Tag Archives: Jakarta

A Day in the Kampung

by Raisa

In Indonesian, kampung is translated literally as “community” or “village,” but considered in Jakarta to be a slum neighborhood. To walk into a kampung is to walk into an intensely private, interconnected, and intimate space. For the residents, home is both the narrow mud street between plywood shacks and the clean-swept tiles within.

Catherine, Jasmine and I were lucky to be taken into one of the kampung of northern Jakarta last week with the field coordinator and secretary of the Urban Poor Consortium. The UPC operates throughout Jakarta and the rest of Indonesia to provide community organizing and political advocacy, working as a voice for the often-unregistered citizens who dwell in the slums and communities that are unrecognized by the government. After spending the morning with the UPC staff members, we drove through heavy traffic and by soaring skyscrapers and ritzy condominiums to a kampung named Kebon Bayem (“Spinach Garden” in English). Here, 450 families have built homes in a cramped space by the railroad tracks.

I have been to slums and poor neighborhoods before. Often I feel like an intruder staring at a spectacle. But at Kebon Bayem, I did not. We were immediately welcomed by the community leaders with whom the UPC works. Eager to show us their village and share their stories of frustration and resilience, we were invited into the humble mosque they built themselves, a plywood-and-corrugated-tin affair with white tile floors. As we settled ourselves cross-legged on the floor, residents began to crowd in; first the men, then women and children who peered in through the open door.

For two uninterrupted hours we spoke with the community leaders. The buzzing of flies, the air heavy with cigarette smoke, the shrieks of children outside, the stiffness of my crossed legs: despite these distractions, I didn’t for a moment want to be anywhere else. Never mind the sweat dripping down my face and the uncomfortable way my shirt stuck to my back. This was my first field visit as a reporter, not just a tourist. Each face and voice presented a story to tell. Each detail fascinated me.

When we tired of questioning, we were invited to attend a religious ceremony celebrating the seven-month birthday of a baby in the kampung. After the prayer chants were completed, and after each man present in the mosque had cut off a small tuft of the baby’s hair, a feast was served to us from a huge communal bowl covered with banana leaves and filled with rice, soybean cakes, noodles, chicken, and vegetables. We ate as everyone else did: with our hands, and sitting on the floor.

As the afternoon came to a close, we were brought to the spinach garden that some of the kampung residents farm. In the distance, huge villas and apartment complexes loomed. But the elderly woman pulling spinach right next to us, in her colorful sarong and round hat, could have been from any rural community in Indonesia in the last few centuries.

When I left Kebon Bayem, I felt like I finally had a grasp on Jakarta. Many find it complicated, overdeveloped in some aspects and underdeveloped in others, as I had too upon arrival. And while I may never understand what makes this city’s heart beat, I knew I had connected with real people in real, tangible communities, and with that Jakarta came alive for me.

Laundry hanging in a side alley of Kabon Bayem

Community leaders relaxing in the mosque after finishing the meal we shared

A woman picks spinach right outside the kampung


A Jakarta Fairy Tale

by Jessie

I arrived at Dyah and Partners eager to meet with Andrew Sriro, an American lawyer, for my first in-person interview for a Globalist story. I began our interview by asking him about the topic of my article, a draft bill requiring  foreign men to deposit Rp 500 million (about $50,000) with the Ministry of Religion before marrying a Muslim Indonesian woman. After answering a few of the questions I had prepared, Sriro decided that his own experience would give my article some “color,” so he decided to “tell me a fairy tale.” Once upon a time, he began, he saw a beautiful Indonesian woman in the airport and, dared by his friends, asked her for her number. Midway through their second date, Mr. Sriro realized that the woman, Davie, was a princess, the daughter of the Sultan of Surakarta. They married a year later, but the Sultan, angry that his daugher didn’t marry an Indonesian man, disowned her. As Mr. Sriro regaled me with his tale and showed me pictures of people bowing down to kiss the feet of his wife’s father, I copied down every word.

After learning Mr. Sriro’s entire life story – including his law school GPA, how much his house in Jakarta cost, and his childrens’ royal titles –  it was time to head back to the hotel. However, as it does everyday at about 3:30pm in Jakarta, it had begun to rain. Really rain. The streets outside Mr. Sriro’s office were flooded with no less than a foot of water, so he offered to have his driver take me back after dropping him off at home. After a half-hour, one kilometer drive, we arrived at Mr. Sriro’s home in a quiet gated community. The car hadn’t taken well to the flood, so he invited me inside while we waited for the car to cool down.  Entering his house, I was immediately greeted by  his seven household staff, including three nannies for his two children. There wasn’t much time for introductions, however, because the small courtyard in Mr. Sriro’s house was an inch away from flooding his living room. For the next forty-five minutes I sat awkwardly on the sofa, my offers to help rebuffed, as Mr. Sriro and his staff bailed out the courtyard one bucket at a time.

Finally, with the crisis averted and Mr. Sriro’s driver relieved from bucket duty, we set off for the hotel. After two hours in traffic,  I arrived at the hotel safe and sound, if not more than a little amazed by the absurdity that one afternoon in Jakarta can bring.

Introduction to the Megacity

By Catherine and Raffi

Jakarta is home to an estimated 13 million people. It was hard to imagine what this would be like until we drove through it from the airport last night. Below the highway, an ocean of red tile roofs and groups of skyscrapers streamed by. We were overwhelmed by the sights of boulevards along boulevards, cars driving on the opposite side of the road, motorcycles and tuk-tuks everywhere weaving in and out, massive drooping power lines, and buildings easily hundreds of stories high plastered with advertisements and logos of multinational companies. Everywhere it looks like concrete and tropical vegetation are competing for space, closely intertwined in this urban jungle. Despite the sweltering heat and humidity, this morning we donned the appropriate formal wear (after a delicious hotel breakfast) and headed off to meetings!

After morning interviews with an environmental journalist from Reuters (Catherine) and representatives from the Ministry of Religion (Raffi), we both visited Marco Kusumawijama. Marco is an urban planner who has worked extensively with the World Bank and the UN on implementing participatory development projects. He is now spearheading the Citizens’ Coalition for Jakarta 2030, an urban planning group that has just finished planning a lawsuit against the government for violating its recently ratified freedom of information law. (By recently, we mean that this law was passed at the end of April 2010.) Fortunately, the government has kindly agreed to address their demands after getting wind of the lawsuit, according to Marco.

We found it interesting to think of city planning in a place this chaotic and unruly — Jakarta just seems inherently unplanned. Marco moved to the city after studying architecture in East Timor and Belgium, and is a fierce defendant of its “paradoxical vitality within a chaotic space.” Such chaos breeds classic urban problems such as dreadful traffic and sprawling slums. Poor preparedness also fails to deal with issues that are more specific to the area, like flooding caused by daily afternoon tropical torrents. After ending our conversation in the rain on Marco’s porch we hopped in the hotel car just in time for the 5:30 traffic jam on the way back. Our long ride was confirmation that the story our half-Indonesian friend at Yale told us was not hyperbole–he and his parents, when visiting, would actually give up on dinner out after waiting in traffic for an hour and wade through stationary cars to grab food from a street vendor.

Marco also spoke about overseeing the reconstruction of hundreds of homes in Banda Aceh that were ravaged by the infamous 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. He criticized the lack of attention some of the larger NGOs and organizations, such as the Red Cross and the World Bank, paid to the smaller details in prioritizing the needs of the Acehnese post-tsunami. Christina, our emeritus production editor, will be hashing out the specifics of this process in her article, while Catherine and Jasmine will expand on the urban planning needs of Jakarta in theirs.

If Marco left us with any profound thought, it is this: “Modern city planning should not reduce the complexity of the city.”