Thu, 04 Dec 2003

Railway crossing guards stay alert for trains during holiday

Leony Aurora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Suherman woke up at dawn to pray. He then had breakfast, took a bath and went down to the mosque near his house in Tangerang. People from the neighborhood had already started gathering to perform the morning Idul Fitri communal prayer.

Along with his wife and his four-month-old baby, Suherman went afterwards to his parents' house. He knelt in front of them and asked for forgiveness, another important custom of Idul Fitri.

But he could not stay long. After a brief conversation, he changed into a blue uniform, walked over to his wife and kissed their baby daughter. "I have to go now," he told his wife.

Half-an-hour later, speeding on his motorcycle through the seemingly deserted streets of Jakarta, the 25-year-old man arrived at the railway crossing in Pejompongan, West Jakarta. It was already 9 o'clock.

"Minal aidin wal faidzin," which means please forgive my faults, both physically and spiritually, he greeted a colleague whom he was supposed to replace at 6 a.m. "Thank you for waiting for me," he said.

Suherman works as a railway crossing guard, in charge of opening and closing the gate to warn motorists of passing trains.

"We can't take leave near Idul Fitri, it's company policy," he said. "I feel sad about not being with my family, but well, this is my duty."

The phone rang and a bell struck once. "That means there is a train coming from the direction of Kebayoran," he said after briefly talking on the phone.

"If we don't work, then people wouldn't be able to travel by train," he added, emphasizing the importance of his work.

Further celebration, visiting relatives and friends, would have to wait until his shift finished at 1 p.m. "I don't want my family to come and celebrate Idul Fitri here with me. It is enough already that I would be sad today," he smilingly said.

For these railway crossing guards, going to their hometown for Lebaran, is almost impossible. "I have worked since 1979, and I have never, not even once, gone home to Pacitan for Lebaran," said Tubari, a 53-year-old employee whose parents still live in Pacitan in East Java.

"My wife and my children don't go there either, as they don't want to go unless I can join them," said the guard of the railway crossing in front of Permata Hijau housing complex in South Jakarta.

"Well, we just have to accept this," Tubari said. His disappointment obvious as he hammered on, "but it's not fair that other people can take holidays and we always have to stay and watch the trains here."

He also complained that his salary was held, as the banks were not open during the holiday. "I have bought some new clothes for my children from the holiday bonus, but my money is running out," he said.

"My youngest kid asked me to go to Dufan (Dunia Fantasy in Ancol). Her mother scowled at her. She thinks it's a waste of money," he said. It would have to wait until Friday when I get a day off, he added.

In the meantime, after his shift is done, he would just go home and wait for his relatives to visit, he said.