Thu, 28 Aug 2003

'I'll go back to living under a bridge'

About 1,720 makeshift houses in Jembatan Besi, West Jakarta, were demolished on Tuesday. The houses were built on 5.5 hectares of land belonging to PT Cakra Wira Buana back in 1998. The eviction turned violent when residents began pelting the authorities with stones. The Jakarta Post spoke with some Jembatan Besi residents who lost homes they had lived in for years.

Ismail, 35, is a food vendor in Pejagalan market, West Jakarta:

I was shocked that my house was destroyed in the eviction yesterday. I just arrived from my hometown Tegal, Central Java.

I had been living here for more than four years. I remember I had to pay about Rp 600,000 to a "senior resident" just for a three-by-four meter makeshift house. I lived there with two friends from my hometown.

I already knew what could happen because the land was not mine. I knew I had to be ready to be evicted.

Now it has happened. What can I say? It was my risk to live here. Luckily my friends were able to save some of our belongings.

I plan to rent a house nearby. It will cost me about Rp 100,000 to Rp 200,000 a month for a three-by-three meter room.

But I have to take it despite the relatively expensive rent. Anyway, it's a lot safer. There were lots of drug dealers, hoodlums and criminals in my neighborhood in Jembatan Besi.

Botak, 28, is a scavenger who lived in Jembatan Besi with his wife and daughter:

I don't know what to say about this. But this is just part of life for poor people like me.

I know it's hard to make a decent living in the city, including finding a decent place to live. I got my place in Jembatan Besi for free because nobody asked me for money when I moved in.

I moved here three years ago because I saw that lots of fellow scavengers lived in the area. I knew the possible consequences, including eviction. So I was ready for the worst.

I liked the place because I had a shelter and a place to keep all my things, despite the fact that I lived among thugs, beggars, scavengers and vendors.

Now that I have been evicted maybe I'll go back to my old life, living under a bridge like before. I just don't know what bridge.

I just regret that most people here rejected the compensation of between Rp 500,000 and Rp 1 million.

I have to face the fact that living in Jakarta is always hard, especially for poor people.

Siti, not her real name, 38, is a housewife who lived in Jembatan Besi with her vendor husband. Her six children live in Serang, Banten:

There is nothing I can say except, "I am on the wrong side." That's the best thing to say in such situations, I guess.

This is the consequence of living in a 12-square-meter makeshift house here. I was aware of the risks.

We had been warned to vacate the land a long time ago. I know that I didn't belong there.

I'm not too sad, though. I think I will go home to Serang to look after my children there. I will let my husband continue working a vendor here, otherwise we wouldn't have any money to raise our children.

I thank God that my eldest daughter graduated from university and can make a little money to help us.

We're luckier than some of our neighbors who lost their belongings. I was able to save some of my cutlery and our clothes. The rest vanished among the ruins.

-- Leo Wahyudi S.