Monday, April 20, 2009

Jiwa Hospital


Picture taken by Jonathan McIntosh, 2004.
We drove to the Jiwa Hospital, a mental hospital, in the nearby Jakarta district of Johar Baru. The hospital was in an old colonial building, looking like a fort, surrounded by neglected grass, a few trees and some moderately poor housing. I dreaded to think what conditions might be like inside.

"Can I speak to a doctor?" I asked the guard, a young fellow in a uniform.

"They’ve gone home," he said.

"A nurse?"

He fetched a nurse, a middle aged lady with a sad and sympathetic face, and I told my story.

"We can’t help," she said in a quiet voice.

I was tired, hot and now angry. "Why not? This is a mental hospital and this is a kid who seems depressed and unable to speak."

"We only take adults," she said, "and then it’s only after they’ve seen the doctor. I’m sorry."

"But I was told this was a suitable place," I said. "This child has nowhere to go. I can’t return him to the street." I was raising my voice and the guard and the taxi driver seemed to be smirking. The kid was staring at me like a refugee begging not to be shot. Then he squatted in the grass to do the toilet.

"You could try Doctor Bahari’s private clinic in Menteng, not far from here," said the nurse. "It’s expensive but I’m sure they’ll take him."

"Great! We’ll try that. Thanks for your help." Suddenly I felt more optimistic. A private clinic would surely be a hundred times safer and more comfortable than a government run mental hospital. We got back into the taxi where it looked as if the driver had been fiddling with the meter as the fare had jumped enormously.

"Menteng," I said, and off we went by what seemed like an especially long route. The sky was darkening as we reached our destination, a dusty, treeless side street that had seen better times.

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