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Bali Bears Witness - 2002-10-21


More than a week after the deadly bombing on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, scores of people continue to visit the site of the blast every day to pay respects to the dead and to bear witness to the events that unfolded there. Community leaders say it will take some time before the Balinese community recovers from the shock of the attack both economically and in terms of the trauma suffered.

Workers repair the roof of a shop near Legian Street, in Kuta the tourist district devastated by the bombing.

Their activity stands in contrast to the more somber scene below, where dozens of people wait almost silently, looking at what is left of the once bustling area. In addition to offering prayers, many Balinese have placed flowers and burned incense as part of the rituals of the Hindu religion which is predominant here.

Nearby, a white banner stretches the length of the sidewalk, on which hundreds of people have signed their names or written notes.

One woman wrote a message of condolence for a friend who worked as a waitress at the Sari Club, the popular nightclub that bore the brunt of the explosion. Her friend was supposed to get married in December, she said, but of course that is not going to happen now.

One man has come simply to be near the place where his friend died. "He is from Timor, he is my good friend," he said. "He died, but we don't know where is his body now. His body, we don't know, maybe exploded."

At least 180 people died and hundreds were injured when several explosions went off on Legian street. Some who survived the force of the blast or flying debris died when they were trapped in burning buildings.

Investigators have said that it is likely C-4 plastic explosive was used in the bombing, which Indonesian officials call the worst terrorist act in the country's history.

Local community leaders liken the situation in Bali after the bombing to New York City after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Made Wendra is the "kelian" for Kuta, a traditional Balinese community leader. He said the mourning that is taking place now is an important part of Bali's eventual recovery.

"The Balinese have to start by visiting the site of the incident, and visit the homes people who were injured, or who lost members of their family," he said. "That is what we can do in practical terms."

Indonesia has suffered its share of political turmoil and unrest in the past several years and a number of small bombings have taken place in outlying provinces and even the capital, Jakarta. The fact that traditionally peaceful Bali has been almost completely immune to that kind of strife makes the October 12 bombing that much more difficult to understand.

Wisnu Arimbawa is a freelance tour operator. He and his wife lost four friends in the bombing, all members of the same family, enjoying a holiday in Bali. Now Mr. Arimbawa says he is afraid attacks like that could happen again. "We keep the finger crossed [hope for the best]. Some people say next month, on 12 November, one month from that day who knows? So just day by day, if we go in crowds to a place like pub or bar, or hotel, supermarket, riding a bike here, we still get the trauma. So that's talking about next month, what about next year on 12 October?"

In addition to the loss of life, many Balinese are worried how they are going to make a living. Officials say 90 percent of all Balinese depend on tourism to survive, and the industry brings in $2 billion a year. But since the bombing, tourists are staying away and early estimates suggest that occupancy rates have dropped by 70 percent.

Twenty-one year-old Gede Sudiarsana worked at a Circle K convenience store damaged in the blast. He is now worried there is no future for him in Kuta. "So maybe I go back home again and become a farmer, so that's the one idea for myself," he said. "Because we need tourists to shopping here, so now not any tourists what can I do?"

Souvenir vendor Augustina Lorukoba is more fatalistic. She said, she is going to open everyday, just like usual. At the opening hour she will open, and the closing hour, she will close. Just the same as always.

Community leader Made Wendra said Bali will take steps to improve security for visitors, as a means of bringing them back.

He said it is the community's responsibility to restore confidence in order to make the tourists believe again in Kuta. He said the Balinese want to talk to the tourists and apologize to them because the people in Kuta never meant for such an incident to happen.

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