Friday, May 19, 2006

‘The good ol’ days had gone’

Female war correspondents are rare enough, but an Indonesian female war correspondent?

Hard to believe but there is at least one out there. Her name is Rien Kuntari and she works in Kompas.

Her career as war correspondent began after only a few weeks after she started working as a reporter in Kompas. She was assigned to cover the Gulf War. Immediately after that she was dispatched to cover the ethnic war in Rwanda.

“In the course of my reporting, I’ve experienced a gun pointed to my head,” she told maverick Indonesia. “I’ve also suffered from a horrifying skin disease because of the bugs that lived on dead bodies. Clothing was no protection because those bugs were so small they could easily get through the pores.”

Her work has had its toll: “Until now, I still do not have the courage to see the movie, Hotel Rwanda. I am too terrified with what I’ve seen in real life.”

I first met her when my colleague Syarina introduced us. On first impression Rien seems a quiet person who does not get up to much that is interesting. But that impression soon changes when asked what she has written about: “I used to write about wars,” she replied calmly and then proceeds to narrate one harrowing story after another.

Even though I only met her for a few minutes, talking to Rien felt like being with an old good friend. She knows how to make others feel comfortable in talking with her. And she absolutely has loads of stories to share and her seniority made possible for her to share advice on how to live and appreciate our life.

She has been with Kompas for fifteen years, knows many high-level government officials and she has great access to them. She also knows first hand how the media in Indonesia has changed from when she started her journalism career. “If people think the Press has more freedom now, they’re wrong; the good ol’ days had gone” she said, adding that journalists now are being intimidated and limited in writing their news because of the greed of media owners who would willingly sacrifice editorial space for commercials. “This is a sad fact of journalism here today,” said Rien.

I had a dream that night, after we dropped Rien at her office. I dreamt about Rien’s story of the Rift Valley that was created when volcanic eruptions caused a giant split on the earth’s surface from Syria to Mozambique. Lava flowed into the valley, forming escarpments on either side of the gigantic though, so wide it could be seen from the moon.

It became a lake and in my dream I saw millions of flamingos resplendent in the golden glow just before dusk along the shoreline.

It was very beautiful.

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