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It Takes Time.

An afternoon of conversations at Rusun Marunda | Photograph by Christina Leigh Geros
An afternoon of conversations at Rusun Marunda | Photograph by Christina Leigh Geros

I slip off my shoes at the door and take a seat on the floor of her living room. It is maybe 10 degrees cooler inside than the 90+ degree (F) heat outside. She offers water and a welcoming smile. I ask how long she has lived in her current home; where she lived before; and what brought her here. With little hesitation she tells me her story.

Her story is her own, but like many of the others I have gathered. Hope brought her to Jakarta. Hope for a better life, a better future for her children, an economy in which she could always find a place. During these conversations, one of the most common phrases I hear is:

“You can always find a way to make money in Jakarta. A way to live.”    

As mentioned in my last post, people make their way to Jakarta from across Indonesia. Shifting economies and an increasingly corporatized landscape of resource extraction and agricultural production has been driving families out of rural land ownership and small cities for decades. Recently, the fires sweeping across Indonesia’s rainforests have been making headlines in international news. The effects of this phenomenon on wildlife populations, human health, and global climate change have been documented by many, including National Geographic and NG Young Explorers, and has had sporadic news play for nearly two decades. Another consequence, however, has been–and will continue to be–massive redistributions of people in search of a means of survival. The deforestation of Indonesia’s rainforests and the rapid urban growth of Jakarta is not unrelated.

I have spoken with people who migrated to Jakarta over 30 years ago, some who were born here (many decades ago), and some who have just arrived. The specific circumstances of each move may differ, but the economic forces that have driven them to the city–and seem to hold them here–are shared.

While I enjoy hearing people’s stories and catching a glimpse of a city through another’s eyes, the goals of this exercise require patience. Along with the help of my co-researchers from Peta Jakarta, we are trying to better understand the cycle of ‘eviction and relocation’ within the city that so many of these newcomers find themselves constantly negotiating. Jakarta’s shadow populous is not without form and one that is continually evolving, but at what rate and with what consequence? If, after eviction, people do not leave the city, where do they go and why? How many years of one’s life are spent in this cycle? Is there a breaking point? Many more answers–and questions–arise during these conversations; but as for right now, I’m just getting to know the people that are willing to get to know me. Through my discretion, I ask for their trust.

Day in and day out, I schlep across the city in search of people willing to share stories of life in Jakarta in hopes of deciphering the movements of the city, from the ground up. The stories I have heard thus far are at once highly personal and global. Though the process is slow and exhausting, I have little doubt that the faces and stories of these people will touch you as much as me. They are more than a shadow populous, they are the support system for an entire city. 

Follow my daily explorations of Jakarta on Twitter and Instagram: @clgeros