Category Archives: Indonesia

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By Emha Ainun Nadjib

My God
one among the thousands of faults
that ensnare the history of our life
is the error we fall into when deciding 
how much backwardness is contained in our progress
how much failure is contained in our success
how much destruction is contained in our improvement
how pressing is the darkness contained in our awakening
how enormous is the backwardness contained in our advancement
and how much war is contained in our call for peace.
My God
in our eyes so full of arrogance
ever greater grows the confusion of
what is to be left behind and what embraced
what is of the heights and what of the depths

 


Emha Ainun Nadjib.  99 untuk Tuhanku [99 For My God],  Pustaka Bandung  1983.

Op-Ed: Is the Press in Southeast Asia in Danger?

Op-Ed: Is the Press in Southeast Asia in Danger?

By Permata Adinda, from Asumsi.co

Repression is being experienced by journalists from Al Jazeera in Malaysia to Rappler in the Philippines.

Al Jazeera’s office in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, was raided and two computers seized by police (4/8) after the media screened a documentary highlighting the Malaysian authorities’ arrests and inhuman treatment of migrants during the pandemic.

Authorities condemned the film, judging it to be inaccurate, unfair and misleading. Malaysia’s Minister of Communications and Multimedia, Saifuddin Abdullah, said the film did not have a shooting permit which according to Al Jazeera did not require permission because it was included in the category of latest news which was always aired every week.

This documentary entitled Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown is part of the 101 East Al Jazeera program. After the film was released, the editorial team members and the subjects interviewed in the film received many death threats, violence, and doxing of their personal data on social media.

One of the informants from Bangladesh, Mohamad Rayhan Kabir, was arrested on 24 July. Authorities said he would be deported and barred from entering Malaysia forever.

Responding to the repressive attitude of the government, Al Jazeera condemned the action, viewing it as an attack on press freedom. These raids are seen as a “disturbing escalation” of violent behavior by the authorities against the media, demonstrating the extent to which they can intimidate journalists.

“Al Jazeera sided with journalists and our coverage. Our staff did their job and they did nothing wrong to make them need to apologize or clarify. Journalism is not a crime,” said Al Jazeera managing editor Giles Trendle.

There has also been criticism from Amnesty International Malaysia which is urging Malaysian authorities to stop harassing Al Jazeera and to halt investigations against staff and media reporters. “Violence by the government against migrants, refugees and anyone who defends them is clearly an attempt at silencing and intimidation that must be condemned. Protect migrants. Protect freedom of expression.”

Press freedom in Southeast Asia has indeed been worrying in recent years. Reporters Without Borders reports in 2020 showed media freedom scores in all Southeast Asian countries had decreased compared to the previous year, with an average ranking of 138 out of 180 countries. Another report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Southeast Asia Journalist Unions (SEAJU) found that 61% of press workers in the region felt their jobs were unsafe, a figure that has increased by 11% from the previous year.

Prior to this journalist Tashny Sukumaran from the South China Morning Post in Malaysia also experienced criminalization and repressive behavior. Having also reported on the detention of refugees and illegal migrants in the red zone of COVID-19 in Malaysia, he was arrested on charges of “committing insults with the intention of provoking and destroying the peace” and was sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison.

Apart from Malaysia, journalist and CEO of Rappler Maria Ressa in the Philippines was also found guilty of “cyber slander” for her articles on drug and human trafficking cases involving the chairman of the Supreme Court and a number of businesspeople. Ressa was also ordered to pay a fine of P400,000, or equivalent to Rp. 119 million. There have also been the detention of Reuters journalists in Myanmar, the closure of several media companies in Malaysia and Cambodia, and the increasing censorship of news in Thailand.

This repressive behavior towards journalists also often acts on the pretext of “the need to fight misinformation”, and the COVID-19 pandemic has become an arena to strengthen the power of authority over the press. The Thai Prime Minister threatened to suspend or edit news deemed “untrue”. These governments also have the right to correct information which they think is problematic.

Singapore’s Protection Against Falsehood and Online Manipulation Act empowers the government to correct or release news stories. This occurred in the State Times Review after the media accused the government of covering up cases of COVID-19. Likewise, the Cambodian government has the power to prohibit the dissemination of information deemed to cause “riots, fear or chaos.”

“Journalism is a very dangerous profession today,” said Maria Ressa at Time.com. “But this profession is more important than ever. We have to survive or we will lose a lot. “

By Permata Adinda, Kebebasan Pers di Asia Tenggara dalam Bahaya?

Featured image credit: Mother’s Prayer by Mark Chaves

Short Story: Mrs Geni in December

Mrs. Geni in December

By Arswendo Atmowiloto

“For Mrs. Geni, every month is December. Last month, the present month, or next month, they all mean December. So, if you have to deal with Mrs. Geni, it is better not to rely on dates, but rather on the day. If you want to book her, you have to say, “Two Fridays from this Friday.” If you say the seventeenth, you could be in trouble because the seventeenth won’t necessarily be a Friday. If you book her for the seventeenth, she might just not show up on the day.

The problem is a great many people deal with Mrs. Geni. For anyone wanting to arrange the wedding of a child, there is only one choice. Mrs. Geni. Bridal makeup artist. There are many other bridal makeup artists, but none can match Mrs. Geni. Even after considering the many other beauty salons, people stay with the choice of Mrs. Geni.

According to past clients, Mrs. Geni is no ordinary makeup artist. She can transform a would-be bride and make her so beautiful she is truly stunning. Unrecognizable. One of her specialities is to infuse cigarette smoke onto the face of the would-be bride. According to tradition, she explains, this is bronzing, applying a bronze, not gold, hue to the skin. Almost every bridal makeup artist uses this technique, but none can match her skill. One time at a wedding the host fainted because she thought the daughter she was marrying off had disappeared. The mother of the bride-to-be fainted, the father became embarrassed, and all the relatives started to search for the bride at friends’ houses. Even after she was found, the mother of the bride-to-be could not accept it. “That is not my child. That is not my child,” she exclaimed.

“Well, if it is not your child, that makes her my child. Let’s go home.”

Only later the mother of the bride-to-be realized, and said, “How is it possible that my child could be as beautiful as this?”

Despite this, Mrs. Geni does not always please everyone. Her voice is loud and the people who have to listen to her do become annoyed. “This child is already pregnant. Why are you hiding it? Why are you embarrassed? To have children, to be able to fall pregnant, this is a gift. This is not something to cover up, to be squeeze down inside clothes. It is your own child, right.”

If I’m not wrong, the incident happened at the district head’s house. As a result, the news spread and continued to reverberate long after the incident was over. Another wedding ceremony was almost cancelled simply because Mrs. Geni saw a sad face on the bride-to-be. Usually two or three days before a ceremony, Mrs. Geni needs to meet the bride-to-be in person. Why not with the bridegroom-to-be? “Well, his fate rests right here, right?”

When she met the soon-to-be-bride who she felt had the sad face, Mrs. Geni said, “Can’t be like this. You have to be happy first.” No matter that the invitations had already been sent out, the reception hall been paid for in advance, and, more importantly, the food been prepared. The story wouldn’t have been unusual if it had ended in cancellation. What was unusual was that two days later, a bus crashed off a cliff into a gorge. As it turned out, if the wedding had actually gone ahead and not been cancelled, there was a big chance the bridegroom-to-be would have gone into the gorge because he had in fact planned to travel on that very bus, at that very time.

Mrs. Geni’s story continues next with the time she was asked to do the makeup of the daughter of a government minister – possibly a senior coordinating minister – but she replied, “Just tell the daughter to come to my house. A lot of people here are going to be put out if I leave them.”

Last seventeenth of August, the neighbors in her area waited to see whether Mrs. Geni would put up the national red and white flag at her house, because in Mrs. Geni’s estimation that was the same as 17 August. As it turned out, Mrs. Geni did have a flag put up. “What’s wrong with flying the flag on the seventeenth of December?” she asked.

The officials in the village were happy too, because if Mrs. Geni hadn’t put out the flag on the anniversary of independence, there could have been a problem. On the following thirty-first of December, Mrs. Geni did not object to having a party at her house. But to her, the following day was not New Year’s Day, but rather 1 December again.

Many people say that Mrs. Geni’s magic is to always look young. And Mrs. Geni does indeed seem to have always looked the same, whether it’s doing the makeup for a neighbor, or doing it for her own child. Her face and appearance are the same. The photos taken at the time can prove this, along with the photos taken over the following 20 years. Or maybe also the 20 years before that.

“Marriage is the most illogical of ceremonies. It causes a lot of trouble. You all stress about working out an auspicious date, what sort of matching clothes to have, and it all has no connection with the marriage itself. Just look at the people who make the speeches at a wedding, the people who delivery advice to the newlyweds. That is the most boring part, the part that is listened to the least. But it is always included. That’s weddings for you.” It is somewhat odd for these words to come from Mrs. Geni, because she in fact makes her living from weddings. “Yes, it is strange. Isn’t marriage a strange thing. Because something strange is thought of as normal, the people who do not marry, who are widows or widowers, are even thought of as strange.”

On a different occasion, Mrs. Geni said, “The strange expression ‘soul mate’ hides the fear or questions that we do not have the courage to answer. ‘Oh, such and such is my soul mate.’ We commonly speak like that. Or if it fails, ‘Oh, such and such was not my soul mate.'” Mrs. Geni then laughs at length. “So, is my soul mate actually Mr. Geni? Because I married Mr. Geni, he becomes my soul mate. Not, because Mr. Geni was my soul mate therefore I married him. It would have been different if before that I had not married Mr. Geni. Then he would not have been my soul mate.”

Why marry Mr. Geni at the time?

“Yes, because it was time to get married, like everyone else.”

Does that then mean it wasn’t out of love that I married Mr. Geni?

“As with soul mates, as soon as you marry, well, that has to be accepted as love. That is more important. Because if you rely on love beforehand it might not last. What you have, that is what you love, whether there is love before or not.”

The question arises because there is word that Mr. Geni is to marry again. “Yeah, don’t worry about it. And I will do the makeup for the bride,” she says easily, in a flat, almost emotionless, tone. “To try to forbid it would be hard, and it would be useless anyway. Just let him do it.”

Maybe that is the reason Mrs. Geni is still happy to do the makeup for the soon-to-be-brides who are to become second or third wives. “Let people feel joy once in their lives.” For Mrs. Geni, marriage is joy, happiness. “If someone does not even feel happy when they get married, they aren’t going to find any other joy.”

According to Mrs. Geni, no marriage really fails because marriage itself is not a success. “All you need is a little courage and a lot of foolishness. That is what is needed for a marriage. In order to divorce on the other hand, you need to have a lot of courage and a small amount of foolishness.”

Has Mrs. Geni ever thought about divorcing Mr. Geni?

“I’ve never thought about getting divorced. Have I thought about killing him? Often.”

And so, Mrs. Geni, bridal makeup artist, has done the makeup for all the women in her village. You could say, for everyone who has been married, and for those who have not. The latter are done by Mrs. Geni as bodies when women pass away having never married. Before burial, Mrs. Geni makes them up fully. Many disapprove, for many it is regrettable, still others fear being made up. “Frightened it will come true in the marriage. Frightened of being too happy, too free, too enjoyable, so that’s why we commit ourselves to a marriage that regulates responsibilities so much, regulates obligations, including the provision of a living, and the raising of children. Only it’s strange, but basically, we are afraid of our own happiness, and restrict it through the existence of God’s power.”

Even though she says that humanity’s most restricting and frightening discovery is marriage, Mrs. Geni continues to do peoples’ makeup, still uses the infusion of cigarette smoke. For someone able to make time for herself – even though it is still tied to December – Mrs. Geni is able to do the makeup for people, bodies, bridal statues and trees as well as buffaloes. Mrs. Geni also chants the bridal mantra, breathes the three breaths onto the bride’s crown, with the same seriousness she uses to fast before making someone up. “Let the buffaloes experience happiness, just as we have believed all this time that marriage is happiness.”

Fortunately, all of this only happens in December.

 


Mrs. Geni in December (Bu Geni di Bulan Desember) by Arswendo Atmowiloto was published in the national daily newspaper Kompas on 20 May 2012. Retrieved from https://cerpenkompas.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/bu-geni-di-bulan-desember/

Featured image credit: “Tribute to Arswendo Atmowiloto” by Karikatoer (Khoirul Anwar), https://www.instagram.com/karikatoer/

 

Op-Ed: Will Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission Be Paralyzed?

Op-Ed: Will Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission Be Paralyzed During the Term of President Jokowi?

By Budiman Tanuredjo, Kompas Daily,  4 July 2017

KOMPAS, Jakarta – The actions of the Indonesian House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry into the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) have become more and more absurd. The Committee of Inquiry is going on safari to Pondok Bambu and Sukamiskin prisons to meet with prisoners convicted of corruption offenses. The Committee hopes to find information on how the corruption convicts were treated inappropriately by the KPK.

“We want to look for information about anything inappropriate experienced by the prisoners while they were either witnesses, suspects or prisoners convicted in corruption cases,” said Deputy Chairman of the Inquiry Committee, Rep. Risa Mariska (PDIP-West Java), the representative for the district that includes the cities of Bogor and Bekasi. She said the Inquiry Committee has received information about the prisoners being treated improperly when they were interrogated by the KPK.

There is little doubt the Inquiry Committee will have any trouble meeting any of the many corruption prisoners. Take the former Chief Justice of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court Akil Mochtar, for example, or former Democrat Party Representative and party treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin, former Democrat Party Representative and party secretary-general Anas Urbaningrum, former Democrat Party Representative Angelina Sondakh, former Banten province governor Atut Chosiyah, or any number of others. It isn’t hard to guess that they will provide any amount of ammunition with which to damage the KPK as an ad hoc institution resulting eventually in the KPK being either abolished or neutralized.

Parahyangan University criminal law lecturer Agustinus Pohan believes that the effort of the Inquiry Committee is an attempt by politicians to take revenge on the KPK. “Now the fight against corruption has to contend with white-collar criminals who want to prove their ability to exact payback,” Pohan said.

Earlier, Deputy Chairman of the House Inquiry Committee into the KPK, Rep. Taufiqulhadi (Nasdem-East Java) planned to call constitutional law experts to prove the legality of the Inquiry. “Some say this inquiry isn’t appropriate. Different opinions are all normal, but we hope the debate stays balanced,” said the National Democrat Party politician according to Kompas Daily on 30 June 2017.

The Inquiry Committee action in calling constitutional law experts Professor Dr Yusril Ihza Mahendra and Professor Jimly Asshiddiqie to appear will be a priority before it summons Rep. Miryam S. Haryani (Hanura-West Java) who has been arrested by the KPK. Miryam was declared a suspect by the KPK over allegations she provided false information. Her case is to go to trial soon.

The origins of the House Inquiry Committee started with the KPK leadership rejecting requests from House of Representatives Commission III to make public recordings of the questioning of Miryam Haryani by KPK investigators. The KPK refused to make the recordings public before her trial. Up to now, recordings resulting from wiretaps have always been made public during the trials. Having previously appeared as a witness in the Criminal Corruption Court, Miryam retracted part of her testimony that was contained in the brief of evidence, giving as the reason that she had been coerced by KPK investigators.

In response to this retraction of her testimony in the brief of evidence, senior KPK investigator Novel Baswedan was examined as a witness in the trial. Novel testified there had been no intimidation or coercion. Novel went so far as to claim Miryam had been induced by certain fellow members of the House of Representatives to retract her testimony in the brief of evidence, mentioning several names, including Rep. Bambang Soesatyo (Golkar-Central Java) and Rep. Masinton Pasaribu (PDIP-Jakarta), as the members who had influenced Miryam. She denied having ever mentioned their names and from this House Commission III request that the KPK make the recordings public, which the KPK refused to do.

Whether it’s related or not is not known, however, several days after testifying, Novel Baswedan was the target of an acid attack by an unknown assailant. His eyesight was damaged. He was taken to hospital and is still receiving ongoing treatment. Police are still investigating the case, but so far the person who sprayed Novel with acid has not been identified.

After undergoing further questioning at the KPK’s Jakarta offices on Wednesday 21 June, Hanura Party politician Rep. Miryam S. Haryani’s brief of evidence was declared complete (that is, Form 21 was issued) and ready for trial in relation to the allegation she provided false testimony in the electronic identity card (e-KTP) project implementation corruption trial.

Strong Resistance

The House of Representatives Inquiry Committee into the KPK apparently needs to find political support from constitutional law experts. Earlier, 357 academics from a range of universities and disciplines published an open letter rejecting the House Inquiry Committee into the KPK on a number of grounds. The 357 academics included Professor Dr Mahfud MD, Professor Dr Denny Indrayana, Professor Dr Rhenald Kasali, and many other prominent academics.

Calling experts in constitutional law, or calling anyone else, is clearly completely valid. The Inquiry Committee obviously has statutory authority to do this. No one denies that the House of Representatives has a right of inquiry, the right of interpellation, and the right to express opinions. However, what has, in fact, become an issue is whether it is proper for the House to exercise the right of inquiry in relation to the KPK. The KPK is a law enforcement agency and an independent authority, not part of the government. Is the use of the right of inquiry by the House of Representatives consistent with the will of the people it represents?

Resistance to the use of the House of Representatives’ right of inquiry for the KPK has indeed been strong. The open letter of 357 academics from numerous universities and disciplines is one expression of this. These academics have very clearly framed the intention of the House of Representatives in using the right of inquiry as being intended to weaken the KPK. The academics have rejected the use of the House right of inquiry for the KPK.

At present, the KPK is investigating a case of alleged corruption involving the procurement of a national electronic identity card (e-KTP) involving a number of House members, including House Speaker Rep. Setya Novanto (Golkar-East Nusa Tenggara), now banned from traveling overseas. The alleged loss to the public purse is substantial.

A Kompas Daily poll of Monday 8 May 2017 also contained the same message. As many as 58.9 percent of respondents said the House decision to use the right of inquiry did not represent the interests of the community. While 35.6 percent thought it did represent the interests of the community. Most respondents (72.4 percent) believed the use of the House right of inquiry into the KPK was related to the KPK’s investigation into the electronic identity card project corruption case.

In the virtual world, internet user Virgo Sulianti Gohardi gathered support for a petition against the right of inquiry on the site Change.org. As of midday Friday 30 May 2017, the petition had been signed by 44,350 people. Virgo’s target for the petition had been 50,000 signatures.

In terms of representation theory, the formation of the House of Representative Committee of Inquiry into the KPK really does not have social legitimacy, or, it has a very low level of representation. Moreover, the Democrat Party (PD), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and National Awakening Party (PKB) House factions have all refused to join the Committee of Inquiry.

“The Democrats are not responsible for anything in the Inquiry Committee,” said House Deputy Speaker from the Democrat Party Rep. Agus Hermanto (DP-Central Java) at the House of Representatives building, while stressing that the Democrat Party does not agree with the House Committee of Inquiry into the KPK.

“We reject the weakening of the KPK through the Inquiry. The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) is being consistent by not sending any members, but the PKS is still critical of the KPK,” said the head of the PKS Advisory Council, Rep. Hidayat Nur Wahid (PKS-Jakarta). National Awakening Party (PKB) Chairman Rep. Muhaimin Iskandar (PKB-East Java) was also of the same opinion, rejecting the use of a House committee of inquiry into the KPK.

History of House Inquiries

The right of inquiry is a constitutional right of Indonesia’s House of Representatives. No one can deny this. Article 20A Paragraph 2 of the 1945 Constitution explicitly regulates the right of inquiry. During the period of parliamentary government in the 1950s, the right of inquiry was also regulated by statute by Public Law No. 6/1954 concerning the Right of Inquiry.

In Indonesia’s history, the House of Representatives’ right of inquiry was first used in 1959 in a resolution by RM Margono Djojohadikusumo that the House use the right to inquire into attempts by the government to obtain foreign exchange reserves and how the reserves were being used. As recorded by Subardjo in The Use of the Right of Inquiry by the Indonesian House of Representatives in Overseeing Government Policy, a committee of inquiry during the first cabinet of Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjojo (30 July 1953 to 12 August 1955) was given six months. However, this was subsequently extended twice, and the committee completed its work in March 1956, during the administration of Prime Minister Burhanuddin Harahap (12 August 1955 to 24 March 1956). Unfortunately, the fate of this committee of inquiry and its results are unclear.

During the New Order period, the House of Representatives also used the right of inquiry several times in relation to the case of the state-owned oil company Pertamina. However, efforts to shake the New Order government failed and were rejected by a plenary session of the House. The New Order government was strong enough to prevent the use of the right of inquiry, initiated by Santoso Danuseputro (PDI) and HM Syarakwie Basri (FPP).

In the Reformasi (Reform) period, the right of inquiry has also been used. However, all the targets of the right of inquiry have been the government, and this is consistent with the legislation.

Legislation on the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), House of Representatives (DPR), Regional Representatives Council (DPD) and regional legislative assemblies (DPRD) regulates the right of inquiry. Article 79 concerning the Rights of the House of Representatives provides among other things that the House of Representatives possesses the right of inquiry. The right of inquiry is the right of the House of Representatives to investigate the implementation of a law and/or government policy which is related to important, strategic matters, and which has a wide-spread impact on the life of the community, nation, and state which allegedly conflicts with the law. The legislation also provides that an inquiry committee must be joined by all House of Representatives’ factions.

From the standpoint of legality, the House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry into the KPK does not satisfy the requirements for legality. Historically, the right of inquiry was given to the House of Representatives to investigate government policies that conflict with the law. Whether it was the New Order government or post-Reform governments, it has only been the current 2014-2019 House of Representatives which has innovated by using the right of inquiry for a national commission, here the KPK. The KPK is not the government. The KPK is a law enforcement agency.

The law also requires that an inquiry committee draw members from all factions in the House of Representatives. Therefore, when the Democrat Party (DP), Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and National Awakening Party (PKB) House factions each failed to send representatives, the jurisdictional legitimacy of the Committee of Inquiry became problematic.

Members of the public in the Healthy Indonesia Movement unfurled posters and banners in front of the offices of the KPK in Jakarta on Thursday 15 June. Consisting of writers, artists, and anti-corruption activists, the crowd declared that it rejected the inquiry currently being rolled out by the House of Representatives.

From a political perspective, those who initiated the use of the right of inquiry are overwhelmingly from the parties which support the government. They are the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) House faction, the main supporter of the government of President Joko Widodo, together with the National Democratic Party (Nasdem) and the People’s Conscience Party (Partai Hanura). This coalition of government supporters is the group that has been keen to urge the use of the House right of inquiry.

Then there is President Jokowi. He has been taken hostage by party officials of his own PDIP. President Jokowi has said he cannot interfere in the affairs of the House of Representatives because a committee of inquiry is the business of the House. President Jokowi hoped only that the KPK is further strengthened.

President Jokowi’s attitude towards the KPK feels different this time. When there was a conflict between the KPK and the Indonesian National Police, with the public supporting the KPK, President Jokowi took a firm political position in support of the KPK. Likewise, when the KPK investigator Novel Baswedan was to be arrested, President Jokowi called loudly for Novel not to be arrested. However, this time, President Jokowi is like a hostage, allowing the KPK to be de-legitimized by a coalition of his own supporters in the House of Representatives.

Will the KPK be paralyzed during the term of President Joko Widodo? History will record the answer.

 


Source: Akankah KPK Lumpuh di Era Presiden Jokowi? Kompas daily newspaper, 4 July 2017.

Also see Melunasi Janji Kemerdekaan, Melunasi Janji Kemerdekaan, Karya Muhammad Husnit, Serambi Ilmu Semesta, 2014.

Short Story: The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump

The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump

By Ahmad Tohari

Korep, Carmi, and Driver Dalim are three of the many people who frequently visit the garbage dump on the outskirts of town. Dalim is definitely an adult, the driver of one of the yellow garbage trucks, with a crew of two. He is a civil servant, and he likes to take his thick-framed glasses off, and then put back on again. Carmi is really still too young to be called a young lady. Korep is a boy with a scar from a past injury above his eye. Together they are the youngest of the garbage scavengers among the people at the dump.

Driver Dalim is actually a garbage scavenger too. He manages his two assistants so they scavenge the best second-hand goods while the garbage is still on the truck. The instruction is given especially when his truck is transporting the garbage from the mansions on What’s It Called Street. The leather belt that Driver Dalim is wearing is also scavenged. He says it’s made in France and was thrown away by its owner just because it had a small scratch. He also says that the majority of the people who live in those mansions only want to use the best goods, without the smallest mark whatsoever.

When Korep and Carmi arrive at the garbage dump, the stench isn’t so noticeable yet. The sun’s rays are still being blocked by the trees on the eastern side, so the garbage dump isn’t sizzling yet. Later around midday, the garbage dump will be boiling as the stench rises and fills the air. Driver Dalim often reminds Carmi and Korep not to hang around in the middle of the dump. “A lot of scavengers have died from sickness, their lungs diseased,” he says. Who knows why, but Driver Dalim feels the need to remind Carmi and Korep. He himself doesn’t know why he feels close to the two children. Maybe it’s because Korep and Carmi are the two youngest scavengers at the garbage dump.

Dozens of scavengers are already gathered on the southern side. They’re waiting for the garbage truck to arrive. A female scavenger puts a cigarette butt between her lips then moves among the others asking for a light. A hand stretches out towards her mouth. A match lights and smoke starts to unfurl. But the woman then screams. Apparently the hand of the man holding out the match has then tweaked her cheek. She chases the man and pinched his back. They wrestle. All of a sudden there appears a happy spectacle. Korep and Carmi join in the shouting. There are bursts of cheering and boisterous shouting. It becomes so noisy that the sparrows foraging for food on the ground suddenly all fly away together into the air. A dog feels disturbed and disappears quickly behind a garbage excavator, long since broken down and now also garbage.

Driver Dalim wheels in his truck. And in an instant the atmosphere changes. The crowd of garbage scavengers scatters. They run behind until the truck stops. The moment the rubbish is tipped out there erupts a chaotic noisy scene. Dozens of scavengers including Korep and Carmi transform, like a pen full of hungry chickens tossed feed, they struggle, push past each other, shove and nudge past each other. They scramble to scavenge through the garbage for anything at all, except for diapers, pads or dead rats.

Korep finds two half-rotten mangoes. Carmi has a different story. Carmi’s eyes are struck when an object falls from the back of the truck onto her head. It’s the right-hand shoe of a good pair of shoes of a reasonable size. Carmi picks up the shoe straight away. Oh, she has often dreamed of wearing shoes like this. In her dream, Carmi sees her calves are clean and large, and more beautiful because of the shoes. Carmi is really excited She picks through the pile of garbage more excitedly with her hands to find the left shoe. Sweat runs down her forehead and cheeks, but Carmi fails. So she straightened her back looking around; maybe the other shoe is over there. Or maybe it’s been found by another scavenger. Fail again. So Carmi stops and leaves the rubbish heap. She even throws back the three used plastic bottled water glasses she has found.

At the edge of the garbage dump, she tries on the shoe on her right foot. Her heart flutters again because the shoe feels so comfortable on her foot. She takes it off again and cleans it with scrunched up newspaper. After it’s a little cleaner, she puts it back on again. Carmi stands up, turns, and lifts her right foot up so she can inspect carefully how the shoe looks on her foot. She really hopes that tomorrow or whenever the left shoe arrives at this garbage dump. Who knows. Yes, who knows. Can’t anything at all turn up here?

Korep comes over and straight away laughs at what his friend is doing. Carmi disapproves. She is offended but does not want to respond to Korep’s behavior. Or Carmi’s eyes are attracted more to the two mangoes in Korep’s hands. Carmi is relieved that Korep is responsive. What’s more, Korep does not continue to talk about the shoe on her right foot.

“Let’s just eat mangoes. Come on,” Carmi suggests as she places the single lone shoe into a yellow plastic bag. Korep grins, but he too is interested in Carmi’s idea. So Korep and Carmi move to the eastern side where there is a shady tropical almond tree. Korep takes out a small knife he was given by Driver Dalim. He has one mango in the left hand. In one smooth action, the mango is cut open right up to the part that is rotten. Carmi stares at the freshly-cut, bright yellow surface. Carmi salivates but then shudders as two maggots emerge from the surface of the cut. Korep laughs then makes another incision, deeper. This time the rotten part of the mango is completely gone. “Who says half-rotten mangoes aren’t tasty to eat, right?” says Korep as he offers a slice of the mango flesh that is not rotten to Carmi. “Yeah, right?” Carmi just laughs. Korep stares at the row of Carmi’s teeth that are indeed nice to look at.

***

Every day Carmi carries a yellow plastic sack containing the right shoe. Eventually, everyone finds out that the little girl is still waiting for the left shoe. They feel sorry for her. It’s almost impossible. But to Carmi all garbage scavengers promise they will help her. Driver Dalim even has an amazing idea. He is going to instruct his truck crew of two to go to every house on What’s It Called Street. He’s going to tell both to ask the maids, the drivers, or the gardeners there if they know where the left shoe is which Carmi is waiting for.

But Driver Dalim’s brilliant idea does not need to be carried out. A few days after Carmi discovers the right shoe, Driver Dalim is tricked by his two assistants. At the time he is driving the truck along the highway. Suddenly before his eyes, outside the cabin window, there is a left shoe bobbing up and down. Obviously, the shoe is tied to a long rope with the end being held by his assistants on the back of the truck. Driver Dalim immediately steps on the brake. The tires screech on the surface of the asphalt road. On the back of the truck, his two helpers sway and tumble forward.

Driver Dalim jumps down, immediately takes off his glasses. The truck’s crew of two also climb down. One of them handed the left shoe to Driver Dalim who then smiles broadly. Holding the handle of his glasses, he gives praise to God as many as three times.

“Where did you find it?”

“Yes, in the garbage bin in front of the houses on What’s It Called Street. Forget what number it is.”

“No matter. Where you found the left shoe isn’t important.”

Driver Dalim stops talking because he wants to take off his glasses and put them back one again. Now he rubs his brow, obviously thinking hard. Driver Dalim’s behavior makes his two helpers wonder. What’s he thinking about now? Isn’t there only one thing left, to deliver the left shoe to Carmi?

“Later you give the shoe to Carmi.” This is Driver Dalim’s instruction to the helper who is wearing short pants. The person appointed glances up because he’s a bit surprised.
“It would be better for you to do it, Mr. Dalim.”

“Yes, that’s right. It would be better if it were you, Mr. Dalim,” says the helper wearing trousers, backing up his friend. Driver Dalim sighed then takes of his glasses. Before replacing them again, he speaks in a hushed voice.

“Ah, you don’t know. The thing is, I didn’t have the heart to see Carmi the moment she receives the shoe. Carmi might jump up and down, laugh, or even scream with excitement. Her eyes might sparkle, or on the other hand, she might become teary. Ah, just because of a second-hand shoe taken from a trash can, Carmi’s heart will glow. I wouldn’t have the heart to watch it. It will be very bitter. Do you two have the heart? ”

Without waiting for the answer, Driver Dalim changes his mind. The left shoe will be placed under the tropical almond tree on the eastern side of the garbage dump. Carmi and Korep often rest there in the middle of the day. Everyone agrees so Driver Dalim jumps up into the cabin holding the left shoe. The two helpers climb onto the back and the truck heads off towards the garbage dump.

When the sun is right over the garbage dump, all the scavengers move to the four sides to arrange the results of their scavenging, placing it all into sacks or tying it up with nylon rope. Carmi also moves to the side. She has found dozens of used plastic drinking water glasses, arranging them neatly so that they are easy to carry. In her left hand, there is still a yellow plastic sack containing the right shoe. Along with Korep, who is carrying a bunch of half-rotten mangoes, Carmi moves toward the eastern side headed for the shade of the tropical almond tree.

When the air at the garbage dump is extremely hot and there is no wind, a foul odor spreads out everywhere. The sparrows flock in and the dogs too. Who then is there to hear Carmi laugh out loud then scream hooray over and over again? Her loud laughter feels like an outpouring of overflowing happiness that moves the heart.

Those who hear Carmi’s laughter are the dozens of garbage scavengers in the rubbish dump. And it is only them who are able to truly understand and fully appreciate the laughter of the scavenger girl. So behold, the scavengers stand and smile as they watch Carmi and Korep leave the garbage dump. Carmi laughs, of course, because there is a pair of shoes on her feet. But where could the two garbage scavengers want to go? Every person at the garbage dump knows that Carmi and Korep do not have a home to go to. (*)


The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump (Tawa Gadis Padang Sampah) by Ahmad Tohari was published in the daily newspaper Kompas on 21 Agustus 2016. [Retrieved from https://lakonhidup.com/2016/08/21/tawa-gadis-padang-sampah/.] Ahmad Tohari was born in Banyumas on 13  June 1948. He now lives in the village of Tinggarjaya, Jatilawang, Purwokerto in Central Java province. His most popular work is the novel trilogy The Ronggeng Dancer of Paruk Hamlet (Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk). His collections of short stories include Karyamin’s Smile (Senyum Karyamin), Night Song (Nyanyian Malam), and Eyes Lovely to Behold (Mata yang Enak Dipandang). Other works include the novels Kubah (1982), Di Kaki Bakit Cibalak (1977), Bekisar Merah (1993), Lingkar Tanah Lingkar Air (1995), Belantik (2001), and Orang-orang Proyek (2002). The short story They Spelt The Begging Ban (Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis) was published in Kompas daily on 15 September 2019.

Featured image credit: Life Must Go On! by Ubay Amri Nur.