Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brunei part one -- The Paradox

It is surreal to stand among shacks patched together by plywood and scrap mettle looking at a gold plated mosque. I could comprehend one of the two realities in front of me -- but not both. The ‘Venice of the East’ is a shanty town, a cluttered jumble of patchwork houses perching on stilts above a marsh of slick mud, rubbish, and a seemingly infinite number of crabs. We walked along the boardwalk that threads through the shacks, marveling at the contrast of the houses built with nailed together pieces of corrugated mettle and the beautiful potted flowers set outside.

Following this path we reached the Mosque, a blinding white structure, shining gold painting. You step out of the slum into the tiled courtyard, crossing a reflecting pool in an odd reflection of the walkway through the water village. The Mosque is beautiful, in a built to impress sort of way. But the white walkways and fountains were stained with money and the memory of how it could have been used better.  I can’t suppress my anger, but really this sharp contrast is a reminder of the economic injustice in the name of God that is endemic world over. From the gold plated mosques of Brunei to the extravagant mega church of Lynchburg, money is spent on decorating for God that could have been used to house the homeless.

This is the beautiful and bittersweet part of traveling. It exposes us to truths we are hidden from most of the time. Growth is often uncomfortable.

On a more cheerful note: A monkey tried to steel pineapple from me today!

Tomorrow we are heading into Malaysia for a day trip! I will be sure to share this with you -- hopefully on happier topics!

For more photos from today:


  1. Hi Anna,

    I'm enjoying your blog. The pictures are superb and your narrative is insightful. You say "we" did this and that. Are you with a group?

    Michael Mewborn

  2. Hi ya!

    These pictures raise so many questions!!

    Wouldn't it be interesting to know more about the history of the mosque (why is it in THAT spot? who gave the money? who owns the mud flats with the shacks surrounding it?)

    And to know more about the congregation the mosque serves -- is it just for the wealthy? in the US, religion is often pretty economically segregated. It is hard to imagine the shack dwellers worshiping in the temple of gleaming white, but maybe they do....

    How important is the "Charity" pillar of Islam in their congregation, and how do they take charitable action?

    The Medieval structures of Islamic Cairo are (literally) littered with the charitable donations of wealthy Muslims, fountains, baths, schools, shelters, hospitals. I can vouch for the fact that in some countries at some times some wealthy Muslims have taken charitable works very seriously!

    Wouldn't it be interesting to compare the amount of money (or value) dedicated to serving the poor over time? I wonder if we are getting better or worse at acting on God's call to serve "the least of these." Too bad our knowledge of medieval economics is so limited.

    Thanks for sharing your journey!!