Bandung – the city where people think pig meat is too dirty to eat, yet they live in more filth than the animal itself. It could be a lovely city. Yet it looks (and smells) like a disaster area. Now there is a new mayor, Ridwan Kamil, who got a foreign (USA) education. He is trying to change Bandung into a place, where humans can live *. He is trying to do everything in the same time – get the filthy food carts off the streets, plant some gardens and find a solution for the trash.
You see, in here they can’t have a normal trash can like us. Someone will steal it. Then the city council came up with the idea to put just a metal holder with a plastic trash bag, green for organic and white for the non-organic trash. They are still standing (well, some of them).
When the trash cans were put, the population was in shock. Then, after a day or two, the more active citizens tried to rip them off and sell them. You know, iron is cheap, filth is priceless. Since the city council already knew their people they made sure that the trash cans are put in solid concrete. After being unable to remove them and sell them, our active citizens just broke them to pieces out of pure spite. In other areas, where people were not so passionate, they just took the plastic bags home. White and green are good colors, fresh and you can always use an extra plastic bag. The pacifistic, non- violent people had an even better solution. They just kept throwing their garbage AROUND the trash cans, on the road or just next to their house, turning it into a decaying, stinky, slimy hill, where their children play. After that the three groups united in raising a voice of complain that it’s dirty, because of the “government”. A smaller group blamed God, other blamed communism… Yet no one stopped for a second and thought that it might be their fault. Some say they live in their own dirt, because they are poor. That’s absurd. Let me remind you of the many refugee camps in Somalia. They are not dirty. Because people don’t have what to throw. Not that’s poverty. You are just a pig and money are not an excuse.
When I first came to the city I was shocked from all the dirt. It was disgusting. I started observing the people, their homes, and their cleaning habits. They are so different from us. A rat, longer than 20cm, running free in the house, eating whatever he can get (sometimes the cat) is a daily routine. They can buy a mouse trap or poison. But they don’t. Most of Bandung’s households don’t have running water. Not because they can’t have it- it’s a person choice of lifestyle. You can plumb and have running water 24/7 and the price is not horribly high. But people chose to have water for only 1-2h a day if they are lucky, store as much as they can in buckets and containers, where all kinds of bugs drown (and sometimes mice). That water is used for everything -showering, cooking, and washing. Oh, washing. Let me tell you something. In here after washing your clothes, you don’t hang them to dry. You just toss them over your gate, half on the street, half in your yard, on the dirty door and you wait until the passing cars and motorcycles dust them dry. There isn’t running hot water anywhere. You have to install a gas heater in your bathroom, there, with the gas bottle in a closed room and take showers like that.
Indonesian way of having a bath is very interesting. They can install showers, but they prefer to have an open water container, where they store icy cold water. You take something that’s like a mug with a long holder and you start throwing the water on yourself. I have to admit, it is ecofriendly, but really unenjoyable. As most Asians, they also prefer squatting toilets, usually squished in between the water container and the wall. I’m attaching a picture I found in google, so people can see.
Now, as I have given you an idea about Indonesian hygiene I can move to their streets, parks and public spaces. Mr. Ridwan Kamil , just like me, likes parks, so he is trying to build a lot of them. With playgrounds, benches and trash cans. Yet a week after their opening, those beautiful, renovated or entirely or brand new parks are unrecognizable. There is garbage everywhere except the trash cans. And as I say garbage, understand you CAN NOT see the grass under it.
Since we couldn’t take a walk in any park, I and my husband decided to take the baby for a walk in a government office near his parent’s home. They have an amazing, huge park. I don’t want to tell where it is, because I’m afraid people will read, go there and will ruin it. So for privacy sake we will call it “Grumpy Scientists” place. In the week days not much people go in there. Just us, a group of middle aged women and a group of elderly men. But in the weekend a lot of people go to “work out’’. And by work out understand eat, eat, eat. Sometimes fishermen come to the pond to try their luck. The place is so nice, that they still have a clean pond, where fish and duck live.
Due to bad weather, we didn’t take a walk in Monday. When we went in Tuesday I almost had a nervous breakdown. The place was COVERED in junk- instant noodles cups, water bottles, juice and milk cartons, candy , all kinds of plastic and a couple of lonely sandals.
Let me explain in here, that there is a very strange phenomenal occurring in this city. There are a lot of perfectly good, lonely sandals out there just sitting in awkward places. My first thought was that someone dropped it. Yet I can’t figure out how someone would lose a perfectly good shoe and not notice it, walking away with on bare foot. Or maybe it’s some kind of movement? Like “Flip Flops for Peace”? What kind of sorcery is this?
To get back to the story, I flipped out, seeing a place I like turned into a typical Indonesian filthy landscape. I took one thrown away plastic bag and gathered junk with my bare hands while almost crying. I am just unable to realize how not irresponsible people in here are, how they don’t think about nature, quality of life, global warming but for basic hygiene, the one that even animals have- don’t shit where you sleep.
My mind was set from then on. I got ahold of some big trash bags, a pair of gloves and a face mask. The next day (today, Wednesday, January the 16th) I was ready. My husband was this time in charge of pushing the baby stroller and I was on to do some cleaning.
First I added trash bags to whichever trashcan pole was standing. Then as we walked I’d pick garbage and put it in my bag. Here I’d like to mention I could NOT possibly gather every garbage I see on our way (Yes, there are so many). Complete cleaning of an area of 10x10m would take an hour or more. Two hundred meters into our journey and I already had filled one big 1m wide and 1,50m trash bag.
I kept on, trying to pick the most recent trash, while people stared or screamed that I shouldn’t touch that, because it’s “dirty” (You do live in that dirt and it doesn’t bother you, yeah?). Others laughed at me, since cleaning is for the poor, stupid, uneducated people and anyone with any self-respect just throws their garbage and walks away (or burns it in the best case possible. Oh, didn’t I mention that’s the only way they know how to dispose of trash?). There were others, thinking that I’m looking for something to sell, looking at me in amazement. But there were two, rare cases in which people felt ashamed and started cleaning around their workplace or warung (that’s like a small coffee shop made out of wood). Since Caucasian people in here would always be considered a higher race (no, I am not racist, that’s how the post-colonialism mind of people in here works) it made them realize that if me, the rich, white girl with expensive cellphone and everything can dig into a stinky pile of trash, then so can they.
After I finished my morning duty and baby had enough walk for one day we went home for a well-deserved bath and rest. But yet, it kept bothering me. In front of the street of where my in laws live (We are currently staying with them), there is an open space with banana trees, that could make great public space. Yet they are using it to pour garbage (of course). I waited for my baby to go down for a nap and there was I again- picking sharp glass and garbage, while the kids from the area were running bare foot around me and their parents were silently judging me from aside. After a couple of quick questions they just assumed I’m insane and carried on with their daily errands.
I am aware that I can’t clean the whole city. I can’t even keep a whole street clean for long. My general purpose was to make people feel ashamed, show them that if I, one person with one bag and one pair of gloves can clean up so much for an hour. Give them awareness that their trash shouldn’t be on the street. I am one person, I don’t have networking or influence on people. They just see me as some crazy white woman, which makes me feel sad. As long as I live in this country (only a few weeks left of that, phew) I’ll try to clean as much as I can and set up a good example.
The idealist and optimist in me say I should come back in here and fight!! Fight for a better Indonesia! But the mother in me knows that change should happen in the mind of the individual first and until Indonesian people are ready for change no one can force them into it. So I’ll pack my cases and move my family away from this toxic, hazardous place and just pray that people in here learn a simple rule:
“ Don’t shit where you sleep”
- I’m not much into politics, but I kind of like the new mayor. You can see that idealistic belief in him, that he can make a change. I think Bandung and Indonesia in general need more people like that. Yet again, I’m not interested in politics at all. I don’t know if he is that good or he just got me hooked up on another lie. Politics tend to do that.
P.S. Beberesih taman Lansia, Sabtu (8/2/2014) jam 8 pagi