, velvet nights, thousands of frogs croak loudly and happy, a few ducks in the sawah (ricefield) next door argue about I don’t know what. Nice plan of the fathers of the church to situate the birth of Jesus near the solstice when days are getting longer. But here we’re going to the longest day. Even though the difference with the shortest day is not that much, in Bali no dark days before Christmas.
Christmas dinners – mediocre meals at five times the normal price or more – paper hats and other fun included. Whining music-Christmas-trees with alarming, flashing lights in the mall, a few plastic stars from last year in the local supermarket;
apart from the calendar and the drivelling of commerce – as usual they mingle sense with the nonsense of more consumption – there is not much in Bali that announces Christmas.
An also the many tourists in Christmas time don’t bring the atmosphere of Christmas with them. Eat (more), drink (more), shop till you drop and beach. That is, I assume the beach is part of it because now and then I see, 40 k away from that beach, half-naked tourists in the village and the shops. The Balinese don’t even frown at it anymore, and no one sees what they really think. About Christmas they don’t know much. Bali is a Hindu society in the biggest Muslim country in the world. A longing for light and peace is everywhere, also here beautiful, meaningful celebrations but Christmas is, for most Indonesians, not more than a ‘tanggal merah’, a red date on the calendar. The offices are closed then.

It’s different for me. Christmas, the word only, pulls open cupboards and drawers full of dear memories. From the time I was young it has been a time for contemplation and remembering the birth of light. Here, in spite of missing that special atmosphere that, at least in my circles in the Netherlands, always has been there, the feeling doesn’t leave me although the fringe is gone. No Christmas-tree, no Christmas-dinner and I take it that Santa Claus will refrain from coming to Bali. Something stays though; celebrating light and peace – inspiration to spread light around.

Against better judgement often – I read newspapers too. The NRA (national rifle association) makes that I almost want to become a client of that very same group of dangerous idiots.
A leader of a church tries to pass on ideas, long past their expiring date, to his people and sees a threat to world-peace if people that love each other are not a man and a woman. About poisonous law-proposals in Uganda, and the literally life-threatening situation for gay people there, not a word. Not about other, similar situations in other countries either. And much more, tremendous suffering, about which I can’t do anything as well.
Where is the light? Believing in Jesus is, also in my opinion, not relevant in that context. It’s about the beliefs of Jesus. Because the latter connects us with all beliefs of good will. Because there is inspiration to start where I can do something.

Christmas: celebration of birth, celebration of light.
I wish you that Christmas may, once again, be a celebration of a light that can shine from within us towards others. I wish that the New Year brings courage and strength to make a difference, wherever we can, whenever needed. May we be able, regardless our beliefs, to bring light in darkness.
I wish you all a good Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Warm regards


Just an idea: when he was born here, the wise men would have come from the west.



Herly Setiawan, 2012. 'Mengacalah' - Self-reflection

Herly Setiawan, 2012. ‘Mengacalah’ – Self-reflection

Dear All,

I’m in Yogyakarta for a week and Doni is here too, he left his little shop in Bandung under the care of a friend.  Beautiful times, sun every day. A lot of swimming in a gigantic swimming-pool that belongs to the hotel, inspect the furniture I ordered, bumping into disappointments, grumble loud enough to make clear it’s serious but not so loud that relationships suffer. Maybe, one day, I’ll master the balancing it requires. In the meantime just being happy, ah well, there’s always something, under every sun there are shadows; usually trifles, now and then something more serious. Rahmat, the becak driver of whom I’ve told you before, did send text messages during the last few weeks, asking when I would come to Yogya again. Now I’m here it becomes clear why; his father died and he wants to talk. We have a long conversation about life and its limitation, about God whom he calls Allah, about where his father is now… We don’t understand most of it but on one thing we agree – he is in Rahmats heart. At least. That won’t go away and that suffices. Before Rahmat goes on his way to find new clients we drink a coffee to that, because a good glass is something we don’t do here.

In a restaurant sits a Dutch couple, an unhappy couple. Another sunny day in Yogyakarta but, indeed, her main-course comes when his’ is not ready yet. The waiter can smile and say sorry as much as he likes; this disaster cannot be described in words. Their day, or even worse maybe, is ruined. The rest of the time they pass with eating with distaste – too spicy Indonesian, why do they do that? – and muttering about the lousy service and the total lack of understanding of western norms. ‘We are guests here, aren’t we?’ Thank you deteriorated, only a harsh sound from deep in their throat is left, vacation choked with discontent. Guests…

A while ago I wrote about Muji, the engineer. He changed his plans so that, during the time I’m in Yogya, he will be home in Kebumen for a few days. A place about 60 kilometer from Yogya.  Early morning, six o’clock, he sends a text that he’s on his way to pick me up. I rented a car at 10 and Muji is exactly on time. A two hours drive to the family home, Muji is silent but smiles all the way. When we arrive the whole family is waiting, dressed up, the little girls – one and four years old – with a jilbab. I’m glad when a bit later the jilbabs are gone again an the girls become naughty little girls again. There is coffee with snacks, there is an extensive meal and Muji runs back and forth and keeps on bringing in more food. When we’re totally stuffed dessert comes in the form of more than eight sorts of fruit. Eat Mister, eat! It takes long before we get to a real conversation and when it comes it doesn’t make me real happy. His work in Bandung, about 500 kilometer away, is with a printer where he has to make lay-outs. Seven days per week, from 8 in the morning till 9 in the evening with 1 hour break, for a salary of 900.000 rupiah per month (about 90 US$). When he is sick of takes a day off; dipotong (deducted). No, also in Indonesia $ 90.—a month is far from enough. And Muji wants to get married. He’s looking for another job but that’s not so easy.

‘And why did you have to come to Kebumen, the meeting with your parents in law is later, isn’t it?’ I ask. Surprised he looks at me. ‘To see Mister of course, it’s more than five years ago already since we last met’. The phrase ‘stupid question’ is on his face, to put in words he’s way too polite and friendly. Half a month’ salary for a short meeting, what remains is 50% of a shitty little bit. ‘Good I’m an engineer now’, says Muji. ‘Otherwise you only get 600.000.’ He smiles when he says it. After a few hours we leave again and Muji thanks extensively for ‘everything’. I, the real recipient, am ashamed a bit.

With Herly Setiawan it goes well. Five years ago he made a portrait of Emmanuel with which I’m still very happy. Then a very talented young man on the academy in Yogyakarta, now a married man with daughter. His exams passed, cum laude and four honours, work that impresses and a philosophy in life that makes one spontaneously believe in the future. Paintings a Javanese orientated images language – often about the struggle between good and evil – intuitively accessible. Beautiful work, if you want to see more, go to my facebook page. .

We took a long evening for it; looking at his works and pleasantly chatting about what was beautiful and what even more so, Herly, intense and full of emotion, explaining. ‘In fact’, says Doni, ‘each painting makes you focus on life itself.’ And that’s how I see it too. It’s worthwhile to talk about that for hours.

Back in Bali it seems that the rainy season has started for real. Showers that make you think it’ll never be okay again, the Balinese variety of ‘the dark days before Xmas’. An hour or so later the small streams all over the island are close to overflowing and the sun shines again. Light won’t leave us, never.

Warm regards




Dear All,

Slowly the living in Bali gets a structure and that doesn’t go for the house I’m building only,  although that’s going very fast now. Africa becomes, for the first time in more than ten years, also a place that’s far away. My love, worries and commitment are still alive, they do (fortunately) not leave me. The knowledge of great richness because I was able to see it all, sometimes accompanied by feelings, as silly as persistent, of having them left behind and not being able to do anything being this far away, stays. Real love doesn’t become less because of distance, maybe on the contrary. But the positioning of everything becomes different, only now the times there seem to become the past. And that what, during enthusiastic or walking on in despair, was put aside ‘for the moment’ turns out to be still there and asks for a final place. Nights of travels in the past; sweaty, uncomfortable undertakings.

Building a house in Bali. All goes well even though sometimes there is no material to carry on and things have to be redone now and then. Just keep on going and all will be fine. The physical house should be ready in the first half of December; shelter provided by my own roof. For most of us – readers of this letter – a normal thing, for many of us – people – something they can only dream of. In the meantime it keeps me busy; moaning about a washbasin, nagging about a plank that’s not fitted tight enough and an endless search for the appropriate tiles for the floors. On moments it all seems extremely important but if I think a bit further I can see the micro dimensions of it all again. It’s part of it all but life is something different.

‘Some people care too much, I think it’s called love’. That sentence from Winnie the Pooh, a friend quoted it in a letter, doesn’t want to leave my thoughts. Funny irony that surely has a few layers beneath. There is so much to care about. In the Congo they walk again, or still. Tens of thousands of people fleeing a violence, impossible to describe, children that don’t look up when dead, rotting bodies lie along the roadside, criminals that call themselves soldiers, all because of mineral resources without we also cannot live anymore. Decades of decline, among others described in ‘Congo, a history’ of David van Reybrouck*. Reading the newspapers, in the morning on the internet… often I don’t feel like it, sometimes supported by Telkomsel, the telephone company, that doesn’t connect me to the net for days in a row. And if the newspapers come in; pages full of irrelevance – politicians seem to have lots of time – and a view towards the disasters of this world, usually only when those disasters are still fresh. Sport and showbiz as well of course but I don’t want to read about business. Your newspaper sir, good morning! It doesn’t take long before I can only read hopeless. ‘Der Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt” says a German, “hope is the last to die”. It implies that if there is no hope left… Nothing.  I shouldn’t go there.

‘Some people care too much, I think it’s called love’. It can never be too much. Work on your own square meter is what a friend used to say and that, of course, is true. The plan to change the world – my generation was planning on it – didn’t change. The method did though.

There is a dutch song about a little keeper that cried his heart out after being beaten by the opponent that scored ten goals. Today wasn’t like that. Surely, they were beaten, with more than ten goals in fact, much more I think. The juni-juniors were playing on the big field in Ubud. They were dispelled to the side of the court, the bigger boys were playing in the middle where the ground was dry. Their part was a muddy, wet part with the grass hardly visible. The little keeper put on his ‘keeper gloves’; let them come! And they came. No, he didn’t keep one ball out, maybe also because it often seemed more fun to stamp his feet in the water, thus splashing water on his opponents. Before the game was over they all looked like bags of mud. Happy bags of mud. And when an attempt to move the goals to dryer grounds failed because the big boys didn’t allow it, and the goals made of metal pipes fell apart in the process anyway, they left the court exultant.

On my way to the supermarket I meet a father with his daughter, about a year and a half, on his arm. She waves and smiles the smile little children know the secret of. What’s her name I ask. ‘Wayan’ the father answers. About a quarter of all Balinese is called Wayan. Every first child gets that name, and number five, and number nine and in those cases it comes that far, number thirteen as well. Words like ‘what a beautiful name’ I don’t have in stock. Instead I say that she has such a lovely smile. ‘She always smiles, she’s always happy’ says the father and his face, all of a sudden, resembles his daughters very much. Only that row of white teeth…

How come, no hope?

Warm regards




* Congo, a history. Publishing house HarperCollins.