A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter...

Tara Savaheli

Recently my wife and I were fortunate enough to have a wonderful houseguest, although under very unfortunate circumstances. Kester Evans, someone I consider to be as good a friend as I’ve ever had, or could ever imagine having, lent us his fiance for a few weeks while he languished in a Korean hospital. Tara is a blessing and quite honestly one of the sweetest people Yolanda or I have ever met. This is a glimpse of her.


The Jakarta Globe

April 26, 2009
My Jakarta: Tara Savaheli

By Patrick Guntensperger

The first glance confirms the reputation of Persian women for their beauty. Tara Savaheli’s radiant smile defines her and lets you know right away that she’s having a great time on her first visit to the Big Durian. Savaheli came to Jakarta from Gorgan, in the northeastern part of Iran, where her family lives, for the specific purpose of meeting her fiancé, Kester, a Scottish expatriate who lives in South Korea. They met in Thailand and plan to get married in Bali.

Just to make the story even more complicated, her fiancé was injured in a motorcycle accident in Korea on the day he was supposed to fly here. Savaheli is working on getting a visa to visit Kester. Always cheerful, she takes some time away from the bureaucratic grind to get to know the city.

I know these aren’t the best circumstances to be visiting Jakarta, but what are your first impressions?

Being a Muslim woman, I really like being able to walk about on my own, dress as I please and not have to feel as though I’m always being scrutinized for misbehavior. The moderate Islam in Indonesia is very refreshing.

In between your visits to the various embassies, what have you done while you’ve been here?

Today I went to Carita with my fiance’s friends. We could see across the sea to Krakatoa. I ate otak-otak [fish fillet wrapped in banana leaf and grilled], we played in the surf and I didn’t have to be covered from head to toe! I met a monkey who was jealous of me! She was happy to take fruit from me, but she was only nice to men … me she growled at!

Tell us a bit about the food in Jakarta.

I love cumi-cumi [squid] and mie goreng [fried noodles], and I’ve eaten a lot of satay. I have been living in India for over a year, so I really like spicy food. Some people have told me that Indonesian food is very hot, but I find it just delicious. I love all the street food. It’s nice to be able to get the best food in the city without having to go to expensive restaurants.

So will you be back?

I’ll certainly be back when I marry Kester! We want to get married on a beach in Bali. But after that, I think I might come here to live while I continue my studies. Kester has lived here before and he loves it too. If I can find a university that has the right kind of courses in environmental studies — I want to do more work in natural science. I don’t live in Iran anymore because I couldn’t live under the restrictions that the government places on women. Can you believe that even if you wear full body covering, a young woman can be arrested simply because a policeman finds her attractive?I can’t understand women, particularly younger women, who want to see more or stricter religious-based laws. I’ve lived under them and I don’t understand why anyone would want to if they didn’t have to. So for a young Muslim woman like me, living in Jakarta with its religious tolerance and moderate form of Islam feels so much healthier.

What about Jakarta’s legendary traffic? Don’t you find it really frustrating?

It’s worse than Tehran, but have you even been to India? Once you’ve lived there for a while the traffic in Jakarta starts to look almost reasonable. I rode a motorcycle there when I lived in Pune [near Mumbai]. I can take any kind of traffic, I think. The two countries have a lot in common actually, even beyond the food and the traffic. I love the cultural diversity, the way different religions can live side by side … even if they don’t always do it completely peacefully. And I like the climate!Iran is a desert country and it gets quite cold.

Don’t you miss that?

Really, I hate cold weather! I love the way it’s always summer here and I don’t have to wonder what the weather will be like in five minutes, whether it will rain, snow or hail today. Here it is hot and sunny or it is rainy. That’s it. And it always goes back to hot and sunny. I love it.

So what’s next for you today?

Some bureaucracy and paperwork. Then I have to wait for my fiance to fax back some documentation from Korea and while I’m waiting, I’ll go around Jakarta and see more of the city. I don’t really like malls but maybe we’ll eat some gado-gado [mixed vegetables with peanut sauce] or some other street food, and maybe I’ll even sit in a cafe with my Indonesian friend Yolanda and have a beer! Legally!


Hire Patrick

Want to hire Patrick for a speaking engagement, as a teacher or for a writing project? Send him a message here:



Your Message

To use CAPTCHA, you need Really Simple CAPTCHA plugin installed.

Speak Your Mind