Monday, October 10, 2005

49. OYA

"We’ve found Raj’s family," said Panti Bambu’s director, referring to the handsome boy who, on the last occasion I had met him, had had a metal chain attached to his ankle. The director was sitting at his desk drinking tea and he was looking like a big affable police sergeant. "The parents will be coming tomorrow at noon to collect him."

"Good news," I said. "Where do they live?"

"Many miles West of Jakarta," he replied.

"How did Raj get lost and travel all the way to the big city?"

"We don’t know."

"And what about Wisnu? He’s been here at least two months."

"As soon as it can be arranged, we’ll send him to Malang, the hill town in East Java," said the director, looking down at his desk which was empty of paperwork. "There’s a place there run by a Dutch professor."

"When will it be arranged?"

"I’ve already been in touch with Malang."

"There should be a separate building here for the children," I said. "They’d be safer separated from the adults. What would it cost?"

"Twenty million rupiahs, which is five thousand dollars," suggested the director, without any suggestion of wild enthusiasm.

"That’s very little. Surely one of the expat women’s organisations could give you that."

"Where would we put the building?"

"There’s lots of empty space around here for a small building. Would you build it if I gave you the money?"

"It would be difficult. The buildings here were designed for adults."

No doubt the construction of an extra building, financed by foreigners, would have come up against masses of red tape and bureaucracy.

Wisnu and Raj, barefoot and wearing ragged clothes several sizes too big, were brought into the office. I wondered what had happened to the sets of brand new clothes I had supplied. Raj had a nasty bruise on his face and Wisnu had developed some kind of skin disease on his limbs.

"Do the inmates get medical attention here?" I asked the director.

"There’s a medical room," he replied.

I had seen this room. It was not equipped with much in the way of medical equipment. On the shelves there had been one or two plastic bottles which might or might not have contained pills.

"Do the patients get modern antibiotics and a proper doctor?" I asked.

"The authorities give us about 25 pence per person per day. That has to cover food, clothing, medicine and everything else." He gave me a hard look.

I took the two boys for the usual walk down the country road which runs West of Panti Bambu. We came to a doctor’s surgery in a bungalow which lay just beyond a small mosque and a big church. On a whim, I decided to get a medical checkup for both Wisnu and Jan. After a long wait in the reception area, I was told by the young female receptionist that the doctor was an hour late.

"He’ll be asleep," she said.

"Can you phone him?" I asked.

She phoned, and twenty minutes later, a young man appeared. He wore a pained expression on his thin face.

"Who are these children?" he snapped.

"From Panti Bambu."

"I’m the doctor for patients there," he said. "There’s no need to come here."

"You get paid to be their doctor?"


I reckoned he must be like the doctor at Wisma Utara where Min had once stayed. "I thought I’d bring the kids here so as to speed up treatment," I said.

Some antiseptic was applied to Raj’s face and I was told I should buy some soap for Wisnu.

"Don’t come back here," said the doctor, glaring.

I imagined that the poor stressed doctor could do little for the patients at Panti Bambu if that institution was only given twenty five pence per day per inmate. And possibly he feared that I might bring scores of diseased old men to his bungalow.

Next evening I called in to see Wisnu.

Raj was still there, all dressed up, and trying not to weep.

"What happened with Raj?" I asked the young man in the office. "His parents were supposed to have taken him home."

"Parents didn’t turn up. Maybe tomorrow." The young man looked sympathetically at Raj.

Raj looked at me and tried to grin, but his eyes were moist.

I took Wisnu and Raj for a walk down the road and bought them some chocolate biscuits. Raj did not seem hungry.