For better or worse: Becoming Indonesian
I spent last weekend at the lovely bungalow compound of my friend Warwick Purser in Tembi village, 30 minutes outside Yogyakarta. Not long after we sat down to chat, he turned to me with a big smile and said, "I'm going to be one of you lot next week." "What do you mean?" I asked. With an even a bigger smile he replied, "I'm finally getting my Indonesian citizenship."
I felt disbelief, incredulity, amazement. Why would someone from an advanced, prosperous country like Australia give up the privileges and comforts of his land of birth to become Indonesia? Why become the citizen of a nation so many are trying to escape, beleaguered as it is by a spate of natural and unnatural disasters, to say nothing of terorism, exploitative identity politics, the chaos of decentralization, and old problems from the Soeharto past like corruption and human rights abuses? Why plunge into the mess that is Reformasi, where so many problems are rolled up into one messy tangle?
Warwick simply replied that after spending 25 years in the country, it just seemed like the natural thing to do. "I must follow my heart," he said, "knowing there will be a price to be paid."
"But surely, that's what commitment is about," he added. And love and passion too, I would say.
As I listened to him, my eyes became moist and I had to wipe away a sudden trickle of tears. "Why are you crying?" Warwick asked me. "I'm so moved!" I blurted.
You see, I've had an intense love-hate relationship with Indonesia all my life, but giving up my nationality is not something I would ever consider-even after marry-ing Tim, an Australian. Yes, I was born into an Indonesian family, but being Indonesian for me is a choice, a conscious decision.
An internationalist like myself could live anywhere, but I feel it would be a betrayal of my "destiny" if I changed citizenship and could no longer be part of this wonderful country that I love so deeply, for all its flaws and disappointments.
So Warwick's decision reflected my own commitment to Indonesia. And it made me think of what commitment should mean, and of Kennedy's words, "ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you do for your country."
Warwick has done more for his country-to-be in his 25 years here than most Indonesians in their lifetimes. His outstanding contribution has been his role in developing Indonesia's handicraft industry.
Now much-copied through-out Indonesia, the stylistic innovations and marketing savvy her introduced 12 years ago completely changed the face of the Indonesian handicraft industry, bringing the country's crafts into new markets, in volumes hitherto unknown.
Today his company, Out of Asia, produce a range of 28,000 products carried in elite stores and mass-market chain alike in the U.S. and Europe, including Macy's Harrods, Habitat, Target and Marks & Spencers. yes, Warwick has done well for himself, but at the same time he has created employment opportunities for tens of thousands of the country's craft-people, not just in Tembi, but throughout Java, Bali, Lombok and Aceh.
Almost single-handedly, he transformed his home base in Tembi from a sleepy rural center with no employment into a bustling, fully employed community, with new roads, restored houses and educational programs for its children. This attracted world attention, including a profile in TIME, and our government chose Tembi as an example of model rural community development. For similar reasons, Australia also selected Warwick last year as a top national achiever, from among one million Australia expatriates.
So how did Australia feel about Warwick officialy going native ? when learning that he intended to become an Indonesian citizen, Australian ambassador Bill Farmer said, " We are happy to share this national treasure, in fact we'll hold a congratulatory parrty in his honor."
And what do we Indonesians feel about Warwick becoming Indonesian? Pleased and grateful, for sure, but also ashamed that we don't do more. He is truly a mirror for us who take being Indonesian for granted because it's something we were born with. For him it has been a process, a love affair which grew, marked by achievements and happiness but also difficulties and disaster. most recently it was the Yogyakarta earthquake, which destroyed half of warwick's compound and most of his possessions, badly damaging everthing still standing.
Many would have seen this as a sign to return to a comfortable life in Australia, but instead the quake strengthened his commitment to Tembi. He poured money into reconstructing the village, and pulled in Richard McHowat, CEO of HSBC, and other donors to do the same (see my column in the Jakarta Post on Sept, 13, 2006).
Warwick purser isn't the only foreigner to commit to Indonesia and became a citizen. Ktut Tantri, Molly Bondan, and Franz Magnis Suseno came before him, as did H.J.C. Princen, a soldier of the Dutch colonial army, who fought against the Indonesian "rebels" during the revolution until he joined the enemy. Princen stayed in independent Indonesia to become one of its foremost activists, always struggling to defend the oppressed.
The context of Princen's fight was the struggler for independence. The context now is the struggle against poverty, ignorance, and the loss of cultural identity and spiritual meaning. Warwick puts him self squarely in the center of the arena. Where do we put ourselves?
This week, in a simple provincial courtroom ceremony in Bantul, Warwick Purser, perhaps Indonesia's highest profile expatriate, officially becomes Indonesian. We embrance you, Park Warwick, you who have been more present and caring in your foreigness, that many of us in all our inherited "Indonesianness".
The Jakarta Post, March, 14, 2007.
Written by Julia Suryakusuma. The writer is the author of Sex, Power and Nation. This article published based on the author's written permission.