Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Barack Obama - Dreams from My Father 16

eat,” she said firmly. My mother sighed, but Toot tossed in several boxes of candy to win me over to her
Finally, we boarded a Pan Am jet for our flight around the globe. I wore a long-sleeved white shirt and
a gray clip-on tie, and the stewardesses plied me with puzzles and extra peanuts and a set of metal pilot’s
wings that I wore over my breast pocket. On a three-day stopover in Japan, we walked through bone-
chilling rains to see the great bronze Buddha at Kamakura and ate green tea ice cream on a ferry that
passed through high mountain lakes. In the evenings my mother studied flash cards. Walking off the plane
in Djakarta, the tarmac rippling with heat, the sun bright as a furnace, I clutched her hand, determined to
protect her from whatever might come.
Lolo was there to greet us, a few pounds heavier, a bushy mustache now hovering over his smile. He
hugged my mother, hoisted me up into the air, and told us to follow a small, wiry man who was carrying our
luggage straight past the long line at customs and into an awaiting car. The man smiled cheerfully as he
lifted the bags into the trunk, and my mother tried to say something to him but the man just laughed and
nodded his head. People swirled around us, speaking rapidly in a language I didn’t know, smelling
unfamiliar. For a long time we watched Lolo talk to a group of brown-uniformed soldiers. The soldiers had
guns in their holsters, but they appeared to be in a jovial mood, laughing at something that Lolo had said.
When Lolo finally joined us, my mother asked if the soldiers needed to check through our bags.
“Don’t worry…that’s been all taken care of,” Lolo said, climbing into the driver’s seat. “Those are
friends of mine.”
The car was borrowed, he told us, but he had bought a brand-new motorcycle-a Japanese make, but
good enough for now. The new house was finished; just a few touch-ups remained to be done. I was
already enrolled in a nearby school, and the relatives were anxious to meet us. As he and my mother
talked, I stuck my head out the backseat window and stared at the passing landscape, brown and green
uninterrupted, villages falling back into forest, the smell of diesel oil and wood smoke. Men and women
stepped like cranes through the rice paddies, their faces hidden by their wide straw hats. A boy, wet and
slick as an otter, sat on the back of a dumb-faced water buffalo, whipping its haunch with a stick of bamboo.
The streets became more congested, small stores and markets and men pulling carts loaded with gravel
and timber, then the buildings grew taller, like buildings in Hawaii-Hotel Indonesia, very modern, Lolo said,
and the new shopping center, white and gleaming-but only a few were higher than the trees that now cooled
the road. When we passed a row of big houses with high hedges and sentry posts, my mother said
something I couldn’t entirely make out, something about the government and a man named Sukarno.
“Who’s Sukarno?” I shouted from the backseat, but Lolo appeared not to hear me. Instead, he touched
my arm and motioned ahead of us. “Look,” he said, pointing upward. There, standing astride the road, was
a towering giant at least ten stories tall, with the body of a man and the face of an ape.
“That’s Hanuman,” Lolo said as we circled the statue, “the monkey god.” I turned around in my seat,
mesmerized by the solitary figure, so dark against the sun, poised to leap into the sky as puny traffic swirled
around its feet. “He’s a great warrior,” Lolo said firmly. “Strong as a hundred men. When he fights the
demons, he’s never defeated.”
The house was in a still-developing area on the outskirts of town. The road ran over a narrow bridge
that spanned a wide brown river; as we passed, I could see villagers bathing and washing clothes along the
steep banks below. The road then turned from tarmac to gravel to dirt as it wound past small stores and
whitewashed bungalows until it finally petered out into the narrow footpaths of the kampong. The house
itself was modest stucco and red tile, but it was open and airy, with a big mango tree in the small courtyard
in front. As we passed through the gate, Lolo announced that he had a surprise for me; but before he could
explain we heard a deafening howl from high up in the tree. My mother and I jumped back with a start and
saw a big, hairy creature with a small, flat head and long, menacing arms drop onto a low branch.
“A monkey!” I shouted.
“An ape,” my mother corrected.
Lolo drew a peanut from his pocket and handed it to the animal’s grasping fingers. “His name is Tata,”
he said. “I brought him all the way from New Guinea for you.”
I started to step forward to get a closer look, but Tata threatened to lunge, his dark-ringed eyes fierce
and suspicious. I decided to stay where I was.
“Don’t worry,” Lolo said, handing Tata another peanut. “He’s on a leash. Come-there’s more.”
I looked up at my mother, and she gave me a tentative smile. In the backyard, we found what seemed
like a small zoo: chickens and ducks running every which way, a big yellow dog with a baleful howl, two

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