Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

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On Being A Cat In Bali

May 4, 2013

One of Bali’s many cats, practically a walking skeleton, crosses the road slowly outside a restaurant. It doesn’t even try to dodge cars and bikes; it doesn’t even look for hazards; it is beyond caring.

Unlike many of its contemporaries, who target restaurants in the hope that patrons will throw them a morsel in response to their piteous meowing, this one ignores everything and everybody. It seems wholly focused on the process of walking without falling over, single-mindedly intent on its unknown destination.

Focus. Stay alive. Keep going.

Focus. Stay alive. Keep going.

Bones stretching its dull and matted fur, it plods slowly past the tables, paying no attention to the smells of food. It is almost beyond using its scavenging skills, beyond hunger, and nearly beyond life.

Does it have a human family? Someone to nurture it and look after it? Probably not. In Bali, there don’t seem to be many locals who feel more than a diffuse and distant empathy for cats. After all, it’s only recently that  the Balinese have discovered the companionship that dogs provide; cats don’t seem to have quite made the grade yet.

Perhaps that’s because dogs have owners, people on whom they can lavish affection and loyalty, and therefore get it in return. Cats, on the other hand, don’t acknowledge anyone as being their master. Instead of accepting a human leader, a cat sees a competitor. Cats don’t have owners; cats have staff, whose sole purpose seems to be to minister to their needs and to be ignored as soon as these needs are met. They pay a price for this independence.

Of course there will always be ‘dog people’ and ‘cat people’ as long as humans respond to animal personalities in different ways. I’m more of a dog person myself, but it makes me sad to see any animal alone, unloved and discarded as this cat appears to be, and I try to help it.

But it rejects my offer of food, acting as if it can’t see, or smell it. Maybe it can’t; maybe its whole being has shrunk to a tiny pinpoint, the purpose of which now is just to stay alive for another minute, another hour, another day.

Unbidden, the plight of Indonesia’s poor rises to the surface of my mind, but, like a true coward, I push it back down. Many, like this cat, are alone, malnourished, without hope, and without opportunity. But there are 100 million of them and I can do nothing; the problem is too vast. Instead, I focus on the cat, because there is only one, it’s right here and it provides me with an illusion that I can actually help it.

But of course, I can’t. It walks on as if I wasn’t there, any spark of hope it may have once had in those dead eyes beaten out of it by a thousand rejections, a thousand harsh words and a thousand disappointments.

Go in peace cat, and may the end be peaceful.

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Insensitivity, Victimisation and Compassion

April 24, 2013

This is a story of blind bigotry, injustice, denial, and a culture of blaming victims.  It is also a story of  wonderful compassion and tolerance.

In September of 2012, a 14-year-old schoolgirl made an error of judgement that changed her life. She befriended a young man on Facebook, one whose carefully selected ‘identity’ was superficially charming and solicitous. As young girls sometimes tend to do, she responded to his wiles, mistakenly believing that his friendship was genuine, that he was a decent person, and that he was truly interested in her.

Well he was, but not in the way that she thought. The man, identified in the press as being Den Gilang, a.k.a. ‘Yugi’, was apparently in the habit of lurking on social media specifically for the purpose of verbally seducing and meeting naive under-aged girls. He convinced her to meet him at a department store – a place that most people would think would be safe.

But of course it wasn’t. Her new ‘friend’, a predator of the worst kind, lured her into a public minivan, where more of his predator friends were waiting, and they drove her to a house in Parung, Bogor. There, she was imprisoned with  several other young girls who had been similarly duped.

Over the following week, ‘Yugi’ allegedly raped her, threatened her with death if she disobeyed him, and forced her to have sex with numerous other men. The plan, as she understood it, was that she was to be ‘sold’ to someone in Batam,  Riau Islands when he tired of her. During the time that she was missing, her frantic family and friends had widely distributed flyers to try and find her. The media had also picked up on the story, so to her captors, she suddenly became a liability. They dumped her at a bus terminal, where local residents recognised her and took her home.

Now the story took a bizarre turn. After spending a month to recover sufficiently, this brave girl wanted to pick up the broken threads of her life, return to her studies at Budi Utomo Junior High School – a private school in Depok – and put her ordeal behind her.

But when she returned in October 2012, she was publicly humiliated in front of the whole school at a flag-raising ceremony, where she was told that she had “tarnished the school’s image”. She was summarily expelled, and prohibited from sitting for her mid-semester examination. As so often happens to women in Indonesia, this teenager – a victim – was treated as a perpetrator.

The principal refused to meet with the girl’s parents. Journalists were fobbed off without explanation. Officers from the school’s foundation refused to comment, apart from denying, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that she had been expelled.

Following a great deal of public ire and media publicity, the school reversed its stance, saying those all-too-common words, “It was all a misunderstanding”. Mediation was agreed to, and it was reluctantly agreed that the girl could return to school. No apology was offered, and no attempt was made to rehabilitate her good name. The feelings of the girl, and her family, can only be imagined.

I spoke to a friend in Jakarta about this episode, and I must say I didn’t try and hide my feelings about the lack of compassion shown by some Indonesians towards girls and women who have been sexually abused. And while I was in mid-flight, she stopped me and said, “I agree with everything you say. But you need to know something else about this case.” What she told me provided an interesting and illuminating new perspective on Indonesian society.

During the time that the girl was missing, the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood where the girl’s family live were incredibly supportive, keeping the family calm, promoting positivity, and helping to distribute flyers. Then, after she was found, her recuperation was helped by the many caring, supportive neighbourhood visitors who brought food, money, and most of all, the gift of their time and love.

They didn’t stop with that. They started – and completed – a major fund-raising drive to enable her to finish her education privately, away from the school that had besmirched her name and honour, and treated her with such vile insensitivity. They also found her an excellent, well-qualified teacher who was also a counsellor familiar with the needs of traumatised young girls to guide her education.

The whole Muslim community in her neighbourhood rallied to help someone who was in trouble and desperately needed their help. To me, this is one of the untold stories of true, genuine compassion in Indonesia that might well be common, but largely remains un-trumpeted. Maybe this is because compassion carries its own quiet rewards.

Oh, and I nearly forgot – the girl and her family are Christians. To their wonderful, caring Muslim neighbours, that fact was, as it should be, completely irrelevant. I salute you.

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More Than A Pat On The Head

April 20, 2013

I saw a heart-warming sight on Double-Six beach in Bali a few weeks ago. Amongst the dogs joyfully frolicking on the sand was one that seemed not to be participating. From quite a distance, it looked happy enough, but there seemed to be something different about the way it was standing. It was not until I drew much closer that I realised what that was.

I discovered that a French couple had found themselves ‘adopted’ by a dog lying on their doorstep. It didn’t seem particularly distressed, but its hindquarters were completely paralysed. Not even its tail could manage a single twitch, much less a wag. No-one knew how it got there, or what had happened to it. Some dogs, of course, have a hard life in Bali. I have seen them hit, kicked, and run over by motorbikes and cars. Whatever the cause in this dog’s case, it was obviously serious. A traumatic injury such as this to a dog in Bali generally means that it has no chance of survival. It would be left to die slowly, or be put down.

But this couple, showing compassion above and beyond the call of mere duty, took the dog in. They fed it, gave it medical attention, and tried to make its life as comfortable as possible. The dog, immobilised, was understandably depressed, and showed little sign of recovering from its debilitating paralysis. They tried massage, pharmaceuticals and traditional medicine – all with minimal effect.

Then they went that one step further, getting a custom made trailer/wheelchair made overseas to support the dog’s hindquarters. It was delivered and fitted, and a wonderful transformation began.

There on Double Six beach, I saw the results of that kindness – a dog happily romping on the sand with his canine mates, towing his hind legs behind him, and wagging his previously inactive tail with the sheer joy of mobility.

Custom Dog Wheelchair

Custom Dog Wheelchair

Even his back legs show signs of movement now, and his new owners say that they are even making jerky running movements when he dreams. You could, of course, attribute the improvement to medicine, to regular meals, and to the contraption supporting his back end.

But I think this dog is recovering mainly because of the genuine care and love shown by two strangers who could have abandoned him – and chose not to. They made him part of their pack instead, and for a dog, this is the most important thing in the world.

Aren’t some people wonderful?