“My religion doesn’t teach hatred,” Ngesti Puji “Yuyuk” Rahayu said when I interviewed her in 2012 at her then workplace on Jl. Teuku Umar, in Denpasar, Bali. I asked her whether she hated the terrorists who inflicted the permanent burn scars all over her body.
Her words four years ago reverberated in my mind. She suffered severe wounds to her body, yet she smiled easily.
Yayuk is a strong woman.
Born in Jember, East Java in 1962, Yayuk was a survivor of the first Bali bombing on Oct. 12, 2002.
I created her portraits as part of a photography workshop by John Stanmeyer. I met with Bali bombing victims and they opened my eyes to the many problems experienced by survivors of the bombing. They suffered trauma, their wounds continued to give them health problems. They actually needed a government-funded trauma center.
We met again at an event held by the Association of Widows and Children of the Bali Bombing at Beachwalk Mall this year. The foundation released a book titled “Janda-janda Korban Terorisme di Bali” [Widows of Bali Terrorism Victims]. She looked happy despite the scars and the keloids on her left arm.
On the night of the attack on Paddy’s Club she was with her friends having a good time. But the good time turned into horror when a bomb exploded and her body was blown several meters before landing near the DJ booth. She passed out for a while, and when she woke up she saw piles of bodies and heard a voice shouting “Hot! Hot!”
Yayuk was sent to an intensive care unit in a hospital and she was thought to have died because of the severity of her wounds. She was already being sent to the morgue to be cleaned. Fortunately, she woke up and a foundation, Yayasan Kemanusiaan Ibu Pertiwi (YKIP), flew her to Australia to get all-body surgery.
Since her first operation in 2002, she cannot allow her skin to be exposed to direct sunlight because it no longer has the protective layer of normal skin. She feels itchy when she is in the sun for too long.
In 2003, Yayuk got more treatment at the Royal Perth Hospital in Australia for her ears. In 2009, she underwent further surgery because keloids grew on her burned skin, which limited her movement. Afterward, she had several more operations, mostly to reduce the keloids that kept growing.
The tragedy inspired her to convert from Islam to Christianity.
Yayuk is now living a new life as a domestic worker in a villa belonging to a German in Krobokan, Bali. She takes care of the household from morning to 3:30 p.m., sweeping, watering the plants, doing the laundry, and feeding her boss’s two dogs.