I was born in Indonesia right after WWII on Tual in the Kei Islands, in the area of the Spice Islands, near Ambon and close to the coast of New Guinea. In a little house, without the aid of a doctor or nurse, my father delivered me on Sunday afternoon on January 20th, and showed me off to all the native people who had gathered in the yard to look at the first Dutch child born in Tual. “Selamat tuan besar, selamat siang - sangat beruntung - indah anak jadi putih,” they said (Hello Sir, good afternoon – very lucky, beautiful child – very white). My father was a police officer in the still active Dutch Police force and that year was stationed in Tual to oversee the political prisoners sent there with their families.
Indonesia was in turmoil at the time, and many Dutch citizens, including almost all of our family, were leaving their birthplace in these the now former Dutch colonies to go back to The Netherlands, aka Holland. It was not an easy adjustment for many that had lived in Indonesia for many generations, and when in Holland they often felt like strangers, aliens, and missed their tropical and easy colonial life. For those of mixed ancestries, the adjustment was often unbearable, not only the cold climate was hostile, but the Dutch people were far from welcoming the "Indos", as they were often called.
But during these turbulent and traumatic times in the fifties, my parents did not immediately go back to The Netherlands with the rest of the family and most of their friends, but stayed until 1959 at their home in Jakarta on Java, and pretended that everything was still the same. And for the most part it was practically the same in the beginning of those ten years when I was growing up.
My sister was born two years after me, at a modern hospital in Utrecht, Holland, since it was the custom to go on annual "leave" to the homeland for several months. Each year, the annual journey was made via boat for six weeks around Cape Hope in Africa, stopping at all sorts of exciting ports along the route, Singapore, Colombo in Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Cape town, and the Canary Islands. Once we went through the Suez Canal and went on a breath-stopping excursion to see the pyramids. The way back to Indonesia took several days via propeller plane, often stopping at Karachi, in newly independent Pakistan, for refueling.
As a child in this new Indonesia, my fondest memories are of soft and warm people around me, many little friends to play with; the great rain monsoons when it seemed like a river fell out of the sky; and the Kali (sort of a drainage canal) at the end of the block where we went swimming against the rules; the green rice paddy terraces high up on the mountains on the way to our cottage in Bogor, where it was cold at night, and we rode the small little horses around the neighborhood. My Dad drove our 1952 Studebaker, and we took with us our "babu''s" (nursemaids). It was fun and easy, we kept clothes and other essentials at our cottage, and we bought food at the stalls along the way. A swimming pool was made by damming off of a section of a small river with practically freezing water in that pool my sister caught a scorpion and let it walk on the back of her hand, she never got hurt, despite all of our yelling. In the stifling hot and muggy summers back in Jakarta, at week's end, my father would take us on his sailboat out of Priok Harbor and with the great winds of the Banda seas we would cut through the water at very great speed, flying by atolls of colored coral sticking out of the sea. And oh...the food - especially all the street vendors such as the tukan sate-babi (pork) or sate-ayam (chicken) with his pot of charcoal on one end of his shoulder yoke, and sate's, seasonings, and other lip-smacking things at the other side...hmmm the burning smell of barbecue as the sate's browned and our mouths were watering.
When I went back to Indonesia in 1989 after many years away, I literally kissed the ground of my HOME, and tears ran down my cheeks.