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.

The Blaze

November 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Monday, October 31st, the other side of the slum where I usually work was burned down by fire. More than 200 houses were on flames for hours until they were flat to the ground. Media said what caused the fire was an exploding gas tank, but many people believe it was burned down intentionally as it commonly happens in Indonesia to unlawfully evict “these people” for a “cleaner” city. It also happens regularly to a place until one of these days without you realizing, a mall’s building is in progress.

The children’s centre was not affected but some of the children’s houses are. They are now living in tents and some are sheltered in the centre.

The Happiest Day

October 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

One day after the lesson in the slum, a girl, Nanda, told me about how great the trip to Kidzania was. Kidzania is themed as a child-sized replica of a real city, including buildings, shops and theaters, as well as vehicles and pedestrian moving along its streets. In this city, children aged 2 through 14 could join and experience different kinds of profession from doctor, pilot, construction worker, archeologist, and many more. The trip was a sponsored one from the organization.

“Really, was it great? I heard about it a lot, but never been there. Where is it, it’s inside a mall, right?”, I asked them.

“Umm.. well, you just take the bus, then you just go straaaaaaiiiight…”, said Arif.

“Yeah, and you stop at… umm.. well there were a lot of taxis in front of there”, said Nanda.

“Oh, okay. So you take the bus, go straight, and just stop at the place where there are a lot of taxis, right?”, I said, smiling, trying not to laugh.

“Yep!”, Nanda confirmed affirmatively.

“Yeah.. it was reeeaaally huge. And there were a lot of things there. Fire station, hospital…”, said Arif.

“This kid kept following me everywhere,” said Nanda, annoyed, pointing at Arif, who grinned shyly. I imagined he felt dumbfounded by the huge “majestic” room that he had to follow this tall girl around.

“Do you still have the money?”, ask Kiki to Arif.

“Yea, a million”, he answered.

“What money?”, I asked them.

“You got money, from the KTM”, Arif said. Well, he meant ATM. Apparently there’s some kind of Kidzania currency that they get as their ‘wage’ after doing a job for particular profession. The money could be used to buy an item in there.

“Well, my money is finished. Can you give me some?”, Kiki asked.

“Yea, okay”, said Arif.

Suddenly, as if he forgot a very important detail, Arif stood up and pointed out his finger and shouted “It had air con!!”

The others quickly added, “Yeaaaa it was very cold”, “…until Aziz vomited, masuk angin”, they said.

“And then we drank milk. Enak ye susunye?”, said Nanda.

“Yea.. it was.”,  they answered.

This conversation about Kidzania goes on and on for about 40 minutes! Then I asked the teacher, “So all of you just took a trip to Kidzania? When? How fun!”

“No, kak, it was two years ago”, she answered. I was astonished. They talked with such vivid memories and feelings of wonder as if it was just happened yesterday. I thought to myself, that must be the happiest day of their lives.

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.

Looking For Butterflies

August 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

One of the things lacking in the children centre are storybooks. So when I went to eat somewhere near my new apartment, I was so excited to see a secondhand bookstore. I sat and start browsing hundred of books. I bought nine books for 57,000 rupiah (6 dollars appx). I really like this pop-up book.

… even though some pages needed restoration

Need to be pasted carefully because the animals need to be able to move and jump in curvy lines as you open the page wider.

Pretty cool huh? =)