What comes to your mind when you hear that a person is a WAR CORRESPONDENT? Most of you would probably imagine someone who looks like the Marlboro man (without the cowboy gears, of course). Well, go ahead and erase that image. Say hi to Rien Kuntari, Indonesia’s own war correspondent from Kompas who’s made the rounds from TimTim to Vietnam to Iran and Rwanda.
“Many people get disappointed when they meet me for the first time,” she said when speaking at Maverick’s Friday sharing session last week. She has many stories to tell, from stumbling into a pit of human heads in Africa to getting trapped in dangerous territories. However, she always had experienced the kindness of strangers, but she always attributes her scoops humbly to journalist’s luck.
Rien began her foray into war reporting back in 1991, during the The First Gulf War. Then, she was merrily plodding on the diplomacy beat with little hint or expectation that she would be sent to the war. At that time Kompas had a bad relationship with the Iraqi Embassy, which denied the paper any press visas. The only one in Kompas then who had a good relationship with the Embassy was Rien, who had gotten to know the ambassador in her reporting duties.
She wants to him and explained why the Embassy should let a Kompas journalist in to cover the war. In the end the Embassy relented but on one condition: that Kompas sent Rien and Rien only. “I was a fresh journalist and had joined Kompas only for a month, and I never go anywhere with airplane before,” she said. “But I must go because it was my job.”
The going wasn’t easy though for her. Her English then was at best rudimentary, she had not been overseas before and was not savvy to other cultures; it was a male-dominated profession and other reasons. But she persevered and made it from one war to another with flying colors.
And when I asked her: “How do you see human character naturally after going through those kinds of rare experiences?”
She said that every human being always had two basic characters; bad and good. Saddam Hussein, for instance;, was well known as a tyrant (thanks to western media). But Rien said that Saddam was malicious only to his political enemies, not to anyone else. She saw first hand how warm and friendly he could be to his people.
Another example is when she was in Rwanda. Most of us would have the impression of Rwandan soldiers as brutal and sadistic as depicted in Hotel Rwanda Hotel. Rien, however, also saw another side to them. Throughout her stay there, she was always protected by five soldiers from the Rwandan army. “They didn’t allow anyone to harm me or even scratch on my skin. And they were fully supportive when I told them that I had to interview the other side to get a balanced coverage of the situation. They drive me to a village where I could go over to the other side. After the interview, I went back to the village where they picked me up.”
Rien regaled us with many more war stories for two hours and left us wanting for more. It was a privilege to have had her visit us at Maverick and we hope she’ll capture her experiences in a book.