Sunday, December 14, 2008

Escape from Goat Island

Last weekend, our lovely long three-day holiday was alas not bestowed on us by the president himself in order to spur a huge party and to take the nation's mind off the impending slump of 2009. Rather it was the occasion of the Islamic holiday of Idul Adha (or Eid-Al-Adha as it's known in the sandy lands). Idul Adha commemorates the rather distressing story of Abraham (Ibrahim or Avraham) and Isaac, a story that holds a central place in all of our main monotheisms (Islam, Christianity and Judaism).

The tale should be familiar to all of course. Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a test of his faith. Then, just as Abraham is about to do the deed, God tells him that the whole thing has been a bit of a prank and that Abraham doesn’t have to commit infanticide after all.

In some versions of the story, Abraham is 137 years old (a good innings when all’s said and done) and thus Isaac is a fully grown man presumably fully complicit in the sacrifice. The commonly told Christian story though is of Isaac the boy, presumably traumatized beyond tablets by his experience and probably in need of 15 years of therapy from a Galilean Freudian analyst afterwards.

The moral point of this yarn, apart from trying to teach us that the God of infinite love should also be paralyzing us with fear, was never made to clear to me at the Sunday school my parents made me attend. In fact, the devil himself comes off rather well in this sad tale as he tries to persuade Abraham not to murder the fruit of his own loins.

The city's goats haven't fared as well as even Isaac. Last week they were frolicking gaily, being petted by local kampung kids and generally lending my local market and odor even more unpleasant than it usually possesses. Come Monday evening though, these unlucky ruminants had all successfully thrown a seven on the great dice of life. Not being a vegetarian, I can't really pass comment except to say that the common theme of ritual, mortal sacrifice that links the religious story and the yearly ritual doesn't particularly fill me with any overflowing feeling of joie de vivre.

I thought I'd give the bloodletting a miss this year and instead headed out for a burn around the Thousand Islands (Pulau Seribu) with a few friends and a rickety boat. We sailed from Muara Anke, a harbour located near Pluit in the north of town last Saturday morning. The area is a rather dispiriting mix of sludge, polluted seawater and poverty that is only partially mitigated by the colorful boats that are moored there.

We set sail and eventually hit pristine waters. On our island hopping trip through the Archipelago we encountered a few points of interest including a stop at Pulau Semak Daun - Smack Down Island! (It actually means 'Leafy Bush'). On Sunday night we moored off a private island owned by the infamous KFC franchiser, supermarket mogul and one-time partner in crime (literally) of Tommy Suharto, Ricardo Gelael. The island featured some smart lodgings but was quiet and deserted, perhaps reflecting the downturn in Mr Gelael's fortunes in recent years.

Later on we moored at another private island and saw a fancy boat bearing the Telesindo logo on its side. This island, no doubt reflecting the upswing in the telecommunications industry, was quite breathtaking in its high rolling luxury. Jet skis, a restaurant and bar area, accommodation for a good two dozen and a shark aquarium were just some of the facilities enjoyed by this island's lucky owner, who thankfully wasn't there at the time to chase us off with a double-barreled shotgun. Yes, the ultimate gated community couldn't keep us riffraff out. Sat Pams (security guards) in the Thousand Islands are of a rather more mellow temperament than their more menacing counterparts in town and they let us wander around freely. We loitered a while indulging our own private island fantasies; mine involved an on-site reservoir of Martini and a secretarial college field trip.

Our final stop on a whirlwind tour led us to less selfish, environmental concerns. The Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) have set up a raptor rescue and rehabilitation centre on Kotok Island and the birds of prey in the cages there were squawking away in seeming defiance of the wealthy island dwellers across the water who would no doubt keep them as pets if given the chance.

I'll be back on terra firma for more tales of despair next week.