Streets of Jakarta not paved in gold
Emmy Fitri and Ivy Susanti, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Jakarta stands out like a gleaming beacon to the rest of the country, attracting a wave of migrants each year. And the largest influx of migrants to the capital takes place each year following Idul Fitri, when thousands of Indonesians from the rural areas stream into Jakarta full of hopes for a better life.
But for the majority of these new arrivals, the streets of the city are not paved with gold. They soon discover the darker side of Jakarta, and find that their dreams of the good life have been transformed into a nightmarish existence of constant struggle simply to survive.
Strangely enough, the strongest warnings against coming to Jakarta to seek a better life don't come from the city's governor or the population agency, but from musicians and artists.
When Indonesia's economy was on the ebb in the 1970s, renowned female musician Titiek Puspa composed Bimbi, a song about a village girl who comes to Jakarta with high expectations but ends up working as a prostitute. Sam Bimbo of the Bimbo Group explored the same theme in Balada Gadis Desa (Ballad of a Village Girl).
Probably the most popular song among migrants is the satirical Siapa Suruh Datang Jakarta? (Who Told You to Come to Jakarta?).
All of these songs are stilled played on the radio and TV, yet their message has not dissuaded the migrants, who keep coming. Governor Sutiyoso was quoted by a local newspaper as saying that an estimated 250,000 people come to Jakarta each year following Idul Fitri.
What is the fate of these migrants?
The 56-year-old Samin left his hometown of Brebes, Central Java, to seek a new life for himself in Jakarta. He sold his paddy field, his family's only asset, and used some of the money to send his daughter to school in Brebes. He used the rest of the money to travel to Jakarta and try his luck.
But when he arrived, he found that finding work was not as easy as he had heard from neighbors in Brebes who had been to the capital.
"This year's fasting month is my fourth Ramadhan here and I have no savings. I am only able to earn enough for one meal a day."
Samin spends many of his days at the Permata Hijau housing complex, South Jakarta, where groups of men go to seek work as manual laborers. Jobs are few and far between, and when he does find work, Samin is paid only Rp 7,000 a day.
"That's not enough for anything except to buy some food and a few cigarettes," Samin, who sleeps in a security post in the housing complex, said.
When asked if he wanted to return to Brebes, Samin said: "If I wanted, I could have gone home when I still had enough money to buy a bus ticket. Now I am too ashamed. I can't even pay for the bus fare, and anyway what would I do back there."
Suhardiyanto, has done better for himself and his family than most migrants, running 14 small bakso (meatball soup) stands and overseeing 20 employees. But he still feels that he has not achieved the success that he dreamed of.
"What success? This is not success. A boss should work behind a desk, not like me. I have to wake up at 4 a.m. and start preparing bakso until it's all finished at 10 a.m.," said the 47- year-old at his house in Cipulir, Kebayoran Lama, South Jakarta.
The father of two said when he first came to Jakarta from Wonogiri, Central Java, some 11 years ago, he was just hoping to find a job that would allow him to improve his life.
"I changed jobs many times during the first five years, until I ran out of ideas what to do as my life was not getting better. I was already married and had a family to feed," said Suhardiyanto.
He started selling bakso and eked by on his earnings until a relative extended him a loan and he expanded his business.
Now with a daily income of about Rp 700,000, he is able to bring his family to visit his hometown almost three times a year. There, he is looked upon as a success story.
Suhardiyanto said he was often approached by relatives and neighbors in Wonogiri looking for a job in Jakarta.
"I don't look for workers from my hometown but relatives and neighbors who need a job come to me, and most of the time I just can't turn them down," he said.
Of his 20 employees, all but five are from Wonogiri. When asked what they hoped for from Jakarta, most of the employees said they wanted to be like their boss.
Sociologist Paulus Wirutomo said migration to the capital was caused by the large welfare gap between Jakarta and the regions.
He said if the central government and the regional authorities did not take steps to end this welfare gap, migrants would continue to pour into Jakarta, resulting in dangerous overpopulation, increased unemployment and a fall in productivity.
"The increasing number of migrants (coming to the capital) is an indication that there is a difference in the welfare and the opportunities in Jakarta and other regions. Migrants don't just come to Jakarta after the (Idul Fitri) holiday, they come every day."
And as the competition for jobs become tougher, he said it would be difficult for people with little or no education to succeed in the city.
But such warnings are unlikely to dissuade would-be migrants, convinced that a better life awaits them in Jakarta. Sadly, though, many of these people will find themselves in the same position as Samin, having given up their dreams and simply trying to scrape together enough money each day to eat.