By Emma Vickers (Semester 25/Aug 2007)
University of New South Wales

This post is taken from Emma Vicker’s blog. You can read her full blog here:

Thursday 11 October 2007

Today has been a very long and very emotional day for us. It began when we received a message early this morning saying that Lestari, the staff member of ACICIS with the job of looking after us, had passed away unexpectedly. We had known that she was sick for quite a few months, and she had been in hospital for a couple of weeks, but noone expected that she wouldn’t make it through. None of us thought that she wouldn’t recover.

As Islam requires, funerals must take place within 24 hours of death. So the day has been a long one, with a group of us from ACICIS organising ourselves some black clothes and finding our way over to Lestari’s house to pay our respects. For many of us we were too shocked to know how to react, and it wasn’t until we arrived at the house that it began to sink in. Unfortunately, as it is the eve of Lebaran, Yogyakarta is empty, with everyone having gone home for celebrations. In addition to this, most ACICIS students had gone on holidays already. This meant that there were a lot of people who were very upset that they could not be there for the funeral. Of the ten of us who were able to go, it was a very hard day for us. We banded together to get ourselves through the day. What was nice to see, in the hours spent sitting at the house, was the people that turned up – the Australians who appeared out of the woodworks, from their homes somewhere in Yogya, who had come to pay their respects to Lestari. There was such a range of people there – what seemed like half of a Matahari (department) store, in their uniforms (Lestari’s sister works for Matahari), friends and family from around the neighbourhood, and a large representation from ACICIS – the students, past and present, the pendampings past and present, and Phil, who knew Lestari both when he was a student here and as his colleague while he is the Resident Director. A couple of us tried to go to the actual funeral, which came after paying respects and prayers at the house. But unfortunately we lost the procession, and the funeral was somewhere distant and hard to find, so we had to give up and turn back. Phil made it there at least.

I think it will take a long time for ACICIS to recover from losing someone as important as Lestari. She has been with ACICIS for 10 years, and many of the older students and pendampings commented that it wouldn’t be the same without her. She was the mother figure to so many Australian students, taking them under her wing to help them through the first daunting stages of living in Indonesia. If you needed to go to the doctor, Lestari would take you. If you needed help, or just someone to talk to, you could go to Lestari. I think that many of us who have only started this semester are sad that we did not get to know her better, that our experiences with her were so brief.

After returning from the gathering, we (the ACICIS students) sat around together and reflected on everything. One strong emotion that we all felt was frustration and anger that Lestari had not sought treatment. She had been sick since at least July with chest problems, but had refused to see a doctor, despite everyone telling her too. Phil had tried really hard to get her to go to see one, we found out today that she had lied to him and told him she’d taken herself to see a chest specialist, to stop him taking her to one. Even when she got really sick it was around 3 weeks before she would agree to go into hospital. She always said that she was scared about what the doctors might tell her. We think she was scared that she had cancer. What killed her was tuberculosis, the pneumonia she’d contracted from not having the tb treated, and a fungal infection in her lungs from having neither treated. She died from diseases that were treatable. She should still be with us today. But instead she left the treatment so late all she could do was to fight a really hard battle. She was doing this, and had been fighting it hard for the past few weeks. Phil said that when he visited her yesterday, she was saying she was feeling better, and thought she might get to stop taking oxygen soon. But that night she didn’t have the strength to fight it anymore.

She will be sadly missed by a lot of people, in Australia and Indonesia. I’m sure that there are many out there, in both countries, who will spend the next few days reflecting on the fun times they had with Lestari, and also the time when she was the support they needed to get through challenges here. I think there are also many students, past and present, who mainly think of her as the party girl, who turned up to every social occasion, insisted everyone have a beer and was the last to leave.

In my brief couple of months with Lestari, she was more of a support person for me. We bonded over our “chronic coughs” swapped remedies, shared an enthusiasm in volcanos, I could talk to her about my experiences here , past and present, she knew my dad and talked to me about him, giving me a link to home. In my first couple of weeks here I probably talked to her more often than I did other ACICIS students. I enjoyed talking to her because I found that she understood. Since she went into hospital I’ve missed having her around, I missed being able to go into uni and sit down and have a chat with her. I was looking forward to when she was back on her feet. We all were. I think I’d heard nearly everyone comment that they’d wished Lestari was around sometime in the past few weeks, to help them out. I visited her in hospital once, not long after she’d first been admitted. I said I’d come back again when I could, but she said not to worry, as she was sure she’d be right in a couple of days.

I hope that at the least a lot of people learnt an important lesson from today. Don’t let things go untreated, don’t be scared to find out what’s wrong with you. Because in the end what is wrong could be a lot more treatable and manageable than what you might expect, and its not worth risking your life just because you were too scared. Lestari told one of the girls that visited her that this was her lesson, that she would do things differently in the future. She was only 39.