Friday, August 27, 2010

Nomad & the Raja

Om Pieter is 71 now and lives a modest and serene life on the outskirts of Jakarta. He has shaped his future exactly according to his aspirations. Happily surrounded by his family, his children and grandchildren. Om tends his garden daily and prides himself in maintaining the most beautiful garden in the dessa. His daughter Ida has her fathers' green thumbs and learned his tricks to grow even the most obscure plants. "You just have to talk to the flowers." he says, "They sense it". "Sometimes the villagers wonder if Ida is all right when she tends the garden and whispers sweet nothings to the flowers", he continues with a smile.

But sometimes the villagers also come to his garden, just to ask if they can sit in it for a while. Even his garden has become a haven it appears. A safe haven from much of the madness that Jakarta is facing nowadays. "Much can be criticized about Suharto's 'Orde Baru', but there was no crime, drug addiction and violence. Not like now at least. Poor people are becoming poorer and poverty is a dangerous infliction." He tells me of home made poor people drugs concocted from cheap chemicals and anti-mosquito repellent and of increased child abuse and human trafficking paradoxically coinciding with increased religious fanaticism.

"Sometimes I wonder if the people are ready for the increasing liberties they are getting." I try to reflect from a broader global perspective and say that the process of democratisation is inevitably the only way for a nation to rise above it all. But realise that doesn't mitigate the hardship of the moment. Om doesn't simply look at the politicians to enable change. He feels change starts from within and with yourself. So when he sees anything he finds intolerable he feels perfectly at home enough to challenge his neighbours.

One such thing is parents balancing babies and little children on their motorcycles and scooters. Just in the street in front of his house there have already been many fatal and near fatal accidents. Also pedestrians are often lucky to cross the street unharmed as cars might stop, but scooters and motors usually do not. Fiercely critical of these unsafe traffic practices he tells his neighbours off and doesn't accept "Insha Allah" as an answer. Sometimes Ida tells him to be careful, as in any case he is still the only Christian in the village.

I reply by saying that I believe that these things are not really a case of religion. But more a case of culture and mentality. I think that how ever much Om Pieter has emerged himself in Indonesian life he still is and always will be an Indo-European and he will always have a mind endowed with western styled critical thinking. In a moment of reflection Om Pieter looks into the distance and seems to agree. He says: "I have always tried to teach my children to practice critical thinking." "Sometimes you must accept what can not be changed. But you have to learn which is which."

With that said he starts sharing anecdotes of discussions with his children's and grand children's teachers who's only argument was: "Ada besluit dari kantor." Amused he adds: "...and yes 'besluit' (pronounced besloo-eat) is still an official Indonesian word." ('Besluit' is the Dutch word for decision.)


So there I am in a late Jakarta sub-urb evening with too many questions and too little time. For hours Om Pieter and I sit on the porch and chat the night away, undistracted by the occasional mosquito attack. Around midnight Ida bids us goodnight and goes to bed. "Selemat tidur." A young and older Nomad continue their animated and contemplative conversations until the night slips into the early morning.

"Why did you ever decide to go back to Indonesia?", was one of my first questions. "Why?" he says and his eyes betray the obvious simplicity of the answer to my question. "I never wanted to leave." "I cried for weeks when my father decided to leave Indonesia." "I was a young child then and I had experienced a freedom here that I never again felt in the Netherlands. I knew every backstreet, every street corner's nook and cranny of our home town of Semarang."

"One day I just had enough", he says firmly."Living in an apartment complex, but not knowing anyone. Standing in elevators either at home or in the office and no one exchanging a word. I tried. I tried to connect, tried to talk to people, but to no avail. One day I just could not take it anymore and I just started to take the stairs. My work as an illustrator also started to reflect my frustration." For Om it all became crystal clear. "I thought deeply what I wanted from my life and if I wanted to end up an old man alone in a retiree home still surrounded by strangers. No! It was time to go."

 "Oh... my sisters were so mad at me for leaving", he says with a smile. "You have a great job here in the Netherlands, they told me. But once I finally settled in and they visited me they saw it was all right. Especially Cobi often visited me. I never knew what your Grandpa, my oldest brother thought of it. He was such a quiet and introvert man you see. Much like my sister Loulou, who was also too inapprehensible to me." (The sister married to an Indonesian Ambonese man and the only one of my great grandparents children that had never left Indonesia.) "I think my younger brother was the only one that for a while contemplated following me here."

"The first half year in Indonesia I spent on Ambon the home island of our family. The resident Raja of Passo was a governmental official on Ambon. You know that we descend from the Raja of Passo right? Although I told him I just wanted to explore the roots of my family, he was afraid that I would claim our lands in Passo. He was somewhat of a gambler and had sold off much of our ancestral lands. We believe that he arranged for my extended visa application to expire forcing us to leave Ambon."

"My time on Ambon was beautiful though. Unlike when I came to Jakarta and really had to adjust and climatise, on Ambon I immediately felt at home. I found our families 'Pela' village of 'Batu Merah' and made many friends there. Life was perfect. Just imagine sailing into the ocean to fish and afterwards grill and eat the fish on the beach. Until very recently I even had a house there on 'Pantai Rumah Tiga'. My friends and I built a house of stone and wood on the beach. Sadly it was destroyed during the civil unrest a few years back. The only awkward thing sometimes was the extreme 'hormat' I received for being of Raja descent. " When Om arrived in Jakarta from Ambon due to the expiration of his visa he decided he could not leave Indonesia and simply stayed put in Jakarta. He remembers staying at home the first 3 months just reading newspapers and studying 'Behasa Indonesia', before venturing into down town Jakarta. The Raja now took the simplest of jobs as a street vendor, selling comics. But that first night in Jakarta's urban jungle, squatting in 'jongkok' position, having a meal with the street hawkers and chatting with his fellow street vendors he knew he was home. This was almost 25 years ago.

Om eventually made a living as a painter and illustrator, build a home and surrounded himself with a family that adores him. A few years back his wife passed away. But the loving family he always wanted around him in the winter of his life is right there beside him.

A Nomad cant but admire his exceptional relative.

1 comment:

  1. Hallo

    Ik ken Pieter Simao uit Nederland. Ik zou hem graag eens willen mailen, heeft u ook een email adres?