A Different Place…
Santubong, Borneo – I watched television and read about the Indonesian troops preparing for possible terrorist attacks. Soldiers repelled down hotels, getting ready for a possible Mumbai incident.
Army personnel attacked a commercial airline in a mock rescue of hostages. The exercise was widely publicized throughout Indonesia and Malaysia. I don’t know if you guys saw it in the states.
The bombings seem to occur during Christmas week when the hotels are filled with western tourists. Australians always seem to be the targets, mainly because there are more of them. Christian churches are a close second.
The last bombings were three years ago; but the Mumbai tragedy made the government nervous. They bet a huge display of force would act as deterrent.
I have met very few Americans here. Possibly because the United States is so far away. Possibly because they are afraid because this is an Islamic nation.
Here, in this small village, I stand out. I have pure white hair, inherited from my grandmother. I also speak Malay. Very, very few westerners can speak the language. Everyone knows me because I am friendly and will talk to anyone anywhere.
I visited a small Chinese shop located in a local Malay fishing village. Enjoying my coffee and roti (flattened bread dip in wonderful curry sauce), I engaged in conversation about fishing. I asked if someone could teach me.
The sea was too rough, they informed me. I would have to wait until after the monsoon season. I also asked about snorkeling. Same polite answer.
We then went through the usual preliminaries. Where was I from? How many children did I have? What were they doing? How were my mother and father? By this time I had repeated the story so many times that it has become an automatic response.
The conversation turned to the bombings in India. They asked me what I thought about Islam. I replied it was a great religion. They asked me again. I told them same thing. And I meant it.
We then went on about how Malaysia was accused of harboring some of the terrorists before the attack. I told them it was ridiculous. They said the group had Malaysian addresses in their wallets. I said anyone could have a Malaysian address like a hotel in Kuala Lumpur. They agreed with that.
I also said it is written that the Qur’an does not like terrorists. They acknowledged it was true. We also talked about the war in Iraq. I told them it was a horrible mistake.
This open and honest conversation allowed a group of Malay fishermen to know that the majority of Americans do not like George Bush, his policies or the war. I wish I was the guy who threw the shoes. But I didn’t say that.
Since that conversation, the Malay ladies here at the condos told me they would take care of me. The men asked me to drop by and they would take me fishing when the sea was calm. I talked to another Islamic guy who told me not to worry because I was here in Sarawak. I never did have any concerns and still don’t. But the love is magnificent.
I know of so many western people who hide in their flats or homes and refuse to mix with the local people because they are scared of what a person of the Islamic faith may do. They have an unfounded fear that a person will rise up and turn the country into an Islamic state complete with laws like Saudi Arabia. Rumors spread in their closed, cloistered lives.
What a shame. They are missing so much of the love and friendship these warm and wonderful people offer.
Before I left the states, many people told me to tell people I was Canadian. That way, they perceived, I would be safe from possible political dangers.
I am too proud of my country, especially after the last election. I am proud to be an American and I will be damned if I am going to let the terrorists win. This is one American who is not going to hide behind the flag of another country.
The Indonesian soldiers and their maneuvers serve as a warning to the militants that the government will not tolerate any violence. Like wise, I am serving as an example that this American is not afraid and will not cower in the terrorists’ efforts to strike fear in the hearts of people.