Sunday, March 01, 2009


It was the morning after our return from Merak and Sue and I were driving in the direction of Min’s new home. The traffic seemed light and the sun was shining.

"All the cars seem to be Japanese," commented Sue, as we overtook a Toyota.

"In spite of the Japanese occupation during World War II," I said.

"Are the British popular in Indonesia?" asked Sue.

"I don’t know," I replied. "Why do you ask that?"

"I’ve been reading Revolt in Paradise by K’tut Tantri"

"Which paradise is that?"

"Indonesia at the time of Dutch rule. K’tut was born in Britain but she went to live in Bali back in the 1930s."

Sue proceeded to tell me about K’tut setting up a hotel on Bali, mixing with artists like Walter Spies and falling in love with a Balinese prince. When the Japanese invaded, K’tut stayed on in Indonesia and suffered torture. At the end of World War II, K’tut sided with the Indonesians fighting for independence from the Dutch. K’0tut broadcast propaganda for the Indonesians and was nicknamed Surabaya Sue. In 1945 she was in Surabaya, in East Java, when it was bombed by the British, who were the allies of the Dutch. The British did to Surabaya what Franco did to Guernica.

"I imagine the British may not be totally popular in Surabaya," I said.

"It was a long time ago."

We arrived at Min’s neighbourhood. "Do you want to meet Iwan, a child with leprosy?"

"Of course I do," she replied.

"You wouldn’t rather visit the shops?"

"I didn’t come to Asia to visit American-style malls. I want to meet Indonesians."

"Iwan lives next to a rather large rubbish tip. You don’t mind?"

"I want to see all that Jakarta has to offer."

Having collected a cheerful Min, we ambled along a series of concrete paths leading us to the tip. Min gave one of his happy shrieks as he spotted Iwan seated on an oil barrel. I was pleased to see that Iwan had put on some weight. He slid off the barrel and hobbled towards us, grinning shyly.

"Are you taking your leprosy medicine?" I asked.

"Yes, Mr Kent."

"He’s a sweet child," whispered Sue.

"Mr Kent," said Iwan, "there’s someone sick. Nuryati. Over by the smoke."

Iwan led us in the direction of the smoke which was rising from piles of dark grey refuse that was considered not worth recycling. Nuryati was a pretty ten year old girl living in a four-room wooden shack which had the spoil-heap as a garden. Her skin was scabby, crusty and cracked all over her body. Nuryati’s father, a bulky man with a rather untidy, unshaven appearance, was happy to receive our help.

We drove Nuryati and her dad to the relatively nearby Pertama Hospital where we were immediately able to see the skin specialist.

"It’s some kind of dermatitis," said the friendly little lady doctor. "Sometimes called eczema."

"What’s causing it?" I asked.

"She works on that garbage tip so she touches all sorts of chemicals and metals. Could be chlorine, formaldehyde, mercury or something like that."

"Can you treat it?" I said.

"I’ll give her some creams and lotions. There’s an antihistamine and a coal tar ointment. Ideally she should stay away from the tip."

After returning the little girl to her home, we went to chat to Wati, Min’s mum, who was sitting at her front door with her two youngest children. There was no sign of Wardi or middle child Aldi.

"Is Wardi not around?" I asked, after we had shaken hands.

"He’s in Teluk Gong," she said, looking a little tense. "At our old house, in North Jakarta."

"And Aldi?" I said.

"He’s at school in Teluk Gong. He’s a clever little boy. Doing well at school." Wati smiled proudly.

"Couldn’t Aldi go to school here?"

"I don’t know," she said, frowning.

The absence of Wardi and Aldi worried me. I didn’t want to be responsible for splitting the family. "Is Min’s dad going to sell vegetables here?" I asked Wati.

"We’re building the vegetable cart," she said, looking down at the ground.

"How is Min getting on at his school?" I inquired.

"Fine," she said, without much enthusiasm.

"Sue and I are off to get something to eat," I explained. "Good luck with the cart."

Min decided to do one of his strange war dances which involved making loud whooping sounds. The neighbours came out to stare. Sue and I crept away.

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