Nice, Miss ... It's Refreshing ...

Oneday we were invited by Gramedia (a known large publisher in Indonesia) to participate in their book fair annex exhibiting some photographic work of our organization. We took the invitation as a chance to collect as many donated (used) books as possible for the promotion of our program "happy reading" for the children who lived under the bridges which was our working field. I was at the book fair with two volunteers and three of our foster children from that specific under-the-bridge area.

At Bentara Budaya building, we were placed next to a photo display to distribute book donation leaflets. On arrival at that building the three children took off their shoes spontaniously and put them under the table. These children are not used to wear shoes, and the floor tiles seemed too clean and shiny for them to be soiled by their shoes. I was quite surprised by that, but it was not all. Not too long after that, a security official called me.
"Excuse me, Ma'am, but it was you who take those children along, right?", he pointed at two of the three children.
"Yes, that's right, but what's the problem?" I asked.
"If you will come along with me, please," he answered, this time pointing into the direction of men's lavatory. "See it for yourself inside and please let him know that he has to go out of there at once ..., " he added.

I was a bit confused as it was men's lavatory and women are not supposed to be there, but the security official assured me that he would posted himself outside the door so that nobody could came in when I was inside. Oh, my G ...!!! I could not believe what I saw. One of those three kids was there, in kneeling position, busy dipping his head inside the bowl of the water-closet which was covered with water!
"Nice, Miss ... it's refreshing ..." he motivated excitedly when I asked him - still shocked - why he was doing that. I became more confused, yet at the same time I painfully realized that clean water at his living place is hard to get or has to be paid for. Those children take their occasionally bath in the nearest blackwater river so it is understandably that the "clean" clear water of the water-closet is very much tempting! I thought I knew their way of living very well after assisting them to school education for 3 or 4 times a week at their place for so many years. It was after this incident and after I heard their comments about the luxury they saw at Bentara Budaya building I realized that I can not fully understand the real meaning of poverty these kids are living in.

On another occasion I was in the middle of a group of fishermen's children to break the fasting together. It was Islamic fasting time. The group was invited and treated as if they were members of an exclusive Executive Club at the Niaga Tower. The children went in turn back and forth to the lavatory, assisted by one of our volunteers. Everytime they came back from their lavatory visits, I noticed they had their sleeves all wet. As it was the case with the other kids from under-the-bridge, the clear clean water from the taps in the lavatory was the main attraction for these fishermen's children, too.
"Well .. it's comfortable, Miss. The water runs hard and it gives hot water as well," explained some. Later on, a couple of the children were still not back from the lavatory visit for quite a while, so I had to go after them. I found them in front of the big mirror behind the sink, dancing. It was a big fuss in there.
"It's fun, Miss ... the image is big and everything is visible," they explained with happy voices.

Teluk Naga, a fishermen's village where these kids came from, suffered from shortage of clean water. The place is known for its drought and poverty. The children are not used to take a bath and they have dirty hair as well. Imagine how excited and happy they must have been while dancing with their own images in front of the big mirror, or playing with the taps of the hot water they had never seen before. Everything seemed magical for them. Their joyous feeling has touched my deepest emotions which will motivate me to teach my own children to be thankful and to appreciate for what they have in this life.

This article was written by Monica Ginting in July 2004. First published in Sprice-Online edition 9 of December 2004. Translated from Indonesian into English by Jim Rais. Re-edited in February 2007.

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