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Indonesia: The police man who is too nice


Sumatra, May 2014

Actually, I don`t like policemen or soldiers or other persons of authority and, if possible, I try to stay away from them. I remember the encounter with the secret police in Iran or a situation in India, when a police officer tried to intimidate me and demanded money. And of course the events in Myanmar.  My aversion is not directly against these people (there are also nice policemen) but against the function they fulfill in society or the state and what that does to them.


Before I begin to tell the story of the policeman who is too nice it should be noted that such a thing can happen everywhere, not only in Indonesia and not only at a police station.

Two befriended cyclists gave me the advice to sleep in police stations in Indonesia. It’s a tough day, the never ending hills of Sumatra make me tired and the never-ending convoys of trucks break my nerves. It’s enough for today but I can`t find a hotel and decide to try it at the police station. Only one policeman speaks some English, but they understand what I want. The police captain is very friendly and offers me to sleep in his air-conditioned office. I gratefully accept the offer and also the offer of a shower. There is a bathroom adjacent to his office. So I take off my sweaty clothes and pour water from a basin over my head, that´s how a shower works here. The door opens and the captain puts his head through the door. He points to the soap and says something like that I could use it. Then he looks at me and smiles and makes no attemp to leave. I ask him what the problem is and that he should close the door, which he then makes. I think nothing of it.

Later, when I put my mat on the floor in his office and try to sleep, the following happens: The captain puts his mattress next to mine to sleep there. This is strange to me, but I think maybe it is a custom in Indonesia not to let the guest sleep alone, as I have already experienced in other muslim countries.

But when he comes closer and I feel his hand touching my stomach and wandering down, his intenions get clear. I jump up, look at him angrily and confused and leave the room. Outside is another policeman, he has night duty and watches TV. I think about my options.

Pack all my things and ride into the dark to find a place to camp doesn`t sound very tempting.

Build up my tent in front of the police station or simply to lay down next to my bike is much better. But how do I explain this to the other officers that I suddenly want to sleep outside, rather than in the cool office of the boss? I can´t tell them about the incident, even if they understand me, they would probably not believe me and stand by their boss.

A quick photo next morning. In the middle the Captain.
A quick photo next morning. In the middle the Captain.

What also keeps me from telling someone is a thing called “losing face”. Here in Asia, it is most important for a man to “keep his face”, his dignity. And the Captain would definitely lose it, what I want to avoid. I’m afraid it might worsen the situation, people can get very angry, and several times he has made it clear that he is the big boss, the boss of the whole district.

Perhaps it was just a misunderstanding. Of course, I was kind to all police officers, have smiled at the captain and tried to start a conversation with him. And he might have misinterpreted this signals.

I’m undecided what to do. I feel fearful and confused. Than the captain comes to me and meant to me that I should follow him to his office. He shows me he would sleep on the floor and I could sleep on a bed in an adjoining room.

After a brief hesitation, I agree. It looks to me like a win-win situation. I don´t have to sleep next to him and he doesn`t need to explain himself to the other policemen. I hope that misunderstanding is cleared, he should know now that I just want to sleep and that I have no interest in older men, with or without uniform.

This policemen were really nice. But I preffered to sleep in my tent this time.
This policemen were really nice. But I preffered to sleep in my tent this time.

Of couse I can´t fall asleep. I can`t turn off my mind and get scared. I imagine what would happen if he tries to rape me. Sure I know how to defend myself and just next door are two other policemen (should that reassure me or is it more cause for concern?). But what if he puts me in prison and invents a crime to keep me silent?

Eventually I calm down. It is two pairs of shoes to rape someone against his will or to grope someone from who he assumes he wants to, I say to myself.

I leave the light on, put a T-shirt over my eyes and sleep. At some point I wake up by a touching. Through a gap between my eyes and the cover I see the captain standing beside my bed and just withdraw his hand from my crotch. I move a little and he dissapears quickly in the next room.

Anxious I lie awake for a while, then I decide it’s time to go. It’s 5 clock in the morning and it will be light soon. I pack my things, avoid eye contact with the captain and cycle on.

Now I can laugh about this story. Nothing really serious happened. But still I don`t know if my behavior was correct. Wouldn`t it be better to scream loud immediately when the captain has touched me for the first time? To make him very clear that I don`t want that? Or latest at the second time? Tell the other policeman? Let him loose his face, his job, his family?

No, I think it is good as it is. The next time I have to spend a night at a police station, I refuse all invitations to sleep in a room and pitch my tent behind the police station.