Coffee Berry Gatherers

"May we take the dogs out for a walk?" I asked my father, since he was staying in his office from the coffee and rubber factory that day.

"Yes you may, but don’t go near the Kampong," (Indonesian village) my father warned us.

We promised, and so Henny and I took our two dogs, Tommy and Hekkie, out for a long walk.

We had lots of fun with them but our promise was quickly forgotten. When we came near the Kampong, Tommy, our fox-terrier, killed two fowls and then ran away.

Henny and I stood still and stared at the men walking in our direction. They looked very angry and shouted at us. They walked farther in the direction of our house.

We followed them with Hekkie. My father had also just arrived and so had Tommy.

The Indonesians went straight to my father and threatened him. They started fighting: yes, with their fists.

My mother ran inside and came back with her purse. She paid them generously for the killed fowls. Very wise, she saved us all from a precarious situation. I am still very proud of her action.

These Indonesians came from the island Madura.

The Madurese have a bad reputation for being very quick-tempered.

There are millions of Madurese in East Java, where we lived. My father liked them very much; he always said that they were very honest and hard workers as well.

My mother was very angry, especially with me since I was the eldest. My father didn’t say much but I saw him thinking.

And yes, there it was! A couple of days later he said: "So tomorrow both of you get up very early; you are going to gather coffee cherries."

Although my mother felt Henny was too young, my father decided that we both had to go.

The next morning we stood in line with the Indonesian women and girls: two Dutch coffee-bean gatherers! So we each received a basket for the red and ripe cherries. I told Henny to do her utmost best so that we could buy some sweets at the Chinese shop on the plantation.

We started happily but we were both dead tired when we all went back to the factory.

In the afternoon we received, together with the other gatherers, our pay.

Henny and I each received one and half cents: we were both very disappointed. So much hard work and then receiving so little!

"I hope that from now on both of you realise how hard these people have to work for little money and that losing their fowls means a lot to them. So let this be a lesson for you," my father said to us.

It was indeed a lesson that Henny and I have never forgotten!

When I came back to school after my holidays, our teacher told us to write down what we had done during our vacation. So I wrote the above story, about being a coffee berry gatherer.

The teacher gave me an eight (ten was the highest). Underneath my story she had written: "And a ten for your wise father".

Tommy and Hekkie
Coffee blossom
Indonesian gatherers waiting for their pay

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