Sun, 11 May 2003

Bali survivors help each other

I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

The power of friendship and solidarity has helped four women who lost their husbands in the Bali terrorist attack on Oct. 12, 2002, to face life again.

Luh Erniati, Warti, Ketut Jontri and Wayan Rastini, gathered in a dim room in a house in Pemogan subdistrict, Bali, on Saturday, said compassion and friendship from a number of Australians had helped them emerge from their nightmares.

"I first met him in Sari Club but lost him there too. I felt God had been unfair to me for taking such a lovely husband from me," Erniati, 32, said.

Her husband, I Gede Badrawan, was the head waiter of the Sari Club, the popular nightclub targeted by the killers.

Erniati's charred and mutilated body was identified by DNA testing two months after the attack, which killed 202 people.

"After that I went back to my home village of Lemukih in Buleleng in despair. We have two little boys, aged nine and two. I struggled to meet their needs and cope with the loneliness and grief," she said.

The other widows nodded sympathetically and the room grew silent. They were all familiar with emptiness, loneliness and despair.

Warti, 24, had only been married for five short years.

"I remember him every day, all the time. Almost anything related to him can trigger my memory of him, from a football match on television -- his favorite sport -- to an ice cream vendor passing in front of our house."

Her husband Faturrachman worked at an ice cream parlor in Kuta.

When the women fell into almost total despair, David Wedd, an Australian philanthropist, handed them a rope to hang onto.

"He visited us regularly to give donations, such as daily needs, medicine, and clothes. Eventually, he decided to offer us the chance to work together, to heal together," Rastini, 31, said.

With the help of his Australian friends, Wedd refurbished a rented house, installed several sewing machines and established the AdoptA Garment factory.

He recruited women widowed by the bomb attack to work in the factory for around Rp 600,000 each per month.

"He also helped our children obtain scholarships for their education," Rastini said.

Six widows are employed at the factory. Another 15 attend monthly gatherings or weekly exercise classes at the building.

The building had been transformed from a workplace into a sort of psychological catalyst for the widows, a place where they can share their burdens and encourage each other.

"We are always busy talking with each other here. Our favorite subject is our husbands, and there are also no secrets here. I, for instance, know for sure that Warti dated her late husband for only five months before they rushed into marriage," Erniati said as she poked Warti's arm.

They are quick to burst into laughter when they discussed private topics.

Their togetherness has helped the widows stand on their own, brushing aside the nightmare that almost crushed them.

The widows are a living testimony of people who refuse to succumb to an act of terrorism.