Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Unexpected Twists

Giving away books in North Sumatra sounds like an easy job but by times, selecting recipients was challenging. Very often I found myself wondering how things would pan out and I flew by the seat of my pants. A favourite example of this took place in Nainggolan, the southernmost tip of Samosir Island on 21 June. On page 523 of Legacy, there is a picture of a male twiner whom I met back in 1979-80, but I have no recollection of how I met him, his name, or whom I was with at the time. Moreover the likelihood that he was still alive was remote as he was already fairly senior thirty years ago. Nevertheless, by virtue of being depicted there, he - or his descendants – had a right to the book.

As luck would have it, it was market day in Nainggolan when we arrived. The streets were teeming with people from all of the neighbouring communities. I threw my hands in the air and rolled my eyes. “It will be a miracle if we find him,” I said to Mas Nashir. But we both believe in miracles and did not give up. We jostled our way into the market, asking how to get to the textile sellers. There turned out to be several stalls, but one caught our attention because of the fineness of the hand-plaited straw bags that the proprietor was also selling. We admired them, learning that they, too, are teetering on the edge of extinction, when Mas Nashir advised me to ask the seller if she recognized the man on the plasticized page of Legacy that I had brought with me. Bingo! Immediate jackpot! Not only did she know him and was thrilled to be reminded of him by way of the photograph, she was a family member well-connected with his children and was willing to pass on the book to them. He had indeed already passed away.

Our luck seemed like a stroke of divine intervention, but in retrospect, I wonder what our chances would have been at finding him by asking anyone else. Our stall proprietor immediately yelled across to her neighbour in the stall next to hers to come and see Parhusip’s picture. Nainggolan is the place of origin of the Parhusip marga and a goodly number of the people in the town would have been related to him.

In Balige, the home of the Pardede clan or marga, our luck was different, however. The morning of June 24 found us searching diligently for the home of Ama ni Paung Pardede. I had a vague recollection of the house where the photograph on page 146 of Legacy was hung, but I couldn’t remember where it was in the town. My cousin (in Batak kinship terms), Peiza Hutabarat, guided us to the Pardede kampungs and even in the rain, jumped out of the vehicle again and again to ask people for help. We couldn’t find anybody who knew Ama ni Paung.

Because I have an unshakeable belief that my world is unfolding as it should, when my luck appears to have totally run out, I switch gears and ask myself what lesson I should be learning from the situation. That question is always disorienting at first but usually the answer is right under my nose and I have to learn to see it. Suddenly, in Balige, I knew the answer. I ran over to Peiza while she was knocking at yet one more door (luckily the person was not at home) and I asked her to come back to the car. “I want to give the book to you,” I said. Peiza had shown such appreciation for it, had understood the goals of the Back to the Villages project and had helped me so sincerely and unstintingly in so many ways that I suddenly became aware that there was nobody in Balige who could be a better recipient. She was delighted and promised to show it to as many people as possible. She explained that she was building a lending library and she would add Legacy to it. 

Peiza is a lawyer who came back from Jakarta to assume family responsibilities back in her home town of Balige. “What if I find the owner of the picture (on p. 146 of Legacy)?” she asked. “You could give him the laminated picture,” I said, “but the book is yours.” The decision felt right. One more transfer solved in an unexpected way. Such are the twists in the road linking the past and the present. Another seed planted.

See Back to the Villages - the map!

No comments:

Post a Comment