Senang Hati

Trip Start Sep 11, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I have two bumps on my head (the consequence of being a tall foreigner in a land of shorter people!) and several mosquito bites elsewhere. Happily, that shouldn't happen too much now, as VSO have given me a mosquito net. When Yuli gave it to me, she told me it was "wedding sized" - I'm not quite sure what that means!

I had my first brush with Indonesian bureaucracy last week, when we went to the Direktorat Reserse Kriminal at the Police Headquarters, for fingerprints. They took four separate prints of every digit, then I had to fill in two identical forms. After I had filled my part in, a police officer filled in the other part, while studying my face very thoroughly in order to make observations about my eyes, nose, skin and 'gigit' (which, I later discovered, means 'bite')! They also took a photograph, and I saw another police officer analyzing every fingerprint under a magnifying glass, counting the number of ridges on each. There were six police officers in total, including a woman who was fastidiously attaching papers together with a ruler, a stapler and vast quantities of gaffer tape. Back at the VSO office, there were six or seven more forms to fill in, including one to fully introduce myself to the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration!

On Friday I had a very good health briefing - there have been no cases of rabies in Indonesia recently, and I now feel much happier about what to do if I feel unwell. After all the vaccinations I had, I wasn't really sure what I would encounter when I arrived, so it's nice to feel reassured. I was also thrilled to learn that there are no venomous spiders here, and only one poisonous snake. Perhaps the absence of venomous creatures is not entirely unrelated to the amount of paperwork waiting for new arrivals to these shores?!

At the moment I'm sat in my room at the house of the host family I'm staying with for the next few weeks. It's very pleasant, and when I look out of the window in the afternoon, I can see lots of trees and many kites flying in the sky. At the moment I can smell incense from the family temple round the corner. The family members are: Bapak (father) Nyoman, Ibu (mother) Ayu, and brothers Ade (15) and Ari (11).

At first I was a bit surprised because they didn't show me round the house. But then I realised that they don't really have 'houses' here. The courtyard is the communal area, and there are several smaller buildings. When staying in England, guests would nearly always eat at the table with the family at some point in the first day or two. But families don't sit around a table and eat together here - they tend to eat separately. I have no idea where the two helpers/servants, Kadek and Risa sleep, or where the kitchen is, though probably one of the buildings in the courtyard. Breakfast is interesting - on Monday I had two chicken nuggets and some chips. For the last two mornings, it has been rice and chicken with very hot chilli - not good! They normally give me a roti (pastry) as well though, which helps.

Ade is deaf, so I have had a few long chats with him - a good way of finding out what life is like here for young deaf people. We are having fewer misunderstandings now that my Bahasa (language) Indonesia is improving!

Here also I have learnt to master the Indonesian bathroom. It is quite confusing! The whole room is tiled, with a drain in one corner, and a detachable shower head on the wall (cold water only!). There is a large water tank in the corner, which looks like a very small walk in bath - it has a plug with a screw cap at the bottom on the side. For some reason, this spills onto a raised ledge which also features the toilet - a hole with footrests on either side. A plastic scooper is supplied. The first thing to learn is that you don't climb into the tank - it is not a bath! There is no toilet paper - the idea is to use the left hand and copious quantities of water, then flush with the plastic scooper. Little wonder that the Indonesians do not use the left hand for eating, shaking or proffering! All very complicated, but I have just about got the hang of it all, using lots of soap!

It's not easy sometimes, but I'm having a great time here - it's so much fun to get to know a place, and to meet real Indonesian people. The secretary, Yuli, is a member of the royal family of Sanur (the part of the city where my hotel was), and I have learnt about the ceremony where teenagers have the tips of six teeth removed, in order to purge bad spirits. It has been good for the VSO office staff to have a deaf volunteer around - they've had deaf awareness training, and they all have their own sign names. They were very excited about fingerspelling words in American Sign Language, so that keeps me on my toes!

The last thing I want to tell you about is my trip to Gianyar, a one hour drive away, to visit one of VSO's partner organiastions called Senang Hati. I went up on Monday morning, and a VSO volunteer called Ryz was waiting to show me around. Ryz was wonderful - she spent two days writing things down for me so that I could follow what people were saying to me. The opening comment was 'They say you are handsome. You should be a volunteer here'! 

Senang Hati means 'Happy Hearts,' and it is a centre for disabled people, mostly with polio and cerebral palsy, though there are some people with other impairments. It is based in an old school compound, and there are a number of different activities including painting, swimming, sewing, computer courses, English classes and physiotherapy. They also do some outreach work. 32 people live at the compound, and there are 206 members who visit every so often.

Disabled people are mostly hidden away by their families, due to embarrassment, and for many people at Senang Hati, this is the first time they have been able to be themselves in an environment where they are respected as individuals. It was frustrating in a way, because there was no reason why they shouldn't all be out and about living and working, were it not for the attitudes of society here, and the infrastructure (using pavements, when they exist, feels a bit like climbing in the Pennines).

I met a deaf girl called Dewi, who is 25, and I was able to find out about her thoughts on being deaf. There was also a nice lad called Komang, who has learning difficulties. He decided to give me a palm reading, and informed me, among other things, of the following :o)

- you have a high social mind
- sometimes you dream of birds
- you like to squeeze people's cheeks
- you are a very simple person, you are very tidy

Senang Hati is amazing - the art for sale is fantastic, and they make hats, jewellery, bags and other items for markets in countries like the US and Italy. In July they took part in the Bali Arts Festival, and the play they wrote and acted was reported on by all the news networks in Bali and beyond. I was so proud to watch the DVD, and moved by it. The play concluded with this poem, by Senang Hati member Ida Ayu Wiadnyani, which left many of the audience in tears.

My fate obstructs my courage
My tears flow filling the river of my loneliness
I have, been cast out, to a place, of disappointment
Because, they say, that I am handicapped
I want, to great the sun
I want, to sing with the birds
I want, to feel, the wind on my body
But they too say, that I am handicapped
I take my case, to my mirror
I strip my body, before its frankness
I h ave been, cast out, to a place of regret
Because, once again, it says I am handicapped
I pose a question, to the world......
If it cannot, control its comments
If there is, never any awareness
That in fact, my ugliness means, perfection for others
Then...... who is really handicapped
Me or them......?

I stayed overnight with a former VSO volunteer in his house, which was in a lovely location in the paddy fields near Ubud. It was nice to relax on his patio after a day of information gathering and learning bits of Bahasa Indonesia.

In the evening we went out for dinner to the local warung. I had gado-gado, which is rice and vegetables with a peanut sauce. It was good to talk to Frans and Ryz - volunteers usually arrive here in batches, but I have come between batches, because most of my training is 1:1. That has worked well, but it has meant I have had fewer opportunities to chew the cud with expats (and share tips about how to get on!).
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