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Yield the World to Terrorists?

U.S. Diver and Ecologist, Duane Silverstein, Discovers a Most Peaceful
Island in the Days Immediately Following the Terror Attack.

Duane Silverstein, the Executive Director of a U.S. foundation
Seacology, arrived with a group in Bali on the evening of the October
12th bombing. Duane kindly shares his perceptions of Bali and its people
during his visit with balidiscovery.com:


As I rode my bicycle past yet another beautiful village, the
schoolchildren would line up on the side of the streets to give me 'high
fives.' The sounds of their laughter echoed in my ear as I rode by. A
little further down the road, a sculptor working on his latest creation
invited me and my fellow travelers into his house to see his sculptures
and his family pets. Where was I? A small town in Iowa? A quiet village
in France? No, was in Bali, Indonesia a few days after the terrorist
bombing killed almost 200 people.

Perhaps you might have been less surprised if you knew the sculpture was
of the Hindu God, Ganesh, and the family pets were fruit bats and
porcupines. However, given the constant U.S. media bombardment about how
dangerous Bali is, one might have sooner expected a description more
closely resembling Normandy beach after D-Day.

As executive director of Seacology - a Berkeley based non-profit
organization whose sole focus is preserving the environments and
cultures of islands throughout the world - I was in Indonesia with a
delegation of board members to visit five of our projects. We arrived in
Bali on the night of October 12. The bomb was detonated a few hours
after our arrival in a location less than 10 miles from our hotel. The
next morning we were scheduled to visit the Tirtaganga Water Palace
where Seacology has installed a wastewater garden - an affordable
low-tech way of utilizing plant filtration to treat sewage. Our
three-hour ride was to take us through the remote countryside of Bali. I
convened the group to see if we should go ahead with the visit and to my
pleasant surprise the vote was unanimous in favor of proceeding.

As most other tourists were frantically waiting on long lines at the
airport to get out on the next flight, we were traveling through the
heart of Bali; a more peaceful scene would be hard to imagine. While our
family in the U.S. was hearing one news report after another that Bali
is unsafe and tourists should go home immediately, we were greeted
warmly by the village children with a traditional legong dance and
hosted for lunch by a son of one of the former kings of Bali.

The next day we boarded the Komodo Dancer - Peter Hughes Diving's new
live aboard which dives the reefs around Komodo Island, Indonesia. Both
the boat and the diving were world class. The diversity of marine life
was amazing and we dived with creatures ranging in size from pygmy
seahorses to manta rays. The purpose of this part of the trip was to
visit another Seacology project to help The Nature Conservancy preserve
the threatened coral reefs of the region.

When we arrived at our project site in the middle of the ocean there
were a dozen fishing boats greeting us. The head fisherman, Abdul Assiz,
invited us to visit his home village and we gladly accepted. Three days
after the terrorist bomb in Bali we were guests at a remote Muslim
fishing village and were made to feel at home in every way.

When we returned from our village visit there were messages via the
Komodo Dancer's satellite phone for every member of our group. All of
our families wanted us to come home immediately as they had seen many
reports that Indonesia was unsafe. This was very hard for us to
reconcile with our visit to the Muslim fishing village where the biggest
risk was getting scratched by one family's pet turtle.

We then returned to Ubud, the cultural center of Bali, to visit other
Seacology projects. Having visited this area previously, we were not
surprised to find some of the world's friendliest people. Unfortunately,
the Balinese of Ubud were also very sad. Due to the bombing and the
sensational media reporting, tourism was down over 90 percent. In the
normally bustling town we were often the only people eating at a
restaurant or shopping in a store. My favorite Ubud hotel had not a
single guest.

Yet nothing else had changed. The beautiful terraced rice fields still
surround the town, Balinese women would frequently parade by on their
way to temple with offerings of fruit piled high on their heads, and the
monkeys in the adjacent forest would still jump up and take bananas out
of your hand. It would be hard to imagine a safer place to be - not just
in Bali, not Just in Indonesia, but anywhere in the world. And yet we
did not see a single other American tourist our last four days in Bali.

Since September 11, 2001 the world is a more dangerous place. But the
danger of a terrorist attack or other violent crime is likely greater in
the U.S. than in most of the world's nations.

Should travelers to Bali be concerned about their safety as a result of
the October 12 bombing? Of course, but perhaps no more so than travelers
to San Francisco should be concerned about their safety as a result of
the September 11 attack upon the U.S.. After September 11th Mayor
Giuliani's message was "come to New York, we need your money." Why
shouldn't the same message be heard about Bali after October 12?

The world is a wonderful place full of fascinating people interesting
cultures and, in the case of Indonesia, great diving. If we all stay at
home because of a few terrorist attacks we will miss out on some great
experiences and world class diving. We will also have conceded victory
and yielded the world to terrorists.

If you do not believe me, just ask the people of Bali, who have learned
the hard way that a bombing and the ensuing media coverage sentenced an
entire island to poverty.

Duane Silverstein is Executive Director of Seacology, www.seacology.org,
a non-profit organization whose sole focus is preserving the
environments and cultures of islands throughout the world.


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