Going crazy over election

We are in election season here in Indonesia. Last week, the balloting for legislative and district seats was held. The presidential election is scheduled in July. To an American, the whole process seems bizarre (although Indonesians probably say the same about U.S. elections). But the article below shows a really bizarre side of Indonesian elections.

Mental Health Problems Plague Indonesian Election Hopefuls

His body shaking violently, Sofyan screamed loudly as a traditional healer sought to calm the Indonesian election candidate, one of a growing number seeking treatment for mental health problems after polls last week.

“Don’t take my votes away. I have spent so much money,” he shouted, as the healer chanted softly and poured water mixed with flowers over his body.

Many of the approximately 230,000 candidates running for seats in local and national legislatures across the world’s biggest archipelago nation invested huge amounts of their own money to fund campaigns, but some are now paying an even greater price.

Some become stressed or depressed at the prospect of losing everything while others appear to have suffered more severely, such as one who reportedly went stealing his neighbors’ sandals before taking refuge up a coconut tree.

Thousands of candidates were treated for stress-related illnesses following the 2009 legislative elections, and reports in recent days suggest that the situation will be the same following the April 9 vote.

While many of those who fall ill are the losers, that is not always the case as the stress and cost of running campaigns can be enormous, whatever the final outcome.

“They have lost their money, land, houses, and one candidate even lost his wife to another man because he was too busy campaigning,” said Muhammad Muzakkin, from a traditional healing center on main Java island, who has treated 51 candidates for stress in the past week.

Many are willing to take the risk, however, as the rewards from gaining office in Indonesia can be huge — a businessman will find it is easier for his company to win contracts if he is also a politician, and there is ample opportunity to get rich by accepting bribes in a country with a notoriously corrupt political culture.

The lack of campaign funding from parties means that people seeking to run for office in Indonesia generally have to provide money, a huge undertaking that many underestimate before launching their political careers.

Sofyan, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, sold two motorcycles and took out loans to raise more than 300 million rupiah ($26,000) to fund his campaign for a local parliament seat in Cirebon district, in West Java province.

This covered the cost of materials such as posters and also cash handouts for voters — something that is common in Indonesia although it is officially illegal.

Official results are not released until May but his political team believes he may be on course to win the seat for the Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Nevertheless, he is worried something will go wrong and the prospect that such a huge sum of money could have gone to waste has sent him tumbling into an abyss of depression.

“I don’t know what to do if I lose,” he said.

Other candidates lose their tempers when they believe they have lost, with some storming polling stations and making off with ballot boxes while one angrily demanded the return of donations he had made to a local mosque.

Psychiatric units at hospitals have said they are ready to treat depressed candidates but many seek help from traditional healers in a country where indigenous beliefs remain strong.

Muzakkin from the clinic on Java said that healers there were using prayers to “shoo away the genies” plaguing depressed candidates, many of whom are at a very low ebb when they arrive.

“One man threw a tantrum and stripped himself naked so he had to be put in an isolation room,” he said.

The problem has started to concern the government to such a degree that it wants to amend legislation so that candidates are required to undergo a mental health check before they can run in elections.

Eka Viora, the health ministry’s director of mental health, said that the elections could be a “disaster” for candidates, particularly those who lose.

“They lose not only their assets and jobs but also their dignity,” she told AFP.

However political analyst Dodi Ambardi cautioned that it was also the responsibility of the individual candidate to assess whether they were up to it.

“It’s a risky gamble. If they are clearly not up to the task, they really should not be overconfident and bother to run in the first place.” - Agence France-Presse

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Election day in Indonesia

Actually, there are two election days here – one today for the national  legislature and local offices, and a second in July to elect a new president.

The world’s third-largest democracy after India and the U.S. has 185.8 million voters eligible to cast their ballots to elect 560 legislators to the House of Representatives and more than 18,000 local councilors.

Goodies Restaurant at Smiling Hill is one of the estimated 546,000 polling stations across the country. Polls were open early in the morning and closed at 1 p.m. Vote tally at Goodies would continue until about 9 p.m., with the counts forwarded to the capital, Jakarta.

I was struck at how orderly and quiet the Goodies polling site was. Men and women wandered in all morning, registered for their ballots at one post and then waited in a sitting area until their turn to vote came up.  They were then directed to the voting booths, four side-by-side areas with metal sides. Unlike in the U.S., the booths were not enclosed.

Once their ballots were completed, voters put them into four boxes, each color coded and representing national and local elections. Once their ballots were submitted, each voter then dipped their pinkie finger into a bottle of purple ink – their badge of honor and proof they voted (and also a way to keep anyone from voting more than once).

This election also determines which of the 12 Indonesian political parties can field a candidate for president in the July presidential election. A party must garner a certain percentage of the votes in the national legislative voting in order to nominate someone for president. One or two parties are expected to get the necessary votes, but other parties can combine their votes to field a candidate.

Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P), is the leading presidential candidate. He is a “people’s” candidate, very progressive and attuned to the needs of the masses as opposed to the elite.  His party is expected to be the big winner in the legislative elections today. His opposition will come from a former general and a politician who hails from the days of the Suharto dictatorship. There are still many Indonesians who would like a strongman president, much like Suharto, even though his rule was marred by corruption and mass killings. Go figure.

Indonesia is a young democracy, about 18 years old, and it was truly heartening to see the democratic process at work. Here is the view at the Goodies polling station:

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When you’re bored, do something!

Those people following 2 Bags and a Pack know that my global journey has stalled in Indonesia for more than two years now. But while my yearning to see and live in new places has not waned (in fact, it’s kicking up a bit lately), it’s hard (and dumb) to quit a good job just to fulfill those yearnings.

Life’s circumstances can change dramatically and quickly. You never know what tomorrow may bring. But dealing with the boredom of “today” can be a constant challenge for an easily bored person like me.

I’ve tried to combat the normalcy of my current situation with occasional tourist-type trips when time allows, but the job comes first, and I’ve learned that I don’t really like visiting places as a tourist by myself anyway. So much more fun and interesting if a friend is along. So my excursions to new places are infrequent, although I have logged trips to Bali, Jogjakarta and Penang, Malaysia, in the past two years, not to mention a return to the U.S. Each of those has taken a bite out of savings, which requires time to rebuild my bank account.

The challenge seems to be in making everyday life more interesting, to begin looking on Batam as my home, not as a place I’m visiting for a short time.

For the longest time, I would not buy anything here; nothing for the bare walls of my apartment, few clothes, no vehicle, nothing that I couldn’t pack up and take with me. After all, why spend money on something you have to leave behind? I’m beginning to change that perspective.

During my trip to Bali almost two years ago, for example, I bought little for myself, although there were plenty of gift purchases. The same was true when I visited Penang in October 2013. Why buy it if you have to throw it away?

Jogjakarta was different, however, I did buy a number of handicrafts that now decorate my apartment. Batik paintings adorn the walls. A wooden carved Bali princess head, with headdress, sits on a cabinet, alongside three carved wooden elephants.

I’ve even raised a cat from kittenhood, now more than 12 pounds. I’m feeding two others, both feral (but they come into the apartment to eat), one a kitten who is now allowing me to touch it on occasion.

Still not enough, however, to quell the itch. So, I’ve started a hobby, or more accurately, I’ve taken up a hobby I used to have when there was space – a garden.

But this is not like any garden I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a few. Back in my Atlanta days, when I had a big yard, I carved out a corner in the back to grow just about anything I could – tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, squashes, herbs, cucumbers, beans, peas, asparagus. I planted strawberries around the house and fruit trees in the yard. I even grew some grapes, which made a nice jelly (when the birds didn’t eat the fruit before I got to it). In those days, I also canned vegetables and fruit, putting up maybe 30 quarts of tomatoes, making my own pickles and relish, and canning my own strawberry and blueberry jams.

At Christmas, I would give gifts of herbs and jam. It was a gift that people seemed to really like.

I don’t have the luxury of that kind of garden space in my current home, and I could not find any suitable piece of ground to plant. It turns out, however, that my 2nd-floor apartment has a back door. And outside that door is a 12-foot by 18-foot concrete terrace, with a 4-foot-high high wall. Another building connects to mine and has a similar terrace. This second building has not been renovated and is inhabited by Indonesians, some of whom work at Smiling hill and some who do not. They have clothes lines on their terrace to dry their laundry. My side had wires for the same purpose but I took them down.

So, I’ve started a container garden on my terrace. Now, I doubt I’m going to be able to grow many of the vegetables I used to, since I’ve found that container gardening is not conducive to tomatoes (at least the larger ones) or peppers, and certainly not potatoes or asparagus. But containers are good for herbs, and possibly a few select vegetables.

The paradox here is that I don’t need any herbs, or vegetables, for that matter. All my food is cooked and served to me at Goodies Restaurant, where I eat virtually all my meals (part of the job compensation). So why bother? And what am I going to do with anything I actually succeed in growing?

Unless you’ve ever gardened, it’s hard to explain. Eating what you grow is something of a bonus, a recognition that you managed to defeat all the challenges and created food. But the challenge is in making it grow, protecting the plants from many enemies, nurturing young seedlings, learning what works and what doesn’t.

All of which doesn’t mean there is not somewhere my produce can be used, even if it is just oregano, parsley and basil. Goodies, for example, can use fresh herbs. One of the Smiling Hill tenants says he wants some of my dill. Fresh herbs, especially such as parsley, dill and rosemary, are hard to find here, usually only available as dried commercial product, which is rarely any good. There are a number of western food restaurants here that might like a local source for such ingredients. And maybe if I can find the right packaging, my herbs can be sold at Goodies to customers, most of whom cook most of their meals at home.

At any rate, it’s something new to do after work to relieve the boredom. So every night, I go through the back door to my cement garden, watering my seedlings or fitting out new planters with rocks and soil and new seeds. Most everything right now is on the floor, or on the railings, or elevated with large buckets. The plan is to find or make several workshop-like tables to get everything at waist level. I’ve even bought a hose and can connect it to a spigot outside my wall on the neighbors’ side, which will negate me having to fill up a water sprinkling can inside and distributing it to the plants.

So what am I attempting to grow? In total, I’ve got 25 containers, all planted with oregano, thyme, basil, coriander, parsley, dill, rosemary, green pepper, tomato, catnip, sage. The first in the ground and already producing is large-leaf basil. I’ve already cut and dried several ounces. I’ve got some thyme started and some zucchini (not sure if it will produce in a small container, but we will see).

As the pictures below show, my space is somewhat “rustic” and there is still a great deal of space to fill up. Potting soil is available only sometimes in town but as I find it I plan to buy more containers and plant more herbs. Maybe even some flowers. Maybe even put a chair or two on the terrace. Maybe grow cucumbers up the wires I’ve saved from when I started. Maybe spend an evening or two under the stars and a bright moon, sipping on a JD and Diet and listening to some R&R.

Of course, as I said at the beginning of this message, which has expanded well beyond my original intentions, anything could change at any time. I could be in another country when my crops are ready to be harvested. In the meantime, however, gardening is something I love to do and it takes a bit of the boredom edge off.

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