Sun, 25 May 2003

Remembering good ol' days holds back future

One fine Sunday morning, the day I had been waiting for the entire week, I was interrupted by my maid. She had just returned from the market, carrying a plastic bag of vegetables. As she entered our house, she began to grumble.

"This plastic bag is not full even though I have already spent over Rp 10,000 for today's menu," she almost screamed.

"What did you expect?" I asked, half surprised, half amused.

"Well, I just bought vegetables to make pecel (steamed vegetables with peanut sauce), sayur asem (sour soup) and tempeh. But I had to pay over Rp 10,000 for all that," she was still grumbling. "Back then they cost less than Rp 5,000."

"When?" I asked her.

"When Pak Harto was still president, before the riots," she said.

Dear Lord! It had been five years and she could still remember the prices at that time. Wow... my maid surely has a better memory than me.

Nobody will ever forget what happened five years ago. Many people were killed during the riots, many shops and houses were razed. All of us suffered in the tragedy, many much more than others.

As for my maid, it is still more important for her to think about the prices than the political and economical impact of the May riots.

Later, my fine Sunday was disturbed again by a similar comment.

This time from my neighbor, who sat next to me during the arisan (a gathering) in the afternoon.

She complained of her husband's small salary increase.

"We could save some money back then. But now, I have to think twice before spending even for daily needs," she complained.

"I've got more headaches now as my son will go to elementary school this year. It means extra money. Nothing is cheap even if he goes to a state school."

She did not realize that I have the same problem. Many of us have been complaining of our worsening economic situation within the five years of reform.

I had to keep myself from yawning as she continued her litany of complaints.

"People on TV like Amien Rais, Gus Dur and others always talk about reform. What is it exactly? I don't see my life improving..."

"Do you think we can have Pak Harto back as the president?"

I was enjoying my lemper (steamed glutinous rice with meat filling) when she made that comment and I almost choked on it.

Not that I hate Pak Harto but I was shocked that after five years of reform someone would make such a comment.

I was speechless. My mind went back to five years ago when students staged street rallies demanding reform for a better Indonesia.

And I have a neighbor who could make such a comment?

When I told my husband about that, he only laughed. Instead of being optimistic, he simply said reform had yet to improve the quality of life.

"Our people still need to learn. The political elite should not give promises to the common people if they can't keep them. No matter what the ruling party is, Golkar, PDI Perjuangan or others, it is the people who still suffer most. Only those who have top positions gain any advantage," he said.

At first I didn't understand why talking about reform and the current situation in the country upset him so much. He finally admitted it was due to one of his colleagues at the office.

Pak X, a cadre of PDI Perjuangan, had told all the employees at the office, since the 1999 campaign, that if the party won the general election it would eliminate school fees.

When our son was admitted to elementary school earlier this year, my husband went to the office, carrying the invoice for our son's tuition.

He gave the invoice to Pak X and asked him to go directly to Ibu Mega (President Megawati Soekarnoputri, his party's chairwoman) for reimbursement. Unfortunately, according to Pak X, Ibu Mega was too busy with her tight schedule to take his call.

"I'll try to contact her as soon as possible," he boasted.

We didn't believe him, though, he who believes in those politicians' empty promises.

I don't mean to be cynical, but have they kept their promises? I don't think so.

I began to ask myself if my life had improved compared to five years ago. I have to admit that the situation has changed. Of course, there are always the positive and negative sides of change. We just have to live with it.

We have to prepare ourselves to accept change and hope that our leaders can also make improvements not only for their welfare but more importantly for Indonesia as a nation.

If we keep remembering the "good" ole days, and this is highly debatable, we'll never move forward.

-- Harini