Mon, 13 Mar 2000

Barbers cut out a living on the street

JAKARTA (JP): Those walking or driving along the heavily congested Jl. Matraman Raya in East Jakarta cannot help but be aware of the street barbers struggling to make a living on the sidewalk.

With worn-out chairs and small, beat-up Echolac suitcases containing mirrors, combs, scissors and modest shaving gear, the barbers -- some of whom have been in the profession for dozens of years -- work under the open sky near Koinonia Church.

Amazingly, their number has grown slightly since the economic crisis hit the country in mid-1997, although they struggle to earn enough to support their families.

From seven in 1998, there are now 15 Matraman street barbers along the 50 meters of sidewalk.

It may surprise many people to learn that the sidewalk barbers often go home at night with only Rp 3,000 in their pockets, the same amount of money it costs for a bowl of bakso (meatball soup) on the streets in Jakarta.

But these barbers do not complain because they are used to hardship. Some of them simply fast during those days when they do not earn enough to eat.

"If I have no money then I simply forget about my lunch or dinner. It has become usual for me to fast. So ... I just take things easy," said Anen, one of the barbers.

Talking to The Jakarta Post on Sunday afternoon, he was still waiting for his first customer of the day.

Like many people struggling for life on Jakarta's streets and sidewalks, the Matraman barbers believe they and their families will survive.

Hasan, another barber, said: "I think there are people from the lower economic classes who will always come to us because we offer very cheap prices."

Like his fellow barbers, the 53-year-old man said he did not set fixed costs for his services.

"But customers usually pay me between Rp 2,500 and Rp 3,000 for a haircut," Hasan said.

Some of the barbers use a tarpaulin to protect themselves and their customers from the rain and heat.

"I just take an old chair from the church as I can't afford to buy one," said barber Surip Supriadi.

Some of the street barbers have been cutting hair for 50 years and many have colorful backgrounds.

The 76-year-old Surip, for example, comes from a prominent civil servant family during the Dutch colonial era. His father worked as an opzichter, or controller, on the colonial government's projects.

Surip enjoyed an education that not all Indonesian people at the time received.

But the fortunes of his family began to fade in 1942 when the Japanese colonial government took over in Indonesia.

"(Being a barber) is the only job I can do," said the father of four.

His children support themselves so Surip only has to take care of himself and his wife with the average Rp 9,000 he earns per day.

Another barber, Tasrip, 45, who earns a similar amount of money, has to support eight children.

"Of course I can't afford it, so my family has to rely on others for help, including my parents and in-laws," said the former vegetable vendor.

Tasrip said he was no longer strong enough to sell vegetables, so he opted to become a barber last year.

"The job is not physically consuming. I learned the job from my colleagues here last year," he said.(ind)