Sun, 28 May 2000

Twenty-for hours with vegetable seller Jarmi

Vegetable seller Jarmi thinks she may be about 50 years of age -- like many elderly Indonesians, she does not know the exact year of her birth. A trader all her life, Jarmi has been operating from a stall at Pasar Rumput, South Jakarta, for over 20 years. Born in Cirebon, West Java, she lives in Manggarai, South Jakarta, with her husband, Matayasin, six children, ranging in age from 16 to 28, and her blind mother.

"It's always an early start for me. I get out of bed at 4:00 a.m. and, after washing, I hurry out the door to Pasar Rumput. I think about the day ahead and hope I can make enough money. The market is very near to my house, so it doesn't take long to get there. I usually go by bajaj (three-wheeled motorized vehicle).

When I get to the market, the first thing I do is pray. Then I'll have something to eat -- usually rice with tempeh or tofu. My favorite food is vegetables, so I guess I am in the right job. Then I arrange the produce on the stall and again hope I will have a good day. I'm always thinking about that.

I own my stall at the market. I've had it for a long time. I sell a lot of types of vegetables, depending on whether they are in season or not. But I always have the usuals: chillies, garlic, tomatoes, onions and so on. I pay about Rp 5,000 in rent and electricity each day, so it's not that expensive to run this stall. But it's a small area and there's nowhere to sit. Sometimes I get back pain from standing all day.

The market tends to wind down about 9:00 a.m. as people have bought what they need for the morning. I go straight home and lie down for a while -- the heat and the noise in the market is very tiring. I get up in the early afternoon and watch some television. I like the Indian films. Then I have to cook lunch for the children. It's usually rice, tofu and things like that. We don't eat meat because of the cholesterol.

I live in my family home in Manggarai. It's very small and there's not much room for all of us that are living there. My father died a long time ago, but my mother is still with us. She's about 70 years old and is totally blind. Sometimes she has difficulty recognizing us and we have to tell her who we are over and over. But when she puts her hand on our faces, there is no mistaking. Her hands are like her eyes. There are no rooms in the house; it's just one space, and at night we just sleep on the floor. But it's in a safe area.

It's not that I like doing the work I do, but it's the only thing I know. If I didn't sell vegetables, I would have to give up on life as there would be nothing for me to do. I am not able to read or write and this is something I regret to this day. I would love to be able to pick up a newspaper, or one of those magazines, and sit down to read it. Or write a letter. My children think it's strange that I can't do these things; it's natural for them. But there wasn't any opportunity for me when I was young. I had to earn money for the family. I hope when my children grow up they will have an easier life. The youngest is still in school.

Since the economic crisis, it has been more difficult to sell; prices are always going up and down. But generally it's not that bad. I just keep on selling. In one day, I sell about Rp 300,000 worth of vegetables and make about Rp 30,000 in profit from that. Since I work seven days a week, and public holidays, I can make enough money to survive.

About three times a week, I go to the big vegetable market of Pasar Induk, East Jakarta, and buy what I need for the stall. I usually spend about Rp 250,000 on what I need and this will do me for a couple of days. I have to haggle a lot with the sellers to get the prices I want. If some of the vegetables are too expensive, I won't buy them as my customers wouldn't buy them from me. The market is far away and coming back on the bus with all the produce is not easy. But I have to do it, otherwise I'd have nothing to sell.

At 4:00 in the afternoon, I go back to the market and open the stall. I'll work until about 9:00 p.m. It's a long day and when I'm standing at my stall I think about my family a lot. Matayasin is a laborer and he carries stones about all day. It's very hard work for him and he only earns about Rp 5,000 per day. I feel sorry for him that he has to do this kind of work. Between us we just make enough money to buy food. It's not enough. Life can be difficult.

I'll continue to sell vegetables as long as I'm able to. I'm happy if I can provide food for my family, but if it is quiet at the market and there are no customers, then I'm quite sad.

When I get back to the house I like to sit down and talk to my family about what they have been doing and discuss any problems they may have. This is the only time I really have to relax during the day and it makes me happy to see us all together, even if we live in a humble house.

Finally, about 11 p.m., I say the final prayer of the day and fall into bed exhausted."

-- as told to William Furney