Neither Feared nor Respected

tiara the diva

Tiara the Diva

Today I filmed interviews with my crew. I wanted them to have a chance to talk about the filmmaking process and about one another. Tiara called Aldy “Mr. Sleepy” and he retorted by calling her “Mrs. Late.” Interestingly enough, they both described me as being a perfectionist and riding them hard… sometimes too hard. Tiara further noted that she enjoyed watching me get mad at her for being late. “Nobody in my community ever gets mad at me. I’m a diva. So when Kathy gets mad at me for being so late, I’m not scared. I just think it’s funny.” For emphasis, she unleashed a loud peal of laughter.

I’d like to note for the record that Irfan our photographer was sweet enough to describe me as being the most beautiful person in the crew. I was very charmed… until Aldy rolled his eyes and interjected, “Of course! She’s the only woman.” Doh.

There's one biological female here. Can you find her?

There's one biological female here. Can you find her?

A Secret Weapon

Our crew has been joined by two new members: Irfan, a young photographer from Makassar, and Pak Handi Ilfat, a professional sound man from Jakarta. It’s so good having them here. They’re both hard-working and good-natured—a great combination when you’re working long hours with subjects that can be somewhat demanding! I often joke with Handi that he is the consummate Handy Man. He has taken over the task of driving us around. And just the other day he changed a flat tire.

Handi and Irfan

Handi and Irfan

Suharni and best friend Wanda do their best to stay upbeat as Handi changes the tire

Suharni and best friend Wanda do their best to stay upbeat as Handi changes the tire

And there’s an added bonus. Mami Ria has taken quite a liking to Pak Handi. Her entire attitude toward the film project has changed, and I think it’s partly because of Handi. Gone is her moodiness. She becomes more demure and feminine around Pak Handi and is constantly inviting him to eat. Today, when we were waiting to film a traditional Buginese wedding, Mami plopped herself down next to Handi on the sofa and nonchalantly put her hand on his leg. Handi was startled, but being the good sport he is, stayed put. I wickedly asked Handi if I could borrow his camera and snapped away.

Kathy attempts unsuccessfully to please Mami

Kathy attempts unsuccessfully to please Mami

Handi pleasing Mami by virtue of being himself

Handi pleases Mami just by being himself!

The Tropics

Had a bit of a scare a few days ago. While filming Mami Ria in Toko Harapan, a store with cloths and accessories, I started to experience dizziness and extreme stomach pain. The store owner was kind enough to get me a chair and some water. My skin started to turn a sickly yellow. And my hands cramped up; I couldn’t bend my fingers! Mami Ria and Aldy were very concerned and wanted to bring me to a hospital. I asked them to bring me back to my boarding house; all I wanted to do was rest. On the way home, I rested my head in Mami Ria’s lap. She stroked my head and cooed repeatedly, “You’re going to be OK.” It was very soothing, like being sheltered by a very large angel.

Turns out the source of my illness was a plate of day-old noodles that I had devoured unthinkingly at midnight the night before. When I told Aldy that I hadn’t cooked the noodles before eating them, he smacked his head and said, “Don’t you know you’re in the tropics now!?!” Whoops. Lesson learned.

New Directions

O Sakati, wherest are thou?

O Sakati, where are you?

My plans to film Sakati, the waria with the young boyfriend, have been temporarily set aside. Sakati lives on a remote island 6 hours away by boat. There’s no electricity or cell phone service there. Trying to get in touch with her has been, as you can imagine, close to impossible. I’ve written her a letter and sent it over to the island via a boat…

Suharni and boyfriend Madi

Suharni and boyfriend Madi

In the meantime, I’ve started to film Suharni, another waria with a loving boyfriend. Suharni and her boyfriend Madi are a sheer delight to film. They’re completely comfortable in front of the camera, take direction well, and unlike my other subjects, only run 30-40 minutes late, as opposed to hours late. Suharni’s story is really interesting. She started out as a prostitute but stopped going to the streets after she met Madi. She’s also HIV+. A fact that she’s accepted with grace and gumption, turning herself into an HIV/AIDS awareness activist.

Back in Town!

I’ve been back in Indonesia for a week now and it feels good. Like putting on a pair of comfortable gloves. Yes, I’m sweaty, grimy, and exhausted. But I’m back in the throes of it. Able to interact with my subjects, able to remember why I started this project to begin with.


My favorite part about coming back:

Kepala Ikan Woku!

Kepala Ikan Woku (Fish Head Curry)!

When I first arrived in Indonesia a week ago, I played the film’s extended trailer to a large crowd of waria. They absolutely loved it. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure how much of it they actually caught, since they were laughing and shrieking throughout.

Production, as usual, is moving along at a snail’s pace. I quickly discovered that my most competent of assistants Aldy had taken a full-time job at a boxing factory. When I gave him a look of dismay, he shrugged and said, “Outsourcing.” I decided to go and visit his factory to see if I could steal him back for a month. After speaking to his managers for an hour and gifting them with L.A. souvenir magnets, I was able to get their permission. But only starting June 11th—they needed time to find his replacement.

In the meantime, I’ve taken on Adit, Aldy’s good friend, as my assistant. Adit is incredibly friendly and looks somewhat like a giant panda when he laughs. He’s also ethnically Chinese, so we communicate in a survivalist mishmash of Indonesian, Chinese, and English. After we spent an hour going over video equipment, we went to go film Ari working in his salon. Halfway through the shoot, I noticed smoke rings entering the frame of my shots. I turned around and saw Adit holding a cigarette. “Sorrylah,” he said. “I’m nervous. This is my first time on a film shoot.” I clucked disapprovingly, but didn’t have the heart to tell him to stop. Four hours later, he was still following me around with the tripod, puffing away.

I’ve achingly aware of how horrible my Indonesian pronunciation is. How so very American. Strangely enough though, I’m now able to understand more than I did last year—despite not having practiced in the interim. Maybe it’s because my brain doesn’t freeze in panic anymore. I’m also catching on to the Makassar dialects a bit more now. Today, when we finished our shoot with Ari, I caught him and his wife Emma talking about me in Bahasa Makassar. Ari said, “Kathy’s put on some weight in just the past week. Look at her face.” “Yes,” Emma agreed. “She’s probably sleeping too much.”

Language can really open doors.