Piet- a charity or what?
Oooom Piet at this point only has limited sales activities. Its imports depend on how much a suitcase can hold rather than on the size and frequency of container shipments. The Jaffe-Klusman home in Leiden is still trying to reclaim space for family and friends from Oooom Piet.
That branch of the "16 september stichting", had grown so much
that Lexa felt it had become too big for its own good and hers. End of
2009 the Leiden shop, Oooom Piet's Tempat, closed. Spring 2010 Oooom Piet
went all-out for a grand finale with multiple booths at the big Eurasian event in The Hague, the Tong Tong Fair.
Right now we are trying to get our house into the kind of shape that would make it possible to have home sales of our silver jewelry and our high-quality ikats and other special textiles.
We are still selling at a few special fairs and markets in or near Leiden to have enough money for our alternative approach to child labor. that is an educational children's program on Nusa Penida, which combines fun and money: Pay4Play.
There is enough stock left from when Oooom Piet imported two chock-full containers a year.
the foundation behind Oooom Piet
and the history behind
The 16 september stichting
is a small family foundation which was started in 1994, in order to publish Bevrijdingsdag, Liberation Day, by Wil Mannesse..Lexa's former history teacher at the The Hague Montessori Lyceum. It
is a short novel-of-ideas about the days when Heerlen, a small city in the Southern part of the Netherlands, was liberated and about the concept of freedom.
In September 1944, long months before the rest of the country shook off Nazi
occupation, the Allied Forces took over that region- nearly a year before the
Japanese were defeated in South East Asia.
The foundation, as its statutes put it, tries to deal with misery, illness
and death in playful and creative ways. The teachers at Lexa's high school were very inspiring. They themselves had often had to be very creative to not succumb to the horrors of the recent war. They happily embraced Maria Montessori's "Playing is Learning". It is no coincidence that this also is the basic principle behind our Pay4Play, our main activity these days..[go to top]
Mieneke Klusman-James had four young children when her husband,
Jean Klusman, had to leave her at the end of 1944 to spend four years as a P.O.W. in Japan. The large old doctor's house had lots of empty space now that the doctor was gone, so Mieneke used
those rooms to house women and children. Like her they were of Eurasian descent and therefore not
forced into camps by the Japanese.
To keep the military from confiscating the house it helped
that it was quite old. [go to top]
The fatherless families supported each
other during those uncertain times. Mieneke also needed to be creative during the war. She made dresses for her daughters from
tablecloths and traded cotton
sheets, which could be made into batik sarung, wrap-around skirts, for fresh
vegetables, which provided us with vitamins and minerals.
Piet's colonial foremothers
When Oooom Piet was created,
the initiator of the foundation, Lexa Jaffe-Klusman, had the real 'oom'- (uncle) Piet's elder sister, Mieneke Klusman, very much in mind. She had been born as Mieneke James, daughter of Toos James, née Ament, Mieneke had in a way travelled along with her daughter Lexa when she went back to their mutual native country in 1996. She claimed to be jealous
of the way in which Lexa
and (grand)daughter Jenny had connected with local Indonesians. She had not enjoyed
the colonial barriers which had kept her, a Belanda Indo, a woman 'of mixed blood', from freely interacting with the
so-called inlanders, the natives. .[go to top]
But she had never wanted to cut herself off from her Dutch friends and family either. From her mother's Indies family, with indigenous foremothers that have been traced back to the very early days of the Dutch presence in Indonesia. From her Dutch forefathers with French Huguenot roots that she was proud off, who only had Indonesia as their birthland for a few generations.[go to top]
By 1996 Mieneke had changed a lot since the time just after WW II, half a century before Lexa's trip. At that time she still referred to Indonesia and Jakarta as 'the Indies' and Batavia. Sukarno had collaborated with the Japanese- as bad as a Nazi collaborator in Holland. Instead of being loyal to the Dutch. Some liberals were considering a Dutch-Indonesian state, but most likely on terms set by the Dutch- the same Dutch who had banned him to a distant island because of his revolutionary ideas.
She had also told Lexa, illustrated by many stories, what she disliked about the colonial system. The stories were of social and racist discrimination
during colonial times.
How her mother Toos had been friends with Lien when they went to the plantation school together. Toos Ament was daughter of the director of the Sugar Factory Gempol, Lien was the dark-skinned daughter of a superviser. When Toos offered her friend a job 'of course' Lien no longer could call her by her firdt name- from then on she had to be addressed as Mrs. James. .[go to top]
Nonetheless Lexa dislikes hearing Indonesians refer to
what she thinks of as the colonial period as the Dutch occupation. She feels Indonesia is her native land- tana air kita as well as that of many of her forebears. As much as it is the native land of Indonesians- even though the way the Dutch settled was very unjust, as was the colonial system.
She had a hard time accepting the fact some of her ancestors used to be slaveholders. They mixed with their slaves, christened and married them. Later they had children with their servants. Not always with their voluntary consent. But as far as is known, in this colonial family the schuldren and their mothers were at least recognised as such, not just left to fend for themselves.
recognition as an independent nation after what most Dutch call Politionele Acties, Police Actions. Indonesians remember that activity as Agresi militer, military aggession. Former colonials, native-born, but proud owners of the Dutch nationality, remember the years just after WW II as Bersiap, and the fighters as Pelopor- meant as pejoratives, but actually Indonesian for (We are) Prepared! and Front-runner. More than 60 years later these seem linguistic trivia, but the struggle for independence
was gruesome and what happened on both sides has left deep scars.[go to top]
an Indisch meisje visits her native Indies/Indonesia
The Klusman-James family left for
the Netherlands in early 1946 and learned to live without servants, in a cold
climate. 50 years later, when Lexa finally went back to her native city, Bandung, she went as the
wife of an American Jewish astronomer, and their youngest daughter came along.
Walter's offer to give a talk at the Observatory of Lembang, close by Bandung, made for a very special start of Lexa's 'homecoming'. She and her high
school-age daughter were treated as family guests by Professor Bambang Hidayat, then Director of the Observatory, and his two
sons. Indonesians traditionally value hospitality very highly. That Hidayat's father had fought for independence from the Dutch did not stop him from being an extremely gracious host. His collection
of books and documents related to Dutch-Indonesian relations during this
1939-49 decade is very impressive and includes what was written about this complex history of the Indonesiam struggle for independebce by both sides.
Lexa later found
most Indonesians are very open to friendship with people with a colonial background.
Indonesians seem to enjoy
visitors eager to share their way of life and their home-cooked meals.
They have often let her stay at their homes- at times having to overcome their embarassment about lack of luxury, but also greatly amused by a Westerner's way of doing things.
trade rather than charity
"Oom" is Dutch for uncle,
and Lexa inherited the starting capital for the Oooom Piet import business from
her real oom Piet James, her mother's brother. It started in 1997 with a small stand
at the Tong Tong Fair in The Hague, then still called the Pasar Malam Besar. That
fair is a kind of kumpulan, a big annual get-together of people with roots
in the Indie- or just interested in Indonesia.
Piet started its sales in 1997 by renting a small booth at the Tong Tong Fair, then still called the Pasar Malam Besar. In the Indonesia Pavilion, as we imported our goods from there ourselves.
People stopped to count the number of O's in our name and
the colorful Balinese kites drew many customers as well. As did, even that very first
year, our specially designed earrings with small fan coral picked up on the beach.
And the wooden bebek rice spoon- a replica of the duck spoon Lexa's oom Frits gave to his sister, Mieneke in 1949. .[go to top]
Objects carry histories, and people often have told us
they bought Oooom Piet's stories as much as its wares.[go to top]
Indonesians found it hard to believe Oooom Piet really never was after financial gains. Many suppliers shared her preference for trade over charity. Having money in relative abundance remains a problem when one's friends have too little cash. Education and illness can cause big financial problems.
Oooom Piet tries
to help thw way one helps family members or good friends, out of solidarity rather than out of pity. We have had to work hard to sell what we bought and we have taken financial risks by filling big containersn twice a year. So we gained the right to bargain- mostly simply by making it clear
we could sell that much more if the purchase price was not too high. At times we made it clear we were
insulted by their assuming we do not know the local price. We were pleased that people
did not realise we occasionally deliberately overpaid. Hidden charity for someone badly needing
money but lacking marketable skills..[go to top]
By doing business with people and letting
them supply goods, they can feel absolutely free to use the money they get whichever
way they see fit. If someone is ill or needs school fees it is likely that it
will be used to pay for medical care or education. But we have often only understood
their priorities after the fact. Different social and religious structures make
it difficult to understand people's needs.
Who would have thought that the large
sum needed for a tooth filing ceremony or for having a ngaben, a ritual
cremation, now rather than wait for the cheaper group cremation, is felt
to be the most urgent need? We ourselves, after more than a decade of intimate
contact with people on Hindu Bali, were surprised, but very happy that the loving
daughter had felt free to spend her hard-earned money this way, so her mother
need not wait for a cheaper group cremation underground- where one has to dwell with the netherworld's demons.
[go to top] In 2008 Rosanne, a major in visual cultural anthropology
at Leiden University, made an in-depth portrait of Oooom Piet and his niece as
an example of material culture. If you want to hold on to your roots it is nice
to have objects that connect you with your country of origin. Her documentary
shows how many customers come and water their roots by buying a creepy-crawly
toy for their children or grand-children, or honor their ancestors by having traditional
Indonesian clothes sewn for their wedding, putting some traditional Indonesian
objects on a coffin.
We had Indonesian helpers and Dutch friends and quite
a few relatives who, as it should be in an Indies family, of course supported
Lexa's family business, even if it meant coming from the U.S. and working hard
at the Pasar, market or fair, instead of having a relaxing vacation. Our
second year Vinni, 'just a friend we met in Bali' came from Denmark especially
for the Pasar, and in 2001 she even brought her parents along- wonderful helpers
all of them. In 2009 we even had a daughter's friend's husband from Cameroon getting
his first impression of Holland as a worker for Oooom Piet at the Tong Tong Fair.
Quite a few members of the Oooom Piet family keep in touch- live or on facebook-
even though Oooom Piet no longer needs helpers since for the shop and the big
fair.[go to top]
Oooom Piet and Komang Ana
So the shop is closed. And the
Oooom Piet big, multiple stand at the big Eurasian Tong Tong Fair is no more. We jusr share a small stand with djait- seamstress/tailor Cok and her daughter Yutu, who sew beautiful kebaya- traditional, festive blouses, with our material or your own, to measure.
But Lexa likes to go to Indonesia, where
she was born and where she has rooted again after a leave-of-absence of almost
exactly 50 years. She likes the mountains and
the animals, flowers and trees. She enjoys the children and the food, but mostly
she is happy to know she has friends there, friends who are almost family.
she is not done yet with Indonesia. When she goes to Limo on Nusa Penida to run Pay4Play she gets picked up and spends some time with Komang Ana, who already drove her around during the first purchase trip in 1997.
Belahpane Kaja, where he and his family live, is a good place to
be and Komang is a great driver and guide. He is both reliable and fun to be with, and he knows and loves his island and is happy to take you almost anywhere. Somehow he seems to know exactly where to take you- be it great shopping or a beautiful sunset.
Click on this link to Komangs own website for more info or ask us to let him get in touch with you..[go to top]
our children's project
Of course Indonesia is no paradise. There are worries as well. For instance: where is the money, needed
to send smart and hard-working kids to high school or perhaps beyond? An extremely
intelligent Indonesian girl I know was very lucky and got scholarships and help from all her relatives to go to university- to be a doctor, according to her proud and loving uncle. She
herself told me: "No Lexa- I'm just going to be a midwife." And indeed, by now she is a hard-working, dedicated and successful midwife on her own native island.
But what about less practical but equally
It is really good to hear that teachers are paid much higher wages than they used to. I remember how in 1997 a teacher in a middle school would not go in to teach because he badly needed to supplement his wages by doing some seaweed farming. On occasion I used to do some teaching there myself and
I was appalled by the low standards, but when in September of 2009 I visited a grade school
on Nusa Penida I felt things had gotten much better.
But still- spring
of 2009 on Flores one smart little boy had to stay home from school until the
stores opened. His new shoes, just bought with the money his father had gotten
for driving us around, were too small. His old ones had been thrown out. And one is
not allowed to enter school on flip-flops- they have to be real shoes- expensive.[go to top]
Another problem can be the distance to the nearest school. If Mommy has no moped
and Daddy is gone very early every morning in his truck, or working too far away to come home every day, it is hard for an eager
5-year old to go to kindergarten. Too far to walk, too expensive and too tricky
to go by bus at that age.
So we were dreaming of little pre-school programs for kids with low-income parents which
were to combine doing something about the money and helping the children to acquire
pre-school learning. Teaching letter recognition and some basic Indonesian through
songs and some number and general skills. For older children we were thinking of
English songs- letting the caretakers use cd's and picture books so that spelling
is connected with that illogical pronunciation that is so hard to master for Indonesians.Oh well-
she will no doubt be a very good one.
named our 'Child Labor' project 'Pay for
Play'. Pronouncing the name is a challenge for Balinese.
F- and p-sounds are one sound to Indonesian ears. It makes no difference to
the meaning of an Indonesian word whether one uses an f- or a p-sound.
know that for teenagers finding paying work is often the only option, and we have
seen how that work can be fun to do for young boys when they have
no way of going to school in any case. Uniforms and books are too expensive- food is already a problem for parents, and the youngsters usually go to a work place as
a group, all from the same poor village.
Unfortunately there is often just
no work to be found.[go to top]
Tong Tong Fair- the former Pasar
former Pasar Malam Besar, now called Tong Tong Fair, is where Oooom Piet started
in 1997 and came to full bloom. Oooom Piet has not just closed its little shop-
2010 was its last year at the Tong Tong Fair. We shall miss all the excitement
and all the customers who got to be friends. But one has to make choices. However-
our djaits, seamstresses, will probably still be at their treadle machines
to make you a traditional kebaya blouse or your own design garment from
our wide selection of Indonesian traditional and modern materials.
fair is not just multi-cultural but also multi-faceted. The Grand Pasar offers
shopping as a kind of world travel experience- with great bargains! Many people
just come to shop or to enjoy the wide variety of sweet or spicy Indonesian snacks
Others come for the music and dancing, or the lectures, theater and workshops:
the Tong Tong Festival. If you like to try and play gamelan music, or make batik or play traditional Indies children's games or make and fly kites-
the Bengkel offers a wide variety of workshops.Those meant for children fill up quickly, so choose and sign up at the start of your visit..[go to top]
Perhaps best of
all, you get a chance to be part of a phenomenon that has intrigued many of our friends from abroad: a huge Eurasian kumpulan, a grand annual
reunion of people with roots in the Indies, who welcome all with an interest in the Indies/Indonesia.
Click here to go to the very good site of
Tong Tong itself. You will be shown what this great Eurasian festival
is like. Many visitors are amateur videographers, and show what you come across
when just jalan-jalan, walking around. Professionals have made some excellent
video films of the best music and dance shows at the Tong Tong Festival-
there are a number of theaters at the fair.You can surf the web for hours listening
to slack guitar or the Indies singing style called keroncong. Or experience quite exciting dance performances.[go to top]