Saturday, January 31, 2009


I remember the first time that I met Warni. We were preparing for a trip to Anyer, located on the coast of the Java Sea. We had been living in Jakarta, with my in-laws for six months and had recently moved to our own place. I had a young girl of sixteen to clean my house, but she only lasted a week. After seeing maids come and go at my in-laws, I was seriously debating whether it was worth the hassle. Yet there she was, with her daughter beside her, inquiring whether or not we needed a maid. Warni was a diminutive woman with her black hair pulled neatly back from a serious but pleasant face. When asked, she explained that she had been referred to us by our previous helper and had until recently been employed by an expatriate family who had returned to their country. Her attire was mismatched but obviously well cared for, and she seemed to have good personal hygiene. With mixed feelings, I told my husband to tell her to see us when we returned on Monday.

Returning home, sunburned and relaxed, we found Warni waiting patiently by our front gate. In spite of her impassive face, she was irritated that we had returned a day later than promised. Nevertheless, it was the beginning of a relationship that would last for seven years until we left Indonesia.

From that day, Warni took care of our house, did our laundry and shopping, mailed our letters and paid our bills, braving the heat of the dusty, crowded city on a monthly pilgrimage to pay the utilities. I trusted Warni with money: her honesty was impeccable. One day, she came to me with money in her hand.

“Ibu, there is money.”

“Where did this money come from, Warni?” I asked.

“On street in front of gate.” She replied, without expression.

If there was money in my husband’s pocket, she refused to wash the pants until I broached the matter:

“Warni, have you washed Pak Edward’s pants?”

“Not yet, Ibu. There is money in pocket.”

If not for Warni, I could not have stood the every day frustrations that come with living in a third world country. She was my protector, my buffer from all things confusing and unpleasant. When maggots rained down from my ceiling, time and time again as some hapless rodent died in my roof, we fought them together. Warni swept them up, while I frantically called my husband, whose best advice was to close the door to that room. When time and termites took their toll on my roof and the monsoon rains showered filthy water into my kitchen, Warni was there. She spent seemingly endless hours cleaning it up, while I cried in my bedroom, pulling my hair in frustration. After she had finished, Warni went home and cried.

As a result of the roof dampness, mushrooms began to grow out of the ceiling, hanging on limber stalks. I left them there. One day, as Warni and I stood looking at our impromptu mushroom crop, she told me that the landlady was wondering why we didn’t remove them.

“Ibu, Tante Endang ask why we don’t take down.”

“Warni, if Tante Endang doesn’t fix my roof, we will use them to make soup and feed it to her!”

Warni laughed.

Through our years together, Warni and her family became a part of our family. When holidays came, we made sure that there were gifts, food and a bonus, careful not to offend. On the Muslim Day of Sacrifice, animals are butchered at the mosques and the meat is given to the poor. Knowing that Warni could use it, I asked her.

“Warni, have you gone to get your share?”

“No, Ibu.”

“Why not, Warni? It’s free meat.”

“My neighbors all rushing there, “ she replied, “Like they’ve never eaten meat before! I no need!”

Just as she helped me through my daily crises, I helped Warni with her family’s needs. When she came to tell me of her mother’s death in south Sulawesi, I sent her there. We often paid her daughter’s school fees and encouraged Warni to get some career training to prepare for the day when we would leave.

Often, I would give her our old clothes and other items to give away or keep, as she saw fit. She took them without comment, laying them aside until she left for the day. It wasn’t long before looking at Warni, I would have feelings of dejevu, as my clothing came back on her person, matched in her own unique combinations, complementing the rubber thongs that she habitually wore on her brown feet. I couldn’t resist teasing her—getting any reaction from Warni was a challenge:

“Warni, that shirt looks familiar, where have I seen it before?”

“Was yours, Ibu.” She answered, straight faced.

“Be careful, Warni” I cautioned, playfully. “People will think we are twins!”

When my daughter was born, Warni was there. From that moment, she helped me care for Chelsea. Often, she’d carry Chelsea at her waist in a long strop of colorful material, a sarung, tucked in at her shoulder. It was there that Chelsea spent countless hours at Warni’s waist, as, walking around outside, Warni fed her rice porridge mixed with vegetables, or the sliced juicy papaya that Chelsea ate several times a day.

Warni was like Chelsea’s second mother, caring for her when she was sick, feeding and bathing her. If not for her, I would never have gone to work, not trusting anyone else to take care of my child. As Chelsea had a strong personality, Warni had her own means of discipline. When annoyed, there was no explosion of anger, no spanks—just a period of being ignored. Warni would set her down, removing the sarung that tied them together. With her toffee face set, she would walk away, going about her chores, until Chelsea begged to be forgiven, running eagerly to fetch the cloth that would reunite them once again.

Warni had her own sense of humor. One day, as I was searching frantically for some treasured item from home, Warni stood calmly watching as I tore through every cupboard in the house. Finally, in desperation, I asked:

“Warni, have you seen my magazine with the rabbits on it?”

“Yes, Ibu.”

“Where is it?”

“I threw it away.”

I drew a deep breath, sputtering with incredulity.


Looking at her stoic expression, I detected a hint of a twinkle.

When my willful child decided—demanded—that she be allowed to eat a packet of chili sauce, proclaiming she liked it, Warni stood by.

“Chelsea want eat chili? It hot!”

Chelsea insisted.

“Okay, Chelsea no cry if hot!”

When Chelsea ate it up with her stubborn, “mmm, good, I like it” then frantically asked for a drink, Warni laughingly obliged.

“Nah, see, I told you!”

As much as I cared for her, I was not aware of how irrevocably our lives were intertwined, until I visited her home prior to our leaving Indonesia. Parking on the street, we made our way, snaking through the narrow mud packed path between the shacks. Chicks scurried before us, occasionally echoed in the dark shadow of a rat slinking out of sight in the smelly gutter. Although I had been there before, this was the first time I had actually entered beyond the door to partake of her humble, sincere hospitality. Her husband had informed us that since her employment with us had ended, she had been at home crying daily.

As our eyes adjusted to the inside of Warni’s home, it was clear that Warni would never be able to forget us. Her house was neatly kept, in sharp contrast to the surroundings and surprisingly well furnished. We looked around in astonishment: all the items that Warni had disposed for us over the years were arranged with care in her tiny home: hand painted woodwork that was my hobby, Chelsea’s baby toys and stuffed animals, miscellaneous soft furnishings, and the odd piece of furniture. Interspersed between the items we’d accumulated and discarded over the years, were photos of Chelsea and Warni, proudly displayed.

I left Indonesia and Warni behind with a heavy heart, knowing what she had meant to my daughter, my family and to me. However, I carry her memory with me to my native country, where she will always be with us in photos and in our hearts. I know that Warni will also remember us, inevitable, as she is surrounded by the accumulation of our life in Jakarta. In a way, this somehow comforts me—knowing that, even though we disposed of and packed up our Indonesian experience, somewhere in the back streets of Jakarta, a part of us remains.

jkb 2000 (pictured daughter and I)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pictures of the Heart

Sometimes when we try to recall an instance in our life, a first kiss or a long good-bye, we find that our memory has blurred and details have been lost. Over time details continue to elude, until finally only a rough framework remains. This is the way it is with me. However, there is one day in my life that I cannot allow to disappear into the vast cobwebs of my mind. It is a day so horrifying, yet so very, very precious, that I must preserve every detail. That day was the last time I saw my parents together, laughing and talking.

That chilly morning in early February, I opened my front door expecting to see my father, instead saw both my parents walking down my front sidewalk, having arrived separately. Mom was stopping by during her break between her college classes. They were happy to see each other; my parents have always been each other’s dearest friend, setting an extraordinary example of what a good marriage is.

Dressed to work on my upstairs renovation, dad was wearing batik drawstring pants, tennis shoes, and an old sweatshirt pulled over a white t-shirt. His standard baseball hat was pulled low over his eyes, hiding bushy eyebrows and dark brown eyes. Just by looking at him, you couldn’t tell that the man was a professional school teacher who had recently retired or that he had a Masters Degree in Divinity. His weathered face, punctuated by a crooked mustache, could easily be mistaken for the craggy countenance of an old farmer, yet upon closer inspection radiated with quiet dignity.

The three of us sat and talked, Dad’s deep voice rising and falling as he talked about his early days teaching and about various close calls he had experienced with mortality. Describing his close encounters with death, he marveled at how each time he had survived, delivered by what he considered, was the divine hand of God. After a bit, I went to the kitchen and made cookies, knowing how Dad loved something sweet with his coffee. Each cookie was barely for mouthful for him, as he smacked and slurped his way through them and a cup of coffee. He then dozed on the sofa, his loud snore a white noise background for my conversation with Mom, his cologne lingering in the air as if he had just splashed it on.

Later, as Mom was leaving, she leaned over him as he lay on the sofa, poking him in the stomach, saying something about the Pillsbury Doughboy and kissing him good-bye. Little did we know that would be the last time my mother would see my father awake, the last time that she would sit and talk with him, the last time I would see both my parents together, alive. Dad then went upstairs to work on the renovation, coming down to get coffee a few times or grab a quick snack, stopping to hug and kiss my baby, Malakai, who adored his grandfather with his eyes, following him around the house in his walker.

These memories are so precious to me, because a few hours after my mom left, Dad had an accident and sustained a skull fracture with severe brain trauma. We spent the next three weeks waiting with him in ICU, hoping he would regain consciousness, praying for his recovery, believing that God would deliver him once more. Despite our prayers, Dad passed away as we all stood around his bed. My final picture of my parents together is when, immediately after Dad died, Mom leaned over him and kissed him good-bye one last time after 36 years of marriage, my mom, a widow at the age of 54.

These are the pictures which I carry in my heart and mind. Those images are precious in my mind, so extremely precious, like faded photos that are falling apart with age and are never again going to be restored to their full sheen. I keep them there for posterity, to remind me of all that I have had, all that I have lost, and all that remains of my childhood. jkb 2000

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

1st US reality TV star

A few years ago (2003), I watched a show on PBS and must have been moved by it---at least enough to write this poem. I found it the other day and finished it for you.

Lance Loud
Wild confused child of the seventies
Product-of-the-fifties parents
Pranced off to NYC
Looking for adventure
Searching for himself
Dying from the day he was born
His dark-window-eyed mother
Seventies sunglasses
Hiding behind her cigarette and her drink
Hiding from what she knew to be true
The day that he came out
He didn’t know that he had been out
For years.
Did she know as she watched him
That he was starting his thirty-year death rattle?
Her concern dripped out from behind those shades
Trailed out in the smoke blown absently from her cigarette
Did she sense that the bell began to toll for her little boy?
Flash forward 30 years
A little-grown boy asking his mom to snuggle him
(My thoughts run to my own little boy—wanting to run and snuggle him as he sleeps now)
The man-boy-man thought that family was something outgrown
Until he realized
That what he needed was his family
Father condemning, misunderstanding
Understood only too well by his son
Life in the spotlight
Life in the shadows
Lance lived and died out loud. jkb 2009

Related articles:

"Lance Loud's Last Testament", Los Angeles Times

Lance Loud , First U.S. Reality Star, Died 7 Years Ago Today

Lance Loud Quotes from Brainy Quote

Sunday, January 25, 2009

House of Dreams

Again, Sara's poem with my Photoshop created background.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

To E

I created this background with photoshop. The poem is by Sara Teasdale, one of my favs. Click on the picture to enlarge and see poem.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

When Daffodils Bloom

When my Daffodils Bloom

When my daffodils bloom
I remember my childhood
--carrying a cut blossom
wrapped in wet tissue and
a plastic baggy
for my teacher.
--posing for a picture in my mother's
daffodil bed
I remember the day after my dad died.
--two pots of daffodils
bought to comfort a
wounded spirit.

Every year since, a bittersweet reminder of days
that will never come again.
Each year the bitter eases
the sweet increases.

Each year I still
---carry a cut blossom to school
wrapped in a wet tissue and
a plastic baggy
for my students.

When my Daffodils bloom
I take time to remember
explaining to my students
that a daffodil is more than a flower
----it is a survivor
of a cold bitter winter
---it is the hope of a thawing
of our world, our emotions, our lives.

When my Daffodils bloom
I remember Spring.
and all is right in my world.

When my daffodils bloom
I can dream of tomorrow. ©jkb 2007

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Color of my Heart

The Color of My Heart

Soul deep
Where only spirit travels
The innermost part
--a precious seed
Lying still and dormant
Yellow with hope
Waiting for the sun
To come out again.

Surrounded by death-deep crimson life’s blood
Swirling surrounding feeding feasting
Upon darkness and death.
From the hopeful seed
Comes new growth,
New life
Inching forth from within
Reaching stretching toward the light
As it unfurls, leaving pale pink pathways
of light and life
of laughter and love.

From death comes life
From life comes hope.
Soul deep
Where only spirit travels
The innermost part
Is colored by hope. jkb 2008

Monday, January 19, 2009

I Remember This Feeling

The Tropics in New York

BANANAS ripe and green, and ginger-root,
Cocoa in pods and alligator pears,
And tangerines and mangoes and grape fruit,
Fit for the highest prize at parish fairs,

Set in the window, bringing memories
Of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,
And dewy dawns, and mystical blue skies
In benediction over nun-like hills.

My eyes grew dim, and I could no more gaze;
A wave of longing through my body swept,
And, hungry for the old, familiar ways,
I turned aside and bowed my head and wept.

by Claude McKay



I LIFT my heart as spring lifts up
A yellow daisy to the rain;
My heart will be a lovely cup
Altho' it holds but pain.

For I shall learn from flower and leaf
That color every drop they hold,
To change the lifeless wine of grief
To living gold.

Sara Teasdale