Indonesians are today voting in the second round of their presidential elections. This is the first time that Indonesians have voted in direct presidential elections–formerly they had something like an electoral college, which was famously corrupt. We stayed in all morning in case there were any problems, but none have appeared and the polls close in about half an hour here. The streets are fairly quiet as most people seem to be voting or otherwise taking advantage of this national holiday. (Or maybe they’re just avoiding the midday heat.)
It’s interesting to note–credit for this observation goes to the Jakarta Post–that the four countries with the largest Muslim populations in the world are all democracies. Indonesia, Turkey, India, and Bangladesh; and if you believe Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan is the fifth, itself the fifth largest Muslim country. What is even more interesting is the fact that none of these five countries are Arab countries. That’s something that people in the West–and more importantly people in America–seem to forget: all Muslims are not Arabs, and likewise not all Arabs are Muslims. In fact, only 20% of the world’s Muslims live in the Middle East.
To be fair, our American media misrepresents this balance frequently, leading to lopsided information about the Muslim world. We shouldn’t blame Americans for being provincial if we are never schooled about the rest of the world. Vanity Fair had a good article a couple months ago about why Indonesia will not go the way of fundamentalism.
As for us, we’re just normal. We had a funny experience at dinner last night, picking out our own living fish for dinner. He was delicious (after he was cooked). Tomorrow the paperwork begins. According to our welcome packet from the American Indonesian Exchange Foundation, we can look forward to at least three, but probably five, days of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo as we register with the local immigration office, the police, the Indonesian Science Foundation, etc. Fortunately we have been promised a guide for this entire, rather confusing, process. S/he is scheduled to meet us at 8:30 tomorrow morning in our hotel lobby, and we won’t be hard to find.
A final observation from yesterday that one of us forgot: the coffee! Coffee here is far and away better than even the best coffee I’ve had in America. Even the one of us who does not like coffee did not make a hideous face when trying it. We’re not sure exactly what they do to make it so good. Imagine Starbucks coffee, the dark roast kind, but not bitter and burnt-tasting. Someday we will make a mint importing this coffee to the States.