Wednesday is market day in Merek. En route to Si Tolu Huta, we briefly got out of our vehicle to determine which textiles were for sale. The findings were disappointing and nothing to write home about (a few sarongs from Balige, one from Madras, India and some Batak textiles woven on semi-mechanical looms). My attention was drawn by a woman quivering in anger and screaming at some men across the street. Her disheveled hair had fallen out of its knot and she looked quite wild. A bit of a crowd had formed. At first I thought she may have been mentally deranged but then I saw her shopping bag lying in a muddy hole in the road. She began to gather her chilly peppers and cabbages but gave up in fury, stood up and resumed her litany of insults and accusations. I saw that she was very close to tears and this moved me deeply. Batak women are toughened by life and don’t cry over spilt milk. Sizing up the situation, I assumed that she had been jostled by a careless driver and lost her week’s groceries. Having probably used up all of her money, she was facing a difficult week.
I had a bill in my pocket; with the differential in currencies between North and South, it represented little to me but much to her. I walked over to her and placed it in her balled-up hand. At first she turned her anger on me, screaming that she didn’t want it. Then she looked down and saw it. The screaming stopped and there was a moment of confusion. Then suddenly there was a smile on her face. She looked over at the men again with a touch of smugness and victory. We waved goodbye to each other.
Of course I empathized with her, not only in her state of loss, but also in her state of relief. I have had many kindnesses shown to me, many of them in Indonesia. They have won my undying loyalty to my Batak “family”.
It is so easy, where poverty bears down from close quarters, to represent a miracle for someone.
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