A note of thanks to The Jakarta Post newsroom

I remember the first day I stepped into The Jakarta Post. 23. Fresh from my undergrad. I was not the person I am now. For starters, I was somewhat religious. There was a panel – then Chief Editor Endy Bayuni, then managing editor Ati Nurbaiti, senior editor Harry Bhaskara – interviewing me for a position as cub reporter. They wanted to know whether or not I could fit in the hectic newsroom atmosphere. “How do you deal with pressure?” Pak Harry asked. I told him that the funny thing about pressure and hardship is that it makes one become more religious than usual. “I usually just pray a lot,” I said.

The question was repeated again.  Were they looking for another answer? I added that I control my breathing and I pray. I guess, I answered the other questions better than this one because I got the job.

On Friday, I sat in Riyadi Suparno’s office to say good-bye as I resign from The Post, the newspaper that have become my “second home” for the last eight years. Riyadi is now CEO of The Post. When I entered eight years ago, he was still managing editor. “Nobody comes out of The Post the same person,” he said. “True, I rarely pray these days,” I said.

The Post didn’t turn me into a heathen. Don’t get me wrong. But, it did – with its liberal and open atmosphere – given me the courage to question things I dared not to before.  How could you not? You were lumped in a newsroom filled with a wide spectrum of people, from devout religious reporters and editors, former priests-to-be, nominal Muslims, and non-believing editors and sub-editors, working to produce a newspaper whose vision was to promote a civil and humane society. Whatever values one brought to that newsroom would be exposed to different ones. The journey to self-discovery is a never-ending one as long as it has begun. The Post made it possible for me to start.

Working for The Post has also made me a better reporter and writer. At the same time, several years writing for the newspaper humbled me of the enormity of the task. On my first year at The Post, chief editor Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, then still managing editor, told me that I would get the hang of writing five years along the line. “That’s an awful lot of time” I thought. But now, having passed the five-year mark, I still struggle and have a lot of work to do, and I’m thinking Dymas, the chief’s nickname, might have been going easy on me.

Admittedly, the newspaper is not without flaws. I have my share of faults in contributing to the “correction” box. Annoying typo can be seen once in awhile. And I have met readers who complain about our reporting. But all in all, in terms of the newspaper’s commitment to its vision, I think the stories it publishes speak for itself.

I entered The Jakarta Post bright-eyed and nervous, slogged through my initial years stressed out, found the topic I’m most interested in and started to enjoy the day-to-day of reporting and writing.

I go with a heavy heart.

I am leaving not because of any conflict or a better offer. I am starting The Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship this September, making me relocate to the U.S. for more than half a year. But, the fellowship is more of a momentum rather than a reason to leave. Along the years, The Post has not only become a home to me but a comfort zone.

I am bright-eyed and nervous once more. Scared, really. But, if there’s one thing working with The Post taught me is to have courage. Thank you. Wish me luck.

Embarking on a new journey of learning – Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship

I will be spending time in the United States during the fall and winter as International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF)’s 2013-2014 Elizabeth Neuffer fellow. I plan to research on the phenomenon of increasing religious intolerance and violence in Indonesia at the MIT’s Center for International Studies.

There are burning questions that I’m sure a lot of us who are sickened by the endless news about religious violence would like to find answers to. What are people so afraid of? Why do people feel threatened by those who are different? Is it important to differentiate between the sacred and profane? How do political and economical factors play in acts of religious intolerance and violence?

I will also have the opportunity to intern at The Boston Globe and The New York Times.

The fellowship will start in September and I will be posting thoughts about the experience here. In the mean time before my departure I will be posting my reports for The Jakarta Post.

The fellowship is named after Elizabeth Neuffer, The Boston Globe reporter and winner of the 1998 IWMF Courage in Journalism Award. Neuffer who reported on human rights and social justice issues was killed on assignment in Iraq in 2003.

Elizabeth Neuffer - IWMF
Elizabeth Neuffer – IWMF

Sampang revisited – where’s compassion?

Nearly seven  months ago, I went to Sampang, a small town in Madura Island off the northeastern tip of Java. Around 200 Shiites were taking refuge in a indoor tennis court. Their houses razed to the ground by an angry Sunni mob. I went there and talked to the people: the stories can be read here, here and here.

I’ve worked on different stories since and however disheartening what happened in Sampang, it slowly slipped my mind. Until a few days ago, I thought of them, and wondered about how they were doing. When I was there, the Sampang regent was adamant that he would not let them return to their houses, even though they were forcibly displaced by religious vigilantes. Has he changed his mind?

Apparently not. Andy Irfan, from East Java Commision of Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) said they were still in the same tennis indoor court.

Worse still as their fate is in limbo, the court ruled the only person the police arrested over the attack as not guilty. No one from the thousand of people who burned down people’s houses is held accountable.

Madura is famous for the many Islamic boarding schools in the island. They call it the land of ulemas. But, why is there no compassion and justice in that island?

*Human Rights Watch released last month a report on religious intolerance and violence. See HRW’s report here and the government’s response here.