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  • Given the mysterious start to the night, I was expecting a strange or mysterious end.

    Just before leaving the office one evening, a colleague approached me. He asked if I could accompany him on an interview, to take photos, and when I asked for details he wasn’t able to tell me much.

    A group of protesters traveled for days to get to Jakarta, he said, with threats of self-immolation over a land dispute. Because the government issued a warrant for their arrest, in an attempt to prevent the situation, they were currently at an undisclosed location and wanted to speak to a journalist before taking action. That was more than enough information to send me racing home to grab my camera.

    Our ride over to their safe house gave my imagination time to run wild. For some reason I envisioned throngs of people and pamphlets and a fury of activity. Jonathan had told me that they came to Jakarta once before on a hunger strike, and that several men sewed their mouths shut as a symbolic gesture. So, needless to say, I was picturing something dramatic.

    Upon arrival, however, everything was calm. In the back room of a nondescript household, six men sat amid decks of cards and empty juice bottles. Instead of meeting animated men with fiery speeches, the men we met seemed exhausted. And, as they soon shared, it was their exhaustion that prompted their journey.

    For nearly three hours we listened to the story of one small island and the paper company that seemed intent on destroying it. The men recounted the list of lawsuits they had filed over the years, and explained that since legal action failed them, self-immolation was the only choice.

    What I’ll never forget about their story was the way they told it. Not once did they ask for sympathy or lament the many injustices. Instead they explained the long battle, wearily. They just seemed incredibly, incredibly tired – tired of fighting, tired of being beaten down and tired of being ignored.

    We asked several times if they were scared, to which they repeatedly replied no. They were just ready, they said. And although Jonathan and I had a hard time understanding that concept, given the fog of exhaustion that seemed to permeate the room, I couldn’t help but believe they truly meant it.
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