Scotsabroad's Weblog

September 19, 2014

Scotland, what the…

Filed under: politics — scotsabroad @ 8:36 pm


 I have edited this comment so many times since the referendum result was announced. As a Scot temporarily living abroad it is a wee bit embarrassing talking about what happened. Almost everyone I speak to assumed that the Scottish people wanted to become the world’s newest nation. We didn’t. But I’m proud to be from Dundee. One of only three regions to vote  for independence. Heads up city of blue and tangerine dreamers – one of us might win the league! One positive, we can’t sing that appalling anthem any more. The lyrics are laughable now.


September 16, 2014

Thinking of Thursday

Filed under: politics — scotsabroad @ 1:02 pm


July 20, 2014

Mixed Spice

Filed under: Holidays,Indonesia,politics — scotsabroad @ 9:15 pm


We have just returned from visiting a bit of the original Spice Islands. We discovered in Maluku the complex mix of history, religion, loyalties, politics and culture. We didn’t know what to expect travelling during the holy month of Ramadhan, during a presidential election and also during the monsoon season. There was a lot to get your head around but we have returned in awe of the region.

We knew a bit about the historical significance of the Moluccas having read Giles Milton’s wonderful book, Nathaniel’s Nutmeg. It was his book that had inspired me to try and plan a trip to the Banda Islands. The book does not hold back on describing the brutality of the Dutch as they tried to control a spice monopoly in the region. On our trip we explored many of their forts, built to guard against other European interference and enforce their will – and that of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Uncooperative islanders on the nutmeg and clove islands were simply massacred and replaced with compliant slaves from other regions.


All the Dutch brought in return was Christianity.

The Dutch held power over the region until after WW2, resisting Indonesian independence until 1949 – when they handed the Moluccas over to the predominantly Muslim Indonesian Republic.

On this holiday we didn’t expect (much to Cairo’s disgust) to see any of the football during the last two weeks of the World Cup. It turned out we managed to see all the games on a small television set at a guesthouse in Banda Neira. We couldn’t believe many people’s genuine affection for the Dutch and their World Cup squad. Surely their desire to see the Dutch beaten was like the Scot’s delight at seeing England humbled? 

When we landed in the Maluku capital of Ambon we knew instantly that flags were big in town. We saw numerous Dutch flags. Neighbours seemed to be trying to out-size neighbour and have it flying higher than anyone else. Lots of people proudly sported orange tops. Some houses and many Bemo stops were painted red, white and blue… and The Orange. The islanders were besotted by the World Cup and it was all everyone talked about.


We wondered about this allegiance to the Dutch. We eventually got an understanding of the past and the present. The predominantly Christian Southern Maluku panicked when the Dutch gave up their resistance to independence. They decided to try to resist Muslim control and attempted to form their own independent republic in the early 1950s. It didn’t work. Many thousands of Maluku troops had served in the Royal Netherland Indies Army (KNIL) during the war and had stayed loyal to the Dutch during the independence struggle. They now feared reprisals. Thousands were resettled in Holland where a large Indonesian community still lives. Some descendants of these repatriated returned to the region, others still send money to family members on the islands and encourage them to study and work in the Netherlands. Some professional footballers in the Netherlands are from Indonesian descent including some in the national squad. And I suppose, there are not many descendants of the original islanders left to bear a grudge.


I had very little recollection of Ambon’s more recent conflict between Muslim and Christian factions in the late 90s. Indeed, we were surprised to read on the commonwealth graves website that you are still meant to contact them to see if it is safe to visit the city. We saw a few bullet ridden buildings, reminding everyone of the Beruit-like situation that ended just over a decade ago. We came across the cheesy peace gong downtown and reference to the Ambon Declaration of Peace.


The island of Ambon seems to have a fine balance of Muslim and Christian inhabitants. In our part of town, the port district, it seemed to be overwhelmingly Christian. Elsewhere it is either Mosque or Church in the kampungs.  People had crosses made out of painted water bottles hanging from their porches and kampung gateways wished you a perpetual Merry Christmas. We sailed into the port of Kota Saparua and faced an enormous white cross on the shoreline. I was asked about my soul after death by a missionary in the foyer of the Swiss Belhotel in Ambon. OMG. We later on established that parts of towns and individual islands are either predominantly Muslim or Christian. It might be the weather, but there is a sense of melancholy – and a feeling of  just below the surface prejudice and displays of provocation. The support for the Palestinian cause you can understand from the Muslim population. But then you have the Star of David displayed on a youth’s scooter tank and on the walls of a house close to a mosque in Ambon. God knows what is going on inside the head of one resident who has a swastika in the middle of a German flag painted on his garage door. You feel the violence could all kick off again quite easily in Ambon.


On safer historical ground you have two major Indonesian heroes, significant to the region, that everyone seemed to embrace. Hatta was exiled to Banda Neira by the Dutch authorities for encouraging Indonesians towards independence – albeit peacefully. The house where he stayed is now a museum. We managed to get inside to see his bedroom, one of his suits and a pair of his distinctive glasses. Among the pictures, a lovely old black and white photograph of him returning to the island. He also ran a school for local children while he was in isolation. Hatta became vice-president of the first Indonesian Republic. 


Another more gung-ho anti-colonial hero was Pattimura. In 1817, he briefly took over the fort of Benteng Duurstede at Saparua and kicked some Dutch butt. But his uprising was eventually crushed and he was executed by the Dutch. His image adorns Indonesia’s 1000 Rp banknotes. We got inside the fort (once the key-holder had finished his lunch) and inside the museum commemorating Pattimura’s exploits. But we couldn’t see  all the dioramas because the lights didn’t work. I bought a t-shirt at the airport with his image on it.


Modern day entrepreneurs are tapping into this history. History now serves a purpose. That of making money. Abba runs the Mutiara guesthouse in Banda Neira. He is a lovely, charming fella. He has decided to embrace the whole colonial (VOC) era and use it to promote his new tourist trap on the island. We fall for his current hospitality hook-line and sinker. His new place, due to open soon, is built like an old Dutch colonial mansion and even has nutmeg motifs carved into the furniture. He has commissioned imposing metal gates displaying the VOC logo and adorned with nutmegs. His guests will soon be able to relive the lavish lifestyle (hot water showers) of the VOC employees. At a price. He is still looking for a suitable name for his property with a nutmeg theme. I told him about Elvis Presley’s place called Graceland, suggesting he could call his palace, Maceland. I honestly think he took me seriously. I do think Banda Neira is in danger of becoming a historical theme park in the future as transport links become easier, quicker and more comfortable. Old Dutch mansions are just waiting for restoration and transformation into boutique hotels.

Then there is Indonesia’s future. The presidential elections were held on July 9th. The polling stations on Banda Neira seemed very busy. An ex-army general wanting to lead the corrupt status-quo against the untarnished, dynamic, young  governor of Jakarta, Jokowi. No competition there you would think. On polling day we stopped for some coffee at a house at the bottom of the steps in Lonthoir and found ourselves in the family living room watching the results. Surprisingly, voting percentages were just about even and both sides were declaring they had the support of the population. We will know on Tuesday.


We met some lovely fellow tourists on our travels and some horrible ones. There were two charming American brothers backpacking around South East Asia and having the experience of their lives. And one loud German expat living and working in Indonesia. This did not prevent him from ridiculing the superstitious nature of the Indonesians and their belief in ghosts. We couldn’t but overhear his conversation to do with his company’s new site and the workers who believe the toilets are haunted – so they will not go alone. They visit the toilet in pairs. He scoffed that this is not an efficient use of manpower and the best use of time. But he’d got the place sorted. A colonial mind still to be found in this arrogant and bigoted wanker.  He’ll take the cheap accommodation and the beautiful beaches though. Travel does not always broaden the mind.  Give me Indonesians any day.

Perhaps we shouldn’t try to think too much about it all. This diverse country is just incredible and so are its people. Maybe we should just be thankful for being allowed to travel around and experience it all.

February 16, 2013

Uncomfortable Reading

Filed under: Jakarta,politics — scotsabroad @ 5:55 pm

Feeling very spoilt and guilty having read Andre Vltchek’s words in Counterpunch Newsletter.


And then…

Fifi and her baby at home in Jakarta

the Guardian today has a very distressing article on formula milk companies and the pressure they exert on the poor in Indonesia. 45% of Indonesians have no access to clean water.

April 1, 2011

Stop at Sadat

Filed under: Cairo,politics — scotsabroad @ 3:14 pm

But for how long? While running in the Wadi this morning I found out that more demonstrations were planned for today in Tahrir Square. This was not good news as the boys had plans to go downtown for The Tahrir Book Fair at the American University. We decided to venture on the Metro and see how it went. The journey proved to be very quiet with only a few demonstrators on route  with rolled up flags and plastic bags bulging with food. We got off at Sadat below Tahrir Square. We noticed the obliteration of Mubarak’s name, further on up the line, on all metro maps. You can just make out the penned-in word,  Martyrs – replacing the deposed president on the map above. I don’t think it will ever be the end of the line for Nasser but how long until Sadat’s name is erased from the map?

We surfaced to a wonderful scene in the beautiful spring sunshine. Tahrir is clean and shows little signs from the turbulent events in January. Vendors of patriotic merchandise line the streets, others sell t-shirts from the bonnets of their parked cars, children get their faces painted while loud music and loud-speaking accompany all the  flag waving and cheering. People sit around waiting for Friday prayers and to picnic afterwards in the warmth of the day. The only evidence of the Egyptian people’s anger is the burnt out SDP building across the square.

We walk untroubled to the AUC. We spend a pleasant few hours browsing the stalls. Cairo gets a book. Lucas a photo album. I get a second-hand book for 25le about a spy in Cairo in the 1950s. We travel home through a city happy and optimistic.

March 19, 2011

Referendum Day

Filed under: politics — scotsabroad @ 10:35 am

May 23, 2010

Open House

Filed under: Cairo,politics — scotsabroad @ 4:43 am

It was third time lucky for us last weekend when we visited The House of the Nation. It has been closed for restoration and we have tried twice before to look round the house – hearing the all too familiar response, open in two weeks. Getting off the metro at Saad Zagloul station you climb up to the street to find his imposing mausoleum. This enormous granite tomb is difficult to miss. We visited it in February, so hence the different clothing on the boys in the pictures.

Across the street is Bayt al-Umma. Saad Zagloul’s name was known to us already having visited Cafe Riche last year. The owner very kindly let the boys see the discreet bar, below the main restaurant, where Zagloul and his fellow nationalists met to spread opposition across the country, using the secret printing press. We still talk about the secret door behind the bar leading on to the street, to be used if the bar was raided by British soldiers.

He was one of a few Egyptian delegates shunned by the British after the Treaty of Versailles, despite assurances that for their support during the war, Egypt would get independence. Instead the British exiled him to Malta (poor bloke) and then the Seychelles, for instigating anti-colonial feeling and being popular. He did get to be prime minister in 1924 but did not live to see his country truly free. His wife Safiya was also a strong character, fighting for the emancipation of women and speaking out. However, Saad Zagloul was prone to spitting the dummy out according to the Travelers History of Egypt, he did not tolerate differences of opinion within his party (Wafd) and imposed absolute control over his party, a trait that has marked political leaders ever since. Zagloul’s brief stint in power was hardly exemplary either, resorting to old censorship and security laws to stifle opposition and choosing to jail others.  Before and since some might say?

The house is magnificent. It now almost goes without saying, that we were the only visitors. However, on arriving the caretaker told me he had no foreigners (5LE) tickets left. He would have to issue me with ten 1LE tickets. Thankfully, the boys were half-price. Our movements around the house, we soon found out, were to be controlled. We were escorted (rather than guided) upstairs and then down, our escorts changing over between floors. Two moth-eaten, stuffed parrots amused us at the top of the beautiful staircase, as our escort began to usher us through the rooms tapping a few display signs while anxiously watching the boys movements. I began to get the impression that when they took the contents out of the house to begin renovations, they forgot to do a thorough inventory for each room. A lot of the signs were in the wrong rooms and a lot of the furniture and pictures looked out of place. We found a blood-stained suit worn by Saad Zagloul, a result of a failed assassination attempt. I still haven’t found any information on this failed assassination. Cairo counted the chairs in the house and came up with an incredible number. There was an incredible number of portraits of Saad Zagloul, his wife and their parents all over the house. Surely they would not have had so many hanging when they lived in the house? I just wanted to throw open the shutters and let some daylight into the gloomy rooms. The promise of a secret escape route from  Saad Zagloul’s study momentarily restored our imagination. Was it a trap door under the rug? Was it concealed in the wall? Lucas thought it might extend all the way to the secret door at Cafe Riche! Turned out to be the window, leading to one of the perimeter wall doors on to the street. Walked around the garden for a while and got up close to a few statues of the man. Didn’t feel his presence in the house or the garden. Can this be lost through restorations?  

March 20, 2010


Filed under: politics — scotsabroad @ 7:06 pm

Many Unions and Committees here are calling for a mass rally, in downtown Cairo on the 3rd April at 11am, to demand raising the National Minimum Wage from LE35 a month, unchanged since 1984, to LE1200. 

LE35 is the price you would pay for a bottle of beer in a downtown restaurant.

June 5, 2009

Following Greatness

Filed under: politics — scotsabroad @ 10:33 am



Great photographs of Obama’s visit to Cairo yesterday from the Guardian.

March 20, 2009

Security at the Khan

Filed under: Books,Cairo,Merchandise,politics — scotsabroad @ 7:47 pm


We all ventured down to the Khan El-Khalili today. We didn’t know what to expect following the bombing outside the Mosque of al-Husayn last month. Was the car park we use still there? There did seem to be tighter security all round but the bazaar was busy with locals and tourists alike. Shona was down to renew her jewellery making supplies while Cairo bought an old French coin and Lucas was content bargaining for an old key. On the way back to the car on the busy  pavement  we spotted a street vendor selling these toy soldiers.  It made me remember a wonderful description from Nabil Shawkat’s book (a collection of his newspaper articles) called Breakfast with Infidels. He and his companions are heading out for dinner in Mohandisin, a congested suburb of Cairo.


Soon, we find ourselves trampling over American soldiers. They are doing ditch training on the sidewalk, crawling on their bellies and firing away. They wear very small fatigues, because they are very small soldiers, and plastic. I want to buy one for my niece, but one companion protests. Why propagate violence? I promise to hand over the soldier to my niece with an illustrated copy of the Geneva conventions. And since they are not strictly soldiers, only enemy combatants moonlighting in foreign streets, the conventions, I can tell my niece, are to be used sparingly, like dusty umbrellas on a rainy summer day.

We also did not want to propagate violence and walked on without buying one. Let us hope Cairo remains at peace and conventions (and indeed human rights) are not used sparingly.

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