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Yield the World to Terrorists?

U.S. Diver and Ecologist, Duane Silverstein, Discovers a Most Peaceful Island in the Days Immediately Following the Terror Attack.

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Duane Silverstein, the Executive Director of a U.S. foundation Seacology, arrived with a group in Bali on the evening of the October 12th bombing. Duane kindly shares his perceptions of Bali and its people during his visit with


As I rode my bicycle past yet another beautiful village, the schoolchildren would line up on the side of the streets to give me 'high fives.' The sounds of their laughter echoed in my ear as I rode by. A little further down the road, a sculptor working on his latest creation invited me and my fellow travelers into his house to see his sculptures and his family pets. Where was I? A small town in Iowa? A quiet village in France? No, was in Bali, Indonesia a few days after the terrorist bombing killed almost 200 people.

Perhaps you might have been less surprised if you knew the sculpture was of the Hindu God, Ganesh, and the family pets were fruit bats and porcupines. However, given the constant U.S. media bombardment about how dangerous Bali is, one might have sooner expected a description more closely resembling Normandy beach after D-Day.

As executive director of Seacology - a Berkeley based non-profit organization whose sole focus is preserving the environments and cultures of islands throughout the world - I was in Indonesia with a delegation of board members to visit five of our projects. We arrived in Bali on the night of October 12. The bomb was detonated a few hours after our arrival in a location less than 10 miles from our hotel. The next morning we were scheduled to visit the Tirtaganga Water Palace where Seacology has installed a wastewater garden - an affordable low-tech way of utilizing plant filtration to treat sewage. Our three-hour ride was to take us through the remote countryside of Bali. I convened the group to see if we should go ahead with the visit and to my pleasant surprise the vote was unanimous in favor of proceeding.

As most other tourists were frantically waiting on long lines at the airport to get out on the next flight, we were traveling through the heart of Bali; a more peaceful scene would be hard to imagine. While our family in the U.S. was hearing one news report after another that Bali is unsafe and tourists should go home immediately, we were greeted warmly by the village children with a traditional legong dance and hosted for lunch by a son of one of the former kings of Bali.

The next day we boarded the Komodo Dancer - Peter Hughes Diving's new live aboard which dives the reefs around Komodo Island, Indonesia. Both the boat and the diving were world class. The diversity of marine life was amazing and we dived with creatures ranging in size from pygmy seahorses to manta rays. The purpose of this part of the trip was to visit another Seacology project to help The Nature Conservancy preserve the threatened coral reefs of the region.

When we arrived at our project site in the middle of the ocean there were a dozen fishing boats greeting us. The head fisherman, Abdul Assiz, invited us to visit his home village and we gladly accepted. Three days after the terrorist bomb in Bali we were guests at a remote Muslim fishing village and were made to feel at home in every way.

When we returned from our village visit there were messages via the Komodo Dancer's satellite phone for every member of our group. All of our families wanted us to come home immediately as they had seen many reports that Indonesia was unsafe. This was very hard for us to reconcile with our visit to the Muslim fishing village where the biggest risk was getting scratched by one family's pet turtle.

We then returned to Ubud, the cultural center of Bali, to visit other Seacology projects. Having visited this area previously, we were not surprised to find some of the world's friendliest people. Unfortunately, the Balinese of Ubud were also very sad. Due to the bombing and the sensational media reporting, tourism was down over 90 percent. In the normally bustling town we were often the only people eating at a restaurant or shopping in a store. My favorite Ubud hotel had not a single guest.

Yet nothing else had changed. The beautiful terraced rice fields still surround the town, Balinese women would frequently parade by on their way to temple with offerings of fruit piled high on their heads, and the monkeys in the adjacent forest would still jump up and take bananas out of your hand. It would be hard to imagine a safer place to be - not just in Bali, not Just in Indonesia, but anywhere in the world. And yet we did not see a single other American tourist our last four days in Bali.

Since September 11, 2001 the world is a more dangerous place. But the danger of a terrorist attack or other violent crime is likely greater in the U.S. than in most of the world's nations.

Should travelers to Bali be concerned about their safety as a result of the October 12 bombing? Of course, but perhaps no more so than travelers to San Francisco should be concerned about their safety as a result of the September 11 attack upon the U.S.. After September 11th Mayor Giuliani's message was "come to New York, we need your money." Why shouldn't the same message be heard about Bali after October 12?

The world is a wonderful place full of fascinating people interesting cultures and, in the case of Indonesia, great diving. If we all stay at home because of a few terrorist attacks we will miss out on some great experiences and world class diving. We will also have conceded victory and yielded the world to terrorists.

If you do not believe me, just ask the people of Bali, who have learned the hard way that a bombing and the ensuing media coverage sentenced an entire island to poverty.

Duane Silverstein is Executive Director of Seacology,, a non-profit organization whose sole focus is preserving the environments and cultures of islands throughout the world.

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