The Flood

January 26, 2013 § 5 Comments

When I landed in Jakarta after working and living conveniently in Melbourne for the whole one year, I thought I was going to be slightly gloomy for the first few days. Little did I know, how much I missed Jakarta and all the craziness.

The flood was visible from above when the airplane was descending. Only the top half of the houses and roofs could be seen. Surreal, it was literally a drowning city seen from the sky. Dad and sister had to cancel picking me up from the airport because of the traffic congestion caused by the flood. Taking a taxi, however, reminded me of how much I loved the conversations I have with Jakartans. Knowing that I just came back from working in Australia, the taxi driver told me how he used to work in ‘travel agents’ (euphemism for) forging documents for people migrating to US illegally. He told me, “Nah, they don’t bother to check if the bank statement was real because they receive so many applications. A lot of people overstayed their visit and rarely get caught, you know. What’s the worst could happen? Get deported maybe, and not being able to come back to that country forever…

“well, unless…

“we change name and identity” he said as he giggled

Haha. See, that’s what I love about Indonesian spirit. There’s never a dead end. We are rule benders with sense of humour ; )

Then he told me about his experience as taxi driver in the flood. An out of town passenger thought that he was tricking him when he said they should take another route because of the flood. The passenger insisted that they take the ‘usual’ road. That road has three elevations and demotes. So what happens is cars wait at the peak and watched other cars go. And if similar cars could get through, then they would go too. When it is stuck, they probably would laugh at the driver’s guts but help to push the car. And you can imagine how it caused massive traffic jam. After smoke coming out from the car machine, the taxi driver pulled over and with the passenger (who finally believed that it really flooded!), standing there and watching cars go for 1 hour.

There’s always a story in every inch of this city, isn’t it?

So what else happens during flood? Yes, it is a devastating situation. But like my grandmother said, when you have rheumatic in your arms, what do you do, you’re not going to cut your arm, are you? You’re going to do something about that arm, and learn to live your life happily with the rheumatic in your arm.


economy rolls during flood (this is a ‘taxi’ cart)


locals help to push car during flood


people help each other during flood



sweet moments happen during flood


and the not so sweet ones..


children help each other during flood


people help animals during flood


people share during flood

Banjir Mulai Surut, Warga Panen Ikan

men fish during flood

banjir Istana kepresidenan

president’s palace was strike too during flood.

What, it’s good news, isn’t it?


children put up sign: “VISIT SWIMMING POOL – FREE – AS LONG AS YOU LIKE”


children help each other going to school with invented transportation system during flood! (The carriers are either helpful locals, or the students as well, keeping the dry cloths inside their bags)


children play…


and invent games during flood


these expat guys intentionally skipped work to play in the flood! you don’t have flood in your country eh?


mermaid appears during flood!

Seriously, how can you not love this city?


Image source: various (google: keyword: banjir jakarta 2013)



August 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

Living in Melbourne in the past six months, and working with Australian children since the last four months, I could not help but compare a lot of things with the lives of Indonesian children. When I say ‘Australian’ children, or ‘Indonesian’ children, I am, of course, making generalization that may not ring true for every one of them. In my post, Australian children refer to the ones that I work with (I would say middle class economy). Indonesian refers to the children in the preschool that I worked with (middle-upper class economy, and the slum children (lower class economy), or poor children. This observation is only based on my personal experience.

What fascinates me is the varying degree of how ‘free’ are children ‘allowed’ to play in this different groups (excuse the oxymoron), and how it contributes to personalities and character development. Children of middle-upper class economy in Indonesia, I perceive, to be more inhibited in their play and exploration, compared to the other two groups; middle class Australians and lower class Indonesians.

From my own experience as a child (a middle class economy, female, to be precise), I get some “don’t”s. Don’t go too far. Don’t go to the mall without adult, you’ll be kidnapped. Many of my friends get more “don’t”s; Don’t buy ice cream kampung. Don’t buy that meatball, that’s made from rat’s meat! Don’t buy any snacks from the street. Don’t take public transport. And not just buses, but don’t take taxi as well! Don’t ride motorcycle. Don’t look some people in the eye, don’t stare! Don’t touch it, it’s filthy! It’s drizzling, come on inside!! Don’t be too friendly to some people, etc. And how much do we realize that they all have internalized to our habit or belief system? The likely explanation of highly untrusting atmosphere might spring from the great economy disparities in the society. The rich, that separates themselves from the poor, sometimes live in the very same area with the poor. They have to make sure they stay clean and ‘dignified’, always (un)consciously confirming, ‘we are the civilized ones’. In big cities like Jakarta, the sight of poor people are unavoidable wherever you go. Is it justifiable, however, to instill this suspicion in children, in order to protect?

The city of Jakarta houses ten million people. With such density, houses crammed with one another, poor transportation system, and mad traffic, the government has long ignored people’s need for public space. There are barely public parks and playground for children. Nada. You might wonder how could we live this way, but this has become the norm for us.

If you live in a decent housing complex, you might have a playground, however deficient and unsatisfactory. If you don’t, however, whether you are from middle or upper class economy, you might find yourself staying at home, playing with your toys or your siblings. Naturally, these types of play, pretend play, role play, construction, are also of great value for development. But as I worked with the poor Indonesians and the Australian children, I realize the significant loss that the middle class Indonesians are suffering, they are missing out some kind of “adventures” like what the other two groups experience, finding secret pathways, catching insect, playing in the rain, which I’m going to talk more about later.

It is also in the big cities like Jakarta, where playgrounds are very scarce, children of the middle/upper class economy physical exploration are restricted, unless they go to the playground in the malls, by paying ridiculous ticket fee, with extravagant rides that are not always imaginative; that serve to entertain, not to stimulate. When I ask my students to share about their weekends, many would answer going to the mall. I find it regrettable, but where else could they bring their children to a playground? Some upper class families now live in apartment buildings in Jakarta, and they do have playgrounds, but they are only tiny fractions of society. Existing playgrounds in housing complex are in great deficit (if not almost totally LOST), small, with inadequate provisions, with poor maintenance, often abandoned. Put a swing, seesaw, and slide, in a small space, bam, you have a playground. Even though I’d like that statement to serve as sarcasm, but if we have at least that three things, it is still much better than having none. The condition, or the absence of playgrounds in Indonesia is a portrayal of how play is overlooked as an important part of development, but seen merely as leisure that serves nothing for thinking or learning dispositions. In schools, recess in the playground often only happens for approximately 15-30 minutes, out of 4-5 hours formal and traditional learning in the classroom, where children are forced to be quiet and listen passively to the teacher.

In the preschool that I worked at in Jakarta, the playground is not challenging enough for the children. It seems like it is built without much thought put into it, like most preschools. With such small outdoor area that had to be compromised in an expensive land in the heart of the city, the playground is overcrowded. They had playtime after school (at 12), and some (not all) parents and nannies would watch carefully and say, “Be careful! Hold on to the bar.” out of need for protection from fall, sometimes due to overcrowding. Some are assisted and held constantly. The children that fell are often treated with such care and sympathy, they would be helped to get up, cuddled, and some carers would even take it further by ‘hitting’ the object that cause the fall (for example, a swing), to cheer up the child, saying that the swing is ‘naughty’. To be fair, not all carers would behave this way, however the former consist of considerable amount, to the point that I gather it to be somewhat cultural. All my students are kept clean and smell good all day even in the hot and humid weather.

Naturally, bigger boys still play and run around wildly, but again, are they missing out some things that the other two groups experience? Or do children compensate with existing conditions and find their own ways to make things more exciting?

(Western) theories in the past century have been elucidating how important play is, how it contributes to ‘thinking’, your imagination, problem solving, creativity, flexibility and so on. Therefore in developed Western countries, experiences for young children have been (attempted to be) provided in a way to accommodate those developments.

In Australia early childhood framework, instead of ‘teaching’ (traditional teaching), the educators are there to ‘provide experience’, and so the learning comes from the children themselves, not being a passive subject of ‘teaching’. Educators facilitate, challenge, and the children are always the active participants of their own learning. Just how Indonesians are more inhibited in their play correlates to the crippling education system, where they are also expected to sit quietly and passively listen to the teacher, in Australia, their learning, as well as their play, are also more unrestrained. They are supported, in their play and their education, to be (at least more) active.

There are plenty of examples that I encounter everyday in my workplace that shows how many of the parents here that I deal with are more understanding and lenient of dirtiness, wildness, and whole lot of craziness that are often regarded as an important element of being a child. Once two children under my care were fighting over a toy. A tiny little toddler girl (who is a vicious little biter), bit a boy on the face, which left a very bad bite mark on his cheek. Based on my experience with Jakarta preschool, where parents often seem upset when an incident happen to their child, I became nervous when this bite-victim parent came to pick him up, only to find him laughing and saying, “Yeah, it’s bound to happen sooner or later”. Then he teased his little boy, “So somebody gave you a big kiss huh”. And it didn’t only happen to one parent in case you’re wondering if it’s coincidental. We got the similar reactions from parents when children fell and got swollen on their forehead, grazed on their chin, who bled on their hand, bit on the thigh. In my centre, when children fall, they are not treated with as much concern, but rather with a kind but assertive remark that he/she is fine and needs to get up and try again. They are rarely helped and assisted to stand up again, unless, of course, it is a bad accident, one with injury, or very vulnerable child. This manner also stems from Australian culture of ‘independence’ and ‘self reliant’, which are deliberately instilled in children, in contrast (but not superior to) to Indonesian culture that values ‘helping each other’ more.

In the childcare I work in, the children are excited to hold a big insect in their hands to investigate it, run around bare feet, and when it’s ice-chilly, drizzling (yes, 1 and 2 year olds are allowed to play when it’s drizzling! in contrast to Indonesians who are always told to go in when it drizzles), and when I feel the wind is about to blow me away, the children still play excitedly outside. In the city, on the hilly greenery area in front of a library, I see children rolling themselves down the little hills and parents just let them be without anxiously supervising, neither for the child’s safety from fall, or for the protection of strangers. There seem to be more sense of security and ‘trust’ in public space.

In our yard, we become fascinated by lights and shadows, sound of machine that cut the grass, rain, we found a little hole in our fence which become our peephole to a garden with beautiful flowers. We have picnic in our yard frequently with birds chirping on our roof. I personally feel indulged with pleasant sensory experience. There are many resources (natural and manufactured goods) for children to play with in the yard; plastic toys, big sandpit, twigs, leaves, steel, chalk, and we incessantly record their exploration. We even plan for dirt play. “Getting dirty is good for immune system” they say. We constantly observe, analyze, supply and change supply, we plan their exploration. Discoveries, despite come from within, are also planned, everything is based on careful measure and documentation. And their play is also always supervised.

Australians put much more effort for outdoor play as much as indoor play. Slides or climb equipment are not simply put but additional materials are there to improvise the play. Wooden board used for balancing beam, for sliding, combined with tyres, climbing frames, blocks, or net. The wooden board for slide is sometimes put higher, without the ‘safety’ curve on the side.

I then took sometime to learn about playgrounds in Melbourne (by visit and research on the internet), which I find much more challenging on every level. They are also designed based on calculated risk and in accordance to the safety policy.

I am very intrigued, however, by how slum or poor children play. In the world that don’t bother providing them with playgrounds, the world is their playground. They appropriate existing objects, furnitures, roads, and stairs, for their play. Raw, spontaneous, without safety measure, but also without anticipated exploration. They are allowed to ‘get dirty’, to ‘take risk’ instinctively and without intellectualization. In a very narrow alley in the slum where it is barely enough for one adult to walk, boys gather to play marble. They may not have climbing frames or balancing beam but they do climb walls and trees and walk on the very high pole to cross the river. They may not have a football field but they play in the parking lots of a bank office after work-hours, or play on the road where cars rarely pass by. They may never play gokarts but they get up on the top of the trains. They get on a huge leave in rain, to be pulled around and swung around by their friend and thrown to the mud. They may not be able to buy remote controlled cars or buy video games but they make their own games using tyres, bottles, stick and stones. They develop “toughness” naturally. I once saw a toddler examining a motorbike parked in front of his house. He scrutinized it and at one point he tried to get ON it. He obviously fell down and cried. Was he comforted? I waited but all I could hear was the mother yelleing from inside, “Makanya jangan manjat2. Nangis kan sekarang!” (“Told you not to climb. Now you’re crying”) The boy still got up and tried it again, with no one watching.

My point is, if play is indeed crucial to cognitive development, to trigger you to explore, investigate, invent, discover, if it develops your flexible thinking and problem solving skill, if it helps you to socialize, to negotiate, to humour, to spark curiosity and sense of fascination, if all the playgrounds in the developed countries are designed for the children to have leisure, for them to take risk, to practice, fail, and try again, to develop courage, resilience, to develop creativity..

then the poor children, have met many of the aims that all the ‘play designers’ make for the rich and protected

then they are, supposed to be, more creative, than those two groups of children

Unfortunately, the Indonesian education system does not value these qualities, the qualities glorified by the western theories, that they gain through chaos. It only cares if the children can memorize facts. It cares for the children to shut up, listen, and magically understand. It conflicts the ‘child’ within them. The poors’ academic performance are reflective of the economic condition, and without outstanding academic performance they would likely to end up in menial jobs where they don’t have a say in most of the things. With minimum access and opportunity to shine. I wonder what happens to the ‘creative child’ in them.. does it fade? is it asleep? is it buried? will it die?

I’m not trying to make poor people look numb or desperate (in fact, play-wise, the middle/upper class play are more numbing in my opinion). I know for a fact that they are very resilient and creative in coping up with adversities in life; such as finding ideas to deal with flood, to deal with disability (in a busy road I saw a man in a ‘wheelchair’ made out of strip board on wheels. And he did not only sit there on the board but he put old cushion-y car seat on top, for comfort). I find that very creative. I’m just dumbfounded to see how much potential and intelligence wasted in a vast ocean, drifting ceaselessly

half dead

Wouldn’t you be unhappy in life if you are made to become less than you’re capable of?

Image source: various (google: keyword: children playing, village children playing, etc).

The Last Day

January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is my last day teaching in the slum. I woke up at 4am in Bandung and leave for Jakarta at 5.30 am. I reached the slum at 8am. It is a sunny day, the lights are coming down through narrow spots from in between the house roofs. In the front area, some doors are still closed, few are outside, sitting, cooking, sweeping, or just getting out from the public shower. The wet market however, is already crowded. While walking and halted every few seconds, I realized that within 50cm radius, there are many activities happening. On my left, the vegetable seller is negotiating with potential buyer in front of me, so I had to wait, because, on my right, there’s an old man with his bicycle, who is stopped because of the narrow space where there’s a musician with a guitar, who is singing for three ladies, who are drinking jamu*, from the seller at the right side. Underwears are sold next to vegetables and dirts are swept next to a frying pan. Is it weird that I find this place so fascinating?

I can feel my sweat flowing from my forehead down my cheek.

I walk to the back to the centre. The door is still locked. The old lady who lives at the side was sweeping the floor, I asked if I could sit on their bench while waiting. She welcomes me.

“Kak Arian!”, Naya greets me cheerfully, with Zahra they both sit with me on the bench. Their legs are hanging and swaying. Zahra looks pretty and fresh, apparently she showered this morning, unlike the usual, where she always shows up with tangled hair and swollen sleepy eyes. Naya bragged about the perfect score she got for her group work at school. I asked her why hasn’t Ali been coming. She told me because his mom is “gone”. What do you mean gone? I asked her. “Gone, never return”, she answers me. This information is later confirmed by the tutor. Ironically these things commonly happen here for various reason. Somebody said that this slum is a “children depot”, I can understand why it’s called that, since wherever you go, you will see children in every corner. People have sexual intercourse without contraception, sometimes for the sole pleasure. Sometimes that’s how people are called “husband and wife”, because they already make a family, without marriage or a legal paper. Sometimes one of the spouse just simply go away. Sometimes it’s the teenagers that start the family. For Ali’s case, it was money that cause the problem and the separation. “Gone, never return”. I was appalled by how familiar that concept is to these children. “And why hasn’t he been coming? Is he supposed to help his father work or taking care of younger sister or something?” I asked Naya again. “I think he misses his mom”, she told me. Ali comes today, he’s acting playful but rude towards his friends. He made Naya cried. Kak Eja thinks that he’s been acting out since mom left. I shudder thinking how hard it is for a child like him to be able to understand and express his feelings.


The kids are happy with the materials I made. “Cakep ye kak?”, they commented. They immediately play with it, but… uh-oh….!! When you attach the tags to the pictures, and when you try to detach it again, the velcro is off!! So I am not only giving them materials, but also I’m giving kak Eja an obligation to fix all the tags to re-glue it with better glue. I used ‘Fox’ glue instead of UHU because it was cheaper. Kak Eja told the kids that they may look at them and find the answers but don’t use the tags for now.

And so they did…

Naya likes the transportation board while Ali likes the occupation board, he takes it again and again and again.



For this picture, which supposedly to be “journalist”, Kak Eja thinks the children in La’i will say this is a busker x) As this is how some buskers in Indonesia are, they carry their own speaker and microphone, they usually sing dangdut.


Our final lesson


Niar and Amel, discussing the rainforest. They say, the monkey is Ipeh’s brother. And Ipeh’s perfectily happy with it.


Syarif asks me, “When will you come back?”

“A year from now”

He nods.

Kak Eja asks, “Do you understand? So how long is one year?”

He shrugs, “Until we become old”, he said. Kak Eja laughs and said, “One year is 12 months. This is January 2012, Kak Arian will be back in January 2013”. But Syarif still looks confused.

I told him, “Okay, how bout this. You’re in second grade. I’ll be back when you’re in third”.

“So you mean once I got my report card and then you’ll be there right after?”

We laugh again and told him, “Well, not exactly. In January. During..hmm..second semester of third grade” I told him, as our Indonesian education system starts in July.

“Check the calendar”, kak Eja told him. Syarif and Kiki walk towards our 2012 calendar and they point and “discussed” it. Kak Eja found another comparison and asks him, “Okay how about this, when will you be circumcised?”

He told kak Eja, “When I’m in 5th grade”.

“Well Kak Arian will surely be back by then. Nevermind” Kak Eja said.

Then, as if Kiki has found a brilliant idea, he told Syarif, “Oh, I know! Why don’t you get circumcised tomorrow so Kak Arian will be back tomorrow?”

I feel so humbled that the kids have accepted me, even Kiki, who was quite resistant and cold at first. How much I have learned from the children, from this little room where there is never enough space.


bye bye place..


December 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

When I reach the slum at 8.30 today, I was surprised to see many children are already at the centre in the morning. And not just that, they look very nice! Their hair are still wet, most of them showered this morning! How unusual :D They’re in nice clothes, with T-shirt tucked in their pants, and uneven powder on their faces. I asked Kak Eja what’s going on, and apparently a magazine company is celebrating 2nd birthday and inviting the slum children because they’re going to be given free food and free milk. They’re asked to come at 11, but probably their excitement has brought them since 8 in the morning! We chat, play games, wait for each other, and leave the centre at 11.00 to go the the other centre nearby where the event is held (around 1.5km walk from our centre). There are 14 of us walking under the cloudy sky, wind brushes our faces, thunders softly heard. Passing through the narrow alleys, the boys are pushing each other and laughing, the girls fighting over holding my hand. We do not pass the market because we will surely cause a traffic jam in the narrow and super crowded place! The tutor walk at the front and I walk at the very back to make sure noone’s left behind. Suddenly all the children scream, run and disperse to many directions! There are three monkeys on the way (the ones that usually made perform with clothes and tambourine near the traffic lights). They laugh hard and laugh harder at the ones who are scared. We pass through houses, dirty rivers, we reach main road and crossover bridge. We pass through a very wide field that I’ve never realized was there before! It is more or less the size of football field, with a very brown slightly moist soil. In the middle, some children, including toddlers, are playing football, with few goats grazing right in the middle of the play. On our left side is slum housings bounded by a tall wall. Faded color roofs and the dome of a mosque are seen behind it. On the far right end is an area with contrasting green grass on the pretty brown soil, and few trees. From afar, two boys are chilling on a tall sloping tree. They rest against sturdy slanted branches, looking untroubled from anything. Their clothes are fluttered by the wind. I wonder how they see all of us from up there. The children discuss the weather. Nanda brings umbrella, they debate on what to do if the rain comes. Some want to find a shelter and some want to play under the rain. Tasya and Sevia, who are walking in front on of me, are jumping and stomping hard on the ground, to ‘splash’ the soil and sprinkles into the air. Not long after, we reach the other centre. Tarpaulin sheet is unfurled for the children to sit outside under the tree. From the other centres, only the children that have birthday between 1-10 December are invited to come. The boys, again, are playfully pushing each other roughly on the tarp sheet. We sit at the back. The girls hold my hands, comparing their fingers and nails with mine. They touch my hair, observe my pants and ask if it’s Lepis (Levi’s). And since always, they are always fascinated with my braces! Some even want to have braces now. I told them that they don’t need it because they have nice teeth. (The tutor told me that there are ‘toy braces’ sold for kids and one of our kids have that! Haha). Azis asked me, “Do I need one Kak?” I told him to show off his teeth, he grins to me. Few teeth are not in place, very slightly. But I told him, “No, you don’t need it”. Yes, Indonesians are not as obsessed of perfect teeth as white people. Nala said, “Ihh Azis gimana sih, kata emak behel itu untuk cewe doang!” (Please Azis, my mom said braces are for girls only!) Arif asks me out of the blue, “Kak, are you from England?” I laugh and said no. He asks again, “Then how come you can speak English?” I told him, I learn English since I was his age and he can surely speak English too if he continues learning! Event is starting. The ladies that come from the company look very kinclong“Cakep-cakep yee Kak”, said Nala. The lady from the company asks children questions, and they give out 10 books to those who answer correctly. A bag of T-shirt, book, wafer and milk are given to those who celebrate birthday between 1-10 December. Finally, all children are each given a box of meal; yellow rice, water, a piece of chicken, perkedel, and banana. Nala doesn’t finish her rice and said she will bring it home. I told her, “Why don’t you eat your banana?” She said it’s for her mom, who likes banana. When we’re eating from the boxes, a chicken runs long across our 10m tarp sheet and jump in and out few children’s food!! Everybody scream excitedly! Noticing the chicken jump in Rahma’s food, I, not being aware that instead of being clean, I might sound like a spoiled girl, told the tutor, “Kak, give Rahma a new food box. The chicken jumped in her food!” The tutor only laughs and says, Let it be Kak. Belum 5 menit!” Really? When I turned my face around, Rahma already continues eating. At 1pm, the event’s done. The sky is still cloudy and we walk with the children. The tutor tells me that we don’t have to send them all the way until the centre, just walk with them until the crossover bridge at the main road. The tutor walks with me in the back while children are walking and jumping around drinking their milk in front of us. Right after we go down the crossover bridge, the tutor says, “Okay, let the children go and we take the bus here.” We didn’t say goodbye to the children because they all have walked far in front of us. We watch them walk. The girls at the front, who suddenly realize that we are not there, look back. We wave to them as as sign that we’re not coming back with them. They wave back to us. One by one they realize, they stop, we wave to them, they wave back to us, and they continue walking. Kiki, at the back, who realizes last that we’re not coming, suddenly stops and from afar I can see him shouting to the other kids but I can’t hear what he said, probably telling them that we’re ‘left behind’. He just runs towards us while the others keep walking. I wave him to the left and to the right (as in ‘bye-bye-bye’) and Kak Eja waves him from the back to the front (as in ‘shoo-shoo-shoo’). Kiki stops and reads our sign language. After that, the thin and handsome Kiki with his oversized backpack turns back and runs to catch up with the others. As he runs, his backpack is flying up and down his skinny back. I can see him getting smaller and smaller from where I stand, until he disappears at a right turn..

Tak terasa sudah penghujung tahun… Langkah yang melompat-lompat riang dan tawa-tawa nakal, bukan hanya kenangan.. tapi sudah menjadi bagian dari diriku. Aku pasti akan kembali lagi.


Bus and Buskers

December 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m grateful that I don’t have private car, it’s one of the ways I could be in contact with the world ‘outside’ my milieu. Everyday I get on the ugly bus and blend in with other sweating people who are tired after work, fighting for seats. Today after a bad day that has been going on since morning, I take a bus home and thank god there’s one empty seat left. A busker gets in and starts singing accompanied by his guitar. Since I was hassled by a fake busker few months ago, I have developed greater respect for those who come to sing whole-heartedly. Buskers in Indonesia, aside from, of course, singing love songs, love to sing folk songs with theme of struggle, trying to make it in this cruel world as the unlucky ones. This one, however, is singing an old love song.. I forgot the title. Usually, when buskers get in and sing, people’s eyes would just wonder away, looking blankly at the streets or window, few will give money without even looking. This time, when the busker sing, a toddler sitting on his mom’s laps, keeps giving his thumbs up to him, cheering him up. He smiles back at the toddler while singing. The kenek, who is standing fearlessly at the bus door, is whistling the ‘background vocal’ of the original song. Their interaction strings a very nice conversation between random… but common people. I prepared a rupiah note for him. I’m sitting at the very back of the bus seat, and I notice that nobody give him anything, not even a coin. Before I give the note, a long-hair scary looking guy that sits next to me, gives him a rupiah note. Isn’t it nice when scary looking people turn out to be the nicest? Heehee. I thought these buses, kopaja and metro mini, that are as square as the old Khong-guan biscuits can, could tell so much about Indonesia and the people. They may not qualify for international standard but work just fine enough. They are wretched, but they survive. They are extremely exhausted but that’s life as we know it and we just continue to live. And unfortunately, they may not follow the proper safety procedure, because the price of life is apparently cheaper in Indonesia. I realized this when once our kenek, who was standing at the door, was thrown during a sharp turn from the bus and almost hit by another car. With wounds on his arm and legs limping, he ran to the bus to be scolded by the driver, for not holding on when the bus turning.

I don’t know why I’m writing this.. but I’m surely going to miss this place next year.


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
Image source: 


November 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today both the tutor and I came a little late to the centre. I was waiting for the tutor at the crossover bridge at the main road for her to help me carry a box and bags of clothes. We met at 8.30 and go inside the slum. Kak Eja and I are chatting and buying cookies from the market while walking. When we are near the centre, seven children are already waiting for us right in front of the narrow alley. Seeing us coming with loads, they shouted “Here they are!!” and run towards us with smile on their faces and everybody just wants a piece of load. Sali immediately put the box on top of his head, with his faded blue T-shirt, he looks like a child coolie. Raga (or was it Nala?) got a big plastic bag. Azis wants one too, so I took out another bag from inside my backpack and let him carry it.

There are nine of us walking towards the centre. We are walking under the hot sun and through the narrow alley and the children are very busy talking, teasing, laughing, jumping. That short walk to the centre is such a nice moment :) While waiting for the tutor to get the key from Ma’De, I pinch Azis’ cheek softly and asked him, why haven’t you been coming! He just grin shyly. The tutor opens the key to the centre and we go inside. The children immediately arrange the box and the bags at the corner of our tiny room. They know the clothes are not for them (Sali immediately asked, “is this for La’i?”), nevertheless it looks like they are just naturally happy to be given responsibility to help. We start by doing some drawing then we revised some vocabulary from the previous lessons. Okay, I have collected some mispronunciations by the children that I find really funny! Because English is a new language for them so they tend to associate some of the words with familiar Indonesian words. (FYI, this is only funny for those who speak Indonesian and the slang!)

Semangka = wortel-melon
Anggur = grepe’
Hitam = belek
Mata = yes
Dengkul = kenek
Pemadam kebakaran = firman
Arsitek = (ar) ketek
Maling = kundang (??)

Their doing mnemonics! Brilliant, right?! Lol, these children crack me up everytime! There will be more coming up… :D

After the lesson is done, I pack up my things and prepare to go home. Next to our centre, there has been loud sounds of hitting, it sounds like a hammer, so I suppose the neighbor is constructing or nailing something. When I go out, apparently it is Dimas, the pantless toddler, who is by himself, “busy” hitting his toy with a wooden sandals on the wooden bench. The motorbike toy is already broken to pieces. No wonder I only saw him once at our door today. We call him, “Dimas! Pssst! Dimas!”. But he is too busy “working” he doesn’t even look at us. Hmm.. I always thought the poor children have some kind of benefit (over the middle/upper class) in terms of their freedom exploring the outside world. Many are also quite creative in making their own toys or inventing own games instead of being entertained by expensive but uncreative toys! They are also the ones who enjoy the touch of soil on their feet and the slap of the rain on their faces. There is even some extent of wildness that I envy. Not having everything and being free to do anything. When I am walking, I see two girls outside their home (one is probably 3 years old and I assume the other one is her sister, a one year old), discovering the joy of sliding. They are sitting on the ramp of a 3 steps stairs, sliding down, laughing, taking turns.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Indonesia category at alana eira.