Indonesia 2016

Did I do a bad thing?

On our way back from dinner on our second and final night in Bandung, I saw a girl on a street corner.

I say ‘girl’, because she can’t have been older than a teenager: short, slender, wearing tiny shorts and a t-shirt. She was nervously trying to attract drivers’ attention.

I am a very naive white girl, and I’ve never seen anyone solicit for sex work before. I put my hand to my mouth, gasped, and I felt that my heart was breaking in two.

I had to do something. Anything. What could I do? The first thing that came to mind was to give her some money. She was there in order to earn money, right? Maybe I could make her ‘shift’ a little bit shorter?

Matt was nervous as hell and watched my back. I took 50,000IDR from my purse (about £3.50, but enough for a good meal), walked over in the dark with the headlights flashing and gave it to her.

She was covered in makeup, and her hands were cold. She spoke to me first in another language, not Indonesian, and clasped my hands. I said the only word I knew: “Tirima kasi” – “thank you”, and she laughed and said “Sama sama”, meaning “You’re welcome”. The wrong way around.

As I walked away, she blew a kiss and I blew one back. I can still remember her smile and her white teeth gleaming in the headlights.

Matt checked if we were followed on our way back to our hotel. We weren’t, but I still, nonsensically, worried that our windows would be smashed by some monstrous man-pimp in the night.

Did I do a good thing? I feel very mixed up. Tremendously uncertain about whether what I did was helpful. Enormous sympathy towards her and fear for her. Guilty for not having to face a life anything like that. And layered on top, a horror that I’ve misinterpreted, made a fool of myself, made things worse somehow.

All I hope is that I have helped limit the amount of bad that happens to her, at least on that night. Darling, darling girl, wherever you are, I hope you’re safe.

If I see any other woman soliciting on the street, as long as I am not alone and am close to my hotel, I will do the same again.