"The Situation" II - Sumatra

We don't like space.

Andrea Hirata is the author of 11 novels, most prominently The Rainbow Troops  (Laskar Pelangi ), now in its 51st printing, and translated into English from Bahasa Indonesia.



In my village, on a small island in the southernmost part of Sumatra, Indonesia, we have been told since childhood by our parents and our elders that the worst enemy is invisible. That belief grows within us like a second backbone. Therefore, we don’t like space. Our houses are small, our roofs are low, our neighbors are not so far away. When we talk and walk, we tend to be close one to another. And when we pray, we kneel in a very tight row, to avoid giving even the slightest chance to the invisible Satans to slip into the space between us. We don’t even have a much of an appetite for higher levels of education, as intellectual status can only widen the space among us.

Then, just last week, I heard a strange announcement from the government, saying that next Tuesday will be the last flight to my island. I took that historic flight. Arriving home, I told my family about the escalating health emergency in the country, in the capital city Jakarta, in the world.  

“What we can do is to obey government’s orders, and the only way to fight this invisible Corona virus is by keeping distance one to another”
My grandfather stood up abruptly
“The government has gone nuts!”
My father looked me in the eyes, full of anger
“What did I tell you about going to the university, Son!”