Image by Shilfina

Image by Shilfina

Sejawat Merawat: On the Reflection of Care

by: Bakudapan Food Study Group

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Bakudapan1 was invited to get involved in the Food and Climate Justice Arts Collaboratory project which focuses on an effort to build a network between communities, practitioners, and others in relation to the theme. Bakudapan was interested in inviting a few new friends (Karyn, Putri, and Rani) to be a part of this. The first connection we made together as a group was the urge to reflect our own practices and works related to activism in regards to food and ecology. Having this concern, along with our new friends, we eventually agreed to form a study group called Sejawat Merawat. Coming with Indonesian term, Sejawat means colleague, and Merawat means caring. The term sejawat not only can be understood as colleague, but as friends who share a common vision and find the ways to achieve it. On the other hand, merawat sums up how we see care and its works and derivatives, which are essentials in this group. We are connected by it. 

Sejawat Merawat meets regularly on Tuesdays to discuss, watch movies, read, and share about each other’s lives. Together we try to open a space to process, share, and learn to talk about “How can we extend the practice of solidarity in the food and ecology movement with joy and apply it in our daily lives?”

Our introductory period was quite short and physical meetings were very limited as some of us live in different cities. As a result, the communication that connects us during the pandemic is through text messages and face-to-face routinely every Tuesday via Zoom. We used the online meetings to discuss, watch movies, read, and check in on each other’s lives, until one day, a deep and reflective conversation that was quite impressive for us started.

Nugu: Isn’t it hard to check up on conditions with “strangers”? As not all of you are friends from the beginning. I mean it can lead to personal matters, have you ever felt burdened by it? And does the check-in session make any difference in your dynamics? 

Nugu’s questions prompted us to dive into everything we have done, both about our work in this collective and how we felt during the process. We were eager to answer.

Arak Injin: I don’t know about others, but I instantly felt comfortable sharing my life with these peeps. I remember one check-in session where I needed to sing a bit of my most-played song around that time. I did it without any hesitation and shame, hahaha. Maybe because I sensed from the very first time that this is a safe haven, at least for me.

Ginger: I feel a little bit nervous when it comes to the check-in session which topic is personal things, I’m afraid I am oversharing and will always end up feeling guilty and triggered every time I share personal things. But after a long time getting close to them, I realized that I was not only learning to know them better but also myself. The check-in session with them encouraged me to be better and understand how personal matters can affect collective dynamics.

Lestari: I agree with what everyone else said. But I’d just like to add that most of the time I forget that what we’ve been doing these past several months is work. It never occurred to me that I’d get paid for… um, getting to know new people. And I must admit that I’m not really good at socializing. Though I had a tiny bit of doubt in the first place, being part of this little community has been surprisingly one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. The check-in session, particularly for me, has definitely helped us get to know each other better.

The conversation was quite surprising because we couldn’t imagine that the relationship we built would be at this point where we felt the activity of checking in on other people’s lives brought us to the same depth of emotion. In this sense, we can feel that we strive to enable space for processing, and sharing, and continue learning to discuss the topic “how can we extend the practice of solidarity in food and ecological movement in joy and apply it in everyday life?”. We also shared our opinions about this.

Nom: I really like that we put solidarity as an act of practice. That we are constantly practising solidarity. To this day, I always ask myself, what is solidarity? Is it an act of sympathy? Is it loyalty? Is it unity? Who are we in solidarity with? Only humans? How about trees, rivers, birds, dogs, and all the non-humans around us? So many questions, but I don’t want the answer to come out hastily. This question and our process is a reflective process. Sometimes I also wonder if solidarity only shows up when there’s something that should be fought against. Does it only emerge when there’s oppression and suffering?

Ginger: I thought empathy might be the key to sustaining our “solidarity” practice. Empathy doesn’t necessarily come from the norms that force us to act, but from feeling like there is something deeper or something that we are related to so we can feel connected to each other and make us stand in the same ground battle because the acts of solidarity are not possible by one person but together, so does the feeling?

Lestari: Solidarity, for me, is about relations. It’s important to ask ourselves about what kinds of relations we want to build and have with each other (humans and more-than humans) and how we want to do it. 

Arak Injin: When I was in my undergraduate years, I always associated the word “solidarity” with something strong, tough, and willing to fight. I spoke about solidarity with high caution, a fear that I might misinterpret the word and the action that follows. Solidarity can be reflected in even the smallest things. It is about taking care of the things that matter to us, it is about learning the truth; it is about love. Solidarity is doing all of that together with the ones that can share the same energy. I know it might sound silly, but when we look and listen closely to our surroundings when we use our senses the best way that we can, we will know who or what are the ones that we can share this solidarity with. It is a lifelong exercise, I guess. And it is amusing to slowly learn together with Sejawat Merawat peeps, that solidarity is essentially a tender act for any movement.

Nugu: I believe solidarity is a process, progress and flux. It makes us move, reflect, and stop also allowing us to have different meanings at certain times for everyone. Do I sound too optimistic now?

Listening to each other’s opinions, we were becoming more and more interested in discerning the possibilities of what we can do for the future. We began to narrow down the topics on how we could exercise to generate an attentive and comfortable process in collective dynamics. The day was getting warmer, and so was our conversation.

Ginger: For me, what we’ve been doing together for so long slowly opens my eyes that there are many needs of each individual that need to be achieved through this network, not only about our work on related issues: social, ecology, food, etc., but also our personal needs. So openness might be important for this process, but what kind of openness do we need? How far is the limit? Personally, is crucial to being able to feel connected in building/caring for the relationship towards individuals and all forms of work with them. But, I think building a network based on caring/compassion is very difficult because each individual has their own value of what kind of relationship they need or even suits them best. Not everyone can enjoy the dynamics which brings a lot of emotional feelings. My question “How can we manage our different personal and collective needs together?” Will it be an entry point to explore what we can do to exercise ourselves to generate a careful and comfortable process?

Arak Injin: I should say that I have never in my entire life been part of a group that is able and willing to understand the personal needs of each of its members so that we can move forward in our work. It is usually done differently: where in order to move forward, you need to put the work in the first place so you need to neglect your personal needs and personal space. Actually, I was quite surprised and could not believe how comfortable this group is, maybe because most of the groups that I am involved in really focus on the shared goal and mission. I believe that Sejawat Merawat has its mission, but I guess the process towards that mission is also our mission, too. Being open and vulnerable is not an easy thing to do, especially when we are doing all of this virtually. Hence, we are stepping outside our comfort zones by being in our comfort zones, to create an environment that we have been forever wishing for but very difficult to get. Despite the unfamiliarity that makes us feel like there are still many holes in this process, I think we are doing it amazingly. 

Our work in the network is not only about cultivating and sowing all those beautiful flowers but also seeing how the weeds that we allow to grow become part of us. What will they look like if they grow together with the plants we care for?

Nugu: For those who are working in activism and especially with the topics that we are concerned about (ecology and climate justice), finding a comfortable and attentive space for individuals to be present somehow is hard to find. But, it’s not impossible to generate that kind of space which I think is an important point to raise.

Our minds drifted away into thinking about the requirements of practising care for each of us which needed a lot of effort, energy, thoughts, time, and most importantly, emotions. At this point, we felt that care work had become our pivotal aspect in acknowledging the physically and mentally consuming domestic space. Nevertheless, each of us had our own perspective on this care work.

Ginger: Care work may not always be about “growing the plants”; the phase of “rewilding” is also important, so we can have time to stop/rest/contemplate and evaluate our work. This “rewilding” phase can also mean that we don’t have to feel burdened/overwhelmed with our care work, because who knows if something can actually grow healthy/leafy/amazingly without having to take care of it? So our work in the network is not only about cultivating and sowing all those beautiful flowers but also seeing how the weeds that we allow to grow become part of us. What will they look like if they grow together with the plants we care for?

Lestari: Care work takes many different forms depending on what an individual and a community need in different circumstances. I feel that it can only be done when one feels safe enough to be themselves among people in the community they’re part of. I love that in Sejawat Merawat, we’ve made a collective effort to ensure that everyone is allowed to be curious and vulnerable. No domination and judgment can enter our space. Though disagreements and mistakes happen, it doesn’t stop us from respecting each other. In addition, they’ve made us grow and thrive more. Collective care also reminds us that we are responsible for one another. Hence, holding each other accountable matters too. It’s not perfectionism we are after. All we want is individual as well as collective liberation from these coercive systems that prohibit us to be who we are and who we are becoming. 

Arak Injin: I guess we tend to neglect care work just because it does not seem that important. We usually view it only as a supporting aspect of life. Yet we are also desperate for it. Yet we are longing to be cared for by others. It feels good to be cared for, but how does it feel to care, to do the care work? Is it tiring, will it be boring? Those are the questions that we exercise while doing the care work itself at the same time. When you care about something or someone, you let them be. You give them precautions and cautions, but you acknowledge their existence and needs. That is what we have been doing together for these past months. It makes me believe that even the smallest things matter.

Nugu: In many cases and stories I heard regarding working in the activism scene, it can be tough and ruled by a patriarch and also a masculine working system. In which care work has always been neglected or put aside from the priority. Based on what others say, care work can be in various forms, taking care of the space, checking in about your friend’s condition, allowing room for failures, reflection, and many more. Within these various applications, I believe it needs constant practice and reflection moments in between. 

We remained silent for a moment, this silence was a sign that this conversation didn’t need to be answered right away and that it might take more time to fully understand it. Furthermore, this silence may also be part of the learning process as there is no shortcut to creating an ideal space. We just need to keep practising sharpening ourselves; empathy, knowledge, and being more aware of the smallest things. We decided to end our conversation with this question: is our method suitable to be funded by Arts Collaboratory? 

Arak Injin: I don’t know. In my oldschool mind one has to trust a program to be able to support it in any way possible. Sejawat Merawat is not a program/project/group/network that has a very rigid plan from the first time it was initiated, because we are working on it together along the way. How to be that confident? 

Ginger: I agree with Arak Injin. Nevertheless, I think such dynamics can make us to be embodied with the work we do. If we build a network as intended by Arts Collaboratory, I think we’re already on that path. Building networks based on solidarity is not easy, and each community/group has its own challenges and context so the application of its methods will be different, so who gets to decide what is the right method if not each individual in that group?

Nugu: I’m not really sure as well, whether I can give the answer or not. Doubts are inevitable at the beginning of the discussion. However, in my personal opinion, we genuinely trust each other. As trust makes us enable(-ing) each other, there is room for experimentation and failure too. Hence, it drives us to put our hope into the process rather than deliberating on the result only. Speaking about the funding, we are grateful and have learned a lot from Arts Collaboratory which allowed us to have the freedom of managing the fund with any kind of methodologies and programs. As I said about valuing the process in our work, it’s mostly inspired by the collectives in Food and Climate Justice network. 

Bakudapan Food Study Group

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