I made it to Bali after a day full of airport delays. Syamsul, whom I had met in Jakarta, was working at the hotel and introduced me to Ava, a high-spirited Filipina. They briefed me on the People’s Protocol – an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol. “The Kyoto Protocol does not truly involve grassroots communities and peoples who are worst-affected (by climate change), especially in the South. It has grossly neglected the severe damage to their livelihoods, well-being and welfare. It does not consistently and coherently adhere to the vital developmental principles, especially people’s sovereignty over natural resources.” (Taken from the Statement on the Kyoto Protocol and Climate Change.)
For the next week, this make-shift team gathered from Indonesia (Syamsul), the Philippines (Ava), and Australia (Flint) would be working on press releases and further research to strength the People’s Protocol. On International Human Rights Day, our little team was invited to participate in a rally and march in Dempasar – one of 19 marches coordinated around Indonesia to express the people’s fear of further mining projects and deforestation, which all lead to human rights violations as their lands are destroyed and the people are left vulnerable to exploitation from large corporations and corrupt governments. It was a hot day, hovering around and above 110 degrees even in the shade – but that didn’t keep nearly 500 people from turning out. And with those who came to rally came an equal number of police. I heard commented over and over again, “We just want a peaceful march, and they treat us like we are going to storm the city!” But the march went on – there was singing, dancing, shouts of joy, cries for freedom, liberation, land rights. There was a call for those who had no business in Indonesia to get out, “U.S. Imperialists – #1 Terrorists” was the chant as someone walked by carrying the face of George Bush plaster on the head of a horned monster with black trash bag hair atop a stick. The face had fangs drawn over the mouth. And from the stories I had been hearing the last two weeks, it was obvious that large U.S. corporations and the support of corrupt governments were really sucking the people and the land of the blood that used to flow so freely.
One night Syamsul, Ava and I took an evening after one of the workshops to eat our dinner down on the beach. Amidst the sound of the lapping waves on the beach, Syamsul shared with Ava and I some of his experiences in working recovery after the 2006 Tsunami. He talked about leading a team of 8 into the remotest part of the island, where no relief team had even thought of approaching. All access to the inner part of the island, which was surrounded by streams and rivers, had been washed away. New bridges had to be constructed from fallen trees, and the search for bodies began immediately. The community was still in shock, and gave desperate pleas to help find the bodies of the missing so they could be properly buried. Syamsul said that they only way to face that kind of work is to drink, a lot. “You just can’t do that kind of thing sober. And if you do, you wish you hadn’t.” He told the story of a mother who had suffered 2 miscarriages and a still-born baby in the last few years. She had recently delivered a healthy baby who was only a few months only when the Tsunami hit. She lost her baby in the current. The entire community tried in vain to get her to eat, to talk, to cry. But she just sat in shock for days. He spoke of another little girl, maybe 7 years old, who watched her father get swept away in the current. Her mother is a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia and they had no way to contact her. Syamsul said the little girl hardly left his side the entire three weeks he was there. It made me think of the women who go off in hopes of making money for their family back home. But what happens when their family needs more than they can send because of natural disasters such as the Tsunami; or worse, are killed in these disasters? The risks that migrant workers take in leaving their families seem to grow more and more with each person I talk to, with each local who shares a story of lost farms, lost pride, lost lives.
To my disappointment, and probably to some of yours as well, I didn’t get to attend much of the actual UN Conference. A lot of what I was involved in were the side-events taking place directly outside of the grounds. That was much more of what I was interested in anyway. I did get to go into the main delegation room on my first full day there. It was really fascinating, though at times a little boring, listening to all of these delegates from all around the world talk about the smallest details of the Kyoto Protocol. When you entered the room, you were handed a set of headphones where you could turn the channel to your language of choice. So whenever the speaker didn’t speak English, just slip on your trusty headphones and receive instant translation! Amazing!! It was really overwhelming to even be sitting on the sidelines of such a historical event.
The side events and workshops that I attended had more to do with how climate change, and the decisions made by the UN (and the non-decisions made by the US) effected particularly the global south. Aside from my time in West Bali, attending the march and hearing Syamsul’s first hand accounts of the Tsunami – I also heard from a woman from an island near New Zealand that is literally being washed away. In her lifetime, she has seen the waters take over half of her island, dividing it in half, making it impossible for crops and trees to grow, and flooding even the homes built on stilts. It is inevitable that in the near future, her people will have to move – so they are preparing now as a community how to relocate. They are trying to raise money so that they can own land, instead of being placed somewhere by a government as refugees in some camp for the rest of their lives. I listened to a man from Haiti talk about how his island faces droughts, floods, hurricanes and flooding. Each part of the country is effected in a different way – no one way is worse than the other. The result is always the same – people are starving and losing their homes.
For the past decade we have listened to experts and governments debate on Climate Change and Global Warming – is it real, is it something that is just fabricated by extreme environmentalists? How great of a threat is it really? We have sat by as governments have shifted blame, relocated “problem-projects” and tried to skirt their way around emission laws. You hear blame cast from one country to another, from one official to another company. All the while, long before the debates hit public light, people were suffering. There may be some who don’t want to believe that climate change and global warming are real threats – but tell that to the farmer who can’t plant rice anymore because there is no more rainy season. Or to the island people who are hit with one record-breaking hurricane after another. Maybe there are large corporations or businesses that claim they are doing their part in cleaning up their carbon emissions and factories. Tell that to the family that washes their clothes in the river full of pollution from the factory down the river. Or to the Papua people who are rapidly losing their forests – their home and way of life – as they are being cut down to make way for more “development” (aka – more factories that are being relocated from the global north to the global south, and high rise buildings).
So you see, I don’t really see this as just an environmentalist issue anymore. Its a human rights issue. And I think that is what the Kyoto Protocol is missing. I mentioned the People’s Protocol earlier. Its a project that I got to work closely on while in Bali. I talked with dozens of people to whom the People’s Protocol offered actual hope for life and well-being. If you are interested, please check the People’s Protocol out here. Sign the petition if you can.
After all the events related to the People’s Protocol were finished the rest of the team returned home. I still had a day and a half before my flight. So I moved to a cheaper hotel closer to the beach. My plan was to just relax, enjoy the beach, watch a good sunset, and have some quality alone time. However, being white in Indonesia is an event. Something about the light tone of my skin draws stares, questions, assumptions. This was made obvious in various ways throughout my stay. At first, it was sweet. I often felt like a celebrity as people would come up to me, especially in Semerang, and ask to take a picture with me. People passing on the street or on the beach wanted to meet me, learn where I was from. Wahyu’s family filled up their camera phones with pictures of me with their children. And I was never lonely during my delays in the airports, as someone was always excited to talk to me. But as the trip worn on, I realize that the privilege that comes with being white, also presents a large target. On the beaches of Bali, “white” is seen as someone to sell to. I had one day to enjoy the beaches. I had planned for a quiet afternoon soaking up a little sun and watching the surfers. But my time on the beach was anything but restful as every five minutes I heard an, “Excuse me miss, would you like to buy a mango/sarong/painting/surfing lessons/jewelry/massage?” If I said no in English, they only persisted, promising to offer me their best deal, “I bargain much.” But, if I respond in Indonesian with “tidak” and a grateful nod of my head, they left me alone. As easy as it could have been to be frustrated by the assumption that I was there to buy buy buy, I was struck more by the efforts of these sellers. These were men and women, probably forced in this tourist hot-spot, trying to sell, to bargain, in hopes of making enough to feed themselves. I wondered if the woman carrying the basket of fruits on her head came from the mountains, and learned the balancing trick as a child imitating her mother in the fields. Or the man with the paintings of happy beach scenes – would he rather be looking at pictures his children had drawn in the school they couldn’t afford? It’s a kind of desperate poverty – a plea for a chance with each pineapple or bracelet sold. The next vendor that passed me by, I bought a piece of fruit from. As I watched her slice my melon, careful not to draw any sand near the dripping juices, I wondered when the last time she had a decent meal was. And I am ashamed that I didn’t ask.
I spent a lot of my time fending off vendors, feeling split between shame for not buying their goods and probably supporting their family, and frustration at not being able to take a nap on the beach. The beach in Bali is nice. If you look of in the distance, you can see the volcano. But its a tourist hot-spot. I was staying at Kuta beach, which is apparently one of the more crowded beaches in Bali. (hence all the vendors) The beach was nice. There was a beautiful sunset one night, and as always – being near the water is healing for my soul. But I do wish that I had ended up a place a little more remote, a little more quiet, a little more local. Maybe next time….