Impressions

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RESIDENCY PROGRAMME WITH GERMAN AUTHORS

Andreas Stichmann

Makassar Beach, 06.06.2015. Start at ten and count backwards, then move your hands from your eyes. That was when Gufa, a fisherman’s son, had been born into this world, in Makassar. Protruding ears. Blue shirt. Gentle voice. A pleasant, inwardly masculinity. The early morning prayer, the breakfast soup – the day has begun. You stand barefooted in the mud and wave at your friends by the jetty, one of them is occupied with a smartphone, another signals with his hand, you do not understand him. You free the boat from the jetty cautiously. You taste your salty lips and gaze up into the break of dawn, which glows like an orange colored brain in the horizon. You capture it with a camera, simply because it looks weird, then post it on Instagram with the caption “brain”. Sitting down on the wooden bench, you seize the boat’s controls, while the motor, now having seriously aged, starts to power up. So far, so good.

Do you notice how the garbage dandles in the rays of sunlight? Do you notice how the stranger, sitting beside you in the boat, looks about so single-mindedly? And who scribbles nervously in his notebook? As if wanting to draw you?

Pale. Long-nosed. Wearing a fisherman’s cap. Move about rather obtrusively. Jabbers about some German daily for which he’s writing, then goes on to frantically throw questions at you, whether your great-grandfather was also a fisherman? Whether your family is conservative, and if yes, what about when it comes to beatings? Is it true, that a rift exists among the generations? That a young man choses to pursue work in the IT-field instead of becoming a fisherman to the annoyance of his father? Is it true, that a type of Westernization is happening?

You smile. Your facial expression is one of impermeable friendliness. And should you miss to comprehend the meaning of a question, you smile even wider. Harmony, harmony, harmony. And remain inward, reserved body language, become more tender and more quiet, when the other becomes more energetic. And it is also out of friendliness, which he now offers you, to turn of the engine, so that you can focus on the questions better. Which are perhaps getting on your nerves. But you wouldn’t ever show that? Would you ever stop to smile for a second, would you ever look annoyed? Offer the stranger a scented cigarette. What does he want to find out? Whether it’s true, that the young people at the jetty are discussing the Grammy awarding ceremony in Los Angeles. That’s what he wants to find out. Whether he truly comprehends that? Yes. Well, perhaps. Why not talk about the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles? Do folks in Germany never talk about the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles?

You continue the boat ride. Approaching the beach of Pulau Laelae. You gaze towards the Seagulls, that circle over the murky water. The village chief Unggul is awaiting at island-shore, becoming larger and larger in size, and then just becomes part of the communication situation, which is somewhat hamperered. He’s wearing a black jogging suit. Right next to him: Huge bags of plastic waste, that are now collected, because money is given in their return. Is it something which interests Germans? Sure is. Waste is of interest to Germans. He gets off the boat and shakes Unggul’s hand. And Unggul shrugs as he is taken aback, because it seems he is clueless, clueless that among Germans this is normal: a firm handshake, a sharp look into the eyes. A much too offensive body language while greeting another: NEIß TU MIET JU!

The sun is now set beautifully over the palm trees. Unggul explains: Yes, on Tuesdays the fishing boat serves as a transport vehicle for the disposal of the waste. Yes. President Jakobi [sic] seems alright, at least he has good intensions, things are changing, so far as he can tell, not for the worse. But no, the matter about the garbage has nothing to do with the president. That’s what was decided on this island.

The German, however, responds: Tree Makassi for the information, and Unggul: You’re welcome, then Unggul and the German break out in laughter. Soon after Unggul leaves to pray. And the wind whistles inside the empty plastic bottles. They look as flute-necks out of the plastic bags. And the coconuts are looking down on you, as they say. Each of them has a black eye on its bottom, so that they don’t hit anybody. The German is delighted about this. This way no one gets hurt. And since he now sees you more relaxed, and because you’re aware, that he wants to know, what it’s like to live here, you say, because you want to offer help: Maybe a kind of drifting into the afternoon thing. More relaxed. Maybe, that we have more time than you, that we do things a bit slower, well, that’s true indeed. And adds, rather defensively: Maybe, that we do things a bit too slow. While you Germans seem so industrious?

You labour.

You load the garbage bags into the boat. You eat the salty bananas Unggul’s wife brings at the end of a day’s work. Her name is Sha and smiles (of course) inwardly – with this inwardly-focused self-consciousness. The German takes off his fisherman hat and says something at her with too loud a voice, as if speaking into a funnel. I LIKE THIS SALTY BANANAS. She says thank you and leaves. And you drive back?

Nah.

Now the elementary school kids come running out and they notice the German, and he tells them, that he has met them already yesterday, that yesterday that had already taken photos together with him, but it appears it needs to be done again: They make a circle around the German. They hug his legs and cling to his sides. He just stands there. He doesn’t know, that he must do something to lose them, so they let go. Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest: Fotofotofotofoto.

Luckily, Unggul returns. He has changed into a shirt and a pair of pants, and a younger fellow, named Irwan, accompanies him. Irwan, what a beautiful name. His has a sturdy built, with a 3-day beard and a grey business suit. He shakes the German’s hand firmly. He lives in Texas and is currently back home for vacation. Tonight there is a small party in his brother’s house. Anybody who is present is invited. Including kids. The party starts at nine. Roughly.

Maksassar, 10:30 PM. Start at ten and count backwards, then move your hands from your eyes and be the German. Find yourself riding on a motorcycle, with Gufa at the front, the young man, who has cared for your needs so tirelessly the whole day. You try to trust in his riding ability. You try to enjoy the adrenalin, as you speed along the beachside landscape. You hold on tightly. You close the visor. You hold from screaming as he makes a turn into the main road. That’s just how the traffic is, Gufa surely knows, how to survive in this traffic? Whistles. Horns. Screaming motorcycles engines. And you accelerate again, towards the outskirts of the city, past the houses built densely next to one another. Banana trees. Shops selling plastic-stuff. And, indeed: A minaret-factory. It looks like a miniature city comprising of fable castle towers. Could it be? Then you drive into a curve. And you’re going into a sharper curve. And a man, who is holding a child in one hand while using the other to control the wheel. But that’s the way the traffic is, you can trust Gufa?

You close your eyes. You are inside the helmet, that Gufa has handed you. You do something like praying. Or is it praying? Should you discuss praying as a topic with Gufa? You make a stop. You arrive somewhere and the helmet is pulled off your head with a pop-sound. Hot sweat runs down your neck. Nightfall is now all around you. Several stars can be seen, that have somehow fought their way through all the smog. And Gufa’s beardless, gentle face is there as before, which you now have come to trust. It’s completely relaxing, as though he had just had a siesta. You say: You guys seem to have more time, Gufa? Why do you speed when you say you’ve got more time? Isn’t it rather fatalism? Guilelessness? Aren’t you simply and totally fatalistic? Nuts?

But Gufa has gone ahead. He has gone to where the voices are, moving in the dark. He calls for you to follow his lead and the two of you enter into a garden: Around 20 people are sitting on carpets, men and women of various age groups, some wearing headscarfs while others are without, dressed in either colorful garments or jeans. They look at you, as though they had been aware of your coming. But none introduces themselves to you; wouldn’t that be rather importunate? Maybe.

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Then don’t do it. Don’t be importunate. Maybe, so you get the group-rhythm? You sit yourself down on one of the pillows. You look into faces, each one appears to be of the same temperature, as though they belonged to one and being, that is present here. Or is it only your perception? Do differences in gentleness of the people exist? Maybe it just isn’t obvious ? Are they in actuality down-right individualists?

Rather a rainforest than a garden, you’ve come to realize. Something of an underwater situation. The lanterns in the trees emit a blueish-milky light. The crowns of the trees resemble plants, that are swayed back and forth by water. Soaptrees, a girl named Dwi explains. Indeed they smell like balsam or Anis or one that belongs to that sort. And this girl Dwi looks into your eyes and asks you whether you’d like some alcohol, just like some guys in the garden are having.

Yes, of course the German would like some alcohol, everyone now agrees, and the atmosphere gets a bit more lively, and out of the crowd arrives a large glass of strong, domestically-prepared coffee-liquor. Since three months no alcohol can be obtained in the supermarkets, as you’ve heard. Half of the group thinks it’s good, the other half doesn’t, and you think to yourself: so different opinions do exist, even if they are communicated in a soft tone.

And understanding comes difficult, because everything must be translated. That’s what Dwi does. It’s quite amazing. She’s eleven and speaks perfect English, better than Gufa and you and everyone else here, and communicating in such a reflective way, that one would have the impression, one was talking to a fifty year old psychologist. She sits there like a little penguin, wearing her headscarf, examining you with her deadly clever eyes, and translates the answers of the adults, which rather seem as being a bore to her. After a while the adults responses are diminishing, and she moves nearer to you, with her face, which seems to say: Still got questions?

You: Praying. Why do you pray, Dwi?

Dwi: Oh, I only do it for myself. I believe in the practice of praying. You should think of it as a lesson in concentration, a mental practice, which one need not comprehend in only a spiritual way. It gives my days structure, know what I mean? It organizes my soul. Maybe you ought to try!

You: Oh, sure, but can I do that? Don’t you have to...I mean, I’d have to...

Dwi: Believe? That would be right. But you could simply do it for yourself. You seem a bit disorganized?

You: You’re saying, I...I could also...five times in one day?

Dwi: Look there, my father is giving a talk now. He enjoys giving talks, know what I mean?

The businessman Iran Rusmini from Texas stood up and raised his arm. He talks into a small microphone and moves back and forth, just like during the American presidential candidate debate on TV.

For a moment, he slips one hand into his pocket as he talks, smoothly scratches his thin beard, which is rather uncharacteristic. It’s a company anniversary speech. He is giving out mobile phone casings and USB-sticks to the children of those people with whom he grew up with. He tells them about the latest app which his firm created. This app eliminates gaps between traditional and digital media. Makassar Race 2015. A kind Scavenger Hunt-App, which lets you experience the history of places in a fun and interactive way.

The app is a guide to all culturally insightful places in the area, Dwi translates. When you answer a history-related questions correctly, you not only educate your users, in addition they get offered a chance to visit Texas for a six-month stay. This principle is called Gamification. The term has been added in a group of words classified as describing our future world.

And Irwan Rusmini, the businessman explains in English: He wants to give something in return, for he has received plenty! Future and past, East and West, Take and give (his gaze as serious as that of a president) are said to be united in this app, to whom he will handout as a giveaway – and it would please him very much, to meet with one of them in Texas in the near future.

At the end he doesn’t say Thank you, but rather Tree Makasssi, because, as Dwi translates, it sounds much nicer and means so much more than the dreary Thank you. What does it mean? This Tree Makassi? But at this point in time, you are drunk, beaten by the heat and the spicy food – and that coffee-liquor was really something. Everything is so colorful. Green lanterns. Blue. Red. Nutmeg trees. The geckos at the wall, that are merely drawings. And Dwi? Dwi with her infrequent happiness, her texas-indonesian gaze?

There she is again, still. In the midst of almond-scent by the soaptrees. And there’s Gufa as well. He has climbed onto one of the trees and wants to help her up. And you offer her some assistance and climb up behind her, and there the three of you sit in the tree and smoke Gufa’s scented cigarettes. And Tree Makassi means: Take and Give. And that is beautiful.

Somewhere in Sulawesi, 5.30 AM

An airplane such as this one is nice too. Be an airplane. For instance. Fly through the dawn. Accommodate 150 flying people inside you. Fly over the country comprising of seventeen-thousand five-hundred and eight islands. One should think about it: Seventeen-thousand five-hundred and eight. Be one of those. Be one of these golden spots. For instance. Or be a cloud. Be the flight attendant. Put yourself in the situation, which Dwi described to you. Fantasize. Be a larger-than-life version of yourself. Be the tomato-juice. Be the sandwich. Be the orange-colored sun.

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ABOUT GERMAN SEASON

Indonesia and Germany are connected through a long friendship, be it on a cultural, economic or political level. To celebrate this long-lasting relationship, an exciting format – the German Season – was presented from September to December 2015.

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Phone: (+62) 21 235 502 08
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