The Sari of Kerti Moses
Kerti Moses and his wife Endang had one of the biggest homes I had seen in almost fifty visits to DINARI Foundation’s clients. The exposed concrete foundation elevated the house above the nearby dwelling of one of the couple’s workers. The entire floor was covered in big ceramic tiles printed like green marble, and the white walls still had a lingering freshness in parts. Inside was a big room with high exposed rafters and smaller bedrooms adjoining it. The main room was empty save for a table in one corner and a TV against the far wall. Behind this wall was a dim hallway with a narrow kitchen at one end and a bathroom at the other with a curtain for privacy. I was surprised to find that it had a Western-style toilet and furthermore that it flushed.
The windows to the main room did not provide much light, leaving it cool and dark. We spent most of the afternoon sitting on the long patio outside, overlooking the yard where hens bobbed and clucked and roosters made insistent pronouncements. The couple had lived in that yard when they first moved to the village of Bunutan, in a hut made from bamboo walls and a thatched-grass roof.
I had first met Kerti Moses and Endang a few days before in the Foundation’s office. Ardi, a supervisor for DINARI’s loan officers, had asked me if I wanted to interview one of his clients.
“They are fishermen from East Bali,” he said. “Perhaps we go there someday, on a weekend, he takes us fishing.” Ardi had a way of raising one eyebrow when he spoke that made his faint smile mischievous.
I expected to encounter leathery skin and sinewy arms, weather-beaten faces expressing simple wisdom from years hauling fish from the sea. Instead, the couple looked like the proprietors of a bed-and-breakfast. They were short and squat, their skin was smooth, and their shirts looked fresh. Kerti Moses was thirty-nine years old and Endang was forty.
Most borrowers reacted to me with amused bewilderment, but Kerti Moses and his wife stayed still and composed in their seats as I bounded down the stairs. Kerti Moses kept a serious countenance while I told him about my role interviewing clients for Kiva. His face was distinguished, almost handsome. Both he and his wife understood English, but Endang had a better command of the language and did most of the talking. When I introduced myself, her mouth was closed in a slight frown, but her words came out like a warm soft breeze when she spoke.
“This is first time I heard about joint business between DINARI and Kiva. I am happy for this.”
I learned that Kerti Moses was a fisherman without a boat. He fished every morning and afternoon, borrowing another man’s vessel and splitting the day’s catch. He was in the process of building two of his own boats and was seeking a loan of Rp. 27 million (roughly $2,700) to outfit them: Rp. 18 million for two motors, Rp. 4 million for each net, and a Rp. 1 million cushion.
The couple’s story intrigued me as we spoke. In one of my sporadic attempts to learn Indonesian, I had received a very helpful explanation of the word sari from Ferdinand, DINARI’s Kiva representative. The word in turns meant juice, nectar, pollen and essence. If you asked someone for the sari of their statement, it was a polite way of asking to get to the point. It signified the most important part of the noun to which it referred.
Most of my interviews with DINARI’s clients lasted about ten minutes, enough time perhaps to take an x-ray of their lives but not enough to really understand them. I wanted to spend time with Kerti Moses and Endang in their home in Karangasem Province, and I wanted to videotape them for Kiva’s media department. I hoped that by spending the day with the couple, their sari would be laid bare for me. We set a date for Saturday.
“Bunutan, it is not like this,” Ardi said as he pointed out the car window toward the lush dense vegetation. We had left the new coastal highway and turned north, and the road wound over several hills. In the valleys below sat the silver rectangular pools of rice paddies.
“By Kerti Moses, it is very dry.”
As we made our way down the last pass, it looked like the moisture had been sucked out of both land and sky. A few wispy clouds hung in the air, and corn had replaced rice in the grayish brown soil. The hillsides in the distance were covered with a thin dry scrub.
We drove along what was now the eastern coast, and Ardi pointed out men shuffle-stepping on raised wooden vats, breaking apart the salt produced in the region. I was disappointed to see a number of signs in English advertising hotel vacancies and villas to rent. I had wanted this authentic Bali all to myself.
Kerti Moses met us on his motorbike, and Ardi navigated the car across a dry riverbed. We parked, and Kerti Moses led us to his house where Endang greeted us and I met two of their boys. The couple, I learned, had seven children, three “original” and four adopted from the village.
Endang cautioned us to avoid the droppings one of the chickens had deposited on the tiles. She quickly scooped up the waste with a paper towel, and Ardi picked out a clean spot to lie down and nap while I stretched out my legs.
As I sat with the couple, two children came up the steps dressed in school uniforms, white shirts and maroon ties and shorts. I thought they might belong to the Kerti Moses clan, but they left after Endang gave them pink pills and soda to swallow them.
“We give the children in the village medicine,” she said. It was part of the couple’s Christian ministry work. Endang also taught English classes twice a week, and the couple distributed their well water free of charge. Before they built their well, they had collected rainwater.
For lunch, Endang cooked the customary nasi campur, steamed white rice with meat and vegetable dishes. There was also platter of grilled whole “small tuna,” which Kerti Moses had caught that morning. They looked delectable but were quite dry.
After eating, Kerti Moses took me along a short path that bordered his field. In addition to fishing, he also farmed, and he pointed out the big leaves sprouting from his sweet potato plants and plucked a massive orange-yellow papaya from one of the trees. Further along were old sties where Kerti Moses had raised and sold pigs with his first loan from DINARI, and beyond was a small shed where he stored vegetables and bags of rice. It looked like a pigmy hut, and it was the original house and Endang had built when they moved to the village. They lived there for over a year, gradually constructing their present home when they could save enough to buy materials. They transplanted the hut after their new home was ready.
Kerti Moses was originally from Bunutan, but it had taken him sixteen tumultuous years to return. In 1989, while he was still a teenager, he was sentenced to serve nineteen years in prison.
“I was fighting my friend,” Kerti Moses told me. “My friend died.”
He said those three words impassively. I imagined he had repeated them countless times in the past twenty years. I wondered if their significance had gradually eroded, or if the words affected him deeply, on a level I could not see or feel. I did not have the courage to ask.
It was in prison that Kerti Moses met his future wife. Endang was a social worker helping to fulfill inmates’ requests, often seeking permission for family visits. Many of the prisoners were Australian, and she worked with an Australian pastor who befriended Kerti Moses. When Endang first met her future husband, she didn’t realize he was a prisoner.
“He was handsome and very clean,” she said. “My heart touched his heart.” He gave her a Kuala bear doll.
It was also in prison that Kerti Moses became a Christian. He came from a Hindu family, but he said that he had known nothing about his past religion. When the Australian pastor told him about Jesus Christ, Kerti Moses told me he believed. When he prayed, his prayers were answered. After serving just three and a half years, he was released from prison.
Kerti Moses and Endang married soon after and moved to Bali’s capital city of Denpasar. Kerti Moses began making woodcarvings that resembled antiques, and his business took off. He eventually had fifteen workers and owned two art shops in the tourist area of Kuta.
He made a hand gesture like a kamikaze airplane to demonstrate how the 2002 bombing devastated his business. He and Endang couldn’t pay their bills or the employees’ wages, and they were forced to sell their motorbike and home.
“We were bankrupt,” Endang said, shaking her head.
They stayed outside a friend’s house and tried to earn money as construction workers, but it was very difficult. One of Endang’s children was just a baby at the time. Endang asked her husband to move back to his village. He resisted, since she came from Jakarta and had no farming experience. But she persisted, and in 2005,after the second bombing, they moved.
Two years ago, they met some of DINARI’s staff doing ministry work in Bunutan. The couple took out their first loan of Rp. 5 million to buy pigs. The venture proved unsuccessful because the pig feed, made from rice husks, was very expensive. A year later, Kerti Moses decided to start raising cattle. With the deed from their land as collateral, he and Endang took out a Rp. 10 million loan from DINARI and bought three cows.
“After the cows,” Endang said, smiling and sweeping her hands upward, “Everything is changing.”
They bought each cow for between Rp. 3-4 million, kept the animals for a year, and then sold them at a market for between Rp. 5-6 million. According to Kerti Moses, the predominantly Hindu people in East Bali “eat everything,” including beef. The costs to raise the animals were low, since the cows ate the grass that grew on the land and never got sick. The couple’s house took shape, they were able to finance the purchase of a motorbike, and they developed their ministry. I wanted to see the cows, but they were in the hills.
The couple now has five cows, which provide a monthly income of Rp. 1.5 million ($150). This seemed quite modest to me, given the couple’s large family and their active ministry. A rubbish collector I had interviewed in Denpasar earned the same amount and was hardly thriving. But the couple supplements their income selling crops, fish, and the occasional rooster for cockfighting, and Endang told me that school costs were much lower in Bunutan than in Denpasar. Still, Kerti Moses told me he hoped to have enough cows to double his income.
At two o’clock, village children started arriving for their English class. Endang had told me she dreamed of opening a free school for the children, and she seemed like a natural teacher, even though her own education stopped when she turned twelve. The children called her “Mama Endang,” and she had an energetic, no-nonsense authority that spurred the children on through rounds of the alphabet and Christian songs. Kerti Moses watched on attentively.
I thanked the couple and told them that Ardi and I should be heading back. I was anticipating a hug from Endang, but she politely shook my hand and quickly returned to the class.
Kerti Moses offered to show us one of his boats before we left. We parked the car on a hillside overlooking the ocean and walked down a steep path through the brush to a stony beach. Kerti Moses’ boat had a long narrow hull, made of a single tree taken from his property. There were runners on both sides for balance, making the vessel resemble a waterbug. He showed me some secondhand motors under a lean-to that had Pinocchio-nose shafts leading to the propellers. Kerti Moses intended to buy new motors with his loan.
I thanked him again for his time, and he shook my hand briskly with a faint smile and took off on his motorbike before Ardi had started the car.
On the way back, I felt drained from the long day, dehydrated but also dissatisfied. The roosters had wreaked havoc on the audio of my recording, and Kerti Moses had been a difficult subject to interview on film. He fidgeted, slumped out of view of the camera, yawned while his wife spoke and sprung from his chair to answer phone calls and shoo away the chickens. But it was more than that. I was admittedly, guiltily drawn to their suffering, to Kerti Moses’ prison experience, his involvement in his friend’s death, Endang’s having to cook outside a friend’s house in the grime of Denpasar. It was not simply Schadenfreude, a morbid fascination with the couple’s past misery. To understand them now, I thought I needed to know what life had been like before. But they had given me only fleeting glimpses of their past struggles, articulated matter-of-factly.
Endang had told me that they were happy, that they loved their village and their work. Kerti Moses seemed far too industrious to spend much time dwelling on the past. Perhaps, as I found myself searching for the sari of my own experience in Bali, he had borrowed a boat and gone fishing.
A Parting Thought'
As always, I would love to hear any thoughts, comments, or suggestions. I hope you check back in about two weeks, and in the meantime I encourage you to check out new loans from the DINARI Foundation: http://www.kiva.org/app.php?page=businesses&partner_id=82&status=fundRaising&sortBy=New+to+Old&_tpg=fb/>