Bule Bule

“Bule, bule” I hear as I nervously approach the run-down shack of a clinic engulfed in a labyrinth of corrugated iron dwellings. This is where the ‘Magic Egg Doctor’ works his miracles, and I’m lucky enough to have an appointment in this exclusive clinic as I am ‘family’ (well he’s the uncle of my friend’s mum’s employee, so pretty much family).

“Why you come here?” One lady asks me in the usual direct way the locals do. I point to my stomach and try to explain about kidney problems in the little Indonesian I know. “Oh yes. You not drink water enough” she replies, “Surabaya very very hot”. Keen to show off her English in front of her audience she fires the stream of questions at me that I was expecting: “You have husband? Where you come from? Where you live? Why your skin red?” They take turns laughing at me, smiling with that warm honesty Indonesians are famous for.

The scraggy chickens weave in and out between our feet as the sounds from the local mosque flow between the houses adding a sense of calm to the surreal situation I find myself in. I have now moved up the queue and am tentatively perched on a wooden bench in a dusty sitting room, where a bed covered in a traditional batik domineers the room. The woman in front of me lies down cautiously as the famous Doctor appears. Dressed in formal Muslim attire he looks less like the eccentric I had imagined and more like any other Javanese professional. He works his magic on his patient, massaging her upper chest with an egg. Not hard-boiled, not plastic, a normal egg which you provide yourself, so there’s no trickery. The result becomes clear when the Doctor cracks open the egg into a bowl for all to see. In her case, black slime pours out, whatever it is, it doesn’t look remotely appetising or healthy.

In my broken Indonesian I explain to the kind Doctor about my problem, hoping that I hadn’t got the word kidney confused with heart, lung or any other vital organ.
He drags my egg this way and that, across my stomach, shots of pain like paper cuts sting my pale skin. I put on a brave face as the waiting patients gawk and stare, fascinated by a foreigner (or bule as we're typically known) having local treatment in the middle of a shanty town.
With small cuts zigzagging across my stomach as a souvenir, the moment of truth has arrived. I lean in closer as he carefully cracks the egg’s smooth surface.

“Nothing”, I mumble quietly, disappointed there’s no slimy gunge. But he has not finished. Slowly he pours the normal looking egg into a bowl, the yolk hiding the treasure beneath. Three tiny dark stones sit innocently in the bottom of the shell.

“Kidney stones” he says beaming a wonderfully proud smile.

In utter astonishment I pick them up to make sure they are real - not that I've ever seen a kidney stone before but they look real enough to me, tiny solid black stones.

"May I have photo?" He asks humbly as though my white face is a sign of importance. Should it not be I who is asking for a photograph of my miracle-man? I dare not disrespect this elder who has magically extracted kidney stones through my stomach so I happily agree, attempting to compose myself in the sweltering heat.

I pose for the portrait, showing off my kidney stones in one palm, a cluster of Indonesian woman craning towards the lens, desperate to squeeze their face into shot.
The camera clicks and I say my goodbyes, making sure to leave a donation in the rusty money box, which rattles with just a meagre few coins.

I wander back through the labyrinth clutching my bag of stones like a prize: another souvenir.

“Mister Mister, where you go now?” A young boy shouts from the edge of a rancid canal.

"To eat", I reply, suddenly overwhelmed with a strange sense of emptiness.

C McGovern

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