Sunday, March 01, 2009

Iwan and Chong

Having left Hamid, I traveled to see Min.

I was always highly nervous before meeting Min at Wisma Utara. Was he going to be in good spirits? Yes. He was in the middle of the lounge dancing vigorously to dangdut music being played on a big cassette recorder. He was grinning, enjoying having an audience made up of Joan, Dan and some of the children. He was having one of his good days. When he saw me, he strode confidently over to me and grabbed my hand. We went for our usual promenade.

We sauntered along the kampung’s narrow concrete pathways, under shady golden shower trees and past gardens full of hibiscus. Before long we came to the neighbourhood rubbish tip. The rubbish tip was big. This one hectare of rusting metal, plastic bags, rotting food and other junk was set between a school and some houses. Smoke rose at one end, darkening out the sky. Here we watched the rubbish collectors, searching for paper, plastic and metal to be sold for recycling. Min seemed quite relaxed in this down-market area.

One of the collectors, a handsome, rickety, skin-and-bone juvenile in a white T-shirt, was seated at the foot of a battered wooden cart. He looked ready to be put on a stretcher.

"What’s your name?" I asked.

"Iwan," he replied, looking awfully serious.

"How old are you?"


"Are you OK?"


"Where do you live?"

Iwan pointed to some huts made of bits of plywood.

"Do you live with your parents?" I asked.

"My father’s dead. I live with my grandmother."

"If you’d like to go to the doctor, I can arrange it with your grandmother."

Iwan stood up and we scrunched our way over the sea of rubbish in the direction of the scavengers’ houses. Barefoot Iwan was limping.

"Do you pay rent?" I asked him.


"Does your mother live here?"

"She lives in the countryside."

A white haired old woman, with an almost toothless grin, ambled up to us.

"This is my grandmother," said Iwan, "and this is our house. Come on in."

We entered the one room shanty. The furniture consisted of a bed and some shelves. There were a few items of clothing, some dishes and jars, a poster of Sukarno, and some pictures of young women which had been salvaged from old magazines. Min seemed quite at home and pleased to have the company of another child. I wondered if Min came from a home like this.

After a brief discussion, Iwan’s Granny agreed to an immediate trip with Iwan to the Pertama Hospital. We returned Min to Wisma Utara and then made the twenty minute journey to the hospital.

The doctor in the casualty ward took a close interest in Iwan’s feet.

"Leprosy," he said. "It’s like TB but spreads very much slower. Look at the holes on the soles of his feet."

I could see two holes the size of small coins, about half a centimetre deep. "Can you give him medicine?" I asked.

"He’ll need to go to the Leprosy Hospital in Bekasi."

"As an in-patient?" I asked.

"It would be better to be an in-patient, to make sure he takes his medicine. It’s not an expensive hospital. Very cheap. As an outpatient he’d need to attend once a month."

"Iwan, do you want to stay in the Leprosy Hospital?" I asked.

"Could my grandmother stay with me?" asked Iwan. He did not look happy.

"No," said the doctor.

"Then I’ll go as an outpatient," said Iwan.

It was agreed that next morning my driver would take the lad to Bekasi, a settlement on the edge of Jakarta.

My final visit of the day was to Bogor and this involved a thirty-five mile drive, mainly along a modern toll road, with pleasant views of flowers and hills. My destination was the mental hospital at Babakan in Bogor. This was where I had taken Chong, the skinny young wreck I had found in the street.

Leaving the mental hospital’s carpark with its posh Toyotas and Jeeps, I walked through the hospital’s pleasant gardens with their gorgeous flowering trees, skirted the palatial office of the director, and arrived at the pre-Florence-Nightingale Merdeka ward. To my relief I found Chong was still alive, had perhaps put on a little weight, and was in fact being attended to by an amiable female nurse. I smiled at Chong and patted him on the shoulder. He smiled wanly. I bought him some more milk and biscuits from the hospital shop before making my excuses and returning to Jakarta. I had dinner at the Hilton.


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