Spilling the beans on Aceh

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 04 Jun 2003


BANDA ACEH: Warong Ulu Kraeng is famous for its coffee.  

From morning till night, the coffeeshop is full of young people who come for their regular “fix”. 

“There is something very different about this coffee. The smell, the taste is unlike any other. It is easy to get hooked on it,” said Muhammad Rijal, a veterinary student who stopped by almost every night. 

De Chek Muhammad, the son of the coffeeshop’s owner, said the secret of their coffee was in the grinding. 

“The unique taste is because we grind the beans with butter and some sugar. Yes, you heard right, butter. That’s our secret,” revealed the 17-year-old. 

While about 1,000 people, mostly in their early 20s, drop by daily for their cup of coffee and a chat, conversation did not always revolve around the latest military offensive in Aceh. 

“We talked about masalah cewek (problems we have with girls) and joked around. We did not touch on politics tonight because that would only make our heads pusing-pusing (spin). 

“We came here to release stress,” said Rijal’s friend Koko, who is an economics student. 

TASTY BREW: Warong Ulu Kraeng's Nazri making a special blend of the coffee, which the coffeeshop is famous for. The warung is a popular spot for young Acehnese to gather and talk.

Asked about last month's failed talks between the Indonesian Government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), Rijal, Koko and their friend, Muhammad Muklis, said their hope was for a peaceful solution and for conditions in Aceh to get back to normal. 

“Right now, we are hesitant and sometimes even afraid to come out here for coffee at night,” said Muklis. 

Koko said the talks failed because GAM kept pushing for independence, something that Jakarta would not tolerate. 

“So there was just no meeting point,” he added. 

As for Muklis, he said although Aceh was rich in oil, gas, gold and timber, in over 50 years when the province was part of Indonesia, the people here did not benefit from these resources and had remained poor. Unemployment was at about 30% and only 10 out of 100 graduates were able to find work. 

“The rest become petty traders to make ends meet. Actually they are able make more money this way than getting a salaried job here,” said Muklis, another veterinary student. 

While people in Aceh felt like the stepchild of Indonesia, Muklis pointed out that there was no “kepastian yang pasti (definite certainties)” that they would be better off if the province became independent. 

His friend, Rijal, said corruption was rife in Aceh. 

“If we are independent and there is still this much corruption, the people will still remain poor. What we need is good governance,” he said as he downed his second cup of coffee. 

At another table, Denny pointed to his full cup of coffee. 

“The peace talks between Jakarta and GAM is like this cup of coffee. If you want more than the cup can contain, what will happen? The coffee will spill over and the cup will then be only half full. 

“Both sides lose. There cannot be a country within a country. People should not eat more than their share. If you overeat, you will be sick,” said Denny, who was born in Aceh but had spent much of his schooling life in Jakarta. 

For him, the reason the talks failed was due to “masalah perut (people not satisfied with their portions)”. 

“If people's stomachs are full, there would be no ribut (storm) here. It would be peaceful,” he said. 

Daniel, who was also on his second cup of coffee, believed that in the two years that Aceh was allowed to keep 70% of its oil and gas revenues (and Jakarta 30%), the man-on-the-street got nothing. 

“The way I see it, the main problem is in the unfairness in dividing the cake. We cannot go on forever like this. I am sure there is a solution somewhere but we don’t know what,” he said. 

Daud said the secret to successful negotiations was in the recipe. 

“To succeed in any negotiation, you need trust. If you don’t have this, it is going to be like a bad cup of coffee that no one wants to drink,” he said. 

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