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Widows of Bali Bombing Victims Face Uphill Struggle - 2003-10-09

It has been a year since the bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali killed more than 200 people and brought the scourge of international terrorism to Southeast Asia. Although most of the victims in the attacks were foreign tourists, several dozen were Indonesians, mostly workers at the Sari nightclub or taxi drivers waiting outside. Because of a relatively weak government support system, the families of these victims were among the hardest hit by the tragedy.

It is morning at the modest bungalow of Ibu Ni Luh Erniati, on the outskirts of Denpasar, the capital of Bali, Indonesia. Ibu Ni Luh is making breakfast for her husband, Gede Badrawan. She opens a package of cookies and sets them next to a cup of coffee sitting on a cloth on the top of a small refrigerator in the back room. She lights two sticks of incense and puts them in a stand before of a photograph of her late husband.

This has become a daily ritual for Ibu Ni Luh since her husband was killed by a car bomb at the Sari Club in Bali's nightclub district on Kuta Beach. Ibu Ni Luh says she makes breakfast for him because she believes he is always with her, she is still his wife and whatever she does, it is exactly like when he was still alive.

Gede was headwaiter at the Sari Club. They met more than 10 years ago while she was a waitress there and were married. When their first son, Putu, was born she quit work to raise the family. Their second son, Made, was only one year old when his father died.

Ibu Ni Luh recalls that night when she heard about the blast, she waited anxiously for her husband to come home after work. By dawn, when he still had not returned, she went to the club. She saw the devastation, the burning cars, the wounded people wandering dazed in the streets. That's when she lost all hope.

It was two months before her husband's charred remains were identified.

The attack killed 202 people, most of them tourists. But 38 were Indonesians, mostly male workers at the club or taxi drivers waiting outside. Overnight their widows became not only the family-head but the sole breadwinner as well.

Ibu Ni Luh belongs to a group of six Bali widows who, with support from an Australian couple, formed the Adopta Cooperative. They bought some sewing machines and learned how to sew. In a small house, the widows sew dresses, shirts and handbags with their logo, a happy face with the words, "We want to smile."

Ibu Ni Luh sews in the morning. In the afternoon she sells the products at a visitor center located next to the scene of the attack. The sales earn about $40 a day, not enough to support the widows and their families. They have been receiving stipends from charity groups, but have been told the stipends are to end soon.

Ibu Ni Luh also receives counseling through the International Medical Corps. Psychiatrists are still treating many people for trauma. The most common symptoms are nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks and mood swings. Depression and anxiety are also common.

A recent survey revealed that one-third of the people in the area are suffering from some of these symptoms. And new patients are still coming in, often after seeing a traditional play on the subject, or after hearing an interactive radio program sponsored by the group.

The head of the program, a psychiatric nurse named Elisa de Jesus, says the spiritual aspect of the healing process is extremely important and most of the Balinese victims have visited balians, or traditional healers.

"Some have gone to find out where the husband might be if they haven't found the body, or have done the proper ritual they need to do in order to overcome, say, burns if they are in the hospital. We always combine whatever the local belief is of the person," says Ms. de Jesus. "If they're Hindu, Muslim, Christian, what is it they need to do and how is it that we can help them using a Western standard of medication."

Besides medication for the worst cases, the doctors also use group therapy and community education.

In Kuta Beach, the lot where the Sari Club once stood has been cleared. A billboard has been erected in front of it, decorated with flowers, photos, and cards. Across the street, workers are completing a monument to the victims of the Bali bombing. But many people go to a makeshift shrine behind the billboard, a wooden stand wrapped in cloth and shaded by a small parasol.

Ibu Ni Luh goes there often. She sets out an offering of food and sweets in a small basket made of banana leaves, lights some incense and prays.

Made, the youngest son, often accompanies her. He only remembers his father now through photographs. But Ibu Ni Luh hopes that through the rituals, she will find solace and Made will never forget.