outside Wamena in June

We picnic where the rivers meet; we invite Ibuh Veronika and two year old Magda to come too. Magda is shy, with eyes larger than her mouth, and a National Geographic stomach. She wears hand-me-down airplane-print pajamas from the Van Zwols. We wade into the river; Nan tells us we can shower at home later. Magda and Willem strip down to nothing and slip between muddy rocks. “Ha ha ha,” Willem triumphs, laughing-glad to be nude. “Pe-nis!” Magda clings to her mother and, once back in her boy's pajamas, won't leave her perch on Veronika's rounded shoulders.

An Indonesian approaches us, with a cigarette and a couple friends. Later we will refer to him as "that straight-hair" -- the Papuan name for non-Papuan Indonesians with their silky black hair, their fair skin, their superiority complexes. Without making eye contact or trading selamats, he pokes Magda’s tight belly, ignoring her mother. She is his inferior because she is a woman -- worse, she is a Papuan woman. To Magda he mutters “where’s your daddy?”

Veronika mostly ignores him, saying “tidak apa apa.” It’s nothing. It doesn’t matter. Her dad’s not around.

“Leave us alone; don’t bother us,” Nan is quick to respond in Indonesian, adding “and we don’t smoke.” We are all surprised how quickly violence comes to our minds once she translates the exchange.

But “tidak apa apa” Veronika says. It’s nothing. It doesn’t matter. As if it is her lot.

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