Living in Limbo: Stories From Puncak

I had always wondered why there were a lot of Middle-Eastern people and shops in Puncak area. I thought maybe it's the cool weather and yet relative closeness to Jakarta,..or maybe the girls..who knows..

It was just like any other day, I went to a press conference at LBH Jakarta who have just "inaugurated" 110 paralegals.

One of the people at LBH Jakarta asked me if I would like to meet with the asylum-seekers living in Puncak. I was like "Bingo!". I accepted immediately and we left for Puncak about a week later.

Little did I know, that the plight facing these asylum-seekers is a complicated one. Before rounding off my writing I became overwhelmed by the facts and stories that unfold in front of me.

It was difficult indeed to try to summarize everything in 1,500 words. The original version was 1,800-ish and I already had to discard about 30-40 percent of the materials. This is the link to the story, 1,500 words edited by the wonderful Hayat Indriyatno.

In the story only mentioned very little about the three families whom I saw that day, so I decided to write the rest here.

1. The Mazraehs

The Arabic Mazraeh (alternative spellings: Mazrae or Mazra/a) clan is pretty well-known in Iran to be politically active in the struggles for the Arab minority. For those who don't know, the majority race in Iran is Persian with Shia being the prominent denomination. Which is interesting, because apparently it was the Shia/Persians who are oppressing the Sunnis there. While here it's the other way around.

I met Amir and his family, who managed to fled to Indonesia via Dubai in 2010, in their rented 3-bedroom home in Cisarua area. We had to pay Rp 2,000 before entering the residential complex, I guess it's because we had come with a car. Others who went by motorbikes were not charged, which is weird anyway, because it's not a tourist area.

Amir's brother, Mahmoud Mazraeh made his way to UK as a political asylum in the 1990s and found the Ahwazi Arab People's Democratic Popular Front (AAPDF). Before that, two of his brothers were also executed.

The 54-year old however managed to maintain his calm, politely refusing to tell me the complete story of his escape, and referred me to his lawyers (people from LBH Jakarta) about it.

Amir has little understanding of English, without a translator my interview would had been in jeopardy if not for his 11-year old grandson, Fauzi, who is surprisingly fluent in both English and Indonesian.

"Ada masalah [There was a problem]," his grandson said, when I asked Amir of the reason why he fled.

Amir and his oldest son, Tohir, were subject to arrest and torture until in 2009 when they joined a demonstration protesting the election of Ahmadinejad, the threats increased. A week after he flew out of Iran, the government tried him in-absentia and sentenced him to 16 years.

Few weeks later Amir was joined by his wife, Tohir, his youngest daughter, Aminah and her two children.

Aminah is in late 20s or early 30s, and left to take care of her two children alone since her husband died in 2005 after being arrested and tortured.

Her eyes welled up when I asked what was it that she miss the most.

"My work, my city, my friends and my siblings," she said, adding that they have left two brothers and a sister in Iran.

"I want them to join us soon," she said.

The home of the Mazraeh has a small fish pond and a big stove for baking pita breads. Amir said they help the family kill time.

"My wife cooks and I fish, or play football with friends. Or read the Koran, I am more religious now," he said with a smirk.

As an asylum-seeker, none of these people are allowed to work, or get education.

Fauzi and his younger sister Anna, who is 8, preferred to go to an internet cafe, or watch television. Which is how they learn the languages.

I asked him if he like it here, he said, "No. Ngga suka."

Fauzi said that he keep the family in touch with other relatives via Facebook. He would upload pictures and send messages through it.

I learned from Amir that the Iranian Arabs are not allowed to speak their language, dress up like one, and other means of cultural expression.

2. Yunus' story

Yunus is the opposite of Amir, he is vibrant and fiery, recounting his tales of struggle in Ahwaz, Iran. He's been put under arrest, solitary confinement, but he also managed to flee with his wife and three children.

Like the Mazraeh kids Yunus' are also fluent in Indonesian. One girl, Sofia, 10, even told me that she wanted to learn English properly. Because the only education that they're receiving is a two hours session of English in a crowded class room per week.

"Banyak anak nakal," she said.

Yunus house is smaller than Amir's, and more open. I guess this is why the family has been having health complaints.

"It's too cold here for us," Yunus said.

At Yunus' house I began to notice that it was the second time of the day that we were offered instant coffee mix. (Later when we went to the third house, we were AGAIN offered with the same drink)

Yunus and his family

Rambutan came next, so I asked them if those were their favorites, they said yes.

"We love the fruits here, Mangoes, avocado, are expensive in Iran, but here no. I even like Durian," Yunus smiled.
Well isn't that a relief :)

3. The Mother and Her Daughters

The last family I visited are the Mazbans. Well actually the mother, Afwah, is married to Amir's older brother so their daughters are Mazraeh. But I don't want to create confusion, so.. :p

According to an officer from JRS who accompanied me, women and her children are prioritized. Which is why Afwah and her daughters decided to go on their own to Indonesia.

Afwah herself is a Persian, and her marriage had caused her trouble. Her family shunned on her and on the other hand she was not completely accepted by the Arabs in her neighborhood.

One of her daughters, Khadija, who is just two years younger than I am, was at one point arrested for six days after joining a demonstration, and refused to ever told her mother nor sisters on what happened.

To UNHCR she only attested that she had heard women screaming and raped, and that every day she was in fear aside from being deprived from food.

"My mother and my sister can't barely walk," the oldest daughter, Afika, told the JRS officer.

She said her mother has a knee and back problem and need to see a physiotherapist, while Khadija needs a crutch to be able to stand. Afika also said that her sister had had diarrhea for about a month when she first arrived.

"We don't like the clinics here, they're useless," Afika said.

Khadija and her mother

She spilled her heart out, on dealing with the cold, missing her children, and concerns about the health of her mother and sister over our third instant coffee for the day. Well, actually for me it's the fifth. I had one for breakfast and another one when we stopped at a stall before going to the Mazraehs.

Afika's hands were also never far from her praying beads, after the complaints she retorted praising to God because the lawyers of LBH Jakarta had helped them in their appeal to UNHCR.

The JRS officer promised her that they will take them to a good doctor soon but she needs to check with UNHCR and IOM for the funds.

So we bid our good byes, the day was getting late and all of us were hungry (we skipped lunch btw). I prayed for the families to leave this place soon and re-join their relatives.

Spending time with them surely felt other-worldly and wonderful at the same time. As they recounted their stories, I could picture one by one the scenes from Persepolis.

There was this one sentence from Mayong, one of the public lawyers at LBH Jakarta, that struck me:
"A minority in one place will become the oppressor in another place when they are the majority. Suppressions should not be a reason to oppress others, but to be better."

On Long-Form Journalism

I've been a subscriber to Longreads and Longform for a few months now and they (actually I knew longreads first. I forgot how though :s) introduced me to what they call as 'long form' journalism.

And what is a long-form journalism?
I would safely assume that they are journalistic pieces, usually written in narrative style and are typically longer than 2,000 words.. Or take more than 5 minutes to read.

At first I thought long reads are only good for print, since the common conception during pre-tablet era is that it's tiring to read exhaustively via an electronic screen. But then, it's either my eyes are used to it, or the way devices of today are engineered, I am less bothered reading long stuffs.

This article over at Forbes said that it's just not me, but the overall readership for long pieces IS increasing, despite researchers' cries that the society now has a shorter attention span. I mean, now in the weekends I realize that I tend to enjoy my time reading those longer pieces that are delivered to me via email (NOT twitter. I also find that avoiding twitter during my day off is sooo relaxing :D). Or yeah, burying myself in a good book.

And then I tried to look at JG's own so-called long pieces. Umm I dunno if this is super secret but I guess people should already figure it out. Newspapers won't survive for long, for maybe of course in developing countries like Indonesia where the majority of people still reads from paper. As cited by the other English paper households with tablet computers only constituted of two percent.

True.. smartphone owners are now at like 78 percent but most of the people only use it to log in to their facebook. (Interesting read: For Many Indonesians, ‘Facebook’ Is the Only Internet)

In the beginning, JG wanted to differentiate the "paper" with "web". So we want to churn news features, longer pieces that is timeless, more analytic and in-depth (for the daily news) to be published on the paper so that people still want to read it and find it relevant even though the hard news are already up (or 'broken') on online news sites and TV stations.

But who am I kidding.. The people who read our stuffs mostly do it online or mobile. So why shun away from it? It was also revealed to me the other day when I wrote this 2,100-something piece that looked damn intimidating on paper (will put up the picture here later). But online, it doesn't scare you that much. In fact I'm happy to say that until today it has more than 10,000 hits.
UPDATE: Here it is

Long-form journalism is not that popular yet in Indonesia. Newspapers usually have the reporters divide their stories to a number of 'series', and I would say only Tempo magazine has worth-reading long form pieces.

People here are still enjoying the short burst of info splashed on them via Twitter. Besides, with only 14 years of our so-called 'freedom of press', Indonesian journalism is still taking shape and I'm glad that I'm a part of it :)

In the spirit of procrastination..

Today's supposed to be my day off but I have to finish a story if I want to have our Sunday getaway to KeukenBdg. However halfway through,  I managed to convince myself to take a break and start a mess in the kitchen.

A quick browse later I decided to try a stir-fry veggie + salami recipe I saw in Epicurious and a lovely smoothie from a recipe featured in Gojee.

So what I wanted was something that can be served over rice, easy to make, and yea, salami..? why not? The picture looks pretty too! And of course something lovely and sweet in case the food fails :))

But if there's a lesson learned today, is that I am once again reminded that cooking is something that you have to learn and practice over and over again.. For instance: I didn't know iceberg lettuce has a bitter aftertaste and you cannot expect to make a proper smoothie using a fruit juice extractor.....!

So, without further ado, here goes...

1. Stir-Fried Lettuces and Fried Shallots (or in Indonesian: tumis sayur + bawang goreng)
Fry the shallots first. I used about 2 tbsp oil for 1/2 cup of finely sliced shallots over low heat. When color changed to golden brown, toss them over a plate/bowl lined with kitchen towel.

Over medium heat, add 1/4 cup beef salami (about 80 grams), 3-4 cloves of garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons minced peeled ginger, and 1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes. Stir until garlic turned brown-ish (about 2 minutes) then add 1/2 head of coarsely chopped iceberg lettuce and 2 cups of ..well I used this Chinese vegetable thing I found at the supermarket. I believe variations of pak choi/bok choi will do. Sprinkle about 2 cubes of broth and pepper. Keep 'em stirring until the veggies are all wilted, turn the heat off. Serve with the fried shallots sprinkled on top
Well mine wasn't as pretty as the picture. But it tasted okay.

2. Banana Strawberry Smoothie
The original recipe calls for peaches and vanilla extract. It's not easy to find peaches here so I just used more bananas instead. I also used vanilla soy milk, so no need to add the extract, PLUS soy milk sounds healthier :))

Pop all of the ingredients below to your blender/smoothie-maker:
4 bananas
12 strawberries
2 cups of vanilla soy milk
1-2 tablespoons of honey

And then leave it to cool in the fridge for an hour or so before serving.. Yumm!

Howeverrrr..Since I used a 'fruit juice extractor' (and just in case you had also forgotten that what you have at home is a fruit juice extractor not a blender/smoothie maker but you already bought all of the ingredients) this is what you should do:
- Chop all of the bananas and strawberries into manageable pieces before pushing it through the 'juicer hole'.
- Wait for all of the gooey juice to drip down to the juice container before transferring them to a tumbler.
- Scrape clean all what's left of the bananas and strawberries on the 'waste' compartment. Don't forget to check under the blade as well. I lost a good gunk of banana-strawberry mesh left between the gaps :-(
- Pour in the milk and honey
- Make sure that the tumbler's cap is closed tight

And yup, it does look something like that :)