New Year’s Note

I don’t really believe in coincidences, but I guess sometimes it happens. And it happens when you least expect it.
2014 was a good year for me, for my personal character growth and my professional development as well. Although I still want to maintain this blog as a policy blog, I’d like to share a bit of my personal story as well, particularly about a string of coincidences that has put me in a job where I am today.
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New York, September 2014. I was assigned to assist Pak Kuntoro, my boss in the Presidential Delivery Unit (UKP4) for a mission during the UN General Assembly. We had lunch in Le Pain Quotidien, the one in 2nd Avenue.
It was one of my most memorable chats with him, as he told me a valuable lesson about trust.
“Fika, there are a lot of smart and capable people in this world, but what makes you different is about trust. When you are chosen or trusted by someone to do a job, do your best to not break that trust and work as hard as you can”.
Pak Kuntoro was referring to his experience when he was assigned by President Yudhoyono as the Chief of Reconstruction and Rehabilitation for Aceh and Nias after the 2004 tsunami and earthquake. He didn’t have any experience about disaster management, he’s not Acehnese, and at the time he knew that there are more “experts” for the job. But he took the job anyway and by the time BRR was dissolved in 2009, they managed USD 7.2 billion for reconstruction in Aceh and Nias, a feat that cannot be done if the global community didn’t have trust to manage that amount of money.
With Pak Kuntoro in Le Pain Quotidien, 2nd Avenue, New York
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Jakarta, 10 October 2014. I was accompanying Pak Kuntoro for a book launch on the 10 year commemoration of the Aceh Tsunami. That day was actually the first time I met Ibu Susi of Susi Air.
Pak Kuntoro and Ibu Susi were long time friends during Aceh times, and when I was introduced to Ibu Susi, my first impression about her was someone who has heart in what she does and an unbelievable compassion for others.
She was also quick to tell me about numbers and data about the operation involved in extinguishing the forest fires and haze in Riau. And then I noticed that figures and numbers are something that Ibu Susi is also good at, in addition to observing that she will not hesitate to tell things as it is, even though I just met her.
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Ibu Susi and Pak Kuntoro in Aceh tsunami 10 year commemoration book launch event
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Cabinet announcement, October 2014. I remember the days before, I texted Pak Kuntoro saying that I had a dream about him not becoming minister in President Jokowi’s cabinet. I told him how I actually felt relieved, instead of feeling disappointed that he won’t have a ministerial position in the next government. He then called to say thank you.
So, when the ministers are announced, and Ibu Susi’s name was called by the President, I texted Pak Kuntoro a simple message, “Pak Kun, we should help Ibu Susi”. I meant we as a team and didn’t mean myself personally.
However, a week later on a Sunday night, I got an unexpected phone call from Ibu Susi. When I picked up my phone, a deep, raspy voice greeted me, “So Pak Kuntoro told me you want to help me? Are you sure? My speed is not like him so you better be prepared”.
And that’s how it all started.
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Landing in Simeulue, Aceh. December 2014. Photo by Didik Heriyanto.
***
In the course of my early days assisting Ibu Susi, one of the most memorable conversations that I got from her is about courage. We had lunch one day in her residence, eating fish from Pangandaran which she insisted is not like the fish in Jakarta.
“Fika, do you know what’s lacking in this country? Courage. We can’t teach courage to people unless our leaders put themselves at risk”.
And so she did. The fishing license moratorium and anti transhipment policy, her strong stance against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, have definitely irked some people, but on the other side we have been getting support as well. You just can’t please everybody. Policymakers need to see things from a broader and strategic view for the long term, and sometimes it means taking actions that may seem unpopular for the short term.
***
So, 2015. I don’t know what kind of coincidences will happen in the days to come. I’m still young and I have a lot more to learn. I’m also a person who do not like to be in the spotlight, but I guess my job right now means this is inevitable.
I’m grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to learn a lot of things, not just about trust and courage, from people who have throughly experienced it. I hope once in a while I can share it through this blog and use this as another form of communication.
Happy new year!
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Punk’s definitely kicking and alive in Aceh

Photograph: Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images

During my college years I wanted to get a mohawk haircut. It never happened, but if I were in Aceh I might want to shelve that thought forever.

It all started when a group of 64 punkers attended an orphanage charity rock concert “Aceh for Punk”. According to a twitter user, whose brother was one of the punkers involved, as they were about to go on stage, they were stopped by the Banda Aceh deputy city mayor, Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal, and the Aceh sharia police. Their reason, the punkers did not have permission to perform.

Whatever justification it may be, the following events was the “moral re-education” of these young punkers, most who are still in school. They were shaved, their punk attire stripped, thrown into pools of water for “spiritual cleansing” and they were given brushes because they are seen as dirty and have never showered for days.

Illiza, who’s involved in many Aceh sharia raids, further explained that these punkers are “creating public nuisance” and determines to pursue the punkers who escaped the raid on last Saturday (10/12). Illiza’s argument was that these punkers are also morally corrupt, because “men and women are together and it conflicts with Islamic sharia”.

Indonesia’s Aceh province was given special autonomy to implement sharia law after the peace agreement to end the separatist struggle in 2005. The current struggle, it seems, is questioning whether enforcing these sharia principles makes common sense.

Being a punker is an ideology, it is an identity. Though I do not know much about being a punk rocker, I know for sure that just by being one it is not amoral. Hence, the purpose of these moral re-education in Aceh is baseless and have the potential to violate their human rights.

Iskandar Hasan, Aceh’s police chief, however, denied the human rights violation allegation:

“We’re not torturing anyone,” he said. “We’re not violating human rights. We’re just trying to put them back on the right moral path.”

Whose moral path is it again?