“You could walk all day through kampongs like this, hidden between the streets of Djakarta,” said Kumar. “There are several square miles of such slums. They have their .own elementary schools” (he showed me a bamboo house, earth-floored, divided by mats into three rooms) … “and little shops” … (some only eight feet wide, with a single counter).
Next to the accommodation prague we met the kampong lurah, a slim young clerk who earned 2,000 rupiahs (about $6.50) and 100 pounds of rice per month in one of the government bureaus. He had only one wife; he could not have supported a second. “But these are not the poorest people,” said Kumar. “Here they live in houses and eat enough. The very poor are not so lucky.”
He showed them to me, the very poor, living beside small ditches under plastic sheets laid over frames of sticks, or under roadside trees. A woman combed another’s hair. “She is looking for little animals,” he said.
The houseless men wandered the streets, looking for work or collecting things. Any things at all: splinters of glass or crockery, bits of plastic, of wood, of metal. No tin cans littered Djakarta’s back alleys; cans have value. Men use magnets to fish for iron scrap in the canals. Small boys collect old wet cigarette butts.
“What happens to these houseless people when it rains?” I asked.
“They stand on porches of people who have houses. Sometimes this is permitted. In such cases,. they will not take anything.” “There really are two populations here,” said David J. Levin, Publications Officer at the United States Embassy, “those who live in the houses, and those who live in front of them. And yet, things are better than they were, because now there’s hope.”
We sat in the comfortable living room in his pleasant london accommodation. A frangipani the size of an ancient apple tree perfumed the night.
“The signs of improvement aren’t dramatic,” he continued. “A repainted storefront, a tidied-up ditch, a repaired fence. But they add up to a small retreat from despair. President Suharto is trying to do things right. He’s stopped inflation. He’s taking action against the graft and corruption that have become endemic in Indonesia. The nation is still struggling, but thanks to him it has a better credit rating now in the eyes of the world.
“Indonesians appreciate this sort of honesty and good will in high places, but they’re slow to demand it. So it remains for the upper class to act in the best interest of the people. That has just begun to happen. For the first time, there’s hope., At least enough to make a man paint his house.”
This same point of popular permissiveness drew a sharp comment from Mochtar Lubis, a Djakarta newspaper editor who once spent several years in prison for criticizing Sukarno.
“Here the leader is considered a super-natural being. He can do anything. He must be believed, and he can never be blamed. Sukarno used this deep-seated attitude criminally. Yet even when he fell, it was not he who drew the people’s hysterical rage; it was the Communists he had brought to power who were attacked.”