Saturday, November 26, 2005

Back to Teluk Gong?

When I visited Min, next afternoon, he was having one of his hyper days. His eyes sparkled, he was grinning from ear to ear, and his body was charged with jerky energy.

"How’s Min?" I asked Wati, who was preparing vegetables on her living-room floor.

"Fine." As she spoke, Min poked little sister Imah in the stomach. Imah looked puzzled.

"Min’s not getting any medicine these days, is he?" I said.

"He’s not, and he can still be naughty," said Wati, looking cross.

"How’s the vegetable stall?"

"Not good. We have to give money to this person and that." Wati avoided looking at me.

"Who gets money?"

"Municipal security officials, and others."

"Is this legal?"

"No. They just want money."

"Is it like that where you used to live, in Teluk Gong?"

"Not the same. In Teluk Gong we have lots of family."

"How many?"

"Lots. Uncles, nephews, cousins, grandparents."

"So people won’t take money off you."

"Some of the people around here are bad."

"How do you mean?"
"Some of them drink too much. Some of them don’t like Min."
I was beginning to get the message, and it was confirming some of the thoughts that had been floating around in my mind for some time. Wati and family wanted to return to North Jakarta.

"Do you want to go back to Teluk Gong?" I asked.

She didn’t want to offend me by replying in the affirmative. She simply carried on putting vegetables into little plastic bags.

"It’s difficult to get work here," said Gani, from the kitchen.

"If you go back to Teluk Gong," I said, "you’d need to find a house that’s better than your old one on stilts. You want a place with a proper toilet and kitchen. Are there houses like that in Teluk Gong?"

"Yes, Mr Kent," said Wati, suddenly looking happier. "Lots."

"Do you want to start looking for a house in Teluk Gong?" I asked.

"It’s up to you, Mr Kent," said Wati. I interpreted this as a ‘yes.’

"Would you sell this house here in Cipete, to get the money to buy one in Teluk Gong?" I asked.

"It’s up to you, Mr Kent," said Wati. I interpreted this as a ‘no.’

"If you didn’t sell this house, what would you do with it? Rent it out?"

"I don’t know," said Wati. It occurred to me that she had a big family and she’d be reluctant to see a house being sold.

"OK," I said. "You find a house in Teluk Gong and I’ll come and have a look at it."