This is Ibu Herwati. I interviewed her when I went out to the site of the Sidoarjo mudflow disaster (which I will write more about later…). Ibu Herwati lost her house to the mud, is yet to receive full compensation and now works selling DVDs to disaster tourists showing the mud slowly engulfing the villages in the area where she has lived her whole life.
We talked for quite a while about a number of topics to do with the disaster, which I will write about later. I asked if I could take a photo of her and she agreed, but looked a little reluctant.
“Don’t be embarrassed!” I joked with her.
“But I am embarrassed!!” she exclaimed. “Look, my skin is so black from working out here in the sun.”
In Indonesia, and many other Asian countries, the beauty ideals favor fair skin. Whitening creams are sold by the bucketful and wealthier women often walk under umbrellas to avoid getting dark.
“Your skin is nice. You know, in Australia, many women try and make their skin brown by sitting out in the sun all day,” I told her.
She seemed quite shocked.
“I wish my skin went brown in the sun but it only goes red! Like a tomato,” I added.
“But it is so nice and white,” she protested.
“People always want the things that they don’t have,” I said, unable to muster up much else in my Indonesian.
“We should just be happy with life and what God provides,” she replied earnestly.
My eyes were drawn out to the stinking sea of mud that had covered people’s homes and both my Indonesian and English had run out on hearing this statement that I simultaneously agreed and disagreed with, so I mumbled a yes, pulled the camera up to my face and said “1, 2, 3…”