The Red Swan Doctor
From gay men looking to take an HIV test discreetly, to single women who long for pap smear examinations without doctors or nurses questioning their marital status, all find a safe haven at Angsamerah Clinic, where they can consult a medical doctor on the often taboo sexual and reproductive health issues.
Meet dr. Nurlan Silitonga, 49, or Kak (Sister) Nurlan, as she is affectionately called. She is the woman behind Angsamerah Clinic on Jl. Blora, Central Jakarta that specializes in sexual and reproductive health.
I first found out about this clinic a few years ago through my best friend’s (then) boyfriend, who was just recently diagnosed with HIV and wanted to see a doctor who respected his privacy and did not judge him based on his sexual orientation. My friend, being a good boyfriend, accompanied him to Angsamerah Clinic and called me later on to rave about how great the clinic was. He knew that I was doing research on HIV/AIDS and thought that I should check it out.
Back then, after a series of “you’re not married yet, therefore we’re not going to touch you down there, let alone give you a pap smear,” I was pretty much done with ob-gyn in Jakarta. However, my friend’s raving had aroused my curiosity. I looked it up on the Internet and found a chic website with beautiful pictures of the clinic’s minimalistic interior style.
I was intrigued. I called to make an appointment and headed there a couple of days later. The clinic is indeed very discreet. It is on the second floor of a nondescript building with no sign, which made me hesitant initially. A woman sitting behind the receptionist desk greeted me warmly. She handed me a form and asked me to fill it in. I read it carefully and realized that there was no question about my marital status.
When she saw me reading the form without writing anything on it, the receptionist smiled and said, “You’re welcome to write a pseudonim if you’re not comfortable putting down your real name. There was a Mr. Brad Pitt here earlier.”
I was tempted to write Beyonce PadThai but put my own name instead, but I do appreciate the gesture. It is hard for a sexually active single woman to find a good ob-gyn who does not judge her in Jakarta. It must be even harder for gay guys with sexually transmitted infections to talk openly about their sexual orientations and bedroom manners to their doctors.
Apparently, Nurlan had been in that position as well. She had had bad experience with health care providers who acted as moral police with the holier-than-thou attitude. Such experiences, and deep interest in public health, then led Nurlan to open Angsamerah Clinic.
Graduated from the medical school at Universitas Kristen Indonesia in Jakarta, and with a master’s degree in public health from Sydney University, Nurlan began her career working as a researcher at Sulianti Saroso Hospital for infectious disease and Naval Medical Research Unit 2 (NAMRU-2) Indonesia.
She then spent over three years working as a physician at Timika and Kwamki Lama health centers in Papua, the eastern-most province that has among the country’s highest rates of HIV infection. Afterwards, she went on to be involved in a series of HIV programs in the country.
With the money she saved from working as a prison advisor for the AusAID project on HIV Program in Indonesia, she established Angsamerah Clinic. It doesn’t hurt to have a French husband to help with the architectural and interior design. Her private clinic only began operating in 2010, but the idea had come to her mind three years earlier.
“I’m not a tycoon, so I had to save my money carefully and wait patiently to open this one. I’m glad I did. This has been my long-term dream,” Kak Nurlan told me as we were having lunch together.
She picked the name Angsamerah, meaning red swan in Indonesian, because white swan is not special, while black swan has dark connotation, she said. Red swan for Nurlan is different, daring but still elegant.
Slim and a bit frail looking, she radiates positive energy and projects a generous soul who loves challenges. When I told her that I am a trained volunteer at Boulder County AIDS Project in Colorado, U.S, she looked at me with a mild interest. I said I would love to be a volunteer at Angsamerah and asked what I could do to help, but she asked me back, “What do you want to do for yourself that could be beneficial for Angsamerah?”
I was taken aback by her question. I was so used to other people telling me what to do when it comes to volunteering that I had to stop and think for a moment. I honestly couldn’t think of anything, but I told her I would let her know as soon as I could think of an idea. She nodded.
We’ve met a couple of times after that before I had to go back to Boulder. I came to her with an idea of what I wanted to do, and she was very supportive. She asked many critical questions and challenged my idea, but her questions were meant to shape and strengthen it and not to diminish it. In the end we talked about how we could translate it into reality by making a step-by-step plan and a timeline. The whole conversation felt good to me. I felt like I was in charge of a project that would not only be beneficial to Angsamerah, but also to others and to me.
“I enjoy being a mentor. It gives me great pleasure to see my mentee succeed. I understand there are people who are afraid of sharing their knowledge and expertise because they feel threatened or they’re too afraid of losing their position or power. I personally think that’s wrong,” she said.
This past summer when I went back to Jakarta I paid her a visit, she told me about the second clinic that was going to open its door to more clients on Jl. Panglima Polim, South Jakarta.
“It will have the same feeling to this one, and it will provide the same service too, only it is run under Yayasan Angsamerah, so it is going to be more affordable,” she said.
That’s great news, especially for those who cannot afford to spare Rp 300,000 per visit. The new clinic has been running for more than three months now and I have no doubt that it will continue to provide reproductive health care services to everyone, whether he or she is HIV positive, gay, transgender, a sex worker, or a single woman like me.
Graha Media Building, 2nd Floor, Jl. Blora 8-10
Menteng, Jakarta Pusat 10310
+62 21 3915189
About Ully Damari Putri
Ully is an ex-tabloid reporter, a media analysis instructor and a chronic procrastinator. She lives in Boulder, Colorado where she’s trying hard to finish writing her dissertation on time and graduate in 2014. When she’s not busy writing or checking on Facebook, she likes to keep up with news on pop culture and health issues in the U.S and Indonesia.