Dear All,

Ibu Putu, the owner of the warung (small restaurant) a bit further down the road, she herself in the winter of her life, heard about the passing away of my mother. ‘So she was very old indeed’ she says, ‘then all is good’. It’s certainly not untrue but I think her reaction a bit gaunt and I tell her that there is sadness as well of course. Ibu Putu looks very worried when she answers; ‘don’t be sad too long now, otherwise the dead will stay with you’.

T. sends an email from Africa. He is sad and upset because he is not invited for a ritual with his family to make contact with his ancestors. Sad because his family left him out, upset because he doesn’t know how to make that contact that is so important to him.

Would it really be possible that your ancestors leave you? Would you really need to go to a grave to find them? It sounds to me as having to go to a church in order to find God. Ibu Putu I do understand, a Hindu believes that the soul will go astray if it doesn’t feel free to go. For T. it’s his tradition that makes it easier for him to find that connection at a graveside but, I think, he could find it all in himself.

The encounter between our roots and that what we experience now and here.

Herly Setiawan, the painter about whom I’ve written earlier, manages to do something beautiful with it. He has a wife and a child, some small jobs to make a living and he is a member of a dance-company that wants to preserve old traditions in a contemporary setting. And for the rest; painting, painting and painting, with the same theme, to connect his roots to his own present. Full of passion he shares his thoughts with the world, focuses on making the invisible visible, on underlining values that may not be lost. It’s great if someone does just that, for those that may look at it and even more so for himself. Passion.

(Later on Facebook I will show some pictures of his newest work. Gives the guys from Prism something nice to look at too.)

Passion. When a newspaper with a Protestant Christian background wrote about the follies and splurges of the new pope, I knew it’s going the right direction. Those cardinals maybe did a good job; in choosing a pope I mean. A fancy concert and the complete management, clad in red dresses, sits on a sort of stage in front, being VIP. Only the chair of the CEO stays empty. He has important things to work on. Slightly offended the newspaper concluded that he preaches ad lib, washes the feet of prisoners instead of cardinals and takes a boy with the syndrome of down for a ride in his white pope-cart. And he doesn’t wear that ermine cape either. Well, if one speaks from the heart one doesn’t always need it in writing and the rest seems in line with what that other guy would have done 2000 years ago. I he would have had a white pope-cart I think he would have taken that boy for a ride too. Just for the fun of it, on two wheels through the curbs, all the way through Jerusalem. But granted, on a donkey it works less spectacular indeed. A pope with passion, I hope so.

Had a haircut in the Mall (US$ 3.–) – yes Mum, it’s short and fresh again – and had lunch there too. A small, skinny boy, on the edge of child labour, had the humble task to wait in front of the outside terrace. Dispirited he was so lost in his dreams that he didn’t notice me for a long while although I was the only guest at the time. Then he brought on the menu, someone else came to write down my order. The boy came back to attach a copy of my order to my table, the roll of tape gave him the trouble rolls of tape always give. One of those inexplicable jobs that bring little money and a lot of disillusion. Found a job and now.., now nothing. The dichotomy of society, on which the west is working so hard, is here a long completed project. I wonder if that boy ever thinks about the perspective of his life and I’m, at the same time, not sure I should hope he does. It seems to me that initiative is not his forte and he’s way too young to be out of school. Well, school… It seems improbable but schooling here is, in general, even worse than in Africa. To think for yourself and to be creative is discouraged, feudal situations are everywhere, the harness that’s called adat (the sum of religion, custom and culture) keeps things in place. For now. For passion, apart from a passion for a material gluttony, there is hardly room.

Superstition makes it all a bit shadier. The son and the dog of Ibu Par are both sick. ‘What’s wrong with them?’ I ask. ‘They encountered a black African late at night. Right at the crossroads!’ With that all is said her face tells me.

Examples how it could be done in a better way are hardly there. Sometimes I think that keeping people stupid is part of a plan. To serve is not the style of most politicians; the passion to search for ways and to connect not either. We should be much more suspicious about the reasons a guy wants to become politician but, cursed with the same shortsightedness and an eye for self-interest as the candidates, we often choose wrong. The examples of the ‘elite of the society’, they come to us through the media and it’s usually extravagance, expensive and more, makes one fear what will happen if things get better financially. Indonesia is not that far away, people with (com)passion are scarce anywhere.

In the Mail & Guardian Nic Dawes, the editor in chief, argues that we should cherish the image of Mandela, that we should make his passion and inspiration our own.

“The truth is that Nelson Mandela has been absent not just from banquets, front pages, and the high councils of the ANC, for close to a decade. He has too often been absent from our conception of ourselves, and the messy, joyous work of building a democracy in which the full realization of our individual and collective humanity is possible.
Memory, Madiba said, is the fabric of identity.
With his memory woven into it, our national fabric is immeasurably stronger. Mayibuye.”

I quite agree, we can’t have examples enough to make that passion within us bloom, it’s the soil for beautiful flowers to grow.




Dear All,

In the silence of the night, a fragile, old lady drives in her wheelchair through my house. The tension of the hand that moves the chair is in contrast with the mild relaxedness of her face – the softness that comes with love. Before she retires for the night to her room, she makes her rounds and stops at every resident, at each of all those committed caregivers, grabs a hand and kisses it. A sleep well without words…

When I wake up the house is, very different from my thoughts, of course empty. Only when all was over and done, I heard about her nightly ritual in the Saint Elisabeth nursing home in Amersfoort where she lived. Aphasia had stolen her ability to put a warm good night in words and she found another way. I think; found without much effort. So many images, in day and night, the colour is melancholy. Seemingly getting smaller all the time in her wheelchair, my mother, without a voice, gathered smile after smile and made each and every ones day a bit brighter. My magnificent mother that loved unconditionally. On May 27 she left this life, just 93 years of age. More than melancholy and sadness, there is pride and thankfulness.

That last kiss on my hand – the oxygen mask in the way – sticks firmer to my skin than all the others and radiates deep in me. Let the rain come, I was able to gather in the good times.

Life is change, always and again. Back in Bali – mainly without rain because it’s the dry season – it seems to me that things have to be sorted out once more, have to be put in order. Images and memories thread in bizarre patterns, things that seem to have nothing in common turn out to be connected. Occasions small and big, times of happiness or utter despair, meetings, landscapes – all connected by the fact that it’s always about people. Without all those people I love, Holland wouldn’t be much more than a country of complaining people and cynics. Without that, often genuine, smile, Bali would be a tourist trap. Happiness as well as despair is connected with cherished names because there was always someone close. The vast empty skies of Africa would be just that – empty – if not all those beautiful people were below it. People, and then I’m back at my mother.

Africa. A long time ago she wanted to order some pictures of a vacation in Africa. I gave her the whole lot, she could choose. And I knew which she would choose, I could’ve done it for her. Me on a terrace, we on a camel, walking in the bush… Wrong. She ordered 15 pictures, none of them with one of us in it, only the ones with African children.

‘Then I know better how they live and I will think of them more often.’

She has been to Bali years ago, Africa didn’t happen because she was already in the wheelchair then. Specially these days it occupies my thoughts again; Africa. Because I wanted to do more, wish I could’ve given more while it became impossible over time. Again; my mother. She passed that mountain of difficulties and worked with what was there. My square meter is now here in Bali.

She received the help she needed to live with her difficulties and she had the courage (and the support) to do so. The shocking state of the world, especially the western world, scares me. Do we care at all? Are we working on it? We have always overestimated what the Netherlands could be proud of. If today a lady, a hundred years of age for crying out loud, has to leave her nursing home and go back to ‘her own place’ because ‘her difficulties are not severe enough’ – and she is certainly not the only one – it’s time to be ashamed and find a place on the back bench. Ridiculous salaries for a number of staff and at the same time dismissals in healthcare. Not giving proper care where we could do so, sell much less as if it was the same thing in a different shape. Amazingly some politicians dare to do just that. More informal care, it won’t hurt society, on the contrary I think. But to underestimate the importance of professional help is the worst thing we can do. Having to do a few (financial) steps back – there is no other way it seems – initiated a reflex of egotistic thinking in too many people. Informal care is rejected while professional care erodes because we want to save some money. Refugees or asylum seekers become adventurers and the rest of the world can see for itself.

In the silence of the night, a fragile, old lady drives in her wheelchair through my house. The tension of the hand that moves the chair is in contrast with the mild relaxedness of her face – the softness that comes with love. Before she retires to her room for the night, she makes her rounds and stops at every resident, at each of all those committed caregivers, grabs a hand and kisses it. A sleep well without words…

Keep that image in mind for a while.

With love, Frank