Tag Archives: slum

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 Different Side of the City

by Uzra

Slum tours are a strange concept to fully grasp–the term is somewhat of an oxymoron itself. On Saturday afternoon I “toured” the slums of east Jakarta with seven others from the group, as a few of us are writing articles about economic development in the city. This particular tour has been the topic of much debate and controversy in the local press. While many view a tour through a slum to be distinctly disrespectful of the privacy of the slum-dwellers or say that it projects Jakarta in a bad light to foreigners, those leading the tour stand for exposing the truth, albeit ugly, to the world. The (rather steep) fees for our tour would be used by the organizers for their development work in the slums, so to call it simply a tour would perhaps be selling it short. We started off as many tourists would–after a big breakfast, and with an open mind.

Among the group there were varied reactions to the tour.  Having recently been on a slum tour through Dharavi, Mumbai, I found myself with a constant point of comparison in my mind. In Mumbai, the tour guide was a boy who had grown up in the slum himself and had gone on to join the slum tour group. He had shown us his old school in Dharavi and walked us from one end of the slum to the other,explaining that it was a buzzing economic hub. Photography was prohibited.

On Saturday however, we were taken into the slum by guides who had no such affiliation with it. They were individuals who had set up, in a rather haphazard manner, a classroom for children of the slum in addition to this tour. The car ride to the slum was full of conversation with the chattier of the guides, perhaps due to our questions, about the different swanky malls in Jakarta. Our car dropped us off at a specific point and waited as we walked around. I started to feel uneasy and a bit unwelcome. A combination of our cameras (photography was allowed and encouraged on this tour) and plastic water bottles made us look like quintessential tourists. The language barrier between us and the slum-dwellers, the company of the tour guides who didn’t know the people whose houses we were walking by, and the fact that our car was waiting for us in a nearby alley to take us to the next stop point of the tour, instead of walking, all made me feel distinctly uncomfortable.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly why I didn’t feel this unease after Dharavi in December. Many factors about it were different, I suppose. There was much less of a language barrier (I am from Mumbai), no cameras, no cars. But more importantly, I think, the focus of the tour was slightly different. While in Mumbai it was more focused on the economic industries of Dharavi, in Jakarta it felt as though the guides were trying  hard to create in us the sense of pathos that a slum is supposed to evoke. They constantly asked us for our opinions, but these efforts had the opposite effect on me. This was probably my last slum tour.