Friday, September 30, 2005


Girl in Jakarta

I drove up to the glass and concrete shopping mall and stepped out of my air-conditioned Mitsubishi. The rains were bucketing down and it was wonderfully steamy and hot.

Three barefoot and bare-chested umbrella boys came charging through the puddles in my direction. All three arrived in front of me at the same time. How was I to choose which one to escort me the short distance to the front entrance to the mall? I picked the skinniest one as he seemed most in need of the few rupiahs I would pay him. And he had a cute face.

Once inside the air-conditioned building I began to feel distinctly cold. This seemed appropriate as a Christmas tree had been set up in the middle of the main hallway and Christmas carols were being broadcast from loudspeakers.

The shops were crowded with rich but unhappy-looking Chinese Indonesians buying everything from Italian designer clothes to Japanese computer games. Most of the money, in this, the largest Moslem country in the world, seemed to be circulating within the capital city, among the small elite.

Having bought some Christmas cards and some Scottish shortbread, I returned to my vehicle and drove to North Jakarta in order to see Min.

As there were floods in Min’s part of Teluk Gong, I had to find an ojek motorcycle to taxi me through the slums to Min’s house.

Min was in good humour but it was too wet to take him for a walk.

"When can we visit Iwan?" asked Min’s mum, who was busy patching up some well-worn items of clothing.

Iwan was the boy who had had leprosy and who was now living with his granny in Min’s former house in South Jakarta. The house was still owned by Min’s family, even though they had moved to Teluk Gong.

"We can go now," I said. I was guiltily aware that I had not seen poor Iwan for many, many months, although my driver had continued to visit him monthly, to deliver a little of my money.

It was over an hour and a half before we reached Cipete, such was the volume of traffic. There were just too many five-car families.

Iwan was at home with his granny and limping like a ragged puppet whose strings had got twisted. Min and Iwan were pleased to see each other, both grinning shyly.

I was not pleased to see that the walls of the front room had become grubby with finger marks and that on the kitchen floor there were dirty cloths, plates of abandoned food and broken pots. In the upstairs bedroom there was some pencilled graffiti on the walls and the curtains had been broken.

"You’re not keeping this place tidy," I complained to Iwan. "Look at the curtain rail."

"We haven’t got much money," said Iwan, looking at me with big dark eyes. "The kitchen pump needs repairing."

"But there’s no need for the graffiti," I said. I was perhaps forgetting that I had seen childish scribbles on the walls of many a front room in the poorer kampungs.

"It’s my friends from the rubbish tip," said Iwan.

"You must stop them," I insisted. "Remember this is Min’s house."

"Sorry, Mr Kent," said Iwan, looking down at the floor. Granny smiled an embarrassed smile.

"I’ll give you money for the pump. Can you find someone to paint the walls and sort the roof?"


"How much will it cost? Is one hundred thousand rupiahs enough?"

"Not enough, Mr Kent. Maybe three hundred thousand."

"OK. But make sure you get receipts." It was likely that Iwan would get some uncle or cousin to do the work, at an inflated price.

I had intended to be kind to poor limping Iwan, but the neglect of the house had brought out my grumpy side.

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