Wednesday, September 21, 2005

57 NEIGHBOURHOOD CHIEF


I was back in Indonesia, having endured the usual sixteen hour flight from London. I walked smartly through the glass-walled halls of Soekarno-Hatta Airport and hurried out into the warm balmy air to be met by my faithful driver.

We travelled along the toll expressway towards Jakarta, city of over fourteen million souls. In spite of the recent riots, Jakarta looked no different from usual.

I was looking forward to more explorations and adventures in the countryside around the city. But first I was desperate to see Min.

As I drove up to Min’s house, I could see that Min was standing at his front door staring out onto the street. Did he know I was going to arrive at that particular moment, or was it just coincidence? Did he normally stand there much of the day? He gave me a nervous, tight-faced smile as I patted him on the arm. His mum assured me that Min was in good health. For at least a year I had been making my meetings with Min less and less frequent, so as to condition him for the day when I would eventually have to leave Indonesia. I hoped the conditioning was working.

Min, his mum and I took a walk to the home of the little tubercular twins Sani and Indra. The twins had grown taller, but no fatter. We met little Saib, the boy who had had a stone removed from his bladder. Saib gave us a shy smile and assured us he was still attending school.

On my second evening back in Jakarta, tubercular Fajar and the little musicians, Ali and Dikin, arrived at my house. Fajar looked a little brighter in his eyes, but Ali was complaining of a headache and weariness. We took Ali to the hospital and it turned out that he was yet another victim of TB. He started to take his cocktail of medicines.


On a morning journey to Bogor I stopped off in Parung to see Nurul, the woman with lumps on her breasts. She was sitting on a mat at the front door of her wooden shack, her big-eyed little son at her side. I asked her if she had changed her mind about going to the hospital. She was still determined not to go. I asked her how much of the medicine she had left. She said that she had stopped taking the medicine as it made her feel sick. After failing to persuade her to change her mind about medical treatment, I left her some money, and motored on to Bogor to visit the family of Asep.


In Bogor Baru I walked through the fields of rice and tapioca until I came to the dark, damp hollow under the trees and the damp, earth-floor house where Asep had once lived, before dying of TB. Standing outside the house were Asep’s son, grinning and looking taller and less malnourished, and Asep’s daughter, still innocent and sweet in appearance. My driver had been coming to Asep’s house once a month to deliver a little money for the family. I confirmed with Asep’s smiling wife that she had been receiving the money and apparently making good use of it.


Near Asep’s house I spotted little Andi. He too was taller, but his swollen tummy suggested he still had worms.

At the mental hospital I was met with shrieks of joy by both Firdaus, the boy with the scars and lumps, and by the boy with the strange eyes. The female nurse who was in charge suggested we take the two children for a short run in my van, and stop off at a shop. We drove past the golf course, stopped at a little store, bought packets of noodles, tinned milk and biscuits and then returned to the hospital.

No comments: