Sunday, March 01, 2009

30 ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE


On the arrival of the Idul Fitri holiday, which follows the fasting month of Ramadan, I decided to drive to the fishing village of Pelabuhan Ratu, situated on Java’s south coast. I wanted to enjoy sea breezes; and I wanted to visit Marni, the little girl suffering from thalassaemia.

On the way to the coast I noticed that the trees were fast disappearing from many hillsides, causing soil erosion, and creating lunar landscapes. Environmentalists have claimed that over half of the logging in Indonesia is illegal. Now, who is powerful enough to remove the vegetation from entire hillsides? Certain military personnel are said to be behind much of the illegal felling of forests.

The first part of the road southwards was crowded with traffic, spewing out black fumes. When it comes to damaging the environment we should note that Indonesia ranks about number twenty one in terms of fossil-fuel carbon dioxide emissions; the USA is number one, producing one quarter of the world’s total of such gases. What is worrying is that in Indonesia fossil fuel emissions have grown tenfold since 1950.

Pelabuhan Ratu’s main street was packed with Indonesian backpackers of the raucous and sometimes insolent variety that make me feel uneasy; and the sea and sky were grey. I booked into the Samudra Beach Hotel, well away from the centre of the village.

In a rice field near the bat cave, I found Marni’s mother hard at work. Marni, looking swollen and yellow, was being carried on her mother’s back. A piece of wide cloth held her firm. The skin on mum’s fleshy limbs looked as weathered as her stained dress.

"Did Marni get a blood transfusion?" I asked the mum, after an exchange of greetings.

"No," she said, giving me a weary smile.

"The last time I was here I gave the RT money to help you buy food," I explained. "He said he was related to you. Did you get the money?"

"No."

"You know the RT? The community chief? Did he speak to you after my last visit?"

"No."

"Did he give you any money?"

"No."

I felt it was possible she was telling the truth and that the RT, if that was indeed what he was, might be the sort who liked to rob poor widows and take the best positions in the mosque. It is also possible that Marni’s mum, being a speaker of Sundanese, did not understand a single word I was saying.

"OK. I’m giving you some more cash now, only for food and medicine."

She took the money and gave me a shy smile.

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