By Anna Antoni (She is an Austrian)
Negativity, discontentment, racism, catastrophy-focusing, no interest in strangers. All this I know very well from home in Vienna but in Indonesia you can find right the opposite in the national spirit.
The Top 7 reasons to fall in love with Indonesia (for me it was love at first sight) deserve attention, because Indonesia as biggest Muslim populated country which had to face terrorist acts in past years isn’t used to good publicity…
To get to the obvious connection to micro-finance read to the end or skip 1.) to 4.)
1.) I started to notice that I am irritated if in a bus no one starts talking to me, asking where I come from, where I am going and saying that I am pretty (Dari mana? Mau ke mana? Cantik!). First I referred this acting to meeting interesting foreigners. But it simply reflects the incredibly friendly and sincere character of Indonesians. You don’t know each other but you talk without doubts what this person actually wants. Simply because of an interest in other people and because a funny situation tends to be even funnier when it is shared with someone (or an annoying situation can be much less annoying, like the bus breaking down). So it is interest in other people, easy communication and heartiness in Indonesia which will make it challenging not to provoke lots of confused reactions in Austria when I start talking or smiling at someone in the bus.
2.) On 2nd place is the truly healing cultural, religious and linguistic diversity vs. racism and fear of what is foreign. While traveling from one island to the next or from one province to another, sometimes it is hard to keep your jaw from dropping. Everything is different. The language is different (in Indonesia are about 300 languages spoken!), traditions, art and architecture is different, the predominant religion is another one, the people look differently. Diversity is daily business in Indonesia and “unity in diversity” is a common motto. Even with resistance against Chinese Indonesians in the 1990s, previous separatist movements in northern Sumatra and terrorist acts, unity and peace in diversity is the usual tone amongst people. To compare this with Austria almost hurts. The birth country of Adolf Hitler is getting deeper and deeper into racism again, although the national history makes this hard to believe.
3.) For a while I wasn’t sure whether it’s because I am the only obvious foreigner who even tries to speak Indonesian, when people always smile at me and every try to speak Indonesian is highly amusing. Now I am absolutely sure- Indonesian is synonymous with laughing a lot and approaching people as well as challenges with joy. On the third place is enjoying life vs paralyzing negativity and bitterness I know too well as a citizen of Vienna.
4.) "Do you know how to shit?" This was one of the first talks I had to an Indonesian in 2007. Her way to explain how to use Indonesian toilets kind of excited me in the most positive way. THAT frank only few Austrians would approach someone at the first meeting. Concerning body weight this way of frankness can be painful, but I wished all my friends would be that honest and that I could pop the usual questions in Indonesia “How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children? How many sisters and brothers do you have?” without stepping over the “western” privacy line of someone you don’t know well. In Indonesia borders of privacy are set differently and they will never be violated on purpose. On place number 4: Frankness and honesty instead of cumbersome politeness.
5.) So many times I got lost, took the wrong road, overslept in the bus, didn’t carry enough water, and every time someone was there to help me (again, no unique behavior for foreigners). When there is a street musician playing the guitar in a bus, people will listen with joy and give something. To help and support each other is one of the main reasons for success of group loans at the Kiva field partner Mitra Usaha Kecil (MUK). Again the comparison with Austria hurts. The ignorance you can meet at every corner in Vienna is only partly balanced through annual record donations to “Licht ins Dunkel” and the great work of many NGOs. The motto in Indonesia more likely is helpfulness and sympathies than ignorance.
6.) Especially when talking to borrowers of MUK in Bali it is seems that Indonesians are content with their life, although in the eyes of a foreigner who is used to much higher standards, there would be enough not to be content with. A developing country offers enough to worry about. But a small store in the own simple house and the (in Bali almost obligatory) fat pig in the backyard are enough to be happy as long as the basic needs are fulfilled. The typical Viennese complains about 2 minutes late public transport, the non-illuminated signs at the tram station are scandalous, the expensive car of the foreign neighbor must be stolen and in general everything is getting worse every day. Last but not least on the 6th place of most beautiful characteristics of Indonesia and probably the most important for micro-finance: Being content with your life and live a positive attitude vs. pathologically comparing, discontentment and catastrophy-focusing.
7.) Nature! This doesn’t need much explanation. Just visit another island or region to be in a totally different environment- jungle, mountains, volcanoes, beach, fantastic marine life,… nature in Indonesia is threatened but breathtaking.
I am aware of the one-sidedness of this post. Of course Indonesia is fighting a lot of challenges like every developing country. They are obvious every day and some are a heavy strain. Therefore micro-finance is one of the strategies very much needed to improve infrastructure and people’s living condition in Indonesia.
Still the challenges are not big enough to impress the Indonesian spirit and moral, because it is possible to focus on the positive side of life and to be happy with what you achieved as long as the basic needs are fulfilled. Micro-finance as step-by-step-support to improve the standard of living is falling on fertile ground in Indonesia, because of the willingness to face challenges in a constructive way.
I will carry Indonesia in my heart back to Austria (that I definitely love with it’s weaknesses and of course various strengths) and hope that I can share a bit of the Indonesian spirit with Austria.