Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Last Night in Indonesia (May 14)

A new phrase I had learned was particularly helpful when street hawkers tried to sell their cheap ($1.00) watches or taxi service, or even suggesting that they might have a lady friend who I would find interesting. The phrase was absurd in its delivery, but effective in its use. I would point to myself when the venders began and say, "Aku bongol". The meaning is simply. I am deaf. It never seems to dawn on the hearer that it is strange that a deaf person would know how to pronounce these words, but they just quit talking and walk away explaining to others not to bother the tall white man because he is deaf.

But while walking beside the beach in Kuta, Bali, my last night in Indonesia, I could not convince them of my being deaf, so I decided to cross the street and get away from them. Then I saw him. My first reaction was that it was some kind of a trick.

This was Kuta Beach. Young studs and studettes came from all over the world to surf and party. They wandered around the alleys and lanes wearing very little, putting their tanned, muscular, perfect bodies on display. While still in Java, two man servants at the house of Gi had been massaging me and told me that my body was not perfect, that my stomach reminded them of that of a toad. This was an unflattering first. They said that they would like to visit Bali. Said one, "I would wear sunglasses and look like a tourist." But I had been in Bali and had seen the tourists. There were no sunglasses in the world that would make this young servant from the countryside look like a tourist. My suggestion to this young Moslem was that he best leave the sunglasses alone, since they would give more the appearance of terrorist than tourist.

And now in Bali, with hundreds, even thousands, of these tourists walking around who still had several years before their flat tummies would remind any one of toads, I sat looking at one of the most imperfect bodies I had ever seen. This guy had a gimmick the likes of which I had never imagined. I must stop and talk to him, possibly even sneak a look behind him and see how he did this. But I was so obvious that it drew the attention of passers by almost immediately, so I sat down on the street about 4 feet from him. It was about 8:00 in the evening, and being dark, we were not as noticeable now that I sat down. But also being this close, it was obvious that this was no trick. The man had no legs. None. He seemed to have very little body past the waist. He looked as if he were on the beach, and had half buried himself in sand. I asked how he was. Fine. If he came here often. Every day. Where he lived. In a mosque about half a mile away. Finally, I asked how he had lost his legs. He had been born with no legs. He rested on a pair of flip flops and just sat there in the dirt hoping someone would offer him money. Did someone bring him here? No, he came alone. He would use his hands as feet, and walk on them, suspending the full weight of half a body in the air as he walked along on hands and arms. He said the half a mile took about 15 minutes.

At this point I wondered how much money it would take to make him happy. There obviously wasn't enough. I just sat there dazed. I wondered about prosthetic legs, and asked him if he had any stumps. His shirt hung to and gathered about him on the ground. He lifted it and showed me that he wore a simple pair of briefs, and that from either leg hole there protruded nothing save a round mound of flesh, to which nothing could be attached to give him legs. He told me that he had attended school, but to what advantage. He could read and write, but how could someone go into a place of work as such a freak?
Thinking of persons in the US who cannot walk, I realized that he needed a wheel chair. Oh, he said, that was a dream never to be realized when one received barely enough in a day's begging to relieve hunger. Then, without even thinking about how it could be accomplished, I told him that we must go and buy a wheel chair. Adjis, this 37-year old legless man, told me that we could catch a bus for only 40 cents each into the city of Denpasar. One person had stood near us during our entire visit. This person was a Taxi driver. He immediately said he would take us to look for a wheel chair. Adjis whispered to me that we must make sure the driver used the meter. Wayan, the driver, agreed to do this. Before I had even gotten to my feet, Adjis was beside the back door of the taxi, and while I walked around to the other side, he was in with the door shut. His ability to transport and lift himself without any aid was a fascination.

The drive into Denpasar was about 20 minutes. When we were getting into the city, I realized that we didn't even know where to go at 9:15 at night to buy a wheel chair. When I mentioned this, Adjis said that they sold them at the 24 hour pharmacy. He had seen them there on display. Wayan knew the place and we drove there. I had hoped that Adjis would just stay in the car and I would go in and buy a wheel chair and bring it out and put it in the trunk. But no. The taxi had hardly stopped when Adjis was bounding across the parking lot. There were about 15 people in a waiting area watching TV until their prescriptions were filled. But when Adjis came through the door, the TV lost all appeal. Together we went up to the counter. Adjis was down just over knee high and I had to do the talking. It had not occurred to me how difficult this would be. I found myself hardly able to speak as I told the gawking woman that I'd like to buy a wheel chair. There were none in stock, but I could place an order and pick it up on the morrow. Maybe I could have in another place, but not Indonesia. Adjis would never see his wheel chair if we didn't get it together. I explained that at 7:30 the next morning I would leave for Hong Kong, so we needed it tonight. She said again that we would have to wait. I looked at Adjis. His face said that he had already waited 37 years, and that he knew it was foolishness to have hoped.We left and everyone behind us began to jabber. Back in the taxi, I thought of the scores of wheel chairs in the Adventist Hospital that I had brought from the US in a container with other hospital equipment, and that if we were there, they would just give us one. Wayan asked if we were going back to Kuta Beach. No, I told him we needed to go to a local hospital. The watching crowd was larger at the hospital. The clerk in reception listened to my request to purchase a wheel chair, but assured me that it was impossible. He called the Doctor in charge of ER to come out to speak with us. Dr. Wartawan (the name actually means reporter, and I suggested that had his parents known his future, they could have simply named him Doctor, rather than reporter) was Hindu. Over each ear he sported a flower petal making him look like some young optimistic creature from a perfect and happy forest. But he too said that there was nothing that could be done before the morrow. Adjis said he thought he'd just go to the waiting room and watch TV. After he left, I turned to the doctor who had watched with me as Adjis had propelled himself out of the room and up onto one of the benches where about 30 other persons were waiting and watching. I told Wartawan that I could not imagine even one day sitting in the dirt in only my shirt and underwear and walking with my hands, going around the city and through the traffic. He went to a telephone and made a call to his home. His mother, he told me had recently died, and they had a brand new wheelchair at home that she had used.

Wartawan's sister refused to part with the wheel chair. Now he told the receptionist to find the source of wheel chairs for the hospital. Within minutes the information had, and the receptionist called the number. Yes, a wheelchair could be purchased from him tonight. He would bring it to the hospital. When I explained to the man that I only had a credit card, and not the $200 in cash that the wheel chair would cost, he said it could not be purchased that night. He would take it to the pharmacist in the morning. After trying to work out something with the hospital cashier (to no avail, as she would need to ask many people if it could be done, and it was already after 10:00 PM, and those she should ask were at home in bed, I called the man again who sold wheelchairs. Could he deliver it to Kuta Beach, I could get money from an ATM there? No. I would go to Kuta and get my ATM card and come back and get the chair. This was approved.

It was decided (by myself) when we were driving back to Kuta Beach with Adjis beaming from ear to ear and talking without pausing for breath, that we must find a restaurant and have a celebration. I knew just the place. The Kori. You see, in the Kori, everyone eats comfortably, sitting on grass mats... On the floor. And so, it was just the three of us. A Moslem Beggar who lives at a mosque, a Hindu Taxi Driver and Adventist Minister. Completely unaware of Jihads and differences of doctrine, all united and rejoicing over a wheelchair, impossible to obtain (we had been told), but waiting beside the table for the meal to finish.

If you'd like me to e-mail you a picture of Adjis and his wheel chair, drop me a line.


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