Hardly Adi Roche, but having spent one hour in the company of people living in a Kampung in Jakarta, I have found myself calculating how many chickens I could buy for the price of a Kenneth Cole dress.
It was my Christmas Charity Deed, (Act one, Scene one) we had packed all our unwanted clothing, shoes, toiletries etc. into neat parcels to give to the poor living just outside the gates of “Executive Paradise”. (Incidentally, surely there could no worse salt in a wound, than living in squalor and looking at the name “Executive Paradise” splayed across the wall in front of you in bold Italic letters.
To supplement our donations, we took a trip to the supermarket and made up “food bags” which contained, a chicken, a bag of rice, a dozen eggs, chillies, bananas, dried fruit and fresh vegetables & fruit. The cost of this bags of necessities cost in the region of IND 150,000, c.Eu.10.
The plan was to walk out of the compound, and down into a nearby Kampung to distribute the gifts and food bags evenly. However, the technicalities of doing this were rather different, firstly, the driver informed me that I would need security for the task. Secondly, he said I would need to inform and work with the Kampung leader to guide me through the Kampung, knock on doors etc. Luckily in Jakarta, getting three armed security guards to accompany you, your driver and a Kampung leader is not an issue; we were able to borrow three of the plethora of security guards that hover at the compound gate. Suddenly the trip had taken on an air of aplomb as we started walking through filthy side-streets, an unlikely looking group of white people wearing Santa hats carrying gifts and surrounded by armed guards understandably caused an immediate stir midst the Kampung as heads and bodies appeared from every orifice of this shantytown. We followed the Kampung leader and he steered us down alleyways and across open sewers to the most needy. Everyone seemed needy to me, but hey, who am I to argue with a Kampung leader.
The thinking behind the security was fear that we would accosted and that our food packages would fall into the wrong hands. But walking through these streets, it didn’t seem like there were any wrong hands. Going from door to door we entered some of these houses and stood open mouthed at the condition in which these people were living. Aware that it is a custom to take off ones shoes on entering, but fearful of my Nikes getting snatched, I chose to plead ignorance to the unwritten rule. Standing in one house in a room, which was considered the sitting room, we were able to catch glimpses of the stars through the torn tarpaulin roof. The exposed cables leading to a single light bulb was wrapped in cloths in an effort to keep the rain off it was obvious that the earthen floor of the kitchen had gotten a recent shower as water pooled forming a hot moist haven for the mosquitos.
Despite the desperate surroundings, the lady of house, a smiling woman in her fifties, welcomed us into her home and showed us around like she had just moved into a show house in Mount Oval.
We accepted her offer to sit, as she pulled out the avocado green plastic patio chairs, two matching, one not. We declined the tea which she brought out on a tray, poured from tin pitcher in the aforementioned kitchen.
Hoards of children gathered outside the door waiting for the visitors to emerge and when we did, they followed us along the street, a parade of happy followers, happy to accept the flavoured milk and biscuits we handed them.
The common traits everywhere we went was a broad smile, and a genuine gratitude devoid of all expectation. Totally disarming were the sights of young mothers standing in doorways with no outstretched hands grabbing, just happy to see their children happy. In a country where there is no social welfare and no hand-outs, these people were embarrassingly thankful for the little they got and admirably proud of the little they had.
If less is more, is everything nothing?