PART IV: Views of expats who chose to stay on throughout the pandemic…

(Illustration: Alexey Hulson via Pixabay)

IO – The coronavirus pandemic has placed Indonesia in an emergency situation. All fights have been grounded and land and sea transportation have except for cargo or very urgent services also been halted all over Indonesia. Hotspots such as Jakarta are in near lockdown status.. Nevertheless, many expatriates have chosen to stay on in Indonesia and weather the pandemic here rather than return home. This is part four of a series about them. Here are some of their stories: 

Taher Ibrahim Hamad with Muslim and Christian youth organization Merci. It includes Muslim organization Jamat Almuslmeen and the Christian youth organisation Gamki. (Photo courtesy of Taher Ibrahim Hamad)

Taher Ibrahim Hamad serves is the Counsellor at the Palestinian Embassy in Jakarta. He says, “The Palestinian authority and Jordan were amongst the first in the Middle East to take action to protect people from COVID 19. Right from the start we closed restaurants, cafes, mosques, churches and malls to stop the spread of the virus. The Palestinian government asked Palestinians to stay at home and police controlled the streets only allowing people out to take care of very necessary matters. Anyone disobeying was fined or placed in quarantine.” 

Indeed in Palestine the COVID pandemic appears to be under control. The WHO report of 26th April 2020 cites the total number of coronavirus cases in Palestine as 342. Most are in the West Bank with the majority in Jerusalem. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that there are 83 recovered cases and only 2 people have died of the virus. In Palestine 27,800 people have been tested for the virus. 

With the virus apparently very much under control in Palestine many may wonder why 64 year old Mr Hamad choses to remain in Jakarta. He has worked at the Embassy here since 1990 and in 1998 married his Indonesian wife, Yeni Aprilia. They have a son, Zidane. Taher Hamad explains, “I repeat again and again that I am not leaving Indonesia. For me Indonesia is like a mother who took care of me when I was a child until I became a good man because she taught me manners, tolerance, harmony and mercy towards others. My own natural mother is growing older and older but I continue to love her and respect her and I shall not leave her because she is my mother. Indonesia is also my mother and I shall also not leave her when she needs me. May God bless and save Indonesia from this virus…” 

(Photo courtesy of Taher Ibrahim Hamad)

Taher Ibrahim Hamad elaborates on what he and his family find most difficult during this time when people may not leave their houses, “Our Christian brothers and sisters could not celebrate Easter last March because the churches were closed and our Muslim brothers cannot pray at the mosque on Fridays. Muslims cannot celebrate Ramadan because the mosques are closed and very soon they will also not be able to celebrate Eid Elfitri and silat alrahim. We can only congratulate each other via social media. In this time we should unite and pray together to save Indonesia and our planet from this epidemic.” 

He admits that it is boring staying at home, “We all like our freedom but 80 percent of the people of Jakarta remain at home in order to save beautiful Jakarta.” Palestinians living in Indonesia are following the Indonesian regulations and the Embassy has set up a hotline for Palestinians in need. His advice to others is to face the pandemic by following government instructions on hygiene, social distancing and leaving the house only for true necessities. He reminds us that one of the most important lessons of Ramadan is learning patience and this time we need to be even more patient, wise and smart than ever to save Indonesia. 

Madeline Grant comes from Virginia, America and is enjoying mid-life adventures in Bali. She studied art history and anthropology and although later became neither an artist nor an anthropologist both subjects have stood her in good stead all her life, especially in Indonesia.

Madeline Grant grounding herself with mother Earth. (Photo courtesy of Madeline Grant)

As in most Balinese households her staff prepares daily offerings for the gods but when the corona pandemic hit Indonesia Madeline noticed a new type of offering, “I knew it was a special offering because my landlord himself came to place in it in my house. Beside the daily offerings there are special offerings for important days such as tilem (the dark moon), purnama (the full moon), kajang klion when naughty spirits can cause havoc and there are special days when the landowners themselves come and lay offerings in the house such as on tumpak landep when all metal objects such as cars, motor-cycles and even knives are brought offerings. This is when the landlord comes himself. For the corona pandemic my landlord came. So, I knew it was important.” 

White lotus. (Photo courtesy of Madeline Grant)

She says that anthropology made her aware of cultures and how they interact and opened her mind to other ways of living. Madeline was an interior designer and made use of a lot of ethnic art and designs. “I first came to Indonesia in the 1980s when I was on a trip around the world and I bought art work, jewelry and clothing which I brought back to sell in America. I set up a business in America importing things from around the world. Later I put together a clothing line of Balinese kerawang work in America which is openwork rather like lace. I exhibited it at the New York Boutique Show which is one of the largest in the world and received many orders. I kept going back and forth between Bali and the United States until I retired and settled in Bali 

I love Indonesia and I enjoy going to Java and other islands but I wanted to live in Bali. It is unique and there is no other place on the planet like Bali: the religion, the culture. It is an exquisitely beautiful island of the gods.” 

Madeline Grant with her beloved Balinese dog. (Photo courtesy of Madeline Grant)

Madeline feels very blessed to be in Bali during a time when so many offerings and prayers are being said. After the government banned all air, sea and land transport there were not many tourists and everything became very quiet, even traffic jams disappeared. “It’s fabulous. Like the old days,” she remarked wryly. 

The American Embassy did not contact her or send advice or instructions although she did watch an Embassy official speak on a video that a friend sent advising Americans to leave. It did not impress her. “I would rather be here. I love being here and I would not want to be in America right now. It’s a crazy place at the moment and there is so much fear. People become hysterical. Many fear the virus but others demand that they be allowed out because they fear of having no money. It is becoming so polarized. Here most people still have some land to grow a little food and everyone is grouping together to help each other. The banjars or traditional community centres are putting together care packages of 5 kilograms of rice, cooking oil, eggs, coffee and tea. Her maid says that there are about 300 people per banjar where they live in Ubud and each banjar receives about Rp50 million from the government to buy food to distribute. 

(Photo courtesy of Madeline Grant)

Madeline only panicked once when a good friend who wanted to stay suddenly left in a panic fearing planes would be grounded and she would be unable to see her family for months. Madeline panicked too for a moment but then she said, “I prayed and meditated and went inside myself and asked whether I should go, my body immediately went into a freeze but when I thought about staying my body felt happy and an enormous release of tension. Your body will always tell you. I am a healer and an intuitive. I do energy healing which I combine with hands on healing. This time at home is a time for me to expand my horizons with healing. So, I am really enjoying this period. It is very transformational and inspirational as I take my healing to another level. Every morning I do energy medicine and medical Qigong and this brings everything into balance. I recommend that people go stand on the grass or earth and get the energy out of their heads (people think too much) and send it into their feet and ground themselves with the mother earth…” 

Maximilian Sandizell riding the waves in Rote. (Photo courtesy of Maximilian Sandizell)

Maximillian von Sandizell’s mother is Indonesian while his father is German. He was born in Jakarta but has German citizenship. Maxi is a very strange kind of German as he does not speak German at all. When he was young he lived in Indonesia then in Italy and Portugal and Spain. At 32 years of age he speaks Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, English and Indonesian but no German. Currently, Maxi lives half the year on the island of Rote Ndau which is the southernmost Indonesian island in the Archipelago, located in Nusa Tenggara Timur province. It is a surfer’s paradise with pristine beaches and great waves. Here, he is building himself a house. 

Maximilian who has a degree in business and administration wrote his thesis on sustainable tourism. He first came to Rote in 2009 and together with his older brother Tassilo opened a hotel there Bo’a Vida which became the best rated hotel in Rote. This they sold and Maxi opened a restaurant which was very successful and which he also sold. Meanwhile, Maxi’s mother Cindy Dewijanty and his brother have opened Bo’a Gardens a small surfers’ hotel in Rote situated 200 meters from the beach. At the moment his brother Tassi is also there with wife and child. 

In Rote many hotels and restaurants slow down or even close during the rainy season from December till March when the tourist trade is almost nonexistent. In February because of the pandemic Cindy Dewijanty closed Bo’a Gardens but after the central government shut down all transportation routes preventing anyone from the outside entering Rote without being quarantined she opened the hotel for meals and hand sanitizing. Maxi has been living in Rote since 2012 and spends 6 months of the year there with frequent trips to Kupang and Bali. In Rote he takes avid fishermen from all over the world spear fishing from October till December. 

Maxi says that he received no instructions or advice from the German Embassy in Jakarta although he is registered with them. His brother Tassi who is on a tourist visa had his visa extended for free by the Indonesian immigration office. “I heard the Embassy had organized a chartered flight for stranded German tourists but I feel that Rote and Jakarta are more my home than Germany. I have never lived there and the only land and house I have are in Indonesia and to be sincere I feel more at home here because I cannot speak German but I can speak Indonesian and I have lots of family in Jakarta.” 

Paulina Haning-Bullu, the Bupati (Regent) of Rote Ndao who has a degree in economics, appears to be an excellent bupati in the handling of the pandemic. Even before the central government shut down Indonesia’s passenger transportation systems, she had already imposed a two week quarantine for all passengers arriving by air or sea with isolation facilities ready. After the closing of all borders by Jakarta, the daily ferry arrives just three times a week bringing only cargo in trucks which are allowed to disembark. Each truck may only have two drivers. The cargo is unloaded at disinfection stations and immediately disinfected. Meanwhile, the drivers have their temperatures taken and are isolated for 5 days till the ferry returns. At present there are no known or suspected cases of COVID19 on Rote. 

Handing out face masks to the villagers of Bo’a. (Photo courtesy of Maximilian Sandizell)

In Bo’a which is Maxi’s village the expats who have remained ordered face masks from Bo’a’s tailors and have supplied everyone with face masks. On the island people still work and go about their daily activities. Maxi is not worried about COVID 19. He is more worried about having a motor-cycle or surfing accident because there is no easy transport to the Siloan Hospital in Kupang. “There are fishing boats but it’s getting into the dry season which has very strong trade winds which make it very dangerous to go.” 

He suspects that the virus has already been in Indonesia since the beginning of December. There were 2 daily flights directly from Wuhan to Bali and daily flights to Jakarta, Jogjakarta and Surabaya. “All my friends in Bali were having fever, coughs, breathing problems etc. in January and February when I was still in Portugal. So, I think it arrived here earlier than we think. But now the government is taking good steps in closing borders and if people stay home and take the right precautions it should be over soon.” (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

If you enjoyed this article you may like to read:
Part I :
Part II :
Part III: