Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sani and Indra

Next afternoon, Min was in good spirits when I collected him from Wisma Utara.

"Has his family been to see him?" I asked Joan, anxiously.

"No, but it’s a long way for them to travel," she said.

"It’s odd that they haven’t been to see him," I commented. I hoped this was not a sign that his family were indifferent to Min’s welfare.

"I’m taking him to visit his home now," I explained. "We’ll be back after supper."

On reaching Min’s house in Teluk Gong, Min was in a state of high excitement. Min’s mother, Wati, seemed a little subdued in her greeting. There was no sign of Min’s older brother Wardi. Maybe he was at work. Min’s brother in law, Gani, was delegated to accompany Min and I on a walk through the slums.

We squeezed past the huts of some collectors of rubbish and stooped under washing strung between windows on either side of our narrow path. The dripping shirts and blouses , silhouetted against a darkening blue sky, added a touch of colour to an otherwise grey landscape.

We came to a rubbish tip and turned left into a dark alley crowded as always with people of all shapes and sizes. Looking in the open doors of the wooden houses we could see children sitting on mats and doing homework, men preparing sate to be sold later from carts, and women picking the nits out of each other’s hair.

When we reached a house where children were watching a cartoon on TV, Min decided to enter the house and join the youngsters on the floor. Nobody objected. Gani waited patiently for several minutes before gently taking Min by the hand and leading him back out into the narrow street.

One wooden house on stilts had two little stick-insect children at the door.

"What are your names?" I asked the two kids, who looked about seven years old.

"Sani," whispered the boy.

"Indra," whispered the girl.

"They look too thin," I said to their big-boned mother, who had come to the door. "Would you like them to see a doctor?"

"They’ve been to a doctor and had an x-ray," said the mum, "but we’ve no money for the medicine."

"Would you like to come with me to a clinic?" I asked. "It’s a good clinic, in the centre of the city. It’s the one I use myself."

"I’ll ask my husband," she said. A smiling little man appeared from inside the house and a consultation took place involving mother, father, Gani and members of the small crowd which had gathered. There was agreement that a trip into town would be a good idea.

We took Sani, Indra, their mum and their skinny dad to see my doctor at Jakarta’s Kuningan Medical centre, an upmarket clinic with carpets, exotic pot plants, and glass tables covered in copies of Moneyweek.

"It’s TB," said Doctor Handoko, a cheerful, middle-aged Chinese Indonesian. "I’ll give them the usual cocktail of drugs."

Doctor Handoko seemed to be in a bit of a rush. I suppose he was not used to dealing with patients from the slums, people who arrived in dirty plastic sandals and ragged shirts.

Back in my van I asked Sani and Indra’s father what he did for a living.

"I’m a driver," he explained, grinning in friendly fashion.

"Who do you work for?" I inquired.

"A rich Chinese Indonesian," he said.

"How much do you get a month?"

"Eighty thousand rupiahs."

"That’s about twenty pounds sterling," I said. "That’s less than I’ve just paid the Kuningan Medical centre for the medicine and a ten minute consultation."

"He’s got two wives to support," whispered Min’s brother in law. "Two wives and two lots of children."

I could see why Sani and Indra were thin.

I could also see that neither Wati, Min’s mum, nor Wardi, Min’s big brother, had come with us.


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