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Injured and alone, disabled quake survivor returns home

Illustration only. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Ian Timberlake
Srihardono, Indonesia (AFP) Jun 4, 2006
== A blur of patients, medical staff, soldiers and volunteers swirls around Suroto, who sits quietly alone at the entrance to the Bantul General Hospital.

He is waiting to go home.

Suroto has spent nearly a week at the hospital since the powerful earthquake that struck the area near the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, including Bantul to the south.

More than 6,200 people were killed in the disaster. Tens of thousands of others, including Suroto, were hurt.

His mother was also badly injured and is in hospital in Yogyakarta, and his father watches over her, leaving Suroto all alone.

The 36-year-old, who is unmarried, has been disabled since age five. His speech is slurred and he walks with difficulty.

The quake only added to his problems. Debris from the roof of his family home landed just above his left eye, which is taped over with a bandage stained an ugly yellow.

Slightly-built and dressed in a traditional batik shirt and dark slacks, Suroto is finally going home thanks to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is arranging transport for quake victims.

He will have company during the journey: a woman with a head injury who lies in pain on a mattress, and a young man with a leg injury and a reddened eye.

Because the woman cannot sit or stand, they will all ride in the back of a truck provided to the IOM by a Jakarta hospital.

When it is time to leave, Suroto picks up a white sack filled with his clothes, the only possessions he has left.

As the truck rattles along, Suroto tells snippets of his story.

"I wanted to take a shower" just as the earthquake hit, he says. But the tremor sent the roof crashing onto him at the rear of the house he shared with his farmer parents.

As for his mother, "everything is broken," Suroto says.

Fifteen minutes into the journey, the IOM truck stops. Villagers slide the mattress out with the woman still on top. She winces in pain, but she is home.

The next stop is for the young man with the leg injury.

"Now we're close," Suroto says, exposing a missing upper front tooth. "I'm happy."

He looks out the open back door of the truck at the piles of rubble and colourful tarpaulins under which people now sleep beside the road. The truck then passes tall fields of corn before entering an unpaved road, tossing Suroto around.

One hour after leaving the hospital, he is back in Pundong subdistrict.

The truck stops and the two men from the IOM give him a tent before they head back to Bantul.

"Hey!" Suroto calls happily, recognizing two neighbours who arrive on a motorcycle. He climbs aboard, with difficulty, for the short ride to Srihardono village, where he was born.

His arrival is quietly received. Two young men approach, lift him off the motorcycle and help him walk to an orange tent donated by a local television station.

"We didn't know he was coming home but his family are still in hospital, so who will take care of him?" one of his neighbours, Sarjio, 25, says.

"He used to be very healthy. He got a fever and I don't know if it was a mistake in the medicine, or what... He's been like that for a long time."

All 104 people in this village survived but of the 20 houses, every one including Suroto's is damaged.

In front of the green-shuttered home, now filled with rubble, the family cow and its calf -- born after the disaster -- are still in their pen.

As dusk approaches, Srihardono seems empty.

"The others are out looking for aid," explains 31-year-old villager Gusmanda.

Residents say relief trucks are unable to reach Srihardono along the narrow roads, forcing residents to collect aid from universities and other agencies which have set up food distribution points further afield.

"Every day is like that. If not, how do we eat?" Sarjio asks. "How many months can we last like this?"

Unable to work because of his disability, and with his mother now seriously hurt, Suroto's future is also uncertain.

It is not even clear where he will sleep tonight after his surprise return.

But Sarjio says the villagers will look after him.

"In the hospital there was nobody to take care of him. Here, all of us can," he says.

"It's good I'm back," says Suroto.

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