A Volunteer in Our Orphanage

Children call her Boeltje affectionately, short for Bulé, which means, “White one”. She has always wanted to meet the country of her ancestors. Now, as a 17-year-old student Occupational Therapy, she had to do an internship somewhere. And of course she chose the country of her roots, where she keeps the little ones of the kindergarten occupied.

Just like all the other volunteers, she sleeps in the girls’ dorm room. And just like all the other children in the orphanage she gets up at 04:30 in the morning. At 05:00 o’clock, everyone is downstairs to clean the garden, after that, everyone takes a shower. Breakfast is served at 6 o’clock. At 7 o’clock in the morning she is at school with the preschoolers.

“She should stay here forever”, says Surati, our help. “She does something and makes herself useful!” while she squints her eyes to the ones yawning in their chairs.

Meanwhile Boeltje feels completely at home between the children. She organizes many game nights enthusiastically, like “Pa van der Steur Got Talent”, where the children show off all their talents. Or a fashion show, where the children get 45 minutes to think of something that they can show. Jeff and Ajeng are the judges. She takes the prizes out of her large suitcase brought all the way from Holland. They are crazy nights with which the children are trained to show their courage, boldness and creativity.

“Do the children get pocket money?”

“Do they get to take friends home?”

“Can they go visit somewhere else?”

These are all questions that make her notice that she lives in a completely different world than the children of the orphanage. I notice how she is very committed to the children.

I am trying to explain to her that we try everything to give these children – otherwise futureless children – a good future, but that you cannot compare them to children from families with a father and a mother.

“I’m going to try my best to get all these children symbolical adoptive parents. I think it is terrible that the bigger and the not-cute-looking-children are left”, she says. She immediately starts working at the big table.

A terrible scream makes everyone run onto the terrace. Boeltje is on top of the chair. Shaken, she points towards a cicak that stares at us frozen to the wall.

“He was hiding under my notebook” she shivers.

– “A cicak eats mosquitos… He is our friend”, I try to calm her down.

“I rather kill the mosquitos myself, than letting that creep do it”

– “Strange, that you, as a vegetarian, kill animals. Even though they are only mosquitos”, I try to distract her.

“But they sting me. And whoever stings me, I get to sting back”, she says firmly.

– “Don’t tell that theory to the boys. You will definitely get a improper proposal”, I say dryly.

It is not until I walk up the stairs that I can hear by her burst of laughter that the penny has dropped.

“Heeeey… why are you sitting so strange?”, I ask, if I can see from my balcony that the girls are squatting in a line, their behinds above a gutter. “We’re showing Boeltje how to squat on a toilet”, they shout together”.

“The water pump was broken yesterday because a bird crawled into it, so there was no water upstairs. I had to shower downstairs with the girls. But there are only squat-toilets there. And I didn’t really know how to sit on one of those”, she says with a bright red face.

“You didn’t sit on one of those, did you?!”, I shout to her.

– “Noooo…” she answers doubtful. “And also, there was nowhere I could flush. I really don’t know how you do it” Boeltje is turning purple.

“We’ll teach her how to do it properly, tante Nel!” and the children nod comfortingly.

Boeltje’s last day

The approaching farewell puts a damper on the day for all the children. Boeltje herself walks around with red eyes as if she is really ill. I try to cheer up the children by telling them “Guys, we’ll give Boeltje a disco party as her last night here! You can take out the new instruments and disco lights and bring them to the terrace”. Eventually the party is a grand success. All the children give a speech while the other children are screaming, most of the time their speeches do not contain more than “I love you…” or “I love you more and more…!”

Of course the farewell the next day is paired with a lot of tears and promises to see each other again next year. To comfort her, two of her best friends get to come with her to the airport. As soon has her car has left the grounds I run to the masseur to get all the drama from the past few days massaged away.

When I get home, all feeling better, a group of excited children awaits me at the gate. They stumble on their words in their haste to tell me something.

“All quiet, Leo can tell me,” I say.

– “Boeltje is being kept on the airport. She can’t leave the country!” he drops the bomb. “She can’t call us. She asked us on Facebook if you could email her as soon as possible.”

While I run towards my computer, I am immediately thinking about the package one of the fathers of our students tried to give to her to bring to the Netherlands. He told her in tears that he really wanted to give something to his friend. When I heard this story from Boeltje, I told her to give the package back. “The father can just send it with the mail. It is dangerous to take something from someone you absolutely don’t know. Worst-case scenario, it contains something illegal” I try to explain to her.

I wonder to myself whether she might have ignored my advice and taken the package with her anyway and if that is the reason she is being kept in Indonesia.

When I finally reach her via Facebook, she is in total panic. Apparently her visa was only for 4 weeks, and she stayed for 6 weeks. The fine has gone up to almost 4 million rupiah. And she has no money to pay with.

I call the authorities at the airport and try to explain that we did not know this and ask them if we can transfer the money. “The money needs to be paid in cash Ibu” I’m being told. “But her plane leaves in 45 minutes!” I shout. “Peep… Peep… Peep…” the person on the other side has hung up the phone.

My brain is working full speed.

Suddenly I think of Mar, an old friend who works as pilot at Garuda Indonesia. While I dial his number and quickly pray he is not currently in the air. “Marrrrr….!” I shout desperately. “Ada apa, Nel?” his voice is annoyingly calm.

I explain everything to him. He needs to think for a while and then says soothingly: “At the moment, I’m moving, but I’ll all you back in 10 minutes”.

A little while later he calls back, “Mission accomplished” he rapports back. “It wasn’t easy to find someone at the airport that accidently had that much money on them, but I got it” he says.

Ten minutes before the take off I get a message on Facebook from Boeltje that she is entering the plain panting. “I’ll be back before you know it, tante Nel” she sends me.

I run to the phone. “Aguuuuunngg! My headache came back! You want to massage me again?!!”

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