London: Barack Obama’s former nanny, who is a gay transgender man, has given up her feminine identity and is living a life of suffering and fear in Jakarta slum. ‘Evie’ cared for the boy she called Barry when his mother Ann Dunham moved to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta in the late 1960s. Openly gay, she would leave the house dressed in full drag, but was very careful that Barack never saw her.
“He was so young and I never let him see me wearing women’s clothes,” a leading daily has quoted Evie as saying.
“But he did see me trying on his mother’s lipstick, sometimes. That used to really crack him up,” she revealed.
The turning point in her life came in 1985 when during a raid she found a transgender friend’s bloated body floating in a backed-up sewage canal. She grabbed all her girlie clothes in her arms and stuffed them into two big boxes. Half-used lipstick, powder, eye makeup - she gave them all away.
“I knew in my heart I was a woman, but I didn’t want to die like that,” says Evie, now 66, her lips trembling slightly as the memories flood back.
“So I decided to just accept it. ... I’ve been living like this, a man, ever since.”
Several longtime residents of Obama’s old Menteng neighbourhood confirmed Turdi had worked there as Barack’s nanny for two years, also caring for his baby sister Maya. Evie, who like many Indonesians goes by a single name, now lives in a closet-sized hovel in a tightly packed slum in an eastern corner of Jakarta, collecting and scrubbing dirty laundry to pay for food. She wears baggy blue jeans and a white T-shirt speaks softly, politely, and a deep worry line is etched between her eyes. As a child, Evie was often beaten by a father who could not stand having such a ‘sissy’ for a son.
“He wanted me to act like a boy, even though I didn’t feel it in my soul,” she confessed.
Teased and bullied, she dropped out of school after the third grade and decided to learn how to cook. She made her way into the kitchens of several high-ranking officials by the time she was a teenager. And then she met Obama’s mother. Evie now seeks solace in religion, going regularly to the mosque and praying five times a day. She said she is just waiting to die. She added that she did not know the boy she helped raise won the 2008 U.S. presidential election until she saw a picture of the family in local newspapers and on TV. She blurted out that she knew him. Her friends had at first laughed and thought she was crazy, but those who live in the family’s old neighbourhood confirmed it is true.
“Many neighbours would remember Turdi. She was popular here at that time,” Rudy Yara, who still lives across the street from Obama’s former house, said.
“She was a nice person and was always patient and caring in keeping young Barry,” Yara said.
Evie hopes her former charge will use his power to fight for people like her. Obama named Amanda Simpson, the first openly transgender appointee, as a senior technical adviser in the Commerce Department in 2010. For Evie, who’s now just trying to earn enough to survive each day on Jakarta’s streets, the election victory itself was enough to give her a reason - for the first time in a long time - to feel proud.
“Now when people call me scum, ‘I can just say: ‘But I was the nanny for the President of the United States!” she said.