Shortly after my arrival in Jakarta I was told (in typical local fashion) that we had an appointment to meet with the Governor of our province, Kalimantan Tengah (Central Indonesian Boneo) in two days’ time. The appointment was at one o’clock in a suite at a hotel in Palangka Raya, the provincial capital, where the Governor was attending a conference.
Ms. Renie and I, along with two others in our group, took the early morning Garuda flight from Jakarta to Palangka Raya. I had to get up at some ungodly hour like 4 am in order to get to the airport at least one hour before the flight. To my surprise, the drive to the airport ,which normally takes at least one and a half hours under the normal conditions of Jakarta traffic, took about 40 minutes in the early morning darkness! ”I had no idea that the airport was so close, “I told the taxi driver.
Our main purpose in meeting the Governor was to try to convince him to cancel some problematical palm oil plantation concessions in the Seruyan Regency on the eastern side of Tanjung Puting National Park. The Forestry Minister (I don’t care what anyone says; I have to compliment him on this one case!) has refused to sign off on these concessions. The Regent of the Seruyan region, who had initially recommended them several years ago, recently changed his mind and wrote a letter to the Minister of Forestry cancelling his recommendation. We were trying to persuade the Governor to do the same.
The four of us, including Ms. Renie and myself, were met in Palangka Raya by two state legislators who took us to a local Chinese restaurant for an early lunch. In Indonesia it is still possible to take drinking water or other fluids on board domestic flights. This proved a boon as for some reason, despite several entreaties by several members of our party, myself included, the waiter repeatedly forgot to bring me any water or the fruit juice I had ordered. I would have been reduced to drinking from other people’s glasses had I not been able to pull out my bottled water. Sometimes it is best to be prepared.
The local freshwater fish, fried to a crisp, and the river prawns were delicious. But, sitting in the private dining room off the main restaurant, I noticed that one member of our party was practically dancing with his legs as he sat at the table. It turned out he had a gigantic cockroach go up under his pant leg. He shook the cockroach out and it darted under the table, heading in my direction. Suddenly I felt hard little legs going up my leg under my pants! I grabbed the creature who was now in the middle of my left thigh under my pant leg and squeezed as hard as I could with my fingers. Then I shook my left leg and a smashed, decapitated giant cockroach fell out onto the floor. I’ve been in Kalimantan too long, I thought. The incident wasn’t even worthy of comment to anyone at the table. However, I kept a very watchful eye on the floor for further cockroaches as I ate my meal. My water and freshly squeezed fruit juice finally arrived just as we were getting up to leave.
We arrived at the appointment an hour early. This appointment was so important that we didn’t dare risk being one minute late.
The hotel had just opened days ago and was gleaming. The lobby was crowded with officials attending the conference on improving infrastructure in the provice. I met the Governor’s older brother who was the head of the provincial legislature. He was a Dayak in his late sixties. (The Dayaks are the aboriginal people of Borneo). The irises of his brown eyes were surprisingly rimmed with blue around the brown. I told him I had never seen such a thing before. He laughed, leaned towards me, and said that it was indicative of his European heritage. I think he was joking but I couldn’t be certain!
After the older brother left to join a conference session, someone said “That family are the Kennedys of Kalimantan Tengah.” When I looked confused, he explained that in addition to the Governor, the older brother who was the head of the provincial legislature, and nephews who were provincial legislators, there were other members of the family who were politicians or in government service.
The Governor saw us ten minutes late. The meeting which was scheduled for one hour lasted about one hour and two minutes. The Governor, a thoughtful man behind glasses, listened very attentively to our presentation concerning the forest in the Seruyan area. The Governor asked several questions but the most interesting question had to do with the Regent of the Seruyan area. “Why”, asked the Governor “had the Regent from the Seruyan changed his mind about the palm oil concessions and cancel his recommendation for them?”
We explained that the situation in the world had changed. The Seruyan Regent realized that there was now a possibility that intact forests could be worth more for the voluntary carbon trade than cut down and cleared for palm oil.
Could the Governor, I asked, provide a letter that supported the cancellation of the palm oil concessions in the Seruyan area. The Governor thought for a few seconds and said that he would have to consult with his advisors and other government officials before he could issue such a letter. He seemed sincere and pleasant. We were told that he was absolutely “clean” but gave away palm oil concessions as a reward for political supporters. He could not be bought but did reward his loyalists. How different is that from politicians anywhere in the world?
The next morning we left Palangka Raya, returning to Jakarta in the early afternoon. We didn’t know whether our mission with the Governor had succeeded or failed. Ms. Renie and I discussed it briefly but decided that only time would tell.