The Morality Police Raid My Hotel
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You know you are far from home when a platoon of some kind of morality soldiers roust you out of your hotel bed.
It was a Saturday night. This hotel never gets very busy, but Saturday night is probably the busiest night. That’s the one night I might hear some noise and commotion and some rather odd characters (usually half-dressed men) might be spotted prowling the dark balcony. So I didn’t pay much attention when I heard some banging and crashing and loud voices. I was already asleep under my mosquito net with earplugs in my ears, so I think a really loud noise woke me up.
I didn’t wake up fully. I just lay in bed and flipped from side to side trying to get comfortable and find a cool spot on my pillow so I could fall back into deeper sleep. The noise continued, and once or twice, I even thought that someone was banging on my door. But I ignored it. There is no one in the entire world that could be knocking on my door that had any business with me. No one in the world knows where I am. So if someone was knocking on my door, I assumed it was a mistake – a confused Indonesian looking for his friends or mistaking my door for his.
Then I was disturbed by some flashes of light. And the noise intensified. I finally lifted myself onto one elbow and looked toward my large windows to see where the light was coming from. I wasn’t terribly surprised to see the shadows of four men in my windows, shining flashlights into my room and staring at me. I say I wasn’t terribly surprised because odd things like this are common in Indonesia. In Canada, you’d naturally be freaked out or angry to find four strange men poking their hands through your barred window, pulling back the curtains, and shining flashlights around your hotel room. But here, in a place where I never understand anything that is going on, I was barely even bothered. I just remained propped up on my elbow and looked back at these men and patiently waited for them to go away. I figured that they’d eventually figure out that they had the wrong room and they’d go away and let me go back to sleep.
However, no matter how long I waited, the men never left and the beams from their flashlights continued to dart around my room. I concluded that they must be confused by my mosquito net. No rooms here have mosquito nets. I put up my own. And the lights from their flashlight probably bounced off the netting and blinded them. They probably couldn’t see inside the net to see who was in the bed. So I reluctantly pulled out my earplugs and I said something in English. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something like, “Hello? Can I help you with something?” I figured that my words didn’t matter. Once they heard English, they would probably just go away. That’s what usually happened in these situations.
Unfortunately, my words did not have the desired effect. Rather than make them go away, my words prompted them to speak back in Indonesian. After a minute of back and forth, a voice spoke up in English and said, “Open the door.” I started to understand that these were not random drunken men. They were something rather more official, and I shouted, “Just a minute” and got out of bed. I always sleep nude, and I fumbled in the dark for a moment as I pulled on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. Then I walked to the door and opened it.
It had taken me only a minute to don some clothes, but by the time I finished and opened the door, the men that had been at my window were gone. There was no one there. I looked to my right and was greeted with the surprising sight of a large crowd at another room. The door to the room was open, and people were rushing in and rushing out. One person was holding a video camera over their head and several more were filming with their cell phones. In the light of the room and the balcony, I saw that most of the people in this crowd were armed men in a kind of military uniform. I have no idea if they were members of the armed forces or the police or something similar.
I had no idea what was going on, but these soldiers appeared to be going from room to room and dragging people out while shoving cameras in their faces. I stood in my doorway and watched this scene with my usual calm. It’s the kind of situation that probably deserved some astonishment or tension if not fear. But I’m so accustomed to odd situations in Indonesia, that I didn’t really feel anything at all. I just watched and waited to see what would happen next. No one was paying any attention to me, but I stayed in my doorway and I made myself visible. I assumed that at least one of these armed soldiers would come talk to me – probably the one that shouted through my window in English and told me to open my door. But no one came over. Many of the soldiers made eye contact, but they ignored me.
After a minute or two, one young man wearing normal clothes, came over and leaned against the railing outside my room. He appeared to be just another guest at the hotel, but I couldn’t be sure. He looked past me into my room and ran his eye over the mosquito net and the other unusual items on display. “Single?” he asked. “Alone?” Yes, I told him. I was single and alone. There was no one else in my room. Then this man waved his hand at the soldiers and said “Sweeping.”
I can’t say with certainty what was happening, but taking in the whole situation, the obvious conclusion was that these armed men were tasked with visiting cheap hotels and ferreting out immoral behavior. The people being pulled out of these rooms appeared to be couples, and I could only assume that they were unmarried or were being asked to provide proof that they were married. I don’t know if staying in a hotel with your boyfriend or girlfriend is illegal and punishable by law, but it appeared to be frowned upon at the very least. The armed men were kicking them out of their rooms and shoving cameras into their faces.
I kept waiting for the soldiers to turn their attention to me, but I was left alone. In a few minutes, the crowd of people disappeared. I noticed then that there was also an unusual amount of noise and activity in the street. I walked down the length of the balcony to look at the front of the hotel. There was a large group of vehicles and spectators out there. I heard sirens, but I didn’t see any official police cars or army trucks. I assumed an army truck of some kind had been used to bring these soldiers here, but it must have been just out of my sight. In any event, I didn’t think it was wise to stand there too long. As a tall white dude, I stand out, and if the armed men had chosen to ignore me up to this point, I felt it wasn’t wise to push my luck by standing around. I just took in the crazy scene in the streets outside my hotel and then I retreated. I heard a loud crash just as a I reached my room, and I glanced back to see that two scooters had slammed into each other, the drivers probably distracted by all the activity.
I was wide awake by this point, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. The obvious thing was to just go back to bed. The excitement looked to be largely over. However, I didn’t want to climb back into my mosquito net just in time to have the soldiers return and roust me again. I thought I should wait a few minutes to see if the raid was truly over. After a short time, I grabbed my towel and went to the shared bathroom for a quick bucket bath to cool down. On the way, I saw that all the doors on my floor were open and the rooms empty. It appeared that everyone but me had been forced to leave the hotel.
Of course, I’m very curious about the events of the night. I’d like to know who those men were and what they were really doing. But I’ll almost certainly never know. There is no one in the hotel that I can ask. And even if I did ask around, it’s a foregone conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to make sense out of anything they told me. It will remain a mystery, one that I can add to the long list of things that I don’t understand.
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