Oral Histories

Oral History 4: Chika

(English Teacher at Seminari San Dominggo, Hokeng, East Flores, Indonesia: 13 February, 2018, 10am)

She remembers nothing from the crash, but is haunted by the aftermath. Eight years ago she hopped on the back of her brother’s motorbike. It’s a shame they both forgot to pray.

On the road her brother veered around a truck that was trudging like a sickly whale, and when he reached the nose-end of the car he entered the tiny wake left by the motorbike just in front. The teenager on the motorbike rode leisurely, ignorant of Chika’s brother behind him. In commencing a turn, he activated his break.

Later the doctors, then the police, would ask Chika what happened. She remembered mounting her brother’s bike. She remembered waking in the hospital, her relatives telling her that her brother was taken from one hospital ward to another. She remembered that a week passed before her brother’s daughter, a child no older than five, spilled the beans that her brother and the teenager driver died the day their bikes fell. Her family lied about her brother’s survival so she would have the tenacity to recover!

It worked. By the time she learned of her brother’s death, she was well on the way to restored health.

All that happened between the beginning of the bike journey and the hospital had been wiped from memory, so that the police asked if she might seek the help of a paranormal to remember the sequence of events. The paranormal advised her not to revisit the memory of the crash, since it would cause more trauma than good.

The law remained ignorant, as it is today.

The few onlookers who witnessed the crash claimed they saw Chika’s brother push her to the side just before the crash took its effect, sending her flying to a safer patch of concrete. Chika has a child of five. At 34, Chika dreams of visiting The United States. She dreams of her brother’s return. He comes to her, sometimes, in her sleep, whispering, “I’m here. But don’t tell anyone.”


Oral History 3: Pak Mesiak

(Professional Driver waiting at Frans Xavier Seda Airport, Maumere, East Flores, Indonesia: 10 February, 2018, 1pm)

He approached me the moment I retrieved my suitcases from the baggage belt. “Hello, how are you?” he asked. He led a collection of drivers, all of whom waited for a hire. I wanted to tell him to buzz off, since I had spent the previous night in the airport and already had a ride into the hills. I supressed my exhaustion and told him I would momentarily be picked up by a friend. Knowing I wouldn’t need a taxi service, he softened and began again with honest conversation.

It’s slow season, he explained. There’s much competition among drivers.

Relieved now he wouldn’t pester me now for a tourist packet, I indulged his questions about where I came from and why I had come to the eastern city of Maumere. We took up a few seats in the interior of the tiny airport. Once Mesiak finished his questions, I asked him about his history.

He had been a driver since he was a teenager in Kupang, on the island of Timor. He moved here, to Flores, several decades ago.

Why uproot?

Love, he said. His (now) wife, while from East Flores, attended college in Kupang. Each day he drove her from her boarding house to the university campus. Finding her beautiful, he refused to charge her for the first ride. “OK, today you ride free,” he told her. “Tomorrow you pay.”

The next day he escorted her again to campus, and again he said “Today you ride free. Tomorrow you pay.”

This went on throughout the months until Mesiak grew close with his passenger, then compatible, then eager to wed.

After marriage they moved to Flores, where they bore three sons. The eldest studies management at the university in Kupang.

“I’m a driver, so it’s easy enough for me to find work when season is high,” says Pak Mesiak. “After each journey comes payment. But for my son it will be difficult. If he wants to stay in Kupang he must wait to find work. Office jobs in Flores and Kupang are difficult to come by, even for the highly educated.” Pak Masiak nodded to another taxi driver who collapsed on the seat in front of us, also out of luck for a job that day.

“Everything is based on the networking of families. If a young person comes from outside the network, he or she has to work for two years without pay, until finally someone extends an opportunity for an ‘in’. So is the way of NTT,” Pak Masiak says. “We trust who we know.”


Oral History 2: Mark

I learned his name when he pointed to his upper arm and I read his tattooed script. It said “Mark.” Mark had to take a wizz. He gave me a fist bump and embarked for the porta potty.

Later he saw me drawing labyrinths. “Psssst, Julie,” he said. He held out a brown paper-mache skill the size of a newborn’s head. It was hard and had the bumps in all the right places. The interior of the skull held what looked like matches.

Mark was a craftsman since his youth. Now he’s 87, and every day he absorbs the heat with the mosaic artists at the beach. Today one of those artists is me.

Mark shows me how the back of the skull opens like a door, how he learned paper mache technique when he started making piñatas for a living, after the war.

At first he thought he might paint the skull white or black. A man offered him $20 for the standard. But he tells me now he wants to paint it like the sky.

Oral History 1: Marlin

I’ll have to give this composition another go:


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