Monday, October 26, 2009

Life So Empty But Love So Full

There have been only a few occasions in my life where I have felt my heart sink to a point where it feels as though it is no longer in its rightful place. A couple of those occasions have been when I have been disappointed in myself, or disappointed in another’s behaviour. More recently though, I have found my heart sinking when I have been exposed to a world that I feel so helpless to change. As I sat across the dinner table from a 13 year old Indonesian street kid, having watched him jump up from the table, disappear for literally a minute, and then come back again, I knew that there was simply nothing I could do about his situation. Not yet a man, this child cannot control his addiction to glue sniffing. He looks into my eyes, knowing that I know. He then carries on talking with his younger brother, as if he had not a care in the world.

As he drifts off to sleep, I speak with his carer, who is now a fellow photographer. I will not identify him here on this blog for obvious reasons. As night falls and the tea flows, he tells stories of paedophilia, physical abuse and child labour, stories which he says are as common to an Indonesian child’s life as stories of Peter Pan are to my nieces. He speaks of the hope he has to make a difference in these boys’ lives, even if it is to give them shelter over their weary and putrid heads two nights a week. He knows that for the most part, these boys will steal, beg and in one child’s case, glue sniff, but he is giving them more than these boys would have had if he had not come into their lives.
I sit and hear of his story. I am sure he does not mind me writing about them here on this blog. His own stories are that of child labour. He speaks of his childhood in Cambodia. The killing fields of Pol Pot. He looks back at the time he watched his two childhood friends being beaten to death for not working hard enough, even when the shovels they were carrying were simply too heavy for them to hold. He is still traumatised but he feels that he is reversing his own story by trying to reverse others’ lives. He talks of the suspicion generated as he spends his time with these young men, stories about paedophiles who seek revenge against him by sending the authorities to investigate him for supporting child labour, all of which he vehemently claims are false.

As I go to bed, I think about just how removed I am from the reality of life in Asia. It is easy to forget when you are in Singapore, with its “stepford”-like existence. I realise that for the price of the cameras we were all holding, we could educate and feed over 100 Indonesian children for a year. I am disgusted with myself, having stayed in opulent resorts and sipped fine wine, without so much as a care in the world.

In the morning, we go to a provincial village which is said to be one of the poorest in Bali. It is at least an hour away from the crowded tourist trap that is Kuta, from the tacky kitschy shops of Nusa Dua and from the fine art galleries and festive streets of Ubud. There, young toddlers bathe in the nearby stream, as clothes being washed next to them by pre-teenage girls. Young boys round up flocks of geese, and village elders hobble along dirt paths to get to the local temple. As we arrive at the village, I spot one little girl standing by a stone wall. I lean down and look directly into her eyes. She is barely Charlotte’s age. I see that her nose is congested with green mucus, and her cheeks are flushed with temperature. I confirm this by placing the back of my hand on her forehead. She is sweating, despite the relatively mild early morning weather. It is then that I wish that I was a doctor, and not a lawyer, or a pharmacist, so that I could somehow make things better.

The village, however, is far from gloomy. I can hear children laughing, woman talking, and men laughing as they go on with their morning activities. The rice paddy fields are full on local workers, cultivating what is their basic daily sustenance. Ducks with little babies wander along the banks of the stream, and the grass surrounding the wooden and tin shack buildings is lush and still wet from the morning dew. In amongst hardship, there was beauty.

This is the real Bali. Beauty amongst hardship.

1 comment:

  1. I had a very similar experience when I was in Indonesia which, quite literally, changed my life (made me realize I was an idiot, was a good wake-up call!). It is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring place.

    Clarisa xo