Friday, May 17, 2002

Auntie Ming and Auntie Sumina

Auntie Ming had taken my dirty hand, grimy from the market, and shook it. She in her fine house filled with teak and porcelain. A few days later I had eaten my breakfast and started out to the market again. I wished to buy a couple of items that can be found only in Indonesia. Something was lodged from breakfast between a couple of my back teeth. It was distracting me as I walked along. My tongue was weary with snooping around the area trying to find a solution. Then I remembered that I had some dental floss in my back pack. I got it out and began to thread it between teeth. I had begun at the front and was almost to the tooth when I saw this woman, who later I was to learn was Sumina. She stood as I passed and smiled at me. She looked about the same age as Auntie Ming. I smiled at her, and at that point she extended her hand. I stopped as if the target of a stun gun. She was standing in a cement enclosure. Three walls and an opening in the 4th, It was a trash site. Hot fetid trash steamed around her. She had been digging through it with her hands, looking for scraps of paper, which she was collecting after flattening them out. Recycling. And now she stood with an outstretched hand and a smile. She wanted to shake hands with me.

She told me her name was Sumina. I smiled back, a smile of resignation, and shook the moist, gritty, sticky-yet-slippery, filthy hand. I had let go of my dental floss for this social occasion. And now, I let it fall into the garbage heap. Let my tongue worry. Better my tongue than my stomach.

I passed that same garbage heap several times before leaving Malang. Auntie Sumina was always there working. She did something for me. She gave me an opportunity to be as polite as Auntie Ming. The last day as I was passing, I took Auntie Sumina's picture. Then I gave her $5.00. She cried a little and then gave me a big dirty hug. Beside where she had been sitting, sat a young fella in a yellow uniform, designating him as a trash collector, and therefore to be avoided. He was enjoying the shade this midday of an especially large pile of trash. He stared as Auntie Sumina came from the trash to hug me. But I was more mystified by him than he by me. How could he just sit there by that nice old lady and not hug her? I guess it takes a little time.

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