Monday, October 14, 2002

The photo I linked to below is as shocking to me as it is, because I understand the likely circumstances behind it so well. Most of them have happened to me at some point. We have a 19 year old girl, who is probably in her first or second year of university. She hasn't much money, and her parents decide to take her on an overseas holiday as something of a treat. They buy a package trip to Bali for the three of them. They all have a good time, and the daughter meets a few other people her own age and goes off and parties with them. The parents are tired on the Saturday night, so they go back to their hotel, while the daughter decides to party for a couple of hours later than them. She's had a few drinks. She's having a good time, and then blam, she is blown to pieces. And then I imagine the parents being shown into a rudimentary morgue, full of burned and mangled bodies, confirming that yes, that is the bloody, burned and mangled remains of their 19 year old daughter, and walking slowly out. I don't have to imagine the expression on their faces because I can see it in the photograph.

I keep seeing this image in my mind. I know the area. I look at a map of Kuta, and I see the exact place the bomb exploded. I stayed in a guest house perhaps 50 metres away. I walked down the street past where the bombs exploded probably ten times. I didn't go to the nightclub, but I ate in a restaurant nearby. The restaurants are all similar. Most of them are connected to guest houses or hotels. Most have a relatively light roof, held up by pillars, without much in the way of front and side walls. As you walk past, you can see the people inside eating and drinking. You sit down, and they sell a mixture of Indonesian food and interpretations of western food aimed largely at Australians. I ate Indonesian food (which is delicious) when I visited the rest of the island, but in the peculiar semi-westernised place that is Kuta, I ate the westernised food. I particular remember that lots of places sold an interesting interpretation on the idea of a hamburger. A hamburger patty would be cooked, a piece of cheese would be placed on it, it would be put between two slices of bread, and the whole thing would then be cooked in a waffle iron, so you would get a hamburger with the meat and cheese sealed entirely inside the bread. (You could get them with bacon as well). It's not quite what we would eat in Australia, but it is the sort of thing that meat loving Australians find delicious. I can see myself sitting in one of the restaurants, eating one of these things, a bottle of the local beer also in front of me. The taste, the smell, the feeling of the heat are all clear in my mind. And now, I can see an explosion. I can feel the whole thing turning into a war zone.The images I see merge in to the photographs I saw of the explosion, and of the ruins the next day. There's a mixture of the familiar and the horrible.

These thoughts of familiarity are no doubt common to me and millions of other Australians. A huge number of us have been there. Australia is so isolated from the rest of the world, and there are few foreign holiday destinations that are both close and cheap. Of 20 million Australians, at least several million have been there at some point. Certain things about terrorism make more sense to me now. I understand the reson for attacking restaurants and nightclubs. It isn't just that there are large numbers of people in close proximity, although of course it is that. It is the attempt to attack things that are familiar to everyone. It is the urge to terrorise millions of people with the thought of "There, but the grace of God go I". I think I understood that intellectually before now. I even felt it a little. (I had been to the top of the World Trade Center, for instance, although that was in 1991, so the memory wasn't a recent one). My principal feelings towards the WTC were feeling about its contribution to the New York Skyline. I had felt a terrible sense of loss for the building and the skyline more than the sensation of terror ripping through a familiar environment. I was and am shocked, upset and outraged about that act and the corresponding loss of life. To me though, this is closer. I can see, feel, smell and taste it.

I can also imagine visiting Kuta in six months, and seeing everything deserted and run down: very few tourists anywhere, shops boarded up, hotels closed. A big hole in the middle of town, because there is no point in rebuilding where the bomb exploded and tourists are not coming. I can also imagine Kuta in five years: just the remains of the hotels and restaurants: the bones of the former tourist development being most of what is left. Maybe, and hopefully, I will be wrong and tourism will recover. But right now, my emotion is that I rather doubt it.

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