Don's Diary

October 27, 2000

Day 1

Struggle of packing is overshadowed by worries about getting to airport. Britain is petrol-parched. But destination Jakarta is awash with it - at less than 9p a litre.

Day 2

At my hotel receive a living expenses advance from organisers and am a rupiah millionaire (11,500 to the pound). Our group of academics and consultants is evaluating university departments that have been awarded grants to improve undergraduate programmes. We will examine progress since our evaluation two years ago.

Day 3

Workshops for grant-holders and Indonesian and British evaluators. During a break for Friday's Islamic prayers, chat with a Indonesian Hindu colleague. He has a chauffeur and a live-in maid - not because he earns so much, but because they are paid so little. He questions my lack.

Day 4

Fly to Yogyakarta ("Jogja"). Welcomed by senior staff anxious to explain difficulties in addressing our recommendations. Local factors must be considered. Low salaries force academics to do extra work - they rush off daily to teach at other colleges. Late into the night we discuss our strategy for tomorrow's engagement with the department.

Day 5

Driving in we compete with thousands of commuting motor-bikes. Jogja's haze is blamed on an active volcano, but is probably because of too many badly tuned engines. Meet with project and teaching staff and students. Impressed students understand me, although most are reluctant to try English. At a meeting, we share concerns about the project's progress and management.

Day 6

Feedback, though critical, is well-received and we are assured all issues - project organisation, curriculum development and quality assurance systems - will be addressed. Much hand-shaking, smiles and salutations.

Snatch a trip into town by tricycle rickshaw, in which you sit unprotected, surrounded by fume-belching traffic. Find gifts from vast arrays of batiks, leatherware and silverwork.

Off by air and road to a university in Bogor. During a working dinner, one of my Indonesian colleagues tells the band I'm from Wales. This elicits cries of "Tom Jones" and I am persuaded (reluctantly) to take the microphone and sing "The Green Green Grass of Home".

Day 7

More meetings. Staff confidence boosted by Indonesia's badminton Olympic gold medal. Crisis when draft report disappears from laptop screen. Miraculously recovered by local computing expert. Tempted to join prayers to give thanks. Our hosts give me birthday dinner, complete with gift, cake and a rendition of "Happy Birthday". No alcohol (Islamic prohibition), but amazed how lively everyone is on fruit juice.

Day 8

Feedback well received, with promises to deal with issues. Warm farewells and parting gifts. "Selamat tinggal."

David Weitzman is a higher education consultant based in Cardiff.

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