Monday, April 20, 2009


"Hey, mister!" said Dede, when I was on my third trip to Bogor. "Remember me?"

"Yes. How are you?" I said. It was a lad with a small gory lump on his leg and I’d met him previously, at around the same spot, during a stroll along the little lanes near Jalan Pledang.

"Fine. Where’re you going?"

"Just out for a walk. Jalan jalan." I was proud of my growing knowledge of the Indonesian language. (To be honest it’s the easiest language in the world to learn.)

"Come to my house?" asked Dede.

"OK. Where?" I was delighted that for the first time ever I was being invited into a real Indonesian’s house. This was real travel and I felt a wave of excitement.

"Right here." He pointed to a russet roofed bungalow the size of a large caravan. A small, grinning granny stood just inside the door.

We stepped through a tiny garden and into a simple little lounge with concrete floor, a threadbare settee, a slightly broken wooden chair, a shelf sporting football trophies, a TV and a picture of a mosque. The granny retreated behind a canvas curtain to a primitive kitchen where I glimpsed pots and pans on the floor. I sat on the chair while Dede sank into the settee. Fergus would have hated this place, but I loved it. It was like being one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five meeting the gypsies; or the children of Coral Island encountering the natives.

"How’s your leg?" I asked Dede. " Did you go to the doctor with the money I gave you?"

"I got some ointment." Dede pulled up the hem of his school shorts to show me the wound. It was no worse than before.

"Did you get a receipt?"

"I lost it," said Dede.

From behind a curtained door, a girl in a short black skirt appeared. She can’t have been more than twenty and she was alpha double plus in a dark-eyed Sundanese sort of way. Is it the big eyes, or the curvy lips, or the gypsy face that marks out the Sundanese?

"My sister." said Dede, "Her name is Rama."

"Hi," I said, trying unsuccessfully not to stare.

"Hi," she said, smiling like a heavenly body from a brighter universe. "Where are you from?"

"I teach in Jakarta," I said. She looked away. I should have said I owned a computer software company and lived in Washington state. "What do you do?"

She turned to me again and said, "I haven’t got a job. Can you give me work as a maid at your house?"

"Sorry, I’ve already got a maid," I responded.

She looked away again. Why hadn’t I said I needed someone to open doors for me or something like that?

"I have to go to the market," she said and slipped out the door.

Dede sat with his knees under his chin looking like a hungry rabbit. "Do you like Newcastle?" he said suddenly.

"I’ve never been there."

"I’ve seen them on TV. And Manchester United."

"Ah. Football."

"You like something to drink?"

"No thanks," I said. I didn’t want to risk drinking the local water; and I felt an urge to go to the loo. "May I use your toilet?" I asked.

Dede smiled in a slightly embarrassed fashion. "We haven’t got one. You can use the canal or the river."

"OK. I must be going then. Thank you for letting me see your house."

"You come back next week?" asked Dede."Yes, that would be nice."

I had no intention of squatting above the canal or the river next to a lot of other cheery squatters. I got my driver to hurry me to a high street fast food restaurant which was blessed with a real latrine. My image of Rama and Dede was slightly changed by my discovery that their house did not possess a privy.

Brother John
The Third World

1 comment:


You have a masterpiece, one of the best blogs I have seen and read.