Sun, 01 Oct 2000

A day with a 'becak' driver from Lampung

Sunadi, about 45, is a becak (pedicab) driver from the village of Jambe, Indramayu, in Sumatra's Lampung province. Previously a farmer, he moved to Jakarta three years ago in an effort to earn a better living, leaving his wife Ramini, 27, and two young children behind. Currently living in Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta, he spoke to The Jakarta Post's contributor William Furney.

JAKARTA (JP): Because I'm Muslim, I get up at 5 a.m. to say the morning prayer. Then I start working straight away. I wait for passengers beside Plaza Indonesia. There are lots of other becak drivers there. I'll go to one of the warung (food stalls) and have some rice and tempeh. About 6 a.m., there are lots of people around and it's a busy time. They want to go the market and I'll take them for about Rp 2,000. The biggest fare I ever got was Rp 5,000.

Many becak drivers don't have anywhere to live; the becak is their home; they sleep in them at night. In the morning, they wash in public toilets. I'm lucky to have a house, even though it's very small; it only has one room. But it's fine for me. I pay Rp 40,000 in rent each month. It's not too much.

I was a farmer for 10 years before I came to Jakarta. I wasn't earning very much money and thought I could do better riding a becak in Jakarta. I was earning about Rp 500,000 per month and was tired from the hard work. I bought my becak three years ago. At that time, it cost about Rp 600,000. Now they cost over Rp 1 million. Everything has gone up since the crisis.

I've been working in Jakarta for two years now. I drove the becak for a short while in Indramayu but I couldn't earn enough. Usually it was about Rp 5,000 per day - only enough for a packet of cigarettes. In Jakarta, I can earn about Rp 25,000 every day, so it's much better to work here.

A lot of the becak drivers here were angry when Governor Sutiyoso banned us from working in the city. Some people went on demonstrations. They felt they had the right to work here and couldn't understand the ban. And when they were offered money to go back to their villages or to set up warung, they said it wasn't enough. But they were happy when it was decided we could continue to ride our becak.

I don't care whether I'm allowed to ride my becak in the city or not. If they tell me to go home, I will. I'll just do something different. Maybe I'd be a farmer again. Until then, I'll stay working here. The government has always tried to get rid of us, even in (RI's first president) Bung Karno's time. He said he wanted the city to be more attractive to foreigners and to make Jakarta an international city. That's why he didn't want becak on the streets. It's like they were ashamed of their own culture. I don't really understand why.

From 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., it's very busy in this area; lots of people are going home and the ones living nearby will travel by becak.

I stay working until 11 p.m. It's a very long day, but I have to do it if I want to earn enough money. There are not that many customers around at night, occasionally just some foreigners who want to go to Monas park or somewhere else around there.

I usually go back to my village twice a month. But if I don't have enough money, I'll stay in Jakarta. I usually go home for about five days and just rest. Riding a becak is not easy, especially at my age; I get very tired and have pains.

If I had a choice, I'd prefer to live in Jakarta, as opposed to my village. Life is better in the capital, there's more money to be made, and more opportunities. Maybe some day, my wife and children will move here, but right now I'm now sure.

I hope when my children grow up they can have a better life than me. The most important thing for them is education. If I had a choice, I'd like to do something else. But I think it's not to be. Hopefully, today's kids will have a better time and find it easier to make money. I know lots of people, friends of mine, who go to Taiwan, South Korea and China to work. They do all sorts of things there, including working in fish farms. I'd like to go abroad and do something like that, but I don't think it'll happen.

When I get home at night, I'll wash and have something to eat. I'm always so tired and sore that I fall straight asleep, exhausted.