"Winternachten" literature festival in Indonesia

September 2005 -

"Seeing the bamboo swaying in the wind is very comforting," says Ellen Ombre, reporting from tropical Bandar Lampung on Sumatra. She is enchanted. The author is in the process of a literary tour of Indonesia together with three colleagues.

Utan Kayu, a political-cultural centre on Jakarta, organised a series of international literature festivals from 24 August to 5 September, in cooperation with Winternachten Overzee. Ellen Ombre, a Surinam-Dutch author, is one of the foreign guests; others are Frank Martinus Arion from Curacao, Antjie Krog from South Africa, and Ramsey Nasr from the Netherlands. Their presentations will be seen in Bandar Lampung, Bandung and Jakarta together with those of more than twenty Indonesian writers.

"The organisation is excellent," says Ombre halfway through the tour. Her presentations in Dutch, for example, pose no problems for the international audience because they are simultaneously interpreted in English and Bahasa Indonesia. ‘It is fantastic to see how art can be made accessible to all,’ she adds enthusiastically.

The author of a novel, articles, short stories and travel reports had never visited the Emerald Islands. "I am very impressed with the Indonesian civilisation," she says. The enormous archipelago is home to a variety of cultures, languages and religions, and is plagued by significant social issues, including poverty and violence. Nevertheless – or perhaps for that very reason – people treat one another with a high level of respect. Ombre: "Others are held in high esteem."

Her publications demonstrate that she is acutely aware of both manners and confrontations between different cultures. In her collection of short stories Valse Verlangens (False Longings) published in 2000, for example, she paints a picture of relationships between Africans, Surinamers and the Dutch via trade and tourism that is both touching and disheartening. So she is very much at ease with the theme of the closing festival in the Teatre Utan Kayu on Jakarta: 'Living together.'

Ellen Ombre concludes with another reason why she is so enchanted by Indonesia: "It’s the Tropics… It is very comforting to see all the plants that I grew up with in Surinam." Nevertheless, she is able to keep her enthusiasm in perspective: "I am only visiting; I don’t live here. It’s like falling in love – everything seems beautiful."