From Vagabond Press:
After warnings from local police, the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2015 has had to cancel the launch of Eliza Vitri Handayani’s novel From Now On Everything Will Be Different.
The festival organizers have kept open an invitation for Eliza to attend the festival, which she has accepted. Each day she will wear a T-shirt with different extracts from her novel as a form of peaceful protest.
Please show your support for Eliza by sharing within your networks, and don’t be afraid to order a copy of her novel via Amazon, Book Depository, or direct from the press.
DAY 1, pp 17-21
Several months before Rizky graduated college in 1998, students took to the streets to demand an end to the corrupt New Order regime. The rupiah had collapsed, people were losing their jobs, and basic necessities were expensive and rare. Rizky’s family, who were used to recreational shopping, had to go to wholesale stores and buy cheaper brands in bulk. Three days a week they replaced meat with tempeh and tofu.
He read reports about the demonstrations in magazines and newspapers, but they always blurred the demands written on the students’ posters and banners: implement reforms to end the economic crisis, reshuffle cabinet, elect a new pr—
In March, as Rizky was preparing for finals, the General Meeting of the People’s Representatives were under way. Younger leaders of the house were brave enough to suggest a modest change: break with the three- decade tradition of nominating only Soeharto as president—let’s have more than one candidate this time, and let’s vote, even if the majority still end up voting for Soeharto. When news reached campus that the military was allowing students to talk at the General Meeting, Rizky joined other students and their professors to discuss what they would say.
The following week the students made a declaration on campus, demanding the government to reduce prices, restore sovereignty to the people, and elect a new national leader. Soon they heard news of solidarity from other campuses—in Surabaya students were demanding economic and political reforms and an investigation into the wealth of state officials, in Bandung students held an open stage for the people to voice their concerns, in Yogyakarya students rallied around campus, rejecting Soeharto and demanding the government stabilize the economy. More and more campuses were participating—in Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and elsewhere. Many held open stages and mounted theatrical or musical performances about the people’s hunger and the General Meeting that was costing billions. Some opened markets offering rice, milk, and vegetable oil with deeply discounted prices. The people joined the students, their common cry were “Reformasi” and “People Power”. The commander of the armed forces went on TV and warned the students to be polite and confine their protests within campus walls.
Instead, the students marched into the streets. Rizky joined thousands of students from all over the country, their shouts and demands rang through highways and government buildings. The military and the police beat them, gassed them, arrested them. Dozens disappeared. Still, the students returned to the streets, shouting and chanting. One morning Rizky woke up and found that his mother had locked his bedroom door from the outside. “You will not go out to protest again. I can’t spend another day worrying sick if you’re gonna come home alive.” She brought him food and water through the window bars, along with empty plastic bottles for him to pee in.
The following days Rizky stayed at home out of consideration for his parents—he was after all their only child. He noticed that newspapers and magazines had stopped blurring the demands printed on the students’ posters and banners. TV stations were airing live coverage of the demonstrations. But then the shootings and the rioting began. Gas stations, banks, and shopping malls were looted and burned. People were trapped inside and burned alive. A week after the riots had died down, Rizky’s parents allowed him to go to campus again. There he helped treat women with shattered pelvises and swollen faces.
Funeral marches for the fallen students were held in many cities and towns—Medan, Padang, Samarinda, Surabaya, Ujung Pandang, Jayapura. TV stations stopped obeying orders to soften reports of the protests, except one station owned by Soeharto’s family. The students then decided to flood the House of Representatives complex. On campus Rizky was busy borrowing buses and cars to transport students. Tens of thousands were camping there, climbing on the building’s green butterfly-shaped roof, picnicking, and hanging effigies of the president. Rizky saw students running like crazy and kissing the earth to thank God after Soeharto announced his resignation. Rizky dove into the reflecting pool and floated there, listening to the cheers and prayers sounding louder and louder and staring at the arching clouds that looked like the smile of God.
The weeks and months that followed were sizzling with optimism. Everywhere there was an eagerness for change. His university held a symposium on ways to move forwards and the speakers were all fresh faces, not the musty New Order experts anymore, and they were coming up with ideas that people wouldn’t even whisper before—publishing alternative versions of history, pornography versus freedom of the press, whether a federal rather than unitary state would be a better form of government for the country. On the streets people hung posters demanding the trial of Soeharto and a new election. At night Rizky went to wild celebration parties. Amid all this, Julita returned to his world with a half-page profile in a Sunday newspaper, on a page dedicated to emerging artists.
Her photographs of the protests and surrounding events punctuated the article: a protester ripping his shirt and baring his tattoo-covered chest before lines of special riot police, a writer handing out photocopies of his banned book on the streets, five women covering their faces with the sign ‘Do Not Rape, Native Indonesian Muslim’, on the charred remains of a shopping center three street children showing off brand-new toys from the stores they had looted, by Trisakti University a young woman putting flowers and a poem on the ground still wet with blood, a student launching paper airplanes from the roof of the parliament building.
Rizky finds the photos in his box and carefully separates a few stuck together with mildew. He peers at each portrait—faces momentarily stopping whatever they were doing to beam their souls at the camera. How was it possible that these people, who a few months before would have censored their own children’s school reports for fear of drawing attention to themselves, now proudly showed themselves in these photographs? Where did they, after decades of silence and obedience and fear, find the courage to protest? How did these people, so used to submitting to fate, decide that they could break the course of history? The protests impressed him profoundly as the first confirmation that one could indeed bring about change. He will never forget how, along with the sound of thousands of students marching, he heard God whisper in his ears, “You too can change your life’s course.”
DAY 2, pp 45-46
November, during the Extraordinary Meeting of the People’s Representatives, students stormed the streets once again to demand the trial of Soeharto, the removal of the military from politics, and the investigation of the former first family’s wealth. At the start thousands, then tens of thousands filled the central areas of Semanggi, Sudirman, and Kuningan. Rizky volunteered in the hospital every day tending to fellow students who were wounded, beaten, or shot. He picked up stories about army snipers and radical infiltrators, he saw the military police forcing their way into the hospital and people throwing lit cigarettes at them, he carried flyers distributed by the families of the students who had disappeared and tried to find faces that matched the photographs. At night he wandered around the wards and corridors, hoping to see Julita among the photographers immortalizing the heroes and victims of the struggle, but it was in vain.
Weeks turned into months, and in June Rizky saw the nation hold its first free election since the New Order. Forty-eight parties with various ideologies screamed out their existence—Pancasila, Islamic, Nationalist, Christian, Socialist—after having been for so long melted into three government-approved faces. Even Rizky’s parents were moved to vote. They never bothered before, it was a waste of time— the winning party and the president were already decided before the campaigns even began. This time, the first time since thirty years ago, a party other than the status quo’s won the election.
In July Rizky found a poster, plastered on a bulletin board on campus, for Julita’s exhibition From Now On Everything Will Be Different at the renowned Antara Gallery for Photojournalism. He stared at it for a long time, proud and ashamed at once. He wrote down the date and time of the opening, but that day came and went and Rizky didn’t show up.
Meanwhile, the nation elected a new president and amended the constitution, Indonesian filmmakers started making films again after a decade of inactivity, and in September once more students overwhelmed the roads around the House of Representatives complex to protest a bill that would give more power to the military. Many laid their lives to safeguard the Reformasi, so why couldn’t Rizky just stand up to Mother?
As before she begged him to stay home and he obeyed. Watching tanks spraying the students with water canons on TV, Rizky felt upset with himself. Why wasn’t he there getting soaked like the others? Why didn’t he break down the door the day Mother had locked him in his room as if he were a child? He had marched on the streets, hurled curses at the dictator, yet he didn’t dare do that. Maybe if he had broken down the door, Mother would start treating him like an adult. Most days he was thankful that he could contribute to the struggle by treating the wounded at the hospital, other days he felt he was letting everyone down. The revolution was giving him the opportunity to be the master of his own fate, so why was he still stuck in a life chosen for him by someone else? After his shifts he went out drinking to drown his shame, but the pool of clear drinks reflected it back to him.
DAY 3, pp 51-55
Wednesday after class, Desti suggested going out for lunch together.
“Let’s go to the med school across the street,” said Julita. “My best friend said the kiosk behind the geriatrics faculty serves the best pecel ayam in town.”
Even though the day was much too hot for spicy food, everyone agreed, except Bowo, who had to go home and check in on his mother. The road in front of the cultural center shimmered from the heat, creating a mirage. Cars darted past like steel sharks in silver water. On the far side of the road, Julita saw police officers carrying billy clubs and shields. She was still watching when Bela pulled her toward the rushing traffic.
“Why don’t we use the bridge?” Julita shouted as a car sped by, blowing dust into her face.
“It’s faster this way.” With a raised finger Bela ordered each car to stop, like a schoolteacher scolding her unruly pupils.
Desti clasped Julita’s left arm. “Don’t be scared, the cops are too far away.”
“I’m not scared. It’s the Reformasi era, let’s be responsible citizens.”
“Too late for that!” Desti grinned as she pointed at Bela and Ibnu, who were jumping over the road divider like professional gymnasts.
They reached the campus’s main gate and walked under a banner proclaiming, “Welcome to the Campus of the People’s Struggle.” Julita remembered Rizky had told her that the banner used to say, “Welcome to the Campus of the New Order’s Struggle,” but three years ago, in ’98, students had torn down the old banner and replaced it with the new one.
A few minutes later, they found the chicken kiosk, which was packed with customers. The ground was bare beneath the wooden tables and benches that were arranged around the little kitchen. A plump woman was bent over a soot-covered kerosene stove that hissed each time she dropped a piece of chicken into the hot oil. Behind the counter, a man crushed tomatoes and chilies into a bloody pulp in a wide stone mortar.
Julita thought Bela, because she was wearing brand-name clothes, would hate to sit on a dirty bench like that, but she kindly asked people to make room for her group, and then she put her leather bag on the ground under her seat.
“Bel, can you get me some Chinese herbs that’ll help my husband gain weight?” Desti asked after they placed their orders. “He doesn’t like Indonesian food, so he’s getting really skinny.”
“I’ll have to ask my dad where to find them,” said Bela, “but I’m sure it won’t be a problem.”
“Thanks, Bel. I’ll give you some eggs from our farm in exchange.”
“You have a farm?” asked Ibnu.
“We have an egg farm in West Java,” said Desti. “Adriaan used to run one back in the Netherlands. We met when I went to visit my sister who was in school there. When I got pregnant we moved to Jakarta so I could be close to my mother.”
“What about you, Ibnu? How did you meet your petit ami?” asked Julita.
“I’m a traditional dancer,” he said. “My troupe was performing in Paris, and after the show, some of us went out to this bar, which was supposed to be the meeting place for people of my kind. I was wishing and wishing for a Tom Cruise lookalike, but I got a daddy instead. Oh, well. Philippe’s good to me.”
Ibnu fished a photograph of a showgirl in a glittering, feathered costume out of his wallet. “That’s me at night,” Ibnu passed it to Julita, who squeezed between him and Bela on the narrow bench, “my stage name is Linda.”
Julita gaped. Ibnu asked her to pass the photo to their other classmates, but she hesitated. She eyed the sweaty strangers around them, tearing off pieces of flesh, crunching into crackers, red sauce dripping from their fingers. Every now and then a lone grain of rice or shred of onion would cling to the corner of their lips, like a lonely outcast or scapegoat, only to be obliterated with a swipe of their greasy hands.
Bela snatched the photo. “Oh, you look so pretty!”
Ibnu beamed. “How about you, Bel? How’d you meet your boyfriend?”
Julita had asked for a spoon and a fork, but Bela was eating with her fingers like everyone around them. “I met Anwar at culinary school in Kuala Lumpur. He sat next to me in class, and we started hanging out after school. He and his friends were the first Malay friends I ever had. My Chinese friends used to ask me, ‘Bel, what are you doing hanging out with them?’ So I’d say, ‘If you don’t wanna hang out with them, then you can’t hang out with me.’ Since my Chinese friends didn’t have any other friends, they started to hang out with us, and they ended up telling me, ‘You’re right, Bela, they’re good people.’”
“Good for you, Bela,” said Laras.
“I bet their parents are just like mine,” Bela continued, “always telling me not to hang out with the natives, like you guys.”
“My dad likes to say the same kind of stuff about the Chinese—that they’re cheaters, that they’re a bunch of pork-eaters,” Julita whispered to Bela.
“That’s why I always tell my dad not to cheat our customers. Just like I told him it was wrong to stockpile rice back in ’98.”
“Were you here during the riots?” asked Laras.
Bela nodded. “I was supposed to start school in KL three months after they started.”
One question was at the tip of everyone’s tongues, but they stuffed their mouths instead.
“I wasn’t raped,” Bela said, “It was sheer luck. That day, a crowd had already gathered around the outskirts of our neighborhood by dawn. They were carrying crowbars and shovels. My dad and the neighborhood men made a barricade out of spare tires. The crowd kept getting bigger and bigger, so my dad poured gasoline all over the barricade. He was going to set it on fire if the crowd attacked. Then we heard a couple of gunshots. My dad said the crowd was running towards the barricade, so he torched it, hoping the fire would keep them back. Then he rushed home.”
“Dad said that if the rioters caught us, they’d rape us. He thought that if we were wearing maxi-pads, they might get grossed out and leave us alone. So my mom, my sister, and I all put on pads. The rioters were just outside. They broke into houses and dragged stuff out, you could hear screams coming from every direction.”
“Dad told us to run to the car. Before the banks collapsed, he’d withdrawn as much as he could and put it in a suitcase. He grabbed that suitcase, and we made it into the car, but before long we were blocked by a crowd that had been waiting at the other end of our neighborhood. Rows after rows of them. They surrounded our car, rocking it back and forth, hitting and kicking it. Those faces—they weren’t men anymore, they’d turned into demons. Dad rolled his window down, just enough to throw out a couple bundles of cash. The crowd went wild trying to get their hands on the money and a path cleared for us.”
“We raced to the airport. We couldn’t get tickets going anywhere, so we camped out there for a whole week. When we heard that the riots had died down, we decided to take a chance and go back home. When we reached our neighborhood, we saw that our house had been emptied out and burned down, like a lot of the other houses we’d passed on our way home. The rioters had stopped targeting people—Chinese or Indonesian native, they burned everything to the ground.”
Everyone had forgotten to keep chewing during Bela’s story, now they forgot their words. But Bela’s eyes were still bright and dry. “Go on, eat,” she said, “We’re okay now.”
Not knowing what to say, Julita put her arm around Bela’s waist and rested her head on her shoulder.
DAY 4, pp 70-74
Just two weeks before their final test in July, a scandal whipped the nation into frenzy. A couple’s private sex tape had been leaked and overnight became the best selling VCD sensation on the streets.
The lovers were students in Bandung, West Java, who had made the tape to celebrate their three-year anniversary together. The boy took his Camcorder to a shop to transfer the content to VCD format. The shop technician then copied and recopied the tape and made a small fortune.
The news invaded the headlines, pushing away coverage about the attacks on a syiah community in Palu and the burning of Christian schools and Islamic orphanages in Pasuruan. Stills from the tape were displayed to illustrate articles, talk show hosts reaped ratings by shaming the young lovers to death. The boy was expelled from his university, and the girl was smuggled abroad by her family. Some politicians and religious leaders were calling for the state to prosecute the lovers for creating pornography; no sanction was suggested for those who had duplicated and distributed the tape.
One week after the news had broke out, Julita arrived at the cultural center to find her friends waiting for her in the café—they had bought her café crème and pain au chocolat, both her favorites. They told her they wished to withdraw their consent to be portrayed in Us + Them.
“Unless, maybe if you take out photos of us kissing, drinking, lying in bed together—that sort of stuff. Isn’t it enough to show us eating together, going to the mountains, holding hands?” asked Laras.
“Are you asking me to censor myself?” Julita was indignant. “You? A human rights worker? After we fought so hard to end censorship in this country!”
“We know this must come as a shock to you,” said Laras, “but we feel that we didn’t think it through when we said you could document and exhibit our private lives. We didn’t know what the photos would look like and we didn’t realize people would react like this.”
“My photos are not porn. I put a lot of thought into them.”
“There are photos of Teguh and I kissing, Ibnu’s friends groping each other. Bela gave you photos of her and Anwar sleeping in one tent. At first I also thought they were OK, but now we see that people are not ready.”
“I can’t believe you let an incident like this intimidate you. That’s exactly what the bullies want. To make us afraid to express ourselves. To get things back as they were under the New Order.”
Nobody, not even Bela, would look Julita in the eyes.
“Let’s not get carried away, OK?” said Laras. “We think your project is important, but our work is also important. Teguh and I can’t work if our credibility is ruined. Since ‘98 Teguh has put all his energy into investigating the disappearances of the student protesters. There are people who are just waiting for any opportunity to discredit his work, to put him in jail even. I can’t risk that.”
“I also think, after the sex tape, it’s a bad time to show these kinds of photos,” said Desti. “Adriaan thinks so too.”
“This is not fair,” Julita said. When she tried to light a cigarette her hand was shaking. “Are you still mad about that one time? I’ve given you the negatives!”
“It’s not about that,” Laras said, “although it did make me question your sensitivity.”
“Do all of you think I didn’t treat you with respect?”
“It’s not that,” Ibnu said. “If it were up to me, I’d let you show any photo you want. But some of my friends, they’re not out to their families or colleagues. If people find out about them, they may lose their job, or worse. And what will happen to the restaurant owner? He may lose his license, he may be attacked, if people knew what his place was up to on certain nights.”
“It may take months before the photos are shown,” Julita said. “By that time everyone will have forgotten about the tape.”
“You don’t know that,” said Laras. “Maybe you can shift focus. Make it about our friendship.”
“That’s not the show I envisioned.”
“We all have to compromise. Adriaan says—”
“What does Adriaan know? He’s a chicken farmer.”
Julita felt cornered. She imagined showing the photos anyway, without her friends’ consent—after all, this issue was bigger than all of them. She saw her parents and colleagues coming to the gallery and congratulating her. She saw Ibnu and Bela dancing with sparklers by the side of the road on New Year’s Eve. She saw the demonstrators posing for her, telling her their stories. She saw her high school teachers tearing down her photos from the bulletin board, the boys tossing her around and grabbing her breasts.
“Please be brave.” Julita stood up and faced her friends. “We have a chance to show this nation some things about loving each other. About being together.”
“You and Henri are still together, though, right?” asked Bela. “You can be the example you’re looking for.”
Julita felt her strength leaving. She noticed her friends leaning back on their chairs, whereas she alone was standing and facing them. “Henri and I were never together. I asked him out because I wanted to know what it’s like to date someone from his background, but he turned me down.”
Desti and Laras shook their head. Without saying anything, Ibnu asked her why.
“I’m sorry. I just wanna be a part of you.”
Julita sat down. She considered blurring the faces in the photos, or, as Laras had suggested, selecting photos that contained no hints to sex or nightlife or other so-called immoral behaviors, but she knew the collection would be compromised. ‘Since ethnicity, religion, and sexuality are such sensitive matters, isn’t there more reason to show your true faces, in all your complexity, so you don’t become a token of your ethnicity or your religion or your kind?’ Julita wanted to shout at her friends, but she knew she had lost the moral high ground. ‘If I can’t show you as individuals then the collection will fail. A sanitized picture will only bring more misunderstandings.’
There was no other way.
“If you don’t want me to, I won’t show the photos. You have my word.”
After minutes that seemed to last forever, Bela reached out to Julita—she put her arm around her and rested her head on her shoulder.
As soon as the course was over, Laras moved out, Ibnu flew to Paris, and Bela left for Geneva. When Julita was cleaning her room, she found a wooden jewelry case the size of a lunch box behind the desk. She was painting the words ‘Box of Unfinished Projects’ on it when Rizky, who had returned to Jakarta a week earlier, showed up at her door.
DAY 5, pp 139-140
In Paris a date once asked Julita what she thought was her biggest accomplishment. He tapped her nose with his index finger as if she were a small child. She thought hard and said, “Being safe and secure in all that I am.”
The man snorted. “That’s it?” He went on about how he had helped his company acquire small businesses and how he had become the youngest director in the company’s history. Before leaving, Julita promised to meet him again for dinner and chose a place far on the outskirts of the city. She never showed for the date. She stayed home instead and wrote a letter to Rizky, defending her pride.
She told him about a classmate from art school who had married the man she had been dating for a couple of years:
She told me it had hurt and she had wanted him to stop, but she hadn’t known how to say it. When he started for the second time, she wanted to cry. Meanwhile, her cell phone kept buzzing with text messages from friends teasing her and asking her how it was and wasn’t it terrific. She didn’t know what to say to them. So she went to the bathroom and cried while he snored in the bed. Riz, this girl hardly ever talked to me the whole semester, but this she told me. I felt honored that she thought she could trust me. I also know such fate will never happen to me. I’ve learned how to say stop and no and give me more.
Now I wish I kept my cool last night. I could’ve told him about the disturbing articles I recently read from home. There was this girl who was caught by six boys when she was making love to her boyfriend, and then they threatened to tell her father unless she agreed to have sex with all six of them. She got pregnant and told her father what had happened, and all her father did was ask that one of the seven boys be willing to marry her. There was another article about people breaking into the house of a lesbian couple, they caught them in the act of love, dragged them onto the street, and forced them to replay their lovemaking in front of everyone. I also read about a man and a woman being paraded naked around a village because the villagers had caught them having sex without being married, and the magazine—the leading news magazine in our country—asked if the victims had “deserved it.”
So trust me, sweet boy, when I say that it’s no small accomplishment for me to be able to know the stink in these kinds of behavior, to know how to protect myself, and to say that if such things ever happen to me I will drag those people to jail. So never, asshole, underestimate my achievement!
‘When is she coming back, that girl who was sure of herself?’
Julita looks up at the antique cuckoo clock behind her. Rizky is now one and a half hours late. He won’t show up, she is certain.
Reluctantly she finishes the last drops of the meatball soup, which she ordered so she wouldn’t have to stare into the empty chair in front of her. Her coffee is finished as well, and the kind waiter takes away her cup, bowl, and condiment bottles. Once again there was nothing on the table to keep her from feeling alone. She takes out her Box of Unfinished Projects and empties the papers onto the table—all the things she has wished to do with her life, big and small—and gathers them into a mound. She picks at them randomly and begins making up scenarios in her mind of what her life would look like if she had completed this project or achieved that goal. She lines up the papers on the table, forming trails of her possible biographies.
If she completed Rituals & Realities, she would re-study Indonesian history, using local and international resources to discover the facts behind the euphemisms and propagandas fed to her in school. After that, she would revisit the provinces to hold photography workshops, and after she has managed to establish her career, she would rally a fundraising and awareness campaign with other photographers and artists to help take care of Indonesia’s photographic heritage.
If she showcased Us + Them, she would publish it as a picture book, and then make a film or a multimedia installation about her classmates. She would quit smoking. She would volunteer for Laras’s organization and help spread the stories of survivors of sexual violence.
If she exhibited Love Portraits: Self Portraits in Paris, she would get her pieces hung in galleries in Europe. For fun she would show up in a Halloween party covered in photographs of her own nude body. And then she’d take a break from the glamorous whirl of the art world, stay in her own little cottage by the beach, and just hang out with friends and maybe a special someone who would stand beside her as they fight the world together. They would build their furniture out of salvaged materials, just like this café.
She imagines each trail of dream petals flutter away and transform into another Julita. A hundred different Julitas leading a hundred different possible lives. She used to feel those possibilities ruffling inside her like leaves on a treetop. A thought makes her smile: maybe she is one of those possibilities, one version of Julita that happened to come true. She makes herself count the goals that have been achieved. She has earned two degrees and become fluent in two foreign languages, she has traveled to many places, embraced many lovers, and she has had so much fun and experiences to learn from. She is not the best of the possibilities, just like this world is not the best that could have been, but she is all she has. And she is still here.
And what about here? Before the Reformasi Julita used to think that nothing she could do would ever change the way things were running. Nine years after the Reformasi she has made the decision to return and fight for the things that she cares about. It must mean that now she believes it is possible to change things. In this light Julita sees the most significant meaning of the Reformasi—it wasn’t about making everything perfect, it was about making it possible for the people to try to make things better.
The thought spurs her to rise and start planning her next steps. She looks at the clock. Rizky is now two hours late.
She takes a deep breath and decides to wait for just five minutes more.