Once again, as part of my PhD thesis, I travel to another part of Indonesia: Jayapura, Papua. After completing data collection at SMAN 4 Jayapura, the vice principal asked me to fill in one of the ‘affirmative classes’ (i.e. classes designed for indigenous Papuans, funded by the local government under the special autonomy law). I had expected them to be particularly intelligent, being students of a prominent school. But I was still flabbergasted by how critical and brazen they are with the questions they addressed me with.
They asked me why I decided to go to Papua as part of my research. Usually any kind of development and/or research stops as Sulawesi.
They asked me what I expected of them before I arrived. Did I expect them to wear Kotekas like most Javanese do.
They asked of my thoughts on the Free Papua Movement. I answered as honestly that I could. That although I have an Indonesian bias, I was not born and raised in a land that is abused by foreign companies. The best I can do is support the right for Papuans to choose.
They asked me how old I was and why I decided to continue my education. They asked me how they can do the same and whether or not their being poor would hinder their efforts.
They asked me what my religion and ethnicity was. And with the chance to state my views prior to their questions, I understood from their gestures that having heard my answers – it did not matter to them.
I explained that it is very easy for people from Jakarta in particular and Java in general to compete. With sound infrastructure, the starting line of this sprint race is not the same. I also explained that there is increasing attention from international aid, in the form of scholarships, for East Indonesia. Do not stop.
If any of my students are reading this now, please realise that the competition is not fair. And it will remain unfair for quite a while. This sounds like a cliché, but while we fuss about not being able to watch Hollywood films during the weekends, some walk down mountains without shoes to receive basic education. It is the responsibility of the priviledged, because we were born in a social setting that makes it easier for us to be economically and socially mobile, to make sure we do what we can to make sure that nobody gets left behind.
Travel. Expose ourselves to less developed areas of the country (or the world). Choose a career line that is of benefit to other people. Living solely for our own happiness will sooner or later feel hollow and purposeless. At least for me.
It is not thoughtful, it is not even kind. It is being responsible; a lame attempt to avoid being ignorant. The cycle of inequality may only stop when we realise that it’s there.
And not keep quiet.