Bombs, again

The two bombs that murdered people this morning in Jakarta, while we safely breakfasted at the other side of the country, come during peak tourist season, shattering the illusion of security that Indonesians have only recently begun enjoying. Several people I spoke to in the run-up to the presidential elections earlier this month told me that they would be voting Yudhoyono back in because of his success in combating terrorism. The last major terrorist attacks in the country were 4 years ago in Bali.

I’m in Bali now, in peaceful Ubud, eating dinner under frangipani blossom. It’s a beautiful and welcoming part of the country that understands the needs and expectations of Western tourists and accommodates them gracefully. It’s justly popular – the hotels and guesthouses here are fully booked and we struggled to find somewhere. It feels a long way from religious or political struggle, from violence or hatred. This is a majority Hindu island. The Muslim call to prayer is heard through the gamelan playing and drums of a Hindu temple festival. Jakarta feels far away.

But it’s not, of course. Everyone here is saddened by the blasts and fearful of a return to the carnage of 2002 and 2005, when the island was targeted. The local economy is entirely tourism based – if tourists stop coming, people lose their livelihoods. That’s what happened after the previous bombings and for many, the memory is still raw. “We had to move to Jakarta and work in a factory because we had no money,” says Francisca, who runs a clothing store here. “The only people who buy from my shop are tourists. Maybe they will be afraid to come to Indonesia after the bombs.”

Tourism makes and breaks communities in the developing world: good or bad, it’s hugely influential. Every young person I’ve spoken to in Indonesia aspires to get into the industry, to become a ‘guide’ or to go to university to study “tourism” – a course that I was ignorant even existed, before. This has been true in every country we’ve visited in the past 7 months, (except in India, where tourism is cited second, after “communications”, and in Nepal, where the majority of young people want to get into computing).

Nowhere in this world feels entirely safe (isn’t that sad). We humans are so fragile – vulnerable to so many different deaths by our own invention (motorbike crash, work accident, war…), that given the choice, not many people would choose to visit a country where they will be deliberately targeted. And Indonesia is such an amazing, incredible country…

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