A few months ago, in a job interview, I found myself struggling over the question "What is advocacy?". Last week, I was listening to members of an Indonesian environmental group as they tried to explain how their media campaign and advocacy work have been intimately tied up with organizing efforts in the forest communities of southeast Sulawesi. Thus, in a few weeks, I moved from the verge of unemployment to the helm of this new project on online learning and networking for natural resources management in southeast Asia. Talk about meaningful fortuitous events. Anyway, so there I was. After almost a 10-hour trip from Manila (going around the long way to Singapore, Jakarta in Java, and then on to Sulawesi), I finally arrived in the new Kendari airport, in one piece but hungry and sleepy. It was almost 2 in the morning when I laid my back on the musty hotel bed, still thinking about the orientation workshop I would be conducting in a few hours. And the 8-hour motorcycle ride that we would be taking later to this forest village west of Kendari. Which prompted me to write my own motorcycle diaries (with apologies to the producers of the film on the life of the great Argentinian comandante).
31 July. Day 1 of the workshop. There were 8 to 10 participants from the Indonesian organization. Most of them were in their mid to late 30s. From their early student activist days in the universities and in the local movement for democracy, these young dynamic people have now moved on to address illegal logging and other environmental issues in various parts of Indonesia. Armed with just cameras and their skills in gaining the trust of the local people, these green warriors would move into forest communities, live there for weeks and months, learn from the local inhabitants everything about the illegal activities going on in the uplands, and conduct a media campaign when they got back to the cities. In a few years, they were able to set up a legitimate yayasan (association), a fully operational community radio station, and a local television outfit (the only local tv station in Kendari). They have kept alive an activist, "anything goes", highly adaptable culture: working beyond office hours, wearing casual attires, eating with their hands, sleeping just about anywhere. They ask sharp questions, and openly show their impatience with long-winding explanations and theoretical discussions. I decided to make adjustments with my presentations and group activities for the second day.
1 August. Day 2 of the workshop. I would be discussing with the group the monitoring and evaluation system, as well as the research and learning materials development components of the program. Eventually gave in to the participants' proposal to start late as they really worked hard the previous night, listening to me explain how to register and post their comments on the online discussion board. I checked my emails while I let them discuss about their institution's commitment plan for the e-learning. Finishing early in the afternoon, I had a chance to visit their television station. I asked these two guys at the programming office: "What if a rich, powerful person involved in illegal logging offered you a big amount of money to air something in support of his/her activities?" In broken English, the two young Indonesians told me how they have indeed received such offers in the past and how they have adamantly refused, explaining that it was already a matter of principles and therefore non-negotiable. I smiled at the thought that the elves still have their allies in these parts of the world.
2 August. At 30 minutes before 6 am, I was already doing the modified sun salute inside my hotel room. Kantan, (in his early 40s) who would be my riding partner, would be fetching me from the hotel with his bike. At 10 to 6, the hotel guys knocked on my door and informed me that the taxi was already waiting outside to take me to the airport. Quite certain that coup d' etats were quite uncommon in Indonesia at this point in its history, I tried to explain in sign language that I was not yet leaving Sulawesi and that I was supposed to be picked up by this guy in a motorcycle. Realizing their mistake, the hotel people offered me coffee and some bread for breakfast. While I was drinking my extra sweet coffee, the polisi (police or security guard) and the guy at the receiving counter told me how they mistook me for an Indonesian. I said they were not the first to think so, and told them about the ticket girls at the Jakarta airport and the people in Bali back in 2005 who thought I was from Manado. Kantan arrived almost an hour late. We headed first towards the office where I plan to leave my backpack. The two other motorcycles, and our four companions who'd be riding on them, were also waiting at the office.