Monday, November 21, 2005


In the late afternoon Mo drove me to the town's small fishing harbour so I could take pictures of fishing boats. I passed two policeman standing near the wide open entrance at the harbour's eastern end.

"Have you paid to enter?" said one of the policemen, a tall thirty-something-year-old, with a sly face.

"Oh yes," I lied. I was sure you didn't have to pay to wander around this harbour which I had visited many times before.

I photographed a number of oily little fishing boats with bright painted lettering on their sides. These were relatively small scale vessels but they did have engines and nets and they were bigger than the wooden catamarans I had seen on the beach. Much of Indonesia's fishing fleet still uses hook and line but there is increasing use of more advanced gear. I spotted a couple of fishermen mending nets but they would not smile for the camera. They looked too anxious. I decided to return to my van where my driver was lounging against the front door. The two policeman were standing a few yards distant.

"The police want you to go to the police station," said Mo, smiling slightly.


"You have to go to the police station. You can go in your own vehicle."

As Mo and I made the five minute drive to the police station, I was wondering what I had done wrong. Had I failed to pay my TV license? They weren't to know. Had I deeply offended the two policemen by not giving them money? Surely not. Did they suspect me of being a Libyan agent trying to start a revolution? I wasn't wearing dark glasses and a funny hat. What was worrying me was the video shots of the naked girl's back. I could be blackmailed. I picked up my camera, found the start of the section relating to the girl, faced the camera towards the van's floor and started to record.

The police station was a low rise building occupying a narrow space between the main road and a steep tree covered bank. Inside I was invited to have a seat at a long table in a dimly-lit inner room. To my right stood a middle aged army officer with what looked like a submachine gun. He looked like the sort of big muscular chap you might find in a friendly rugby club bar. To my left sat an unsmiling, moustachioed little man who seemed to be the boss and who took a great interest in my passport. Opposite sat a tall young plainclothes policeman whose relaxed posture and bright eyes suggested an above average degree of wealth and education. The two policemen from the fishing harbour stood by the door.

"You are a teacher," said the boss. "Do you know an Australian called John Harris? He teaches at your school." I think he was trying to give me the impression that he knew absolutely everything that went on.

"Ah, I'm not sure about the name. We have a lot of changes of staff," I said. The John who taught at my school, and who had a young girlfriend in Pelabuhan Ratu, was not Australian and his name was John Harrison. John presumably did not show his passport to these chaps. Or maybe the boss was trying to trick me.

"We want you to tell us everything you've been doing in Pelabuhan Ratu," said the boss.

So I told them, in great detail, all about Ali, Marni, my walk along the beach, the kid with the car injury, the sick baby and all the others. I missed out the bit about the policeman with his shirt hanging out and the bit about the policemen asking if I had paid to look around the harbour. Fortunately I had not taken any photos of military installations, so far as I knew.

The young plainclothes policeman looked as if he was delighted to have come across a genuinely eccentric and harmless foreigner. He sat back in his chair, grinning widely.

The boss still looked stiff and stern. He called in Mo who was asked to relate everything I had been doing throughout day. Fortunately the two accounts were the same, although Mo decided to complete his narration with a comment about my character.

"Mr Kent likes children," said Mo.

I hoped that would not be interpreted in the wrong way, and that no plainclothes policeman had been watching me filming the girl in the sea.

The boss now seemed to believe it was safe to let me go, but first he wanted to demonstrate who was in charge.

"If you come back to Pelabuhan Ratu and go to visit these people you must first call in at this police station. We'll get someone to accompany you to these people's houses."

This angered me as it made Pelabuhan Ratu appear to be like Enver Hoxha's Albania or Kim Il-Sung's North Korea. However, deciding to be obsequious and diplomatic, I shook the hands of the various policemen and soldiers and made remarks about English football and the weather.

On the road back to the hotel I tried to work out in my mind what they had been after. Did they think I was a dangerous provocateur or did they want money? I decided to ask my driver.

"Mo, why did the police say they'd get someone to come with me next time I visit Ali or Marni?"

"I think they want to protect you, Mr Kent," said Mo. "If you go into a kampung, carrying money, it's not too safe."

"But this is a very small town, full of friendly people and plainclothes policemen. Nobody would dare mug a tourist in broad daylight. And isn't robbery very rare in a Moslem country?"


"If I see a child whose been hit by a military vehicle, surely I can take the child to the hospital without having to ask permission."

"Mr Kent, my son is ill," said Mo, suddenly changing the subject. There was also a change in his voice. He was trying to sound relaxed but he was sounding a little high-pitched. "Can you help with the bill?"

"Your son's ill! You didn't tell me. When did it happen?"

"Before we came away. He's only three. He fell off a chair."

"Has he been to the doctor?"

"Yes. The doctor examined him and told him to rest."

"Give me the receipt when we get back and I'll pay the bill."

Mo was a puzzle. Why had he not told me about his son before we set out?

Two days after returning to Jakarta, my driver assured me that his son was making a swift recovery. That evening, I played back the video film on my TV screen. I had successfully wiped out only four fifths of the footage of the girl's back. And prior to the pictures of Pelabuhan Ratu there was a scene showing Mount Salak, a small lake, and a raft on which stood various young people who were not exactly overdressed. But Indonesia is like that; the Jakarta Post frequently features photos of naked schoolboys bathing in rivers or in fountains in front of five star hotels.