Sunday, March 01, 2009


When my classes finished next day I hurried to the leprosy hospital, a journey of an hour and a half. The hospital wards were in plain-featured, red-roofed bungalows spread around spacious grounds consisting of lawns, trees and vegetable patches. It was a little bit like an army camp. In Iwan’s ward there were about a dozen male children and youths, most of whom showed no obvious signs of being ill. Some were standing chatting; some had just wandered in from the gardens; one had movie-star good looks. Iwan was lying on a lumpy, stained mattress on a battered metal bed. His granny sat beside him.

"Have you eaten?" I asked, as I handed over some snacks I had brought.

"I haven’t eaten all day," said Iwan. His face and limbs seemed to be all bone.
"Have you been given some medicine?"

"Not yet," he said. "When we got here it was too late to see the doctor. It was just before lunch time."

"Is there a nurse here?"


"Its four in the afternoon. There must be a nurse!" I was becoming an angry Scorpio.

With the help of the neatly uniformed guard at the hospital gate I searched the hospital and its grounds but we couldn’t find a single doctor or nurse or administrator. The only people on site were the patients.

"I’ve heard there’s a better leper place in Tangerang," said the guard, "but I don’t have its address."

"Where can I find one of this hospital’s doctors?" I said impatiently.

He directed me to a good-sized bungalow three minutes drive from the hospital. A maid showed me into the lounge where a swarthy, middle-aged doctor was seated on a settee watching a large TV. I explained Iwan’s problems to the scowling man.

"Iwan’s not yet been seen by a doctor," I grumbled. "He’s got an infected leg and a fever. Can you come and see him?"

"No," snapped the doctor. "He should have come earlier in the morning. He’ll be seen tomorrow." The doctor remained seated and the TV stayed on.

"Surely the hospital should have a doctor on duty or even a nurse?"



"I’m about to have my meal."

"Iwan hasn’t eaten all day. Should I speak to the hospital director?"

"He lives in Jakarta." This was said with what seemed like a defiant smirk.

"Can you give me his phone number?"

"I don’t have it here."

"Will the director be here tomorrow?"


After several minutes of unsuccessful confrontation I returned to the hospital, collected Iwan and his granny, and drove them back to the Kuningan Medical Centre in Jakarta. We related our sad story to my doctor.

"I’ll prescribe Iwan some leprosy medicine," said Doctor Handoko, smiling. "Don’t worry. His fever’s much reduced."

We picked up more bags of pills from the chemist and returned to Iwan’s shack beside the rubbish tip.

More than most people, the Javanese tend to dig in their heels when faced with an opponent who is angry. I wondered if I would have had more success at the leprosy hospital if I had been more patient. Probably not. The doctor was very much off-duty; and he believed he was part of a system which was immune to reform; or outside interference.


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