“Barry would jump and run around everywhere. He was very active. I remember him pretending to be a boxer…”
The elderly gentleman seated next to me pronounces his words precisely, yet warmly and with a slight Dutch accent. His manners are dignified and friendly. His eyes sparkle. Later, when it comes time for a photo, he quickly puts his arm around his lovely wife.
He points to a rambutan tree in the back. “When Barry lived here it was all kampung and fruit trees, what we call orangbatavia, the real Jakarta.” We were all good neighbors, helping each other. Good neighbors are important.”
The man is Coenraad Satia Koesoema and his wife is Djumeati. She was a stewardess and is eleven years his junior. On this pleasant Sunday morning they are generously sharing their memories of a boy named Barry Soetoro. Barry is now the man the world knows as Barack Obama. They met Barry, his mother Ann and her husband Lolo Soetoro in late 1967, the same year that John McCain was taken prisoner in Hanoi.
‘Kampung’ means village and in Jakarta, the head of the kampung is called a rukun tetanagga, or an RT.
Coenraad is the RT of Menteng Dalam, the village where Barack Obama lived with his mother and his Indonesian stepfather from the end of 1967 until 1970. To be clear, this village was, and is, composed of “normal” houses made of wood and concrete. They had electricity and running water and the streets were paved. ‘Village’, in this case, means community.
“The job of an RT is to maintain good communication between neighbors.” Coenraad tells me. He has been RT of the 37 houses in Menteng Dalam since 1962. He knows just about everything about the village. Because they lived nearby, Coenraad and his wife became very good friends with Barry and his mother.
“Mrs. Ann”, taught English classes in their living room. Coenraad says Lolo was from the city of Yoyogykarta, an Indonesian city with a culture and history of its own. Lolo was not as open as his wife and stepson and didn’t really know many people. Coenraad doesn’t remember seeing him at the mosque: “He was busy. It was a hard time.”
“Lolo was like an American worker, but with Indonesian hobbies,” Coenraad says. “I know he took care of his family, but he wasn’t like the other neighbors.” Djumeati was at the hospital when Lolo passed away. Coenraad has kept in touch with Barry’s sister Maya through the years, keeping her posted on neighborhood news.
The house where Barry lived is empty now, but I imagine it as it was then. In the backyard there are baby crocodiles in a bathtub and snakes in cages. A bird of paradise from Papua New Guinea. Turtles and a monkey named Tata. Inside the small house: souvenirs from Ann’s travels; batiks, paintings and carvings. School books and anthropology texts. The call to prayers from the nearby mosque. There are bird noises, phone calls andthe occasional sounds of vendors rolling by with their pushcarts and distinctive cries.
Tek tek tek. A percussive solitary rhythm from outside the house. Tek tek tek. The couple watch my face to see if I know the sound. I do. “Ah!” I say nonchalantly, “the mie baso (meat balls) vendor”. Actually, I only know this because I had walked around the area previously and had seen the man making the noise. “Mie baso” was painted on the glass window of his cart and the ingredients for making the noodle-based dish were inside. I followed him as he rolled through the neighborhood, tapping periodically and watching for customers. Tek Tek Tek.
...the rest of the story as well as photos, graphic novel illustrations and more are available at: http://www.amazon.com/Obama-Search-Words-Stephen-Black-ebook/dp/B001U8981SExcerpt from Coffee on I-75
Location: A truck stop on the I-75 freeway,between Detroit, Michigan and
Toledo, Ohio. The freeway, the parked semis carrying new cars and the surrounding soybean fields are all covered with snow. An SUV idles in the parking lot, JIM on the driver’s side, MARY beside him. They are a white married couple, retired. We can almost smell their hot coffee and warm cinnamon rolls.
Be careful with that. Don’t spill it. It’s hot. You need a napkin. You’ve got glaze all
JIM ignores this, looks outside, behind her.
From behind we see a man in a nice blue overcoat walking towards the SUV. His
footprints look decisive. He stops. We see he’s handsome and dark-skinned. We can see his breath. He removes his gloves, taps something inside his coat and walks forward.
What the heck is that guy doing?
(pulling a newspaper over her purse.)
Lock the doors!
…too well off to be homeless. I’ll bet he’s a proselytizer.
The man in the overcoat gets closer to the
car, smiles and raises his hand.
Jim back up and let’s go! He wants in!
Maybe he needs help. Could be car trouble.
Jim! He’s tryin’ to get in! He’s gonna…
(There is a knock on the window...)
THE MAN IN THE OVERCOAT smiles and cautiously
speaks through the closed window.
Hello. My name is Barack Obama.
A black bomber! See! See!
THE MAN IN THE OVERCOAT reaches into his jacket.
He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun! Go, Jim go!
Reverse! GO! I’ll call the police!
THE MAN IN THE OVERCOAT reacts calmly,points to his picture on a flyer.
He’s just running for something Mary, Quiet down.
(Jim lowers the window, reaches across the very frightened Mary.)
Why hello! (He takes the pamphlet.)
Barack Obama? Now there’s a name you don’t hear everyday...
...the rest of the story as well as photos, graphic novel illustrations and more are available at: http://www.amazon.com/Obama-Search-Words-Stephen-Black-ebook/dp/B001U8981SThe McDonalds on 600 E. 115th St.
Two or more times a week, Obama would hold or attend meetings with other organizers and activists at this fast-food emporium, according to Kellman. No signs announce that fact. Instead, a small shrine and several photos on the wall commemorate the Pullman community’s history and the work of civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph.-From the Chicago Tribune, June 25, 2008 excerpt from THE ALOHA OF GOD Across the road, the music stops. The crowd’s cheering becomes quiet and a conversation begins to boom over the crowd. In the leafy shade beneath the freeway, the two men eat and listen, one in a wheelchair, one on a battered lawn chair, the dog between them.
“Abercrombie and Akaka. Not surprised. Makes perfect political sense. Old school, hippy stylee. Power to the people.”
“Power to the people right on!” They smile and tap their beers together.
“Yeah. I knew Akaka’s brother. Met Martin Luther King because of his brother. Went to the mainland, went to Selma, Alabama because of his brother.”
“Were you smoking crack when I was at the store?”
“Jerry, I’m serious, man. We’re talking history. The Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery. March 21, 1965. Fifty-four miles. Check it at the library. Selma was a big deal, man. Bloody Sunday. Martin Luther King gets the Nobel Prize, meets the king and the President but Selma was bigger than all of that.”
“ Yeah right, Mr. History Time Machine Know-It-All.
“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I’m listening. Pass me the bread.”
“Alright. I told you my mom and dad raised orchids, right? Well my mom was always helping people and doing community stuff. She got involved when they were planning a big civil rights thing with Martin Luther King at UH. Reverend Akaka put that together. And whenever they needed somebody to do grunt work my mom volunteered me. There were some cute girls helping out, so it wasn’t all bad!
“So you were a slave and you got …..”
“Real funny now, aren’tya, Mr. Bush Iraq Mental Discharge Boy…Anyway, we donated leis for Martin Luther King and all the people from the mainland. We did ‘em in the kui style, the peaceful style. King and Akaka started calling ‘em the Aloha of God. So that was the first time I met Martin Luther King, first time I met a black man. I shook his hand the first day at theairport and ended up running errands for him and everyone else.
So anyway, a few months later my dad picks me up at school and says we gotta make fifty leis. Immediately. And he says I’m going to Selma, Alabama to deliver ‘em. And bringin’ a banner too.
“Why you? Couldn’t they just send’em or get some there?”
“Reverend Akaka pushed the whole thing. All he kept saying was “Martin’s people need the Aloha of God, Martin’s people need the Aloha of God.” I guess he said that to someone at the airlines to get me a ticket. And do you think it would’ve been easy to buy fifty leis in Alabama in 1965? Leis for a black man leading a civil rights march?
So, my first plane ride was Los Angeles and then Dallas and then to Montgomery. Two days! Some nice people picked me up and I stayed at their house. We left in the middle of the night and got to Selma at dawn. I unpacked the leis and they were all in great shape. Single strand, beautiful white vanda dendrobriums, yellow centers. Kui style. The whole place was full of blacks but there were some white people there and everyone was dressed up. Man it was cold! They gave me a flannel shirt and a coat. And then out of nowhere, Reverend Martin Luther King! He recognizes me! He’s got this real deep voice, right? Sounds like he’s almost singin’ everything.
‘Duane! Welcome to the mainland, to the state of Alabama and the city of Selma. We are blessed that you are here. Your presence is a gift, another blessed gift from Reverend Abraham Akaka and the Hawaiian brothers and sisters who share our struggle!’
By now everyone’s watching us. And then he holds up a lei and says to everyone,” ‘Behold brothers and sisters, here is a symbol of peace and justice… this is the Aloha of God.’
So there I am holding one, not sure if I should put it on him or not. But tradition says you offer a lei at first meeting, and this was the first meeting and there was no one to ask, so I did it! Seventeen year old kid from Honolulu putting a lei on Martin Luther King in the middle of Alabama! Then I put one on the guy closest to me and he put one on someone else. Like that. We put ‘em all on real quick and then I remembered the banner. I put it up and some people started crying.”
“What’d it say?”
“Hawaii knows integration works..."
The rest of the story as well as photos, graphic novel illustrations and more are available at: http://www.amazon.com/Obama-Search-Words-Stephen-Black-ebook/dp/B001U8981SJanuary 5, 2014 OK, so far so good with my New Year resolution to put some energy into this blog. Check the dates on the posts and you'll see about one "nonfluffy" post a day has gone up since Jan 1. As for OSW, I really am looking forward to explaining the reasons why I wrote this. But to phrase things properly will take time that I don't have at the moment. For now, let's just say I am not a political person, I enjoy research, Obama lived in Jakarta, he and I were in NYC at the same time in the early Eighties and the book ends with his first Inauguration.... FWIW, OSW was probably the first Kindle project assembled in Singapore...that is another side of the story...here it is on Amazon The campaign to unglue this book was derailed because of Hurricane Sandy. This video was made. Final bit of OSW trivia...a handbound, custom printed copy was sent to Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue...no reply, not a mention that it was received. Was sent certified, so it arrived...