About
In late 2011, epidemiologist, writer and adventurer Elizabeth Pisani granted herself a sabbatical from the day job and set off to rediscover Indonesia, a country she has wandered, loved and been baffled by for decades. She was on the road and the high seas for a year, covering dozens of islands in 27 provinces. This site records photos and musings from that journey and beyond. See more about the project


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Truant teachers make for stupid vandals

Illiterate graffiti: Punk Rut not dead.

Graffiti classics: Between a rut and a hard place

In theory, every child in Indonesia gets at least three years of English teaching in primary school, and several years more in middle and secondary school. So it’s initially surprising that the majority of Indonesian kids can manage nothing more than “Hello Mister!”, and the occasional “wossyonem?” Perhaps more surprising still that so many seem to aspire to English language graffiti.

Last week, I had an insight into why they don’t absorb more English. I was having breakfast with a primary school teacher in the Banggai islands in central Sulawesi. What time does school start? I asked. “Seven”. It was ten past. I raised an eyebrow. “It’s OK, I’ve told the school head I’ve got a guest”.

This did not seem OK to me, so I volunteered to come along to school and help with the English class. We got to school at 7.30; the grounds were awash with kids in their tidy uniforms, running around screaming as primary school kids are wont to do. Not one of the other eight teachers had shown up. My friend took her class (year one). I took years 4 and 6, since they were scheduled for English that day. Classes 2, 3 and 5 were told to go and sit quietly and study by themselves. After a couple of hours, the head teacher showed up. “I’m not supposed to teach, but sometimes I have to fill in,” she grumbled. No sign of any other teachers.

With teachers playing hookey like this, is it any wonder that even Indonesia’s vandalism is illiterate?

P.S. On the subject of Punk Rut, I was interested in this headline from the Jakarta Globe:

I suspect these punks of lacking conviction…

Graffiti, Catholic style

The Blessed Virgin Mary on a hill going out of Boawae, in Flores, made me homesick for the near-identical BVM outside the Priest’s House in Castletownshend, the prettiest village in Ireland. (I wonder idly where they are produced. There’s a smaller but otherwise also identical version in the garden of the guest house I’m staying in.) As I walked up to photograph her, this graffiti outside the dorm rooms caught my eye. I wasn’t sure whether to be shocked that it was there at all, or to be shocked by how tame it is…

Yoga in Bali: to laugh or to cry?

Ubud is an expatirate encampment in the hills of Bali made famous by a dashing Brazilian who rode in on a white charger and saved Elizabeth Gilbert from boring the world to death with sun salutations. And it’s here that I’m suffering an attack of incurable Yoga Rage.

In a town where it is virtually impossible to get Indonesian school books or a pair of sandals without beadwork, there are a dozen or more shops selling yoga kit. Touchy feely 100% guarantted organic cotton yoga kit. Enough to make anyone cross. Not just me, apparently:

Yoga hurts, meditation is boring

Someone had such bad Yoga Rage that they made a graffiti template. I was still chuckling when, not five minutes up the road, I encountered a Yogi prostrate with laughter, despite the fact that it looks very much as if his business is going down the drain.

Laughing Yogi goes down the drain