Table of Contents

News June 2012

Please note: We need to cancel the upcoming Friends Peace Teams Asia West Pacific Initiative call tomorrow. Nadine and I will not have Internet and are unlikely to have access for nearly two weeks.

It is a totally new experience for me to be able to share first hand from Indonesia instead of reading the reports from others. I have been writing an Indonesian Travel Journal which is attached at the end of this document. I will try to keep that as up-to-date as internet connection and availability of electricity permit.

When we landed in Medan on Thursday, we were greeted with the news that there was an order by the police for Yatno’s release. Mislan’s organisation of protests – first taking sixty mothers to the Provincial Congress and later organizing a protest with eight hundred people – seemed to have borne fruit.

Later – as we travelled to Langsa, we heard that Yatno was still being detained by the forest rangers. For those new to the story, Yatno is the Secretary for the Village of Barak Induk and represents the seven thousand refugees in the area. He was arrested nearly two months ago at the instigation of the forestry department, for living illegally in the region. AVP has for some time been working with the refugees in their struggle for the right to continue to live in the area and they won a high court ruling to do so in 2009.  The authorities have been ignoring the court ruling and this high profile arrest demonstrated their disregard of the court.

The new twist is that today (Monday) we heard that the head of the forestry department was himself arrested for failing to comply with the order for Yatno’s release. We await the next steps with interest.

The Advanced workshop here at the SHEEP complex was attended by fifteen people including a strong facilitator team of six. Bowo did a first class job of organizing, planning and supporting the workshop. Mislan was able to attend from Barak Induk.

Nadine has been developing a new advanced focussed that focuses on discernment as a life skill both for individuals and for the community. It was highly effective and made even more so because of the commitment by the AVP community here to live by the principles of transforming power. For those familiar with AVP, transforming power is often presented as a means to resolve conflict. Living by the principles of transforming power takes AVP to a new level. It is strengthened further when the AVP community commits to work together to support and hold each other to those principles.
We will travel together with the current facilitator team to Bagok, East Aceh, tomorrow where we will facilitate a basic and developmental play workshop and equip a preschool. We have spent most of the day buying developmental supplies, not only for the preschool in Bagok but also for a second preschool here in Langsa.

Now that I see the work here and meet the people face to face, I realise that I had no idea of the scale of the AVP and peace initiative here. Nadine is a well-loved, respected and a significant public figure in this part of the world with an extensive network of supporters. AVP has a strong history here following the war when many NGOs were excluded from the region. It has sufficient number of trained and committed facilitators to continue and grow the work in several centres in Aceh. AVP’s influence in the community ranges from the grass-roots to the leadership in Aceh with particular involvement in schools and preschools.

After Bagok we expect to travel to Barak Induk for a week where we will facilitate at least one bsic workshop before we leave Sumatra and travel to Pati in Central Java to facilitate another discernment workshop.

Thank you for your support. We look forward to catching up with you in July


Below is the first portion of my travel journal.
Notes from Indonesia       John Michaelis, June 4th 2012
Getting here
On arrival in Jakarta (Island of Java) on the evening of May 30th 2012 after a gruelling forty hours of travel and the hassles of lost luggage and sore back muscles I was met by Nadine Hoover at the airport and we travelled by car to the home of old friends of hers for the night.  Nadine is from upstate New York but has lived much of her life in Indonesia and speaks the language like a native. Her ex is Indonesian and her children grew up here. She carries a doctorate in international development and education and is a highly experienced AVP facilitator. It is she who invited me to co-coordinate the Friends Peace Team’s initiative in Asia West Pacific with her. She arrived here a few days before me, and like me is trying to recover from flu.
To Langsa
Our transport back to the airport arrived promptly at 6:00am the next day and we boarded a plane for the two hour flight to Medan in the North of the Island of Sumatra, but shy of our destination in Aceh. We were hungry and thirsty so we stopped at a local café for sustenance and libation before beginning the drive to Langsa, the former capital of East Aceh. The food at the café was served in ten or fifteen small dishes each holding a different food.  You take what you want, and after the meal the waiter counts up what is left and charges you for what was eaten. The level of precision is quite high. He counts the number of potatoes left on a dish and calculates the difference. The food was quite spicy – I must adapt to such food or go hungry.
The drive time to Langsa was six hours but our driver made it in four! It was not a positive achievement! The road was packed with vehicles, mostly motorcycles and scooters. In a game of chicken, those on two wheels have more to lose that those on four. We bore down on our two wheeled victims and they scattered like flies, often forced into the rough ground at the edge of the road. On one occasion a little girl ran across in front of us and we had to break hard! I arrived with many sore muscles from the tension and a new realisation that driving can be a dramatic expression of violence.
On the way we stopped briefly to meet up with Mislan, one of the local AVP facilitators. We will be staying at his home when we move to the mountains to be among the refugees there but before that he will join us in our workshop in Langsa. He farms, heads up a preschool and was previously and still is one of the seven heads of security of the group of seven thousand refugees that moved up into the mountains of North Sumatra when they were driven from their homes in Aceh in 2000 at the height of the war. It seems his family are very supportive of is involvement the workshops because AVP changed him from being an angry controlling man into a loving and caring father.
Langsa is where Nadine developed and first facilitated a trauma healing workshop. Aceh had been in a war for thirty years before the Tsunami hit. It is the long duration of war that is the primary cause of trauma among the people here. Many of the older inhabitants were killed in the violence – everywhere I look I see young people and very few who are old. The trauma from prolonged exposure to violence causes significant changes in the brain. In many, the cortex has decreased in size and the limbic system has expanded significantly. The limbic system is where the memory of trauma resides. It has no access to the speech and language centre of the brain and is not equipped to process the memories stored there. It makes it hard to stay focussed and impedes memory, concentration and decision making. People with such trauma live from day to day and are not able to plan for the future.  Sadly it is too easy to recognise those who are from the Acehinese community – they struggle to be on time to the workshop sessions and to stay with the content. In contrast, those who are new to the region manage these issues relatively well.
We made our way to our destination in Langsa, we were greeted by Bowo and other members of the facilitation team and shown our rooms. There are four of us on foam mattresses on the floor in my room. The Indonesian style bathrooms comprise a large brick open water tank that is filled from a tap with a hose. I think the tank serves two purposes – there is water available even when the electric power is off as frequently it is, and it gives the opportunity for any sediment in the water to settle on the bottom of the tank. The water is cool – a huge benefit because the heat and humidity are constant and overpowering. I seem to spend much of my time trying to keep cool, but it is a losing battle and my synthetic fibre clothes that have served me well around the world are a disaster here. Muslim sensibilities prevent me from wearing shorts and I find myself pouring sweat and struggling to find the energy to do anything. Frequent trips to the bathroom to pour water over myself help are only a temporary respite.
A Workshop on Discernment
Those of you that are familiar with AVP (Alternative to Violence Project) know that a traditional AVP Advanced Workshop focusses on how to reach consensus in group or community around a concrete decision such as the subject focus for the remainder of a workshop. The Workshop on Discernment is different. It explores how a community or individual makes positive choices in life and how we support each other in making those choices and living by them. It seeks to harness the collective wisdom of everyone and focusses less on how to make a specific choice here and now in the workshop and more on how to seek direction and make the best choices every day for ourselves and as a community.
AVPers are familiar with transforming power – the principles we follow to reduce violence in our lives. These include achieving a healthy balance between care for ourselves and care for others, not reacting impulsively but expecting the best by working together for a non-violent solution.
Here in Aceh, the AVPers have embraced transforming power as a way to live, not just as a way to reduce conflict. These (mainly) young people meet together to support and challenge each other, share successes and failures and figure out how to change themselves and the world around them. They have all done AVP Basic and/or AVP Trauma Healing workshops and have joined this workshop with the shared commitment to transforming power as the basis for living and growing. They are hungry for ways to be more effective and enthusiastically share personal stories from their daily lives about what worked and what did not. They are sharp, creative, perceptive, energetic and courageous and they are changing their community.
To practice discernment the workshop uses the Claremont Method, a process where each issue is presented to the group as clearly and precisely as possible. The group works together to find the best direction or decision. Each person may speak to the issue only once until everyone has the chance to speak. The focus is on openness and understanding the problem. There is no place for voting, preconceived solutions or defending a cherished position. Nor is it required that everyone reaches the same conclusion. The value of the group wisdom is a gift to everyone including those who might disagree.
Those of Quaker persuasion may recognise aspects of this process, but in a group mostly of Muslim AVPers the process stands on its own merits as a wise compassionate way to seek wisdom and direction – i.e. discernment. They approach living with a freshness, openness and commitment that is challenging to me. I miss a fair amount of what is going on because I can’t speak the language, although the facilitation team makes every effort to include me.
Food and Thinking of England
Eating here is a succession of new experiences. Familiar staples like rice and cabbage are interspersed with unknown concoctions. An apparent delicacy served at most meals is ‘outside of fish’. Everything inside is removed leaving a shell of skin, tail, fins, eyes and teeth that smells fishy and looks at you. It is fried until crunchy. I find I am able to chew it, swallow and think of England. I am trying to eat some of everything – so far successfully, although the spiciness is a problem because it triggers heartburn for me almost continuously.