Coming from a very systematic, rigid system of ruling, moving to Indonesia is a big eye-opener for me. What struck me most when I first came was the large number of street children roaming the streets selling crackers, matches, tabloids or wiping your screen or just holding out their hands begging for money. Street children in Bahasa Indonesia is “ anak jalanan”. I later realized the term does not only refer to children but anyone who is jobless and ‘helpless’ roaming the streets.
When I was traveling on a bus from Jogjakarta to Bandung sometime last year, a group of able-bodied men who called themselves street children boarded the bus for a while to entertain us with latest hot tunes in Indonesia. I did not give them anything since they look capable enough of landing themselves in proper jobs. They became persistent and started tugging at my shirt. I pretended I do not know the language and spoke in English telling them I do not like to be touched. Bad move! Cause now the whole bus started looking at me as if I’m some alien from outer space and some started to chat up with us, two foreign girls traveling alone. We slept throughout the whole 8 hours journey.
Street children are everywhere in Indonesia especially in thriving cities. Jakarta has the most number of street kids. Being the capital city, it attracts poor people, promising prosperity and good jobs. Slum housing lines every street and bridges in the city centre.
All these are very new to me. Where I come from, you never see anyone homeless or kids running around the streets begging. I shed a few tears as my heart goes out to the poor. I will unwind the windows to give them money. I was stopped by a mate, a Chinese Medanese. Not that I’m racist but I observed they are the more affluent ones and they try to avoid any association with the native Indonesians. This Chinese girl will never drive alone after 6pm and will lock everything when she’s driving. She said, “Do not trust the Indonesian. You never know if they will rape or rob you.” As she was driving, a few street kids crossed the road. She looked irritated and told me not to give them anything. She claimed that these kids are just creating trouble in the roads. They are owned by syndicate owners who will pounce on a chance of any kid getting knocked down by cars. They will approach the driver and will ask for large sums of money for medical fee of the child being hit. Most of the time, they will ask for 5 to 10 times more than what they have to pay. So, according to this Chinese girl, whoever accidentally hits these street kids on the road, they will reverse and hit them again until they die so they will escape paying exorbitantly for their medical fee. She said it so nonchalantly.
Poverty is really rampant in big cities in Indonesia. I once saw an infant about 2 years of age lying in the streets of Bandung. No signs of adults tending to him. There was also a boy, about 8, lying in a busy street in Medan, as if drugged. I heard a story about a maid who takes her employer’s 4 month old child out every time his parents were out and begged in the streets. The infant’s parents noticed that he was turning darker. ( Rich Indonesians hate tanned skin). One day their neighbour saw the maid begging and carrying their child in her arms at lunchtime. You can’t really blame these maids sometimes. They have mouths to feed and they are paid so miserably. A full-time stay-in maid gets paid about 300,000rp on the average. That is about 30 USD. If you think that is unfair enough, you’d be appalled to see how they are treated. Then again, not all employers are like that and not all employees are that innocent. I’ve got a horrifying maid story myself.
Narcotics are a really big problem in Indonesia. Some kids about age 7, I saw at the zoo, stopped me to ask for ciggies and I saw some sniffing glue on a high wall.
Some are really privileged they have connections with important people. I went to a really trippy club in Jakarta, said to be a drug centre. You do not see bottles of alcoholic beverages on the tables but bottles of mineral water. I must have appeared really loud in my red dress and must have attracted attention. A guy came up to me and asked what I would like to consume and told me it’s free for me. This place, is said to be owned by a son of an official so they seldom raid the place or they do it just for the sake of doing it. The authorities are not to be trusted. I have been warned not to hit the clubs alone,especially cause I’m a girl cause there are several ‘alligators’ who can bring me home even if I have a male companion with me. They are that powerful. I will be warned if there will be any raids on any particular Saturday night and I will be forbidden to go out because they said foreigners are more prone to be stopped by the authorities. They said these officials will be rewarded for catching foreigners in possession of narcotics. Some go to the extend of planting them in your pockets.
Then again, all these stories come from people who lead comfy lives locked behind high walls and fancy gates and who themselves own secret organizations or are in some ways connected to people who do. These are people who do not dare walk the streets alone or forgot what it is like to talk to others tactfully. These are the people who scorn the poor yet pay them a miserable amount of money to protect them and family, and dismiss them as and when they like without proper cause.
I felt so happy last April. We had a carnival in school and I saw a group of street kids peering from outside with a desire to join the games. I gave them some stamps on their arms through the wires and invited them in. They had a whale of a time playing and left thanking me like they’ve never thanked anyone before. They still remembered me. They will wave every time they see me walking to the other school building as they pick old boxes and cans to sell.
This is a photograph of street children taken from a bus. It’s not that clear. They were happy I took their pics. They were selling drinks in the streets.