November 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Life in the informal settlement is something that I am yet to comprehend. Before getting involved here, when I pass the street and look at it, probably I would think, “Oh the slum” ..or “oh the people”, as if they are just one kind.

When I first came few months ago, there was a house under construction near the entrance of the slum. Now, the house is already done, and when I peek inside, I see a nice tiling and big flat-screen TV, and the floor looks very nice and shiny! Something that I would never expect to see here in the first place. (But don’t get the wrong idea, this is just ONE house out of hundreds). Based on the houses, you could see that there are strata within the stratum. Many houses are painted with bright colors, some not painted at all, some are tiled nicely, some are just cemented, some with pots of plants and flowers, some dustier and dirtier. It is nice to see people keeping clean and decorating their houses here, it shows that they are able to pay rent continuously (unlike the other side of the slum, where the houses are uglier, most people are jobless or become thugs or prostitutes, the children smell like dry feces, and people come and go more frequently). Here, their rent is 150,000 rupiah or $16 monthly, for approx.2m x 3m space for a house. For many of the houses, one house means one room. Later I learned some of the bigger and nicer spaces here are rented by the rather ‘higher-class job’ such as toy sellers in the market, and one or two are even rented just for storage. Some have motorcycles, few even own cars. Many still do rough work, construction work, cleaning service, scavenging, etc. And some other jobs I’d never think of.. like Sali’s mom, the peanut sorter. The money circulation is also quite high in the area because of the warungs, internet café or computers rented for games, vendors that walk around selling candy or ice cream, bicycle renter, or odong-odong*. There is always something that can be ‘enterprised’ even though there is obvious side effect such as probably high consumption of snacks with MSG or those prepared unhygienically. With their low income, they seem to be quite consumptive, it’s doubtful that people would save a lot for the future. “I worked hard, I deserve good food” seems to be a philosophy for many. Live for today, tomorrow is another story. But at the same time, without their high consumption, probably the money circulation could be jammed. Probably? Anyways. The area always feels ‘alive’ to me due to the packed activities. “Let’s just be realistic”, says somebody who lives here, “How could people rent a place here and provide for the family with such low profit from their job? There always will be occasional thievery and prostitution in this area”. My information is still not enough, but I know there are various ways to survive. For example, Ma’De would give her friend rice if her family has nothing to eat. And other ways that I’m still oblivious to, I think.

I also wonder about the use of space. How a confined 2m x 3m could contain a family and function for various activities, eating, sleeping, playing, or making love. Maybe kekeluargaan or solidarity in the lower economy class people is not only about the ‘value’ they share but it’s the byproduct of the situation they’re in. Probably because their place is too small, only for sleep, that they always ‘hanging out’ in front of their houses, so they always talk to each other. When I walk around at noon, I notice that they wouldn’t turn on the lights at daytime (probably to save electricity, or probably because it’s too hot), so they’re always in the front of their houses, chatting. Maybe that’s one factor why everybody knows everybody in the neighborhood. When I walk and peep into a mosque inside, however, it was very spacious and nicely tiled and with very high ceiling. The tutor told me that the upstairs is used for holding a kindergarten class. A child played tarzan once in there, hanging, due to the high ceilings and pillars, and got suspended. The alley right in front of our centre is very narrow, probably around 60cm wide. However many children play outside. Sometimes they tidy up our sandals right in front of the door to make (slightly) bigger space. Sometimes they sit at our floor in front of the door when they are tired. Maybe there’s not so much concept of ‘trespassing’ here. I wonder whether they wish for a bigger space, but then I remember that they could go to the wide field where the goats and trash are… if they like. Or like many people in the afternoon, who go picnic or hanging out in the cemetery behind the wet market, as it is their only open and wide space with some grass, where goats also graze.

It is pretty mind boggling how certain conditions determine or even force how your life runs, how some things makes sense for some people but bizarre for the others, although your underlying needs as humans would be the same. Both the likeness and the difference are quite incredible to witness. Just a thought from an amateur :)

in case you don’t know what odong-odong is
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