Monday, April 20, 2009


Another Saturday came along and another sort of adventure. After a hurried visit to Min, who was in a reasonable mood, I battled southwards through the traffic on a different mission.

My destination was Jakarta’s Pertama Hospital where I was to meet a young teenage boy called Daus, and his aunt. Daus was a cheery, guileless soul with a large bulge on the side of his face. His aunt was a smiling, plainly dressed woman. How had I met them? While out shopping, I had come across the lad and his aunt at a simple stall selling soft drinks, near the Blok M bus terminal. My suggestion of a future trip to the nearby Pertama hospital had been accepted.

Having arrived at the big concrete, tower-block hospital, and having met up with Daus and his aunt, we entered Dr Agung’s surgery. Tall, slim Dr Agung seemed mature and civilised. I explained how I had met Daus and then pointed to the obvious lump on the side of the boy’s face.

"It’s big," I said.

"It certainly is," said Dr Agung, running his finger over the boy’s face. "I’m going to arrange a blood test."

"Daus has no parents," I explained, "so he’s not been to hospital before."

"I look after Daus," said the aunt, "but we’re not rich."

The doctor spoke rapidly to Daus and his aunt and I couldn’t make out what was being said. He then turned to me, speaking in English.

"We can do something to help," said the doctor. "We can remove some of the swelling. Daus and his aunt tell me they’re keen to go ahead with the surgery."

Dr Agung then launched into a long technical account which was partly in Indonesian and partly in English. He seemed to be saying that Daus probably had elephantiasis. There was a reference to swelling being caused by a parasitic worm which blocks the lymph channels. I can’t claim that I understood much of what was being said.

"What’ll it cost to operate on Daus?" I asked.

"I will do the operation free of charge," said Dr Agung, "but you’ll have to pay my clinic for his bed there. We get lots of hair-lip patients brought to us by the British Women’s Association, but a case like Daus’s is not quite so common."

"Thank you for doing it free," I said. "When can you do the surgery?"

"The Monday after next." Dr Agung looked at his new calendar for 1992. "January 15th. Daus should be here at nine in the morning."

"My driver will bring him with his aunt. Thanks again for offering to do the op. free."

As I was being driven back home I began to think of some of the words that, according to Wallace, had been used to describe Indonesians: "impassive", "bashful", "polite", "loving", "just", "not much appetite for knowledge", "cruel", "ferocious", "subtle" and "great deceivers." My encounters with a whole host of Indonesians, from Min and Melati to Abdul and Dr Agung, suggested that the Indonesians were not much different from the British in terms of sins and virtues. What seemed to make the Indonesians different from the Brits was that the former lived in a world that was so much more intoxicating, unpredictable, precarious, dazzlingly bright, lusty, and full of children. Britain was grey clouds and the predictable nine to four.



Hugh said...

I enjoyed reading your stories, especially the one about Min. Thank you for posting.

Anon said...

Dear Jakboy,

Your blog is good.