The Wall

September 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Monday, September 5th. This is the last day of holiday from work, but the children centre in the slum opens today so I decide to come play. I leave really early in the morning to avoid traffic because it’s a Monday, but apparently it looks like many have not returned from the village because the road is very empty. When I reach at the slum, I enter inside and the activity is less intense than it used to be. Less people and some doors are padlocked. So many are still gone mudik. I don’t see all the people that I usually see. But I find one of my slum markers, a man (that’s always found) sleeping on a flat board. The bottom of his foot has a very thick scaly skin that breaks, his foot looks like a cracked wall. His skin, his tangled hair, and his faded-color T-shirt have blended in and make him wholly look like the color grey. I reach the children centre but nobody is there. The padlock is opened, so I come in, unfurl our tikar that is already torn here and there, and turn on the fan.

Four girls stand by the door and asked if they could come and read inside. They come in and start to read aloud, I show them the books I bought last week which they like. They are not children supported by organization but I’m really happy to see their enthusiasm. I also really enjoy the children’s friendliness in the slum. I remember a conversation between a girl and a stranger (a soldier) in the movie The White Balloon. In the middle of conversation, the stranger asked if the girl is afraid of him. The girl, who was intrigued but suspicious about the stranger asked him, “Don’t you ever tell your little sister not to talk to strangers?” The man answered, “But we lived in a small hamlet. People know each other. There were no strangers there”.

They ask if they could join the class today, I told them yes. We chat a little bit. Two of them are sisters, one explains that actually she is the third child but she becomes second because her twin sister died at birth. I remember the children that I have encountered like to do this, making sure that they get the facts right: “I actually have a sister but she died”, “I’m actually in 3rd grade but I failed 2nd grade”. A boy with no arms in my old neighborhood also did that when I asked him what grade he’s in. “I’m actually at 4rd grade now but now I’m still in 2nd grade”. We waited but apparently no other children come so they go back home after reading more books. Some of the children seem to be back in kampung still, some are just playing.

In the centre, I chat with the tutors and the program officer and learn more about the organization. The P.O just got back from his kampung and he brings cookies that is called tahi kucing (cat shit). The shape and color do look like tahi kucing, I try very hard not to imagine it when I chew it hesitantly. We then go for home visits for silaturahmi with the parents and to remind the children that the centre is open. I finally have the chance to see the other slum that I spoke about in the previous post as the tutors need to do home visits there.

Honestly the place is not as scary as I imagined. But yes, it is dirtier, more garbage, more stink, and there are flies everywhere surrounding you. However the major alleys are not too narrow and houses are low so many spaces are still illuminated by sunlight. When I walk, I always peek into the houses, and I see a house which the floor is made out of brown soil blending with crusting rubbish.

We walk through dark and bright alleys, running children, men playing chess on wooden benches, cat basking under the sun, men with tattoos. I shake hands with an old man. When shaking, he only has his hand touching mine slightly without gripping tight. Usually I’m annoyed when people do this, but when he does that, I know he is reluctant because his palm is really rough. Maybe he doesn’t want to dirty my hands. He replaces it with a friendly smile. We also shake hands with women sitting in front of their door, searching for lice in their friends’ heads. Now that I remember it, I also sometimes rub children’s head which have lice. I wouldn’t be surprised if I catch lice too, one of these days. Whereas in the school where I work, children with lice are not allowed to attend school to prevent spreading among the other students, which could cause hysteria among parents. It’s like working in parallel universe. Considering that this is Jakarta, it is possible even that the two groups live in the same district separated by a tall wall (called ignorance). One is not forgotten, but they have been the subject of selective attention like the invisible gorillas, by the people who dismiss the sight because their lack of importance. Or to some they’re not even invisible gorillas, maybe even cockroaches. A nuisance. But that’s why I like cockroaches, they’re indestructible.

We walk from houses to houses, until we find a small bridge that crosses a dirty river. Usually dirty rivers in the city is brown but this one is dark grey, almost black. The others pinch their nose when passing through.

After couple more turns, we found a river that defeats the black river in terms of dirtiness. This river is piled with rubbish so dense and created an own ‘land’ until you cannot see the water. It has been piled up so deeply until even chickens can ‘walk’ on the river. People blame ‘poor awareness’ when the fact is they don’t even have a proper disposal and waste management system. If they do, would they make their house floor out of rubbish? In front of me, an old woman walks on a tall mountain of rubbish.

I walked with two tutors and a mother from one of our student. She is actively involved with the organization and we call her ‘Mama’ (but I think she calls me ‘Andrea’). When she knows I didn’t bring lunch, she immediately goes back to her home and wraps me her cookings: rice, chilli shrimp and spinach. She also bought me a bottle of cold water that she bought in warung.

I remember all the other street vendors with their carts in my old neighborhood. I often receive their generosity, given free food when I’m sick, when I’m being regular costumer, when it’s already afternoon and they haven’t sold everything, or simply when they don’t have the change. Initially I get confused when they do this … Inside my head I wonder “don’t you need the money?” But I didn’t say it because I don’t want to offend, besides I know they are sincere.

When I lived in Medan I was hesitant to move to Jakarta. I thought to myself how Jakarta is too metropolitan for me. But now I conclude whoever says Jakarta is cruel and individualistic are mixing with the wrong crowd :) Right after my arrival I learn that those things are only one side of the city. I immediately fall in love with the city and the people inside. When I do my work late night, I know my friend the fried rice seller is also working hard right outside my gate. I know I am not alone. An educator I worked with was concern about injustice. She thinks because the most of the money is regulated by small group of people, therefore that small group is the one needs to be educated (although Freire would strongly disagree), so she built school for the upper class. Another friend works for government, to enter the system to fix the system. I wonder if what I do is insignificant. I am still learning. I like to understand stories.

Saturday, 10 September. I go again to the slum. It is back to being crowded, people push each other again in the market. Boy scouts are running and goats eating vegetables from the stalls. I realize people don’t stare at me anymore in there. Maybe I have blended in? hehe.. When I arrive there, all the children already there making arts and crafts. I join them in our cramped room and say hi to everyone that I haven’t met for weeks. The ones that are finished with the art&craft, I give them worksheets that I made with my drawings. I observe the children’s responses to the worksheets. The one that knows English better seem enthusiastic with the worksheet and the one that is not, ask if he can do it next week. I encourage him to do it now. I assist him and give him clues to the answer without him realizing. When he finds the answer, he thought he figures out by himself, and when I praise him, I see his eyes sparkling and he enthusiastically continues to the other questions. “Next! Next!”, he said. Another boy looks like totally at lost watching his friends jotting down answers. He confusingly furrows his brows and he’s like, “Lu pada nulis apa sih?” (“What the heck are you guys writing??”) Somebody hasn’t been paying attentiooooon :p

I have made some worksheets and simple materials like memory game to revise vocabulary. I already left some in the centre and some are still in process of making so that although I only come once a week, they could play the game and learn English even without me.

From Cipinang, I take a bus to Kampung Melayu. The bus was quite empty but unconsciously I sit next to a guy with a scary face and big body, even though there are empty seats next to women. Good, I am not traumatized by the previous event afterall. In the bus, men get on and off to sell products to passengers. Books, massage tools, fruits,  mask, pens, special coins for kerokan, and some bizarre things. But in two years being in bus regularly I think I never saw people actually buy these things on the bus. Except for tissue maybe to wipe sweat. So when this guy came in and promotes his books, I thought, books are always useful. Like the others, he emphasize how cheap he sells his products, he announced that the book he sells cost 24,500 at stores while he only sells 10,000, and don’t bother to ask to have a look because all this sellers will make sure they put their products on each passenger’s laps even if we don’t want it, even if we don’t touch or even see it, they’ll just make sure it sits on your laps. It’s a book about English-Indonesian vocabulary. Not a superb book (when I browse through, there’s a picture of a hippopotamus, and it includes the way to read it, and it says: hipotames), well definitely cheaper than 10,000, but it could be some use to my children, you know, after I fix the hipotames thing. When I told him I want it, he looks happy. Unfortunately I only have a 50,000 note and he doesn’t have the change. Maybe he hasn’t sold many..or any, since morning. He looks a bit disappointed but with a smile and a hope on his eyes he told me ‘That’s alright, maybe one day we’ll meet again’. I hope so too.


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