Sun, 13 Feb 2000

A rose for 'Mbok' Bodro

JAKARTA (JP): Departing the house early has been one way for me to avoid traffic jams. The only trouble is, I always arrive at the office before the gate is opened. Therefore, I decided I needed to find somewhere to stop to wait. Hence my acquaintance with Mbok Bodro, a scavenger living in a cardboard shelter on a sidewalk one kilometer from my office.

When I stopped near her shelter for the first time, she looked at me suspiciously, thinking that I was one of the Kamtib (municipal security personnel) who intended to demolish her home. But then, upon realizing I was harmless, her attitude changed. She came across as a humorous woman with a throaty laugh. And easy going too. When I gave a name to the old cat she had been looking after, she laughed her head off. "You rich people are unbelievable! A cat is a cat, an animal that would never know its name. Why bother to give it one?"

Chatting with Mbok Bodro, who was better off when her husband was still alive, was a routine activity that I got to enjoy. She helped me kill the boring time waiting for the gate to open, with her jokes and her simple points of view. She often came up with funny stories about her experience as a scavenger.

One day, I brought her some fried rice for breakfast. "Wow! High-class food!" she joked in her usual loudness. "Tole will love this. He hasn't had a decent meal for ages."

"Who is Tole?" I asked uncomfortably. I brought the food for her, not for anybody else.

"He is our boy," she answered happily.

"Our boy" turned out to be a 15-year-old orphan whose parents died in a flood two years ago. Mbok Bodro found the skinny, homeless boy roaming the streets of Jakarta, earning his bread and butter by singing at intersections. She took him home with her and built him a small shelter adjacent to hers. Her fellow scavengers then pitched in to foster Tole and send him to school.

"He is such a smart boy. He is always number one in his class. Some day he will be an engineer or a doctor. He is our sweetheart and we are proud of him," bragged Mbok Bodro lovingly as though she was talking about her own son.

I was amazed at how Mbok Bodro saw things in life. Poor as she was, she still had room for good deeds; something I never thought of trying. Her simple philosophy in helping others should be adopted by those who have abundant. "Keeping more than you need is a burden. Why not share it with those in need?"

Frankly speaking, I myself find it hard to adopt her way of life, what with so many obligations I am saddled with in this demanding era of modernity. I have never thought of fostering an orphan, let alone erecting a home (whatever the condition) for one.

The idea of taking Tole home and giving him a better life did cross my mind. It wouldn't be a problem because I could afford it. But then I realized that taking him away would just rob Mbok Bodro and her fellow scavengers of all the pride and the joy they get from sharing his upbringing.

It is not relevant to do things Mbok Bodro's way. We can do good deeds in our own way, our own capacity. The trouble is, we frequently do it improperly.

A friend of mine, a journalist, was once invited to accompany a rich celebrity on her trip to hand out donations to the victims of a natural disaster. He almost quit the trip. First of all, he loathed the sight of the woman who didn't show a trace of sensitivity on the situation. "Clad in an outfit of the latest trend, she looked like a walking advertisement for Emanuel Ungaro, Gucci, Cartier or Bulgari. And the smell made me feel like I was sitting with Madonna, Naomi Campbell and Liz Taylor in a stretch limousine with all the windows closed," my friend ranted.

"She came with a helping hand all right! But why should she flaunt such luxury in front of those in misery? And to think that she took along an army of journalists to cover her activity!"

Recently, the Jakarta municipality also did a good deed; it cleaned up the sidewalks to make the city look neat and clean so that people can better enjoy the city. Unfortunately the good deed removed Mbok Bodro from sight because her home was swept away.

I was shocked to find Mbok Bodro was no longer there. The people nearby said she was hauled onto a truck and her home was burned down along with all of her miserable belongings. Nobody had any idea where the poor scavengers were taken.

Now I have a boring time waiting for my office gate to open. Gone is the friend who made my day with her jokes and her simple words of wisdom. It makes me sick every time I think of what may have happened to her and her fellow scavengers, especially Tole, the future engineer.

But life goes on. I can't possibly take control of what may happen. As Mbok Bodro once said, everybody is born with his or her fate predetermined. However, should you see her around this Valentine's Day, please give her a rose for me. She might laugh her head off, because she has no idea what a rose means on this day. But give it to her anyway. She deserves it.

-- Carl Chairul