When the bombs went off

Police riot shields at the bomb site. By Chad.

It was a strange week even before the bombs went off.

It seems like ever since President Yudhoyono got re-elected in a landslide a couple of weeks ago, little creepie-crawlies have been coming out of the woodwork. For instance, there was a string of shootings in Papua near the enormous Freeport gold mine … shootings the police blamed on indigenous separatists, but that a lot of analysts blamed on turf battles between the police and army over who should get paid to guard the mine.

Then there was the assault on the Anti-Corruption Commission. Rumors were flying around that top officials there would be arrested on various charges, thus decapitating the commission and leaving it to bleed while the legislature fails to get around to approving a new anti-corruption law. Even the president, who ran on his reputation as a reformer, was making worrisome noises about the anti-corruption people having too much power. Reporters were camped out at the commission offices every day, waiting for the police to show up, and it felt like watching a murder in slow motion.

It felt like there were tectonic undersea power shifts happening after the election, and I couldn’t see the movements themselves, but only the ripples they caused on the surface of the water. It felt like there were rats in the kitchen at midnght, grabbing all they could while the lights were out.

So I was pretty unnerved even before the bombs went off.

I got the message on my phone just after 8 a.m. while I was having my morning bowl of muesli. As a newspaper web editor, I had to get to work right away. I tried to organize myself to take a quick shower but I was so discombobulated I just stared at my face in the bathroom mirror and left.

I went straight to the office and stayed there for 17 hours. Chad went to the bomb site, though, and took some pictures

of the blown-out windows

and the police

and a man who looked sad or maybe just tired.

The bombing felt like another tectonic shift. But it felt weirdly old-school. Before the bombs went off, Jemaah Islamiyah was on the run, terrorism wasn’t in the news, and the country seemed to have moved on to a new set of challenges. Financial analysts were calling Indonesia the new China. People — even Westerners — suddenly seemed to be able to find the place on a map. Now those guys in the Arab-wannabe clothes were back to drag everyone through the muck again.

I was almost despondent that first day, thinking all the progress of the last few years had been undone. But now I’m feeling better. The death toll is low, so the bombings will fall out of the headlines soon. India had Mumbai, which was much worse, and people are still calling India the new China. It was tragic and pointless, but maybe the impact won’t be too catastrophic.

So maybe everyone can get back to the real problems soon, like corruption, and Papua, and climate change, and poverty, and lack of education, and all the other rats in the kitchen.