Patronising conduct by DMZ

26  DMZ and Poverty

Social Welfare Office and Needy Circumstances

Visit to the zoo. From left to right:my mother, aunt and father-in-law, daughter Sandra and son Glenn
Visit to the zoo. From left to right: my mother, aunt and father-in-law, daughter Sandra and son Glenn
The early days of our life in the Netherlands, just after our repatriation, were nothing to write home about. We first lived in these boarding houses, where we would start off just about penniless, receiving 4 guilders per week from the DMZ (Dienst Maatschappelijke Zorg: Social Welfare Office) to pay for transport and stamps to send off application letters in search of a job. When you found a job, you weren’t much better off since you had to hand over most of your income to the Social Welfare Office to pay off part of the boarding costs incurred (for the time being at least). If you happened to have a baby as well, the baby either had to eat whatever was being served that day, or you had to buy your own baby food with the little bit of money that remained.

East Indian versus Dutch

Indonesian vegetables and fruit
A variety of Indonesian vegetables, peanuts, red onions and hot chillies (tjabe rawit)
In the beginning when we had to go shopping we often made the same mistakes and the shop owner must have thought of us as ‘very odd customers’. Our son was sent to buy a ‘ketimoen’ at the greengrocer’s around the corner, but he returned with the message that the greengrocer’s didn’t have any. Of course he didn’t, for he should have asked for cucumber instead of ketimoen, for eggplant if we wanted a tèrong or for snake beans instead of katjang pandjang.

In addition, we people from the Indies sometimes inadvertently gave the general practitioner a big fright. In line with an old East Indian/Indonesian custom, people had their own ‘household remedy’ to deal with a bad cold. The ‘treating’ person would be seated on the couch with a jar of Vicks or obat matjan (tiger balm), a (worn) gobang (a large copper East Indian coin) or a large button. The ‘patient’ would be seated either on a little stool or on the floor, upper part of the body bared, with his or her back towards the person who was going to treat them. With a dab of Vicks or tiger balm the first diagonal lines were drawn from the upper cervical vertebra to the left and right hand side of the shoulder blade. Next, the copper coin, or large button, was rubbed vigorously across the balsamed spot, until it would start bleeding underneath the skin. How deeper the (blood) red line, the greater the evidence that you’d caught a bad cold. This treatment would continue down to the lower part of the body, as a result of which one’s back ended up looking like a blood-red striped zebra. The lines would remain noticeable for days to come. The warmth emanating from the balsam would make one feel a lot better and make one’s breathing a lot easier. However, you’d still made an appointment with the doctor to get some tablets for the cold. When the doctor would ask you to bare your back and chest to examine you and would see those blood red lines, he would be scared to death as you might have some extremely contagious disease. Next thing of course you found yourself explaining how you got to those lines and what they had been intended for.

Not The Slightest Bit Of Sympathy - Pay Everything Back, Down To The Last Penny!

We’d only just arrived in the Netherlands when the elections came around. We received a polling card notification despite the fact that we didn’t know any of the parties, let alone their policies.

Beautiful view on Javat
Beautiful view on Java; the little main island, four times the size of The Netherlands
Once we’d been assigned a place to live, the Social Welfare Office gave us a furniture loan to buy some cheap furniture to furnish the home with, which was to be purchased from a shop designated by their office. It was all very low budget, so sometimes items needed to be replaced while we were still paying off the original items and for living in the boarding house as well. It took me many years, until our third and last child Sandra was born in 1962, to pay off all those loans.

That’s when I stopped paying off the balance of the loan and fortunately I never heard anything after. Central heating didn’t exist yet, so in order to heat the bedrooms, we'd fiddle around with petroleum heaters. We’d regularly be lugging bags of coal for the coal-fired heater in the lounge room up the stairs to our floor. We had to clean the heater just about every day and the asbestos sheets under and behind the heater were shaken out on a regular basis. We were breathing in asbestos dust year after year. Many years onwards various measures were taken when a house was being renovated, as asbestos dust can cause cancer. Families from the Indies always pretended to have a dog. When we were at the butcher’s, we’d buy tripe for our ‘dog’, seeing it was only intended for dog food, and sometimes I’d ask for a kilo of rind (to have a feast). (Thanks to the tripe) we could finally enjoy a delicious ‘soto babat’ and we’d use the rind to make a great dish prepared with a satay sauce. The butcher would sometimes eye us suspiciously! But hey, he became used to these types of requests in the end. My fellow people from the Indies experienced much of the same in the early days. The only luxury we could afford for going to work or for recreational purposes was to buy a bike and/or second-hand car. To keep them in a reasonable condition we would maintain them ourselves in order to save some money. The APK (Periodic Motor Vehicle Inspection) had not yet been introduced at that time. The poor treatment we received contrasted sharply with how many (illegal) foreigners were received decades later: they even received unemployment and child allowances.

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