Sunday, December 29, 2002

49. OYA

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"We’ve found Raj’s family," said Panti Bambu’s director, referring to the handsome boy who, on the last occasion I had met him, had had a metal chain attached to his ankle. The director was sitting at his desk drinking tea and he was looking like a big affable police sergeant. "The parents will be coming tomorrow at noon to collect him."

"Good news," I said. "Where do they live?"

"Many miles West of Jakarta," he replied.

"How did Raj get lost and travel all the way to the big city?"

"We don’t know."

"And what about Wisnu? He’s been here at least two months."

"As soon as it can be arranged, we’ll send him to Malang, the hill town in East Java," said the director, looking down at his desk which was empty of paperwork. "There’s a place there run by a Dutch professor."

"When will it be arranged?"

"I’ve already been in touch with Malang."

"There should be a separate building here for the children," I said. "They’d be safer separated from the adults. What would it cost?"

"Twenty million rupiahs, which is five thousand dollars," suggested the director, without any suggestion of wild enthusiasm.

"That’s very little. Surely one of the expat women’s organisations could give you that."

"Where would we put the building?"

"There’s lots of empty space around here for a small building. Would you build it if I gave you the money?"

"It would be difficult. The buildings here were designed for adults."

No doubt the construction of an extra building, financed by foreigners, would have come up against masses of red tape and bureaucracy.

Wisnu and Raj, barefoot and wearing ragged clothes several sizes too big, were brought into the office. I wondered what had happened to the sets of brand new clothes I had supplied. Raj had a nasty bruise on his face and Wisnu had developed some kind of skin disease on his limbs.

"Do the inmates get medical attention here?" I asked the director.

"There’s a medical room," he replied.

I had seen this room. It was not equipped with much in the way of medical equipment. On the shelves there had been one or two plastic bottles which might or might not have contained pills.

"Do the patients get modern antibiotics and a proper doctor?" I asked.

"The authorities give us about 25 pence per person per day. That has to cover food, clothing, medicine and everything else." He gave me a hard look.

I took the two boys for the usual walk down the country road which runs West of Panti Bambu. We came to a doctor’s surgery in a bungalow which lay just beyond a small mosque and a big church. On a whim, I decided to get a medical checkup for both Wisnu and Jan. After a long wait in the reception area, I was told by the young female receptionist that the doctor was an hour late.

"He’ll be asleep," she said.

"Can you phone him?" I asked.

She phoned, and twenty minutes later, a young man appeared. He wore a pained expression on his thin face.

"Who are these children?" he snapped.

"From Panti Bambu."

"I’m the doctor for patients there," he said. "There’s no need to come here."

"You get paid to be their doctor?"

"Yes."

I reckoned he must be like the doctor at Wisma Utara where Min had once stayed. "I thought I’d bring the kids here so as to speed up treatment," I said.

Some antiseptic was applied to Raj’s face and I was told I should buy some soap for Wisnu.

"Don’t come back here," said the doctor, glaring.

I imagined that the poor stressed doctor could do little for the patients at Panti Bambu if that institution was only given twenty five pence per day per inmate. And possibly he feared that I might bring scores of diseased old men to his bungalow.

Next evening I called in to see Wisnu.

Raj was still there, all dressed up, and trying not to weep.

"What happened with Raj?" I asked the young man in the office. "His parents were supposed to have taken him home."

"Parents didn’t turn up. Maybe tomorrow." The young man looked sympathetically at Raj.

Raj looked at me and tried to grin, but his eyes were moist.

I took Wisnu and Raj for a walk down the road and bought them some chocolate biscuits. Raj did not seem hungry.



I took a magnificent toy car, big as a desk, to Panti Bambu. I had been given it by a colleague whose children had grown out of it.

"This is for Wisnu and any other kids to play with," I said to the director, as my driver and I deposited the car on the floor of the office. "Can you make sure it’s not stolen?"

"Nice car," he said.

"It’s only for the kids here."

"I’ll lock it in my office."

"But make sure the children get to play with it," I said, remembering toys I had taken to Wisma Utara which had been locked away and never used.

"How’s Raj?" I asked.

"His parents collected him," said the director.

"Thank goodness. Were they pleased to see him?"

"They cried."

Thank God for that.



The following afternoon I accompanied Min and his mum on a walk through the crowded slums that bordered their home. We were on our way to see a little girl called Oya, whom I had been told had some illness which had given her a head that was too large.

Min was hyper. He squealed with joy and darted about, looking into people’s houses through their open doors. Sometimes he would stride into a house, uninvited, sit down on the floor in front of a TV set, and then have to be pulled out when I got bored hanging around. He would try talking to small children. Charmed by his childish ways, these little people would grin, take his hand, and dance with him down the street, making lots of noise. People seemed tolerant of Min. At least, they were tolerant while I was around.

"Haven’t seen much of Wardi recently," I said to Wati, as we led Min along a particularly narrow lane between wooden shacks, like rabbit hutches. "He was looking stressed last time I saw him. Is he OK?"

"Wardi’s wife’s gone back to her kampung. Six hours by bus," said Wati, sounding like someone describing a troublesome incident in a soap opera.

I wondered if Wardi’s wife was fed up with Min. I was worried because Min spent so much of his time with big brother Wardi, who seemed the best in the family at looking after him.

"How long has she been away?" I asked.

"She’s been gone several weeks," said Wati.

"When’s she coming back?"

"Don’t know."

"Why’s she gone?"

"Wanted to see her parents."

I supposed it was natural for a young girl to miss her mum and dad. I hoped she was coming back.

Looking to my left I glimpsed, through the open doorway of a one-room wooden house, a toddler lying on a bed.

"This is Oya," said Wati.

Oya had an enormous head, much too big for her skinny body. Her very young mother, who wore a miniskirt, tight blouse and lots of make-up, was busy sorting clothes. The room was too small for us all to enter. I poked my head into the room and introduced myself.

"Has the child been to a hospital?" I asked the mum.

"Not recently," she said, with an expression which seemed friendly and very relaxed.

"Would you like her to see a doctor?" I asked.

Oya’s mum agreed to accompany her child and my driver to the St Francis Hospital the following morning.



At the weekend I motored over to St Francis Hospital to meet a Dr Alex who had by then examined the little girl. I wanted to hear from him the deatils of Oya’s illness.

"It’s Hydrocephalus. Water on the brain," said Dr Alex. "An abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid within the ventricles."

"Hence the massive head." I said. I had no idea what ventricles were.

"And symptoms such as headache, vomiting, lethargy and loss of memory."

"So what’s to be done?" I asked.

"The treatment is to implant something that diverts fluid from the brain into the abdominal cavity. There’s a tube and a valve and a catheter."

"Is it necessary to have the surgery?"

"In this case, yes."

"Is it expensive?"

"Yes."

"Does the mother want the child to have the operation?"

"She does."

"OK," I said, "if you’re sure it’s necessary."



Min was having one of his depressed days. He didn’t want to talk.

"It’s day about with Min," said Wardi, as we sat in the front room of their little brick house.

"One day happy, one day sad."

"What about some music?" I said.

Wardi turned on the radio and found a music channel. Min began to smile just a little. Then he stood up and swayed to the music. He still looked as if he might have a migraine.

"And how are you?" I asked Wardi. "Missing your wife?"

"She’s back." He gave a big smile.

"I’m pleased."

"How’s the little girl with the big head?"

"Oya’s in hospital for her operation," I said. "Do you know the mother?"

"I’ve seen her around," said Wardi, frowning.

"What about the father?"

"Oya’s mother has a new boyfriend."

Naively, I hadn’t thought enough about possible complications. What sort of person was the mother? Would the new boyfriend want to look after Oya? Would there be any complications from the surgery? Would the mother keep in touch with the hospital as the years went by? Should we have gone ahead with the operation?

After leaving Min, I went to see Dr Handoko at the Kuningan Medical Centre.

"You know there is no cure for Hydrocephalus," said Dr Handoko. "These people usually die young."

"What about surgery?"

"It’s not a cure, but it should prolong the life of the patient a bit and it should reduce the suffering. I know one gentleman with Hydrocephalus who’s now in his thirties."

"Is the implant necessary?"

"If the symptoms are serious, such as enlarged ventricles, the patient must be treated. Otherwise there will be a further deterioration."

"What are the complications?"

"Same as with any surgery. Infection, malfunction of the implant and so on."

I went to see Oya at the St Francis Hospital. She had had her operation and was attached to tubes. There was no sign of the mother. A woman, who was one of Oya’s neighbours, was sitting at the bedside.

"How’s Oya?" I asked the nurse.

"Fine. Had her operation."

"The head still seems large," I said.

"Yes. The operation reduces pressure on the brain but it’s not a cure. There is no cure."

"I see." I supposed Dr Alex hadn’t promised any miracles. He probably hadn’t told me enough.

"The mother," whispered the nurse, "has not been in here once. A lot of the time the child has been on her own. Not been in even once."



Fergus, Carmen and I were meeting for an evening drink at the Gamesman’s Bar, a haunt of expats who like to play pool, watch football and baseball on small TV screens, and eat chips. It wasn’t really my sort of place, but Fergus and Carmen liked it because their squash-playing friends frequented the place.

"The army seems to be causing Suharto some worries," said Carmen with a giggle. She had been reading about President Suharto in the bar’s copy of The Jakarta Post.

"How so?" asked Fergus, as he put down his rum and coke and adjusted his dark glasses.

"You’ve heard of Wahid?" said Carmen.

"The moderate Moslem cleric who runs the biggest Moslem group," I volunteered.

"Suharto sees Wahid as a rival," said Carmen, "but certain generals, such as Sudrajat, are said to be sympathetic to Wahid."

"But Wahid is a Moslem figure and Sudrajat is a nationalist," I said.

"Sudrajat does not want the right wing Moslem faction to gain in power," explained Carmen, "and Wahid is very liberal and moderate."

"What about Megawati?" asked Fergus, referring to the daughter of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno.

"It’s interesting that she was able to become leader of the PDI party," I commented.

"Now there’s the thing," said Carmen gleefully. "Suharto fears Megawati, but certain generals seemingly helped her take over the PDI."

"Which generals?" I asked.

"Gumelar and Hendropriyono," said Carmen.

"Are you sure?" asked Fergus. "Why would generals want to back Megawati? Isn’t she a radical?"

"If some generals are backing Megawati," said Carmen, "they must reckon she’s sympathetic to the army! And Megawati is a nationalist."

"They say that in the army there’s a Green Faction," said Fergus. "They want to promote Moslems rather than Christians. And there’s a Red and White Faction that’s nationalist and secular."

"Suharto seems to be having problems with the Red and White lot," said Carmen, looking serious. "Things could get difficult if the army becomes seriously divided."



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