Rio post

Silence is Not Always Golden



sita crop


Fund raising for Sita, born with Rubella syndrome resulting in  profound deafness. 

Penggalian dana untuk Sita, lahir dengan Rubella Syndrome yang menyebabkan gangguan esktrim pendengaran.


This is the story of the second child of my friend Made Nagi, a budding photojournalist in Bali: “Sita was diagnosed at birth with Rubella Syndrome. This syndrome  was responsible for two disorders, one to her heart and the other to her hearing. During  the first two years we focused on her heart problems, which in the end the doctors said was no longer a major threat.


However  due to her poor hearing Sita was not able to speak at four years of age. The  treatment and therapy we tried for years brought no palpable change for Sita. After long deliberation we decided  to go with a cochlear implantation. With the help  of many friends we could afford this procedure. On the 22nd of  August 2014, after a seamless five hour operation, Sita gave a positive response to the implant. This month the “bionic ear” was activated as she has recovered from the operation.”


Sita will naturally require  intensive, ongoing  therapy so that it can function properly and that she can get the optimum benefit from it. At  the moment. after a period of nearly a week the sensitivity of her ‘bionic ear’ has been adjusted up to level three (of four) and she is responding to sounds. Now comes the task of teaching her the meanings of sounds and speech in general.


Naturally  there will be ongoing expenses – therapy, batteries, maintenance of the equipment (for example one of the connector cables is already broken, they are necessarily fragile but cost Rp 700,000 each to replace). And then  if there is any other damage that occurs after the 3 year guarantee period, the current replacement cost is IDR 100 million.


Rio Helmi Photo  Gallery is setting aside a percentage of all print sales during September, October and November as a donation to Sita’s therapy and equipment maintenances.


sita combo



Ini  kisah  anak  kedua  teman saya, wartawan foto Bali,  Made Nagi: “Sita lahir  dengan   didiagnosa mengalami Rubella syndrome. Syndrome  ini membawa  dua gangguan   bawaan  yaitu kelainan jantung dan pendengaran. Dua tahun pertama kami konsentrasi untuk mengatasi masalah kelainan jantungnya, yang akhirnya oleh dokter didiagnosa hanya masalah yang tergolong ringan.

Dengan kemampuan mendengar yang sangat lemah, sampai umur 4 tahun Sita belum juga mampu untuk bicara.

Treatment dan terapi selama beberapa tahun tidak memberikan dampak yang berarti untuk Sita.

Setelah pertimbangan yang cukup lama kami memutuskan untuk memeberikan kesempatan Sita untuk mendengar melalui prosedur cochlear implantation. Sukurlah berkat bantuan banyak teman kami dapat melaksanakan prosedur ini. Operasi berlangsung 22 Augustus 2014 selama 5 jam tanpa hambatan dan Sita memberikan respon yang positif pada implan”.


“Bionic Ear” kini sudah diaktifkan setelah Sita sepenuhnya pulih. Tentu saja Sita harus melakukan terapi yang intensif dan disiplin untuk membuatnya berfungsi dengan baik dan Sita mampu memanfaatkannya dengan optimal. Kini, setelah satu minggu dipasang, alatnya sudah disetel ke tingkat kepekaan 3 (dari 4) dan Sita sudah respon terhadap suara. Tentunya sekarang mulailah pekerjaan mengajar Sita arti dari suara, kata, dan bahasa umumnya.


Mengenai biaya Rp67jt yang dikeluarkan untuk operasi dan USD 28000sudah tertutup dengan bantuan teman dan kantor. Namun kini masih ada biaya ke depan – terapi, baterai, maintenance. Contohnya satu kabel konektor untuk alat itu sudah rusak (karena memang riskan dan sering harus diganti) seharga Rp 700rb, dan lain sebagainya. Belum lagi kalau kerusakan alat terjadi setelah garansi habis (3 tahun) – harganya Rp 100jt.


Rio Helmi Photo Gallery akan menyisihkan sebagian dari hasil penjualan semua  foto selama September, Oktober, dan November untuk disumbangkan untuk keperluan terapi dan maintenance peralatan Sita.





Robin Lim: Obsessions of a Hero

Rio Helmi (originally posted on the Huffington Post)

In the first 8 months of 2011 alone, the Bumi Sehat foundation, set up by CNN Hero Robin Lim in Indonesia, has provided compassionate pre and post natal care for 20,500 mothers, as well as delivered 400 babies. Many of these she has either cared for herself or overseen their care, sometimes even by phone to remoter parts of Aceh.

Impressive as that number may seem, midwife Robin Lim reminds us that every 15 minutes around the world, 23 babies die during birth, 28 are stillborn, and 86 infants under 1 month old die of various causes. She also reminds us that there are many mothers who die in childbirth:

“They are dying in the prime of their lives, doing the most natural thing in the world: having babies. Nine hundred and eighty one mothers a day: imagine if two 747’s jet planes full of passengers, (832 people,) fell out of the sky every single day. Now wouldn’t that be front page news?”

In truth these numbers are conservative owing to a lack of effective data collection around the world. She points out that Indonesia itself has a surprisingly high mortality rate – surprising because the medical community here works hard, but they are up against bad nutrition that leads, for example, to hemorrhaging. Robin admits to being obsessed with the United Nations Millennium Goals of reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating aids.

However it’s not just the numbers that make Robin passionate. Her obsession with compassionate birthing, done as naturally and lovingly possible, is a very personal one. Twenty one years ago her younger sister died of complications during pregnancy from hypertension related to medical interventions beginning in her youth. This was in the USA, a nation which spends more on pregnancy and birth technology than any country on earth.

It lit a fire under her that was still burning when she first arrived in Bali two years later. Life in the hills around Ubud was basic then, and maternity care in the villages was inadequate, to say the least. Dealing with her own pregnancy and helping other women around her finally drove her to found the Bumi Sehat Foundation in 1995.

Robin not only wanted to provide a natural, healthier and more holistic alternative, but also to provide a service for poor villagers who simply could not afford proper maternity care. She wanted to do it in the villages “with the village people”. The results are tremendous, and it does not go unappreciated by the many she cares for. Said one village mother in an interview earlier this year:

“I do not have money, and I tell my friends to also come here. I wish there were more people like her to lift up the suffering of the poor people.”

Yet that same fire that drove her initially also singed her relationship with local modern medical practitioners. Despite early advice from a long-term expat working in national health care to “work with existing systems and improve them from within and not do an end run”, Robin set out very much on her own track. A number of misunderstandings on both sides of the divide created unpleasant tensions.

It was perhaps the fall out from this period that finally brought her around to reaching out to the Indonesian medical community. But it was also through the agency of an Indonesian doctor, Hariyasa Sanjaya, that Robin’s transition to fruitful cooperation with the medical community became more complete.

When Hariyasa came back to Bali in 2006 after a stint in Australia he was struck by the unusually high percentage of cesarean births here: up to 50%. Once a staunch critic of Robin who proclaimed her a crank, on his return Hariyasa had something of an epiphany about “the stiffness and the arrogance” of the medical community whose ‘evidence-based’ mentality seemed to completely ignore the thousands of years of experience-based lore that existed heretofore. He saw a need for the medical community to give a greater place to the power of nature: “after all, women have been giving birth for thousands of years!”.

On the other hand, he admits he felt that Robin’s back to nature stance seemed uncompromising to the medical community at large. Her vocal championing of water-birthing, the use of natural herbs and homeopathics, all of these and more seemed outlandish to them. While Hariyasa acknowledges that a doctor does need a certain amount of ‘negative thinking’, for example anticipating problems in surgery, he now sees a middle way:

“Robin was a somewhat controversial figure when I finally met her, but I saw in her three things – clear understanding, a strong conscience, and courage. Now she has learned to compromise on things which are not essential, not fundamental, in order to achieve a greater good. That’s a sign of maturity. She can now take others’ viewpoints on board and consider them. It’s important to ‘go back to nature’ but it’s also important to ensure the patient’s safety.”

Robin welcomed Hariyasa’s timely positive interest in her methods. Years ago, as she was featured more and more in the media, some of her comments, in particular her criticism of the medical institutions, had irked midwives and doctors in the regency of Gianyar in Bali. They had pushed the health department to look into her practices. Dr Hariyasa’s interest drove him to investigate waterbirths. The positive conclusions of his study helped to calm the storm.

Nowadays in Bumi Sehat’s project in tsunami-stricken Aceh, traditional midwives in remote areas work in tandem with the medical community, keeping in touch with mobile phones provided with special hand chargers that don’t require electricity. Robin herself now readily acknowledges how hard the medical community in these remote areas works, and how important it is to be inclusive. It is becoming a two way street: in Bali, Dr Hariyasa has even referred patients to her from the clinics he works in.

Today Robin has been nominated as one of the CNN heroes who are candidates to become “Hero of the Year”, and the voting is soon coming to a close. At stake is a grant that would provide much needed funds to help her rebuild her clinic. Discussing her ‘hero’ status, Dr Hariyasa sees Robin as “a rock” and yet:

“She has learned through the experience of conflict and adversity. This is extremely important. Every great person must have the courage to acknowledge their limits, then they can go forward.”

Robin herself says she has stopped tilting at windmills:

“I guess I got older and maybe a little wiser. I figured out I could stop offending people. By liking myself enough I could speak with real love in my heart to people, not just with saccharine words”.

Perhaps this is the real mark of a hero: the ability to acknowledge one’s limits and shortcomings, and then strive to go far beyond them.


Rio Helmi / Bali

The head of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian business association APINDO, Panundiana Khun, apparently said to reporters back in February that land in Bali was no longer economically suitable for agrarian use, it should rather be used for the tourist industry, and that Balinese farmers were better off transmigrating. The subsequent uproar had him scrambling to ‘clarify’ his position a few days later, claiming it to be a mis-quote. Whatever the case, he had hit a deep nerve in the Balinese community.

True, the carrying capacity of the island has hit critical mass. Not only in terms of ecological burden, but also in terms of cultural lebensraum. Ecologically, every high school kid in Bali knows tensions over water shortage (e.g. huge amounts of water are piped down to Nusa Dua from fertile rice growing regions to fulfill the needs of 5 star hotels, in which each room consumes around five times a Balinese family’s average of 200 liters), disappearing agricultural land (the last few years more than 1000 hectares have been ‘converted’ or urbanised annually) and a booming population (3.9 million today vs 2.4 in 1978) means tough times ahead.

But what caused the uproar in Khun’s apparent gaffe has more to do with a long smoldering resentment amongst many elements of the Balinese community towards the excesses of the tourist industry and foreign investment, especially ever since government approval for BNR (Bakrie Nirwana Resort) on land considered within the spiritual buffer zone of Tanah Lot was rammed through despite huge island wide protests. All acknowledge wealth has been generated by tourism, but many point out the imbalance in the distribution thereof, and the ecologically disastrous nature of many projects. Back in the 1990s a high ranking (non-Balinese) official in the national government commented during a conversation that “Bali doesn’t belong to the Balinese or to you who live here, it belongs to everybody”.

But more pointed is the discussion of identity and cultural rights. A good deal of a Balinese’s spiritual life centers around his or her ancestors: what he or she inherits from them in terms of tradition (material and spirit being tightly interwoven), and what to leave for the next generation. Once principally an agrarian society, the emotional bond to inherited land is linked not only to personal but also to communal spiritual well being. For example, most homes in a village are the birth-right of the families that inhabits it, but unlike farmland, the land actually belongs to the community and is known as “karang desa” and cannot be sold. It is to help ensure all members of the community are provided for, but also to maintain the integrity and cohesion of the society. Farm land and such that is actually inherited can be sold but represents a deep link to the ancestors, who are worshipped everyday in the family temple. Then there is what is considered sacred property of temples, “laban pura”, not only seen as a temple’s “profit center” but also its spiritual buffer. Temples, the related ceremonies and ‘tithes’ all are part of the glue that holds Balinese society together. The most bitter feuds in Bali revolve around land and the right to use cremation grounds.

What the passion the current ongoing debate on Bali’s zoning (“RTRW”) stirs up indicates is that this is something of a symbolic last stand for Balinese culture as a living, breathing entity.

As one of my Balinese friends commented the other day when I remarked that the days of the Balinese farmer seem to be over: “No, actually they will remain farmers, but they will be tenant farmers. The Japanese and Taiwanese have been buying up land, not to build villas but as an investment in agriculture”. So as the government at both local and national levels fails its people by not giving enough attention and support to the all important agricultural sector in Bali, foreign investors are injecting capital into it – with the obvious proviso that the Balinese will no longer own their inheritance.

So why has it taken so long for the Balinese community to wake up? There is real concern, but why did it not act before?  Part of the problem is that though there is  tightly woven fabric of Balinese culture, the same weave also keeps the Balinese “in their place”: separated by caste and clan. As one vocal Balinese (high caste) spluttered out to me: “As soon as someone voices an opposing opinion everything breaks down into camps defined by caste and clan. If a person feels attacked because of his policies etc, he maneuvers through the loyalty lines of caste and clan. We don’t have enough free thinking intellectuals on this island! That’s why activism is so poor in Bali. During the BNR controversy, even though most Balinese were angry about it, it took non-Balinese activists to actually mobilise us”.

For sure Balinese culture will continue to be featured in presentations and museums, and the Disneyland effect will continue to find its market. Last month in the so-called cultural center of Bali, Ubud, there was even a “marketing museum”  opened – much to the bemusement of most locals. The much quoted slogan of Balinese communal philosophy, Tri Hita Karana (which refers to the threefold relationship between man and god, man and fellow man, man and environment) will continue to be quoted academically, it might end even up as a ‘marketing display” in the museum. But who will be left to live and breathe this philosophy?


Senja di persimpangan bundaran jalan arterial kawasan Kuta itu sedemikian ruwet sehingga mudah memahami kenapa julukan “Simpang-Siur” sudah lengket dari tahun ke tahun. Disini hampir setiap saat rame, dan sinar lampu stop-an merah berarti ‘jalan’ bagi anak-anak yg berbaju lusuh. Mereka menyusuri mobil-mobil mewah dengan tangan terulur, menunggu uluran kembali dari penumpang-penumpang yang berdiam diri dibelakang kaca jendela. Anak yang lahir di desa tandus di balik gunung nun jauh ke timur, bumi yang tidak punya kasih, dipaksa bercekeran di aspal. Mereka  memahami kota dari perspektif yang tak ternyana oleh para perencana tata kota.

Bandar yang turun tengah malam untuk mengumpul duit mereka pun tidak terlalu repot berkasih sayang. Jujur kata, dari sekian ribu pengemudi dan penumpang pun yang berhenti di lampu stop-an itu, sedikit  yang benar-benar memperhatikan anak-anak itu, apalagi memikirkan nasib mereka, dan mungkin lebih sedikit lagi yang bertanya “Bagaimana ini bisa terjadi?”. Toh anak-anak itu adalah rang terendah pada tangga urban baru di Bali yang semakin sesak diinjak-injak, perkotaan yang semakin mendesak manusianya untuk membela kepentingannya masing-masing.

Memang selama tiga dasawarsa terakhir Bali menjadi rebutan, antara orang Bali, antara pendatang dari pulau lainnya di Nusantara, antara para expat yang menikmati “Paradise”. Ironisnya lama-lama bukan “paradise” yang menonjol tapi “parasite”. Saya yakin bahwa pernyataan ini akan tidak enak didengar, terutama oleh penduduk yang mencintai pulau ini. Namun kalau kita telaah kata ‘parasit’ ia adalah bentuk kehidupan yang tidak mengenal “co-dependency” tapi hanya “dependency”. Bentuk kehidupan ini akan hinggap dimana ia bisa menghisap  zat-zat yang dibutuhkannya, tapi tidak membalas budi alam bentuk signifikan. Dalam bentuk ekstrimnya, ‘tuan rumah’nya sang parasit bahkan bisa terhisap kering habis, mati tercekik.

Pola pemikiran parasit tidak melihat langkah lebih jauh dari sekedar kebutuhan hari ini. Ketidakmampuan memandang ke depan serta tidak memahami kepentingan bersama berakibat fatal, dan sesungguhnya adalah pola biadab. Anak-anak yang dikorbankan demi keuntungan orang tua adalah gejala infeksi parasit yang paling parah. Ada juga perilaku kita yang tidak senyata itu tapi tetap juga tindakan yang saling merugikan – contoh sederhana menyerobot antre, tidak bisa mengalah sejenak di perempatan lalulintas, dan sebagainya yang akhirnya membuat kesemrawutan. Daerah urban seolah menjadi tambang emas liar.

Saya ragu mengatakan bahwa ini adalah sifat hakiki manusia Indonesia moderen, saya lebih cenderung berpikir ini terjadi karena kita telah mengabaikan langkah penting dalam perkembangan urban dan masih bisa dikoreksi. Dalam desakan luar biasa yang terjadi kini di Bali (menurut sensus 2010, ada wilayah di Denpasar yang kepadatan penduduknya melebihi sembilan ribu lima ratus jiwa per kilometer persegi) banyak yang tidak sengaja bahkan tidak sadar menjadi parasit. Pola-pola kemasyarakatan lama terbengkelai, pola baru tidak terbentuk. Inilah keluhan yang terdengar saat diskusi tentang urbanisasi Bali baru-baru ini yang diselenggarakan sehari setelah pembukaan pameran foto ‘Urbanities’ .

Dalam diskusi tersebut dua tokoh ‘opinion-maker’ Bali, yaitu wartawan kawakan Bali Wayan Juniartha (“Jun”) dan penulis kolom Obrolan Bale Banjar di harian Bali Post, Made Sudira (“Aridus”), menunjuk hilangnya tokoh-tokoh panutan lama, baik Hindu Bali, Muslim maupun yang lainnya, sebagai faktor yang turut memperparah ketegangan antar kelompok masyarakat yang kini terjadi.

Menurut Jun, dengan adanya perubahan tatanan sosial (kelas menengah baru dsb) serta masuknya elemen jurus agama  didikan luar (bagi Hindu dari India, bagi Muslim dari Pakistan dst) generasi muda telah melupakan kode-kode interaksi antar golongan, antar etnis, antar agama. Terlupakan sudah bagaimana kerajaan-kerajaan Bali mempunyai hubungan khusus dengan kaum pendatang. Di Karangasem, misalnya, kampung-kampung Muslim justru membentengi puri. Mereka bahkan ikut mengamankan dan menjaga kebersihan lingkungan pura tempat sembahyang orang Bali. Sebaliknya ongkos naik haji mereka ditanggung oleh raja. Di Denpasar kaum Bugis pun dulu punya perjanjian khusus dengan Puri Pemecutan.

Sudira menekankan kurangnya komunikasi dan pengertian tentang kepentingan antar masing-masing kelompok. Dulu pada zaman ORLA dia turut membentuk organisasi informal terdiri dari pemuda-pemuda dari berbagai golongan etnis maupun agama untuk membentengi ekses-ekses kekerasan yang terjadi pada pertengahan tahun 60an.

Sudira menunjuk bahwa kini situasi sudah beda, identitas orang Bali yang masih sangat  berakar pada pelaksanaan adat yang sangat memakan waktu hingga parameter kegiatan mereka sulit dicocokan dengan kondisi moderen. Kepentingan bersama semakin sulit ditemukan – namun ironisnya kebanyakan pihak pendatang baru berada di Bali justru karena bagi mereka kebudayaan setempat melahirkan suasana ekonomis yang menjadi ‘gula’ untuk ‘semut’.

Senada dengan itu seorang Ibu asli Bali yang lama merantau ke Jakarta, mengaku shock saat kembali bermukim disini, “semua sudah demikian garang, perilaku bahkan menjadi lebih keras ketimbang Jakarta, dan Bali seolah tinggal komoditas untuk dijual”. Bahkan Pino Confessa, seorang seniman teater kelahiran Itali  yang sudah puluhan tahun bermukim di Bali dan sekarang menjabat sebagai konsul Itali disini, berpendapat bahwa ini semua akibat mitos-mitos komersil dan TV yang telah menggantikan mitos-mitos lama “Masyarakat sekarang bengong dengan sinetron..”.

Di pihak lain, seorang pelukis pendatang dari Jawa yang tinggal di Kuta, Pandji, merasa bahwa sah-sah saja kalau pendatang yang sudah punya ‘watak urban’ dapat meraih kesempatan-kesempatan yang dilalailkan oleh penduduk setempat. Ia malah bertanya, kenapa para pendatang kelas ekonomi rendah yang bekerja keras mendukung ekonomi harus selalu dihasut, contohnya penggerebekan tengah malam yang dilakukan oleh pecalang dan sebagainya. Dengan membagi pengalaman-pengalaman langsung, masing-masing kelompok sempat saling membuka mata akan kegentingan situasi masing-masing.

Tentunya saat diskusi ada pertanyaan mengenai pembangunan fisik – seorang mahasiswi planologi berkomentar tentang daerah yang menjadi langganan banjir setelah pembangunan, ada juga yang menunjuk kurangnya lahan sebagai pemicu – observasi yang valid, namun tetap terjadi suatu konsensus bahwa interaksi sosial berbagai unsur masyarakat tak bisa diabaikan sebagai faktor penentu dalam perencanaan kota,  dan interaksi inilah yang paling menentukan masa depan daerah urban Bali. Keadaan Bali tidak bisa disamakan dengan perkembangan daerah atau negara lain dimana kesepakatan lebih mudah tercapai. Di Bali revolusi agragris, industrial, ekonomis dan teknologi terjadi serempak – tidak heran kalau terjadi pergesekan yg merugikan. Konsensus dari diskusi itu juga mempertegas bahwa tidak bisa mengharapkan pemecahan dari pemerintah, dari aturan baru, dari lembaga-lembaga.

Yang dapat saya simpulkan dari acara tukar-pikiran ini adalah bahwa masyarakat madani sekarang harus lahir dari diri kita sendiri, melihat bahwa tokoh-tokoh panutan yang kuat kini absen. Kini kita yang harus bisa mengolah jiwa dan raga menjadi jaringan komunikatif yang saling mendukung, yang saling membantu mencari jalan menghindari pola parasit – membentuk pola masyarakat madani bersama yang lintas etnis, agama, dan kelompok lainnya  tanpa mengancam identitas masing-masing.

Kini pola demikian tidak semata harapan abstrak. Kita memiliki berbagai kondisi yang mendukung, solusi yang positif semakin mudah di akses dan dibagi dengan bahasa yang lebih universal, apalagi dengan media internet. Sebagai contoh, baru-baru ini di India masyarakat madani berhasil memaksa reformasi pemerintah terhadap korupsi dalam tempo 4 hari. Bagi penduduk Bali, menjadi masyarakat madani adalah sesuatu yang dapat tercapai. Tinggal kemauan dan kecerdasan yang lahir dari ‘sharing’.

Rio Helmi / Bali 19 April 2011

Major Sale at Rio Helmi Gallery (Bali)

Please go to!/album.php?aid=53448&id=119824161369693 to find all the relevant info

HH Dalai Lama – pengamatan tiga dasawarsa

Pertama kali saya bertemu dengan His Holiness Dalai Lama adalah pada tahun 1982, di Yogya. Beliau sedang berkunjung ke Indonesia – Jakarta, Borobudur, Bali. Saat itu saya masih bekerja di Majalah Mutiara, anak perusahaan PT Sinar Harapan. Mendengar beliau ada di Yogya saya tertarik untuk meliput, dan berhasil meyakinkan redaktur saya untuk menugaskan saya untuk itu meskipun sudah ada wartawan Sinar Harapan dan fotografer lainnya.

Pagi itu saya menunggu di lobby hotel beliau menginap, liftnya berada di balik pojok tembok. Setelah kira-kira 15 menit, saya yakin Beliau akan segera tiba. Cepat-cepat saya berlutut mengikat tali sepatu yang lepas. Entah bagaimana menjelaskannya, seolah ada angin segar yang menghembus kencang, dan sesaat kemudian beliau muncul setelah berbelok dari belakang pojok tembok tadi. Saya seperti bengong saja, wajah berseri-seri HH Dalai Lama seolah memancarkan cahaya, lalu ia langsung menatap diriku. Beliau langsung  ketawa lebar, melihat saya kelabakan, lalu menghampiri dan spontan memapah saya yang sedang tergopoh-gopoh berusaha berdiri secepatnya (tali sepatu belum sempat diikat!).

Itu kesan pertama saya – HH Dalai Lama spontan, hangat, tidak memandang bulu. Beliau kemudian memegang erat tangan saya sambil jalan menuju mobil – tidak peduli para protokoler, tidak peduli sekuriti yg lihat kejadian itu. Akrab, padahal baru saja kali itu bertemu.

Hari-hari berikut saya ikuti rombongan sampai mereka berangkat dari Bali, semua berlangsung bak mimpi. HH Dalai Lama setiap ketemu menyalami dengan hangat, mengajak bicara, santai tapi tanggap. Dari ini semua mulai terbentuk suatu kesan yang hingga kini, setelah 28 tahun berhubungan dengan Beliau, tidak berubah melainkan malah bertambah kuat, semakin jelas.

Beliau mewujudkan unsur penting dalam Buddhisme yang seringkali agak tertinggal, yaitu welas asih yang proaktif. Mungkin ini kedengaran aneh, karena kita sering dengar bahwa penganut Buddhis itu mesti punya welas asih. Namun dalam kenyataan saya melihat tidak sedikit yang welas asihnya itu “passif” saja, sekedar.

Pada sosok HH Dalai Lama welas asih yang saya lihat selama bertahun-tahun ini mengandung unsur keberanian dan enersi luar biasa. Keberanian dan enersi terkandung dalam welas asih Beliau mendorongnya untuk mengulurkan tangan kepada siapa saja, bahkan pada mereka yang telah berusaha menyakitinya, welas asihnya mendorong Beliau untuk selalu berupaya melintasi segala batasan antar agama dan antar bangsa, welas asihnya membuatnya tidak takut dengan situasi yang mungkin akan mempersulit dirinya sendiri, welas asihnya mendorong Beliau untuk terus terbang kian kemari memenuhi undangan untuk mengajar di mancanegara.

Namun Beliau tidak takut tegas – saya sendiri pernah merasakan teguran cukup keras dari Beliau suatu saat. Walau keras samasekali tidak terasa unsur kebencian atau marah biasa sedikitpun. Teguran itu begitu tepat pada sasarannya, saya akhirnya sadar bahwa memang saya salah dan tidak beralasan untuk membantah. Tepat saat saya menyadari hal itu, walaupun saya tidak bicara atau memberi isyarat apapun, Beliau menatap tajam dan tiba-tiba lenyaplah segala ekspresi ‘marah’. Beliau kemudian kembali berbicara tentang hal lain, tidak ada rasa tidak senang dsb yang biasanya ada pada orang yang baru marah, seolah orang tua yang memarahi anak kecil. Saat itu saya yakin betul bahwa Beliau membaca pikiran saya seperti orang membaca buku terbuka. Kendati begitu saya tidak merasa “tidak enak” karena setelah sekian lama saya yakin pada welas asihnya, bahwa segala yang dilakukan adalah demi kebaikan orang lain dan ini dilakukan dengan kebijaksanaan yang luar biasa.

Di sisi lain HH tidak pula takut mengakui kekeliruan kalau bisa dibuktikan salah tanggap. Beliau siap mendengar siapa saja selama orang itu berucap jujur isi hatinya dan tidak berusaha bersembunyi dibelakang kesopanan yang semu belaka. Lambat laun saya mulai sadar bahwa welas asihnya sebenarnya sudah lama berkembang menjadi bodhicitta yang murni dan spontan. Secara klasik, definisi bodhicitta, atau batin pencerahan, adalah tekad bulat untuk mencapai keBuddhaan, agar bisa membantu makhluk lain bahagia dan bebas dari derita, yang dibarengi dengan berkembangnya prajna atau pandangan bijaksana yang paham penuh keadaan realita.

Secara nyata yang saya lihat pada Beliau adalah bahwa Bodhicitta membuat seseorang jauh melampaui batasan-batasan yg biasa kita temui pada seseorang.

Anda yang membaca boleh saja berpikir bahwa ini penilaian subjektif seorang murid tentang gurunya, dan memang tidak sepenuhnya salah. Namun inilah yang saya alami selama berkali-kali dengan Beliau, baik dari percakapan yang ringan maupun yang lebih serius. Pertimbangan dan analisa yang diberi Beliau selalu cerah dan logis. Pertanyaan-pertanyaannya selalu tajam dan relevan. Dan jangan pikir bahwa HH Dalai Lama tidak ‘up-to-date’ tentang berita dunia. Setiap pagi setelah bangun subuh untuk bermeditasi dan sembahyang beberapa jam, Beliau rutin nonton BBC News sambil makan pagi. Beliau juga paling senang tukar pikiran dengan berbagai pakar ilmu sains maupun yang lainnya.

Saya masih ingat ketika kebetulan saya diajak untuk menghadiri konperensi beliau dengan lima ilmuwan quantum physics terkemuka di dunia sebagai pengamat pasif. Kebetulan sekretaris Beliau waktu itu keliru membuat tanggal audiensi, dan saya datang jauh-jauh dari Indonesia pas saat konperensi akan dimulai. Dengan tersipu-sipu sang sekretaris menjelaskan situasinya dan mohon maaf, lalu mungkin karena guilty feeling ia menawarkan kesempatan itu. Wah, ketiban rezeki! Jiwa oportunisku tak terbendung, saya terima. Siapa yang akan menolak kesempatan seperti itu? Ketika saya masuk ke ruangan HH Dalai Lama ketawa dan menyalami saya seolah-olah saya adalah undangan resmi, padahal pasti sadar bahwa saya selundupan sekretarisnya.

Pada pembukaan acara tersebut, HH mengatakan bahwa dia terbuka: bilamana para ilmuwan bisa membuktikan bahwa ada yg dalam teori Buddhis tidak benar, ia bersedia mengubah keyakinannya terhadap hal itu. Mereka sedikit tercengang. Maka berlangsunglah 5 hari yang luar biasa, saya pribadi seolah sedang mendapat pencerahan langsung (sayang hanya ‘seolah’)– percakapan ilmuwan itu diikuti dan dikomentari dengan sangat saksama oleh beliau. Para ilmuwan itupun terlihat sangat terkesan oleh kemampuan Beliau mengikuti, dan juga komentar tajam Beliau tentang hal-hal yang parallel dalam pengetahuan Buddhis. Dua hari setelah konperensi selesai akhirnya saya dapat audiensi. Beliau tiba-tiba muncul ke dalam ruangan dengan langkah tegas, dan kata-kata antusias langsung meletup dari bibirnya bahkan sebelum ia duduk: “Wah menarik sekali ya, ternyata banyak sekali yang bisa didapatkan dari pertemuan itu. Dan mereka (para ilmuwan) pun mengakui mereka mentok, harus ada cara observasi lain yang memerlukan keadaan batin yang ditingkatkan melalui meditasi atau serupa. Kita benar-benar saling mengisi”. Demikian sikapnya yang terbuka untuk segala hal yang dapat dibuktikan secara rasional, dan kesediaan Beliau untuk saling sharing. Saya tinggal ngangguk-ngangguk, padahal  jujur kata sebagian besar konperensi itu di luar kemampuan saya untuk memahaminya!!

Perhatian dan ingatan beliau bagi semua yang berhubungan dengannya legendaris, baik terhadap yang bertemu dengannya sekilas maupun untuk waktu lebih lama. Setelah mendapatkan Hadiah Nobel tahun 89 kesibukan HH Dalai Lama menerima tamu dan berkunjung, mengajar dan sebagainya bertambah – padahal sebelumnya pun jadwal sudah padat. Meski demikian Beliau tetap saja mengingat orang yang pernah dijumpainya, dan berusaha menyediakan waktu, walaupun hanya 10-15 menit, apalagi untuk ‘kawan-kawan lama’ demikian istilah Beliau.

Ini satu ciri lagi dari Beliau, menerima kehadiran semua orang – ciri yang cukup merepotkan stafnya! Jadwal beliau luar biasa melelahkan, tak jarang anggota rombongan beliau harus gantian karena tidak sanggup secara fisik dan mental mendampingi beliau sepanjang tahun – padahal umur Beliau kini sudah 75! Staf Beliau kewalahan mengatur waktu, terpaksa intervensi menolak permintaan bertubi-tubi agar Beliau bisa istirahat.

Kemana pun HH Dalai Lama pergi, ia selalu memperhatikan orang di sekitarnya, tidak peduli tukang sapu ataupun sekuriti, presiden atau pembesar lainnya, kalau sempat semua akan disambutnya dengan kehangatan khas yang sama. Dalam berbagai situasi dimana ada wejangan dharma yg dihadiri kerumunan puluhan ribu orang pun, HH tetap memantau sifat hampir setiap orang yang hadir – entah bagaimana caranya, tapi itulah kesan saya yang timbul setelah saya perhatikan bagaimana Beliau berinteraksi dengan orang-orang itu. Walaupun tentunya tidak mungkin menyambut semua satu per satu Beliau pasti akan berhenti sejenak menyambut salah satu hadirin secara pribadi saat keluar atau masuk.

Bahkan tahun ini, dalam situasi wejangan dharma yang cukup formil di Kullu, ada satu lelaki India yang setengah baya lebih nyelonong masuk ke ruang temple tempat kami semua berkumpul. Memang biasa orang India yang rasa baktinya sangat kuat akan masuk saja saat seorang Lama mengajar dan mengitari altar sambil memberi hormat dari kejauhan, tanpa rasa canggung terhadap ratusan orang yang sedang duduk penuh konsentrasi mendengar ajaran. Tiba-tiba pria itu melangkah langsung mendekati tempat duduknya HH Dalai Lama. Kaget, kontan seorang sekuriti kekar loncat menyergapnya dengan agak kasar. HH Dalai Lama  menegur sekuritinya, bertanya pada pria itu dan kemudian memberi izin pada pria itu mendekat. Setelah pria itu dicek untuk senjata, sekuritinya terpaksa melepaskan pria itu. Pria itu mendekat, ternyata hanya ingin memberi hormat langsung. HH Dalai Lama langsung mengulurkan tangan untuk menjabat tangan pria itu, pria itu penuh emosi menekan tangan Beliau ke dahinya sebagai tanda hormat, lalu pergi dengan tenang. Kemudian HH Dalai Lama menyambung lagi ajarannya, seolah kejadian biasa.

Beliau prihatin atas kekerasan apapun, dan juga pelanggaran hak siapapun. Suatu saat melihat betapa keras terjadinya diskriminasi terhadap kaum Muslim di negeri Barat setelah peristiwa 9/11 beliau berkata bahwa dirinya adalah pembela Islam yang sejati! HH Dalai Lama sangat prihatin sekali dengan apa yang kini terjadi di dunia. Beliau melihat bahwa sebenarnya yang harus terjadi adalah perkembangan suatu etika sekuler yang humanis, lintas agama, lintas suku, lintas bangsa. Beliau bekerja keras untuk itu, dan mau tidak mau juga berinteraksi dengan politik. Sebenarnya secara pribadi HH Dalai Lama tidak senang dengan dunia politik, namun mau tidak mau demi rakyatnya ia harus berhadapan dengan dunia itu. Beliau sendiri sudah berupaya sedapat mungkin untuk menciptakan demokrasi untuk rakyat Tibet, dan sudah lebih dari dua dasawarsa sistem pemilu diterapkan dikalangan orang Tibet di pengasingan. Namun demikian harus diakui bahwa kebanyakan orang Tibet masih menginginkannya sebagai pemimpin tunggal. Cukup ironis karena Beliau sendiri melihat bahwa untuk bisa bertahan sebagai bangsa yang autonom orang Tibet harus menganut demokrasi.

Beban yang dipikulnya sungguh berat – di satu sisi pihak RRC menekan, mencerca dan memilintir fakta pada setiap kesempatan, di sisi lain ada unsur rakyatnya sendiri yang lebih radikal yang menginginkan perlawanan terhadap RRC dengan kekerasan dan tidak puas dengan upaya damai yang dilakukan Beliau. Belum lagi para politisi dunia yang bak bunglon berubah sikap setiap saat, mulai dari Mao Tse Tung yang membohonginya, PBB yang menelantarkannya dulu,  sampai para pemimpin dunia sekarang – kadang mendukung, kadang terbungkam saja. Walau demikian HH Dalai Lama tetap tegar, tekun mengupayakan solusi damai untuk Tibet agar bisa mempertahankan budaya dan agamanya.

Di dunia ini, rasanya hanya satu orang seperti beliau. Tidak sedikit orang-orang luar biasa berprestasi di dunia internasional yang mengakuinya. Pada satu-satunya kesempatan saya bertemu dengannya,  pemenang hadiah Nobel lainnya, Uskup Agung Desmond Tutu pernah berujar penuh semangat: “I love His Holiness the Dalai Lama! Sooooo much compassion!”

Tapi sesungguhnya daripada hanya mengagumi beliau habis-habisan, lebih baik lagi kalau kita bisa menjadikannya panutan bagi diri kita sendiri. HH Dalai Lama sebenarnya tidak ingin didewakan. Beliau lebih memberi contoh bahwa kita bisa mengubah pola pikiran kita, kita semua sebagai manusia bisalah berkembang masing-masing. Kalau kita tidak kembangkan welas asih yang proaktif seperti halnya beliau lakukan, bagaimana kita akan menyelesaikan begitu banyak masalah di dunia yang nan rumit ini?


I enjoy football as much as anyone else. But I haven’t watched one world cup game this time. Not only have I been super busy, and could not be bothered to set up my tv for off-cable reception at home,  I somehow just don’t feel like endorsing a lot of what is going on.

Just watching which emotions gets stirred up by this super-hyped up event is a lesson. Having people enjoy and admire athletes perform is uplifting, I won’t deny it. I have a lot of respect for the all the hard training and skill that goes into it.

But there is a more disturbing side to the competition which has now become completely acceptable, many would say inevitable. And I am not even talking about the hooliganism or the strange, vicarious chauvinism of fans rooting for their favourites, invoking God and whoever else they chose to believe in. If anything they could almost be called the victims.

Sure, it didn’t take too long after the Olympics, for example, were re-established early last century for sports to exploited on an internationally political level. Hitler vs Jesse Owens made sure we wouldn’t miss that. But those days were almost innocent compared to now. FDR didn’t even send Owens a congratulation cable, much less an invite to the White House. Imagine today’s White House passing that one up (“No We Can’t”?).

Every four years the networks and sponsors scramble to outbid each other – the payoffs are enormous. Obviously all the fans are a huge cash cow, nothing wrong with that in a free market capitalist world, and I’m sure some North Koreans watched a few games too. And so when the players get huge pay checks, one could argue that’s their due, and it pays off in the level of sheer athletic brilliance it ensures.

The part I don’t get is: where has the sportsmanship gone? Where is the respect to all the fans aside from some inane bubbling in shlock magazines that are more interested in hair styles than anything else? How many Peles are there today?

Are you telling me that it’s too much to expect from someone who is getting paid millions and millions to be aware that they are a role model to the young the whole world around? I can understand that there is a huge pressure to perform, but how does it come that a player has no sense of shame when, literally under the spotlight and watched by billions of people, he kicks someone in the shins, stomps on their leg, pulls their shirt, and whatever else?

Is just winning and gladiatorship really uplifting? There is more respect due for a side that plays well but loses gracefully than a side that wins by playing a nasty game, then races around crowing.

Still trying to make up my mind whether or not to watch the finals.

What Will Rise from the Ashes of Bangkok?

There were no winners in Wednesday’s showdown in Bangkok. The Reds’ supposed people’s movement had long shown signs of extreme rogue elements, and was tainted from the beginning as being motored by a supremely corrupt, bitter, and vindictive – albeit “illegally” deposed –  ex-prime minister. There is no question that there were some sincere ‘simple folk’ amongst them, but it is also clear that they had been duped, and then utterly betrayed in the crimson, blood stained retreat.

The deliberate and professional torching of Bangkok’s business center wiped out whatever little remaining sympathy there was for this people’s movement. The sheer brigandry of it has left a very bad taste in everyone’s mouth, and for now these ‘simple folk’ couldn’t be any further away from getting a better deal – anyone associated with the Red movement has been branded.

For the other side there really isn’t much of a victory either. The current government might be led by intelligent figures (looking back over the last few years, this is easily the most credible bunch yet), but it could not muster enough control over its admittedly divided army to crack down firmly and quickly on the early stages of a disruptive movement in the heart of its own capital. A ragtag mob, fed by the dirty money of a deposed leader, was allowed to stay for weeks after the initial outrage of taking over the retail heart of the city. Early on the government, even after losing face in front of all its ASEAN neighbors in that embarrassing helicopter evacuation in Pattaya last year, seemed unwilling to take any serious action to break the back of a clearly escalating chaos.

The end result? The entire world staring at distressing images of mayhem in downtown Bangkok. Central World blazing. People facedown on the ground, humiliated and cuffed. Bloodied bodies and corpses. Strangely disturbing too, the image of a monk cuffed to a plastic chair, his face twisted in emotion – everyone knows how privileged and revered monks supposedly are in Thailand. After a couple of days the world will tire of the news in Thailand and move on. Nonetheless, their memories of the country will be those images. They will take time to fade.

Abhisit’s government has had an unfortunate track record from its early months: its perceived unwillingness to come down in court on leaders of the Yellow shirt movement, who so blithely flaunted the law and took over the airport a couple of years ago, crippling all international air traffic to Bangkok for a week. Court proceedings seemed to trail off into vapor along with any moral authority that the government might have had. Political will was hardly evident. Worse yet, it opened the doors to escalation. Granted the airport occupation was a fun fair compared to the Reds’ occupation downtown, and that there was no shortage of people duped into the Yellow movement as well; but there  is no question that to the Reds it became: “Hey, if they can get away with it, so can we”.

It is perhaps a little unfair to criticize the current Thai government for just simple indecisiveness. Amongst all the squabbling factions, royalists or not, there are two very real powers in Thailand: money and military. For much of Southeast Asia, that’s nothing new. Perhaps somewhere in the hearts of many there is a craving for a moral leadership, yet even that moral leadership in the end would have to negotiate those two minefields.

And what has become clear in this debacle is that in today’s Thailand both money and military can go any way they damn well please. General Anupong, military commander–in-chief due to retire, most likely had little stomach for a career blemishing finale, and it is well known the military is split. Undoubtedly it will be a few years before we hear what really went on in the backrooms of the military barracks when Abhisit himself was quartered there for protection. On the other hand, a billion baht still buys as much as a billion baht will, even if it comes from the coffers of one of the most viciously vindictive of corrupt politicians. In this case money blind-sided a whole government.

Abhisit’s government did appear to dither in the early stages of this debacle. Coming into power in a controversial way himself, Abhisit has never been really been able to get even his own party behind him, let alone a whole electorate. He allowed the army to send in green recruits for weeks when a one-day sweep with the crack troops would have nipped it in the bud. When they were finally sent in it was clear that bloodshed and mayhem would be inevitable. He has displayed a dismal lack of political savoir-faire in dealing with the Reds, offering practically no graceful way out for their leaders to compromise without being seen as sell-outs.

The world at large may try to depict this as simply a class struggle or a country versus city conflict. But it is far more complicated, a story of manipulation and counter-manipulation, with many duped on both sides. And the speed at which Bangkok’s once vibrant economy spiralled into chaos was alarming.

Now amongst the ashes and the impending knock-on effects on the Thai economy, Abhisit’s government has to be decisive and bold. Whether there will be elections or not, the bitterness that is dividing Thailand is not going away; it will continue to fester. Whether he will continue much longer in office or not, Abhisit needs to display extraordinary leadership and reach out to all sides evenhandedly. And he needs to do this very soon. A witch hunt will make it worse. It is a daunting task, given the vengefulness which has reared its ugly face, but for the future of Thailand there is little choice.

It is a Thai problem, and only Thai leadership can bring the country back together. Now the question is, can Abhisit lead an effective civilian government to bring reconciliation to this torn nation? Or will General Anupong’s successors push for yet another military ‘solution’?


It’s quite clear that most people like me know nothing about leadership, trust building, or long term national development. Only recently have I realized my views on democracy are terribly naive. Until now I always thought that you just choose the best man or woman for the job from the 220 million people that populate this archipelago, then he or she gets on with managing the country. Now I know it’s really about holding on to that office for dear life. And for some befuddled reason I had this idea that democracy had more to do with the ethic of caring for the greater good of the people, whereas it’s really simply just a system for getting into that office.

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but as far as politics go, I just listen to what everyone else is talking about and assume that that must be the most important issue of the day. For example, in the last few months we have had hours of TV coverage on what I thought was a major corruption scandal, which is all tangled up with a high profile murder case involving someone who should be above corruption, and a major bailout (involving a minor bank) which for some reason is only being questioned now (and not before it happened).

All of this supposedly goes back to the previous administration; but some of the people from that time have come up to the microphone and told their story and explained how they aren’t responsible. I’m so out of the loop that I didn’t know that once you are out of office you aren’t responsible for what was part of your job back when you were. Boy do I have to brush up. What you do is lynch people who are in office now for what happened then because they are here now. I know it sounds complicated, but apparently philosophically it makes sense.

You see, I found out this is all happening now not because it really did happen then, but because some bad people don’t like the President (then and) now. It turns out that even the Jakarta hotel bombers just wanted to hurt the President personally (he said so himself), and plain mistook the hotel for the palace.

Now that I have understood this reality, my trust in the leadership is fully restored. When the President says nothing, I’ve come to learn it means he is saying something he really means because he is not saying anything at all. And when he does actually say something, not only does he also mean it, but it is the core of the matter, the most relevant of the moment. That’s what leadership is all about. We citizens should know exactly when to take something on, um, face value.

So, when on Tuesday the President vowed publicly (well, on a train full of press people) to restore vitality to Indonesia’s football, I realized how important this was. What a fool I was, focusing on trying to get to the bottom of all these made up corruption stories, when what we really need to do is win the World Cup (or at least the Asian bit of it). That’ll fix everything, and we will finally be a developed nation.

Piece of Mind: Conde Nast Names Ubud ‘Top Asian City’?

from the Jakarta Globe, Friday 22/01/2010

Everyone loves Conde Nast Traveler when it’s on your side, and players in the tourism industry hold their breath when it comes time for  “Best of” lists to be published. Never mind whether you like them or loathe them, Conde Nast publications rule the fashionista horizon – the Lords of the Bling.

But that doesn’t mean that their pronouncements can’t be erratic. Some whisper “bought”, but by who?

My opinion tends to lean more towards the theory that they simply follow what they think are promising trends and try not to get caught with their designer pants down. The Traveler’s ‘best of’ list is, so it goes, voted on by readers.

Please don’t get me wrong  – Conde Nast has been kind to Bali, supportive of the island’s struggle to get back on its feet after crippling terrorist attacks in this last decade.

But its latest rating has left me a bit bemused. The majority of 25,000 of its readers apparently felt that Ubud is the ‘Best City in Asia’.

As a long term resident of Ubud I’ll have to admit to a certain twinge of pride (gimme a break, its been my home for more than three and a half decades).

But the wet blanket in me went: “What the flip?”

Have I been asleep, snoring away the years like Rip van Winkle, only to wake up and find out that Ubud is not the village I arrived in during the early ’70s, complete with no electricity and dirt roads?

Quite the contrary, for the last decade I have been calling Ubud a town, despite some starry-eyed expats trying to tell me it’s a village.

There are traffic jams, and shops everywhere. But city it is not. As a matter of fact, despite it being the ‘capital’ of this kecamatan, or administrative district, it has yet to even be officially recognized as a town, let alone a city! Ubud is still called a kelurahan , or administrative village.

Yes it has a center – one major crossroad, the epicenter of our very own traffic jams (except between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. on good days).

Outlets we have plenty of, complete with Polo, Calvin Klein – if you can fake it, we got it. Its restaurants rival Seminyak’s. And we have one soccer field, which doubles as an all-purpose public space cum parking lot cum kiddies mud bath.

There’s also a lot of culture going on, you can buy tickets to much of it.

But despite all the Disney-esque features, great nosh and the litter, it’s a far cry from a city.

Having been left slightly taken aback by a short-lived local poster campaign that tried to sell Ubud as the ‘Cultural Capital of the World’ (take that NYC, London, Paris, Prague, Berlin and what have you – I bet you don’t have trance dances every Wednesday), I can only imagine the confusion that lies ahead.

All those years we have been trying to sell the place on its charms as the ‘village of the artists’, now we have to jump to ‘thrilling city’? Oh dear. I’m gonna have a nap again, and perhaps when I wake up Ubud will be a country.

Rio Helmi is a photographer based in Ubud, Bali.