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Jakarta Post

Present danger: Maluku villagers risk lives on makeshift river crossing

  • Belseran Christ

    The Jakarta Post

Ambon, Maluku   /   Wed, August 12, 2020   /   08:26 am
Present danger: Maluku villagers risk lives on makeshift river crossing Nori Hukunala, a resident from Neath village, sits on a wooden branch with one hand holding her child and one hand holding the hanging rope as she crosses the Nalbesi River to return to her village after buying supplies in the district center, Leksula. Residents of Neath and Liang villages in Buru Selatan regency in Maluku frequently cross the Nalbesi River in this way, as it is the only way to reach Leksula. (JP/Belseran)

The flow of the Nalbesi River was getting stronger as the rain flushed Buru Selatan regency in Maluku on a Thursday morning, but villagers still flocked to the river bank.

The river is the only access for residents in the two villages, namely Neath and Liang, to reach the district center, Leksula, while risking their lives and those of their loved ones.

Among the residents crossing the river that morning was Nori Hukunala, who had just bought monthly supplies in Leksula with her 8-month-old baby.

Leksula is about 3 to 4 kilometers from the Nalbesi River. In the rainy season, residents are forced to travel on foot, as did Nori with her baby that day.

With the bad weather and swift water, Nori ventured to cross the river while carrying her child with a sarong to return to her home in Neath.

Three men volunteered to help Nori and other residents cross the river. They stretched strands of nylon rope across the river and tied them to tree trunks on both sides of the river.

They wrapped other strands of nylon rope around the stretch, knotted them and tied them to a wooden branch that served as a seat. Residents would sit on the wooden branch to swing across the river.

“This is our daily job. Sometimes we arrive home late at night after helping residents cross the river,” said one of the volunteers, Fendy Nurlatu.

Every day, Fendy and the other volunteers witness how residents fight their fear and anxiety, while also remaining vigilant to cross the river safely.

“I saw that [Nori] was worried. She was afraid because she was carrying her baby. But what else could she do? She had to cross the river,” Fendy said.

Read also: Students in Maluku help each other cross dangerous river to get to school

To cross the river, Nori sat on the wooden branch with one hand holding her child and one hand holding the hanging rope. The rope was pulled from the other side of the river slowly until she reached the riverbank.

Nori told Fendy how nervous she was crossing the river with a child in hand, especially when they paused in the middle of the river.

“I prayed and prayed -- Oh God, when will I get across the river?” said Fendy, conveying what Nori said to her.

After crossing the river, Nori continued his journey to her village, which is about 4 km away from the Nalbesi River, Fendy said.

Besides Nori, several women also crossed the river in the same way that day.

A college student from Liang, Melky Solisa, said local residents had crossed the river for decades whenever they wanted to shop for basic necessities or sell their plantation products at the market in the district center.

Melky, who is studying at the University of Pattimura in Ambon, Maluku, recalled an incident that happened to a resident crossing the river last year.

“A resident was rushed to a hospital last year because he fell and was carried away by the river flow. The victim was injured but alive,” said Melky.

The villagers, including Fendy and Melky, regretted that there was no actual plan from the central or regional governments to build a bridge over the river.

Fendi said a district head and members of the local legislature had promised to build an emergency bridge during their pre-election campaigns but had never realized the program.

“Five years ago, the current regent, Tagop Solisa, promised an emergency bridge. But the condition is still like this,” said Fendi.

“Mr. President, please look at our suffering and lack of freedom, Sir. Even though Indonesia will be 75 years old soon, we are not independent yet,” Melky added. (syk)