Wed, 21 Jun 2000

Bus shelters have extra functions for street people

JAKARTA (JP): It is now common to see bus shelters in the city being used as trading places, sites for street musicians and even "homes" for vagrants.

It does, of course, inconvenience bus passengers as they have to wait for buses outside of the shelters, in which goods ranging from food and beverages to electronic equipment is often sold.

But if one takes the time to sit in a shelter and talk to the people there, one will hear many stories, mainly about lives filled with hardship.

Such stories were shared on Tuesday by bus shelter "community" members, like Ati and Lina at a bus stop on Jl. Imam Bonjol in Central Jakarta.

For Ati, 21, her life revolves around the bus shelter, which is located just in front of the Bank Mega building. It is the first place she sees when she wakes up in the morning.

Poverty has forced her to convert the bus shelter into her "house" which shelters the mother of four at night.

By just spreading used cardboard boxes along the back part of the bus stop, she, together with fellow busker Lina and one of her daughters, Muslimah, has created a row of beds for the three of them to spend the nights.

She has lived this way for about three years.

"I have nothing to worry about as everybody here is my friend. I sleep here every night at about 11 p.m. This is the most strategic place to beg," she said while checking Muslimah's hair for lice.

Ati relies on the kindness of security guards in surrounding office buildings when she needs to use the bathroom, "or we just go to the nearby river (located between Jl. Sutan Sjahrir and Jl. Mochamad Yamin in Central Jakarta) to relieve ourselves and wash ourselves with water in a nearby channel if the building guards don't let us use the bathroom."

Four-year-old Muslimah appears to accept their way of life.

"She never fusses about the condition," said Ati, referring to her second daughter whose skin is covered in pockmarks and sores.

It was also at the shelter that she awaited the time to deliver her fourth child, a son, two months ago.

"It was easier to get transportation when the time came, instead of staying at my mother's hut in the Kalideres area (in West Jakarta) as here was closer to the clinic to deliver my baby."

She gave birth at a clinic in Senen, Central Jakarta, accompanied by her husband, also a busker.

Ati is plump after the birth and breast milk stains her bodice. Her mother, who is also a busker, looks after her baby. Her other two children stay with relatives in Subang, West Java.

Ati reluctantly shared her life story, explaining that she had been divorced several times. The last time was several days after giving birth to her youngest child.

"My last husband, Bolor, was so lazy that I preferred to divorce him," she said, just before jumping into an approaching air-conditioned bus with Muslimah.

Her colleague, Urip, said Ati had married so many times that she had four children from different husbands.

"She had her first child, a daughter, when she was 15 years old, a year after her first marriage," he said.

Urip described Ati as a strong woman who hit the streets again just three days after giving birth to her baby boy.

Lina, also a divorcee, shared a similar story about bad fate that had forced her to live at the bus shelter for two years.

"I started sleeping here after I divorced my husband two years ago. It was him who brought me here four years ago from our hometown of Indramayu (in West Java)," the 24-year-old woman said.

The mother of one son said she had neither a house nor a job when her husband married another woman.

Her only son is being brought up by her family in Indramayu.

She said she and Ati had been raided by security personnel twice for sleeping at the bus shelter.

"They say that our presence here bothers others, but they let us run our activities here during the day," she said. (ind)