Category Archives: Jakarta

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 often 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. The two of them are the youngest of the garbage scavengers among the residents of the garbage dump.

Driver Dalim is actually a garbage scavenger too. He manages his two assistants so they scavenge the best second-hand goods when 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 was made in France and was thrown away by its owner just because it has a small scratch. He also says most of the people living in those mansions only want to use the best things without the smallest mark whatever.

When Korep and Carmi arrive at the garbage dump the stench is not 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 just before 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 become 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 standing gathered on the south side. They are waiting for the garbage truck to arrive. A female scavenger puts a cigarette butt between her lips, then moves in and out of 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 laughter and rowdy shouting. It becomes so noisy the sparrows foraging for food on the ground suddenly all fly away together into the air. A dog that feels disturbed disappears quickly behind a garbage excavator long since broken down, 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 into something akin to a pen of hungry chickens tossed feed, struggle, jostle each other, shove and push past each other. They scramble to scavenge through the garbage for anything at all, anything 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 an expensive pair of shoes of a reasonable size. Carmi picks up the shoe straight away. Oh, she often dreams 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. Ever more excitedly she picks through the pile of garbage with her hands looking for the left shoe. Sweat runs down her forehead and cheeks but Carmi fails. So she straightens her back and looks around. Maybe the other shoe is over there. Or maybe it’s been found by one of the other scavenger. She fails again. So Carmi stops and leaves the rubbish heap. She even throws back the three plastic glasses made from used bottled-water containers she has found.

At the edge of the garbage dump she tries 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 crumpled up newspaper. When it is a little cleaner, she puts it back on again. Carmi stands up, turns, and lifts her right foot 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 responds. What’s more Korep does not continue talking 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 open surface. 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 delicious to eat, right?” says Korep offering a slice of the mango flesh that is not rotten to Carmi. “Yeah, right?” Carmi just laughs. Korep stares at Carmi’s straight teeth that are really 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 all the garbage scavengers promise Carmi they will help her. Driver Dalim even has a wonderful idea. He is going to instruct his truck crew of two to go to every house in What’s It Called Street. He is going to tell both of them to ask the maids, the drivers, and the gardeners there whether they know where the left-hand shoe is that Carmi is waiting for.

But Driver Dalim’s brilliant idea does not need to be put into action. 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 in front of his eyes outside the cabin window there is a left-hand 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 presses 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, taking off his glasses straight away. 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?”

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

“That’s enough. Where you found the left shoe isn’t important.”

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

“Later you be the one to give the shoe to Carmi.” This is Driver Dalim’s instruction to the helper wearing short pants. The person appointed glances up because he’s a little surprised.

“It would be better for you to do it, Mr. Dalim.”

“Yes right. It would be better if it were you, Mr. Dalim,” says the helper wearing trousers, supporting his friend. Driver Dalim sighs then removes his glasses. Before replacing them once more he speaks in a hushed tone.

“Look, you don’t know. The problem is, I didn’t have the heart to see Carmi the moment she receives the shoe. Carmi might jump up and down, laugh and laugh, or even scream because she is so happy. Her eyes might sparkle, or on the other hand, she might become teary. Well, just over a second-hand shoe taken from a trash can Carmi’s heart will be over joyed. I don’t have the heart to watch. It would be so hard. Do you have the heart?”

Without waiting for an answer Driver Dalim changes his mind. The left shoe will be placed beneath the tropical almond tree on the east 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 with the left shoe in his hand. The two helpers climb up onto the back and the truck pulls out headed for 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 into sacks or tying it up with nylon rope. Carmi also moves to the side. She has found dozens of plastic glasses made from used drinking-water containers, arranging them neatly so they are easy to carry. In her left hand there is still a yellow plastic sack containing the right-hand shoe. Along with Korep who is carrying a bunch of half-rotten mangoes, Carmi heads for the eastern side towards the shade of the tropical almond tree.

When the air at the garbage dump is extremely hot, without any wind, a foul odor spreading out everywhere and the sparrows flocking in along with dogs, who then hears Carmi laughing loudly then crying hooray over and over again? Does the loud laughing sound like the outpouring of overwhelming joy that is heart warming?

The people who hear Carmi’s laughing are the dozens of garbage scavengers in the garbage dump. And it is only they who can really understand and fully appreciate the laughter of the young scavenger girl. So look, the scavengers stand up and smile when 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 be going? Everyone at the garbage dump knows that Carmi and Korep don’t 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 Harian Kompas on 21 August 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 also published in Kompas daily newspaper on 15 September 2019.

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

Exhibition: NGA Contemporary Worlds Indonesia

New Exhibition: NGA Contemporary Worlds Indonesia

21 June – 27 October 2019

This exhibition looks at the creative practices of Indonesian artists working since the fall of President Suharto in 1998, an event that marked the end of three decades of the repressive, discriminatory New Order regime. (Find out more here.)

Contemporary Worlds Indonesian NGA Exhibition Neon

Contemporary Worlds Indonesian NGA Exhibition Arrows

Op-Ed: Megawati and the Corruption Eradication Commission

By Luky Djan

(Executive Director, Institute for Strategic Initiatives (ISI) and former jury member for the Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award)

The effort to eradicate corruption will always travel a rocky road. Indeed anyone acting against corruption has to face off directly against criminals working together in an organized group. Criminal corruption is almost certain to be perpetrated jointly as a conspiracy in conjunction with others and in a way that is highly organized. Organized criminal corruption has a stronger staying power than other forms of organized crime because the group of perpetrators involved typically occupy positions of formal authority and inevitably command considerable resources.

For this reason, anyone going up against the so-called “criminals in uniforms” has to steel him or herself with both ingenuity and resilience. He or she also must not be surprised at the range of strategies deployed to weaken the agenda and institutions endeavoring to eradicate corruption which will vary from the intervention of those in power to the use of physical violence.

Is the anti-corruption agenda in this country driving towards a yellow light? Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi or KPK) is the front-line vanguard and driving force in the fight against corruption and is now once more facing strong headwinds. The institution has weathered past tests successfully. Hopefully, the current crisis will likewise result in the strengthening of efforts to defeat corruption. The experience of South Korea and Thailand can provide lessons on the conditions under which institutions are tamed, and those under which anti-corruption efforts are successful. The fate of anti-corruption bodies in these places is quite tragic.

Thailand’s National Counter-Corruption Commission (NCCC) and the Korean Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC)

Prospects for the fight against corruption in Asia are currently entering their twilight years. Anti-corruption institutions are collapsing. The anti-corruption agenda in South Korea commenced when as leader of the opposition to the military regime Kim Dae-jung became President in February 1998. Kim’s main strategy was spearheaded by an initiative to pass legislation establishing an anti-corruption commission in August 1999. Kim’s idea generated resistance from politicians and legislators This resulted in anti-corruption legislation taking two years to produce, passing finally on 24 July 2001. Following the enactment of the legislation, opposition emerged to the establishment of an anti-corruption commission from the public prosecutor’s office as well as the police. The Korean Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC) was finally formed six months later in January 2002.

The KICAC’s findings shook the corrupt relations between those in power and the chaebol business conglomerates and in their wake caught senior government officials and businessmen. The breakthrough began to unsettle the corrupt, even though the KICAC was in fact not as powerful as its other Asian counterparts, such as Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, Thailand’s NCCC or Indonesia’s KPK, because the KICAC was not given investigative or prosecutorial functions. Following two periods of progressive leadership under Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, efforts to shake the KICAC gained momentum after 25 February 2008 when the government changed to the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak.

On 29 February 2008, after only three days in office, President Lee merged the KICAC with two other institutions, the Ombudsman and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (an administrative decisions court similar to Indonesia’s Public Administration Court (Pengadilan Tata Usaha Negara or PTUN)), forming the Anti-Corruption Civil Rights Commission (ACRC). The sway of the KICAC declined, with the new body becoming more of a think tank with the primary function of preventing corruption. The major reason for the reduction in the power of the KICAC was the view that its breakthroughs in this period had hampered economic growth. President Lee’s background as an executive of one of the chaebol conglomerates meant that he viewed the fight against corruption as a hindrance to economic growth.

Of course the public reacted, opposing the merger. Transparency International Korea Chairman Geo-Sung Kim believes that economic growth is driven by a clean business environment and that an organization like the KICAC is necessary to achieve this. While ACRC commissioners are selected by and are responsible to the president, KICAC commissioners were selected by the Supreme Court, legislature and president. There are now valid concerns over the ACRC’s loss of independence.

In Thailand, following the establishment of the People’s Constitution in 1997, the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) was formed in November 1999. This agency represented a strengthening of the previous anti-corruption institution, the Counter Corruption Commission or CCC, which had possessed limited functions and been less independent. The NCCC was responsible to the Senate and its nine commissioners were nominated by the Thai Senate and confirmed by the King. The NCCC took direct action by revealing the embezzlement of assets by Deputy Prime Minister Sanan Kachornprasart which led to his resignation. Two months later, the NCCC uncovered a 30 million baht bribery scandal which led to the dismissal of Deputy Finance Minister Nibhat Bhukkanasut.

The NCCC’s next target was a tax evasion scandal and dishonesty in the public wealth declaration filed by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This case put Thaksin’s political career at stake. However, after the legislative elections in 2001 which handed control of the Senate to Thai Rak Thai, Thaksin soon gained control of the Supreme Court, leading to the asset embezzlement case being frozen. As payback, allegations were made against the nine NCCC commissioners alleging criminal conduct and making accusations of involvement in a conflict of interests by increasing their monthly salary of 45,000 baht (approximately 25 million rupiah). The ensuing investigation eventually forced the commissioners to resign in May 2005.

Having control of the majority in parliament, Thaksin had no difficulty installing ‘puppet commissioners’ (Pasuk and Baker, 2004). Following a power shift in a military coup, the military junta replaced the NCCC on 15 July 2008 with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). The NACC became an instrument for the removal of political opponents of the Thai military regime.

Megawati’s Legacy

Every leader possesses a legacy that becomes a monument to his or her success. President Sukarno created magnificent iconic landmarks ranging from Gelora Bung Karno Stadium (GBK) to Istiqlal Mosque and the statues which adorn the capital. Times, however, change and monuments today no longer take the form of urban architectural landmarks. On the contrary, they now represent elements of constitutional architecture. President Habibie left monuments in the form of the rights of freedom of assembly and association, multi-party elections, freedom of the press and regional autonomy. President Abdurrahman Wahid reorganized the function and position of the Indonesian Armed Forces and strengthened respect for pluralism and human rights.

Megawati carved out important milestones in the nation’s efforts against corruption. Probably not many people remember that on 27 December 2002 Megawati signed into force Law No. 30/2002 concerning the Corruption Eradication Commission. This institution represented the spearhead and hope of the nation for the elimination of the misuse of power in the form of looting public resources by organized criminal groups who possess political power and financial strength.

So the commitment of President Megawati to try to remove all forms of criminal corruption can not be doubted. A year later, the Corruption Eradication Commission was officially established. This writer’s experience ranges from the drafting of the Commission bill to the establishment of the Commission itself which at the time was appropriately resourced by the government. If the commitment to the eradication of corruption had not been strong, it would have been simple to abort the drafting of the bill or to stall for time over the establishment of the Commission. Likewise, when on a number of occasions the Commission has investigated cases of corruption involving senior politicians from her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), Megawati did not intervene in the Commission.

Unfortunately, in the midst of the Commission’s efforts to strengthen measures aimed at combating corruption, a wave of attacks have emerged from all directions, including the PDIP. Reports by a member of Indoneisa’s House of Representatives (relating to legal action launched over the disputed election of the head of West Kotawaringin Regency in Central Kalimantan) have resulted in a storm of crisis over the very existence of the institution of the Commission and the entire effort to combat corruption. This writer believes these reports have destabilized the Commission because they have led to an institutional crisis cause by a commissioner of the anti-corruption agency being named a suspect in a criminal investigation.

It is regrettable that this has happened because, as noted above, President Megawati, both as head of state when in power and today as party chairwoman, has not taken action to weaken the Commission. As a mother, Megawati fully understands that the Corruption Eradication Commission is a child of her government for opposing the phantom of corruption that has taken root and become entrenched.

The experience of South Korea and Thailand show that anti-corruption commissions will be stunted, and even amputated, by subsequent regimes. President Jokowi himself has a real track record in promoting an anti-corruption agenda. He is a recipient of the Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award (BHACA) which clearly demonstrates he possesses a strong commitment to the eradication of corruption. The current crisis should be resolved with prudence and expedition. The community is now waiting for action from President Jokowi as “party official” to strengthen both efforts to eradicate corruption and the Commission which as an institution is one of Megawati’s important legacies.


Published in Kompas Daily, Thursday 29 January 2015 and http://youthproactive.com/expert-says/megawati-dan-kpk/

Featured image credit: Batik maker applying melted wax to fabric, Sultan’s Palace (Kraton), Yogyakarta by Rahiman Madli

Selamat Tinggal Jakarta?

Is relocating Indonesia’s capital feasible?

University of Sydney experts comment on the proposed move

Jakarta has a population of 10 million and is rapidly sinking. The Indonesian Government announced plans to relocate the country’s capital to the island of Borneo, but will it improve living and environmental conditions? (Read more here.)

Image Credit Castle Of Batavia Mural Wallpaper by Piet Hein Eek based on Het kasteel van Batavia by Andries Beeckman, ca. 1661.

NAATI Certified Translators het kasteel van batavia

Norman Erikson Pasaribu – On literature and diversity – “Talking Indonesia” podcast on SoundCloud

New from the Talking Indonesia podcast

This year Indonesia was a featured country at the London Book Fair, which followed a similar showcasing of its literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015. Is this a reflection of an expanding and globalising literary scene in Indonesia? Are more diverse voices being heard inside and outside the country, and what are the challenges for making sure that the stories are not lost in translation? Listen at the Talking Indonesia podcast from the University of Melbourne.