Sep 23, 2017 Last Updated 1:04 PM, Sep 13, 2017

A perfect lunch break

Published: Aug 09, 2016

Nur, homing pigeon

Nur sells snacks on an elevated pedestrian walkway that spans a six lane highway in south Jakarta called Jalan Arteri by taxi-drivers. Like the captain on the bridge of a large ship, she commands a sweeping view of the human tide that surges up and down these swollen arteries but she has no desire to join them. Her heart is in her village in central Java. That, I learned, is what brings her to this spot for several hours each day.

I got to know Nur during my daily crossings to buy a newspaper at a kiosk on the other side of Arteri. Apart from two homeless boys who bedded down on the bridge some nights, a cardboard box between them holding a few coins and notes, she was the only regular occupant of the bridge. Her point of sale was strategically chosen near four sets of stairs from which hundreds of pedestrians, including me, spilled on and off the structure in a never-ending stream. It was the perfect spot for an ambush. As it was suicidal to try and cross the busy road at street level, there was no alternative but to clunk one’s way up the metal stairs and cross where the gentle Nur waited, in hope.

Beggars and informal vendors are forbidden in modern Jakarta. Technically speaking, therefore, Nur was breaking the law and taking a risk. Regulars knew where to find her because she occupied the same spot at the same time each day but she was savvy enough to take advantage of Jakarta’s lax policing of local government regulations by limiting her hours, taking up minimal space and keeping to the edge of the walkway to avoid inconveniencing pedestrians and complaints to officialdom.

She’s got away with it for two years which also means it pays, at least enough for her purposes. When I met her, she was already an experienced and confident retailer and keen to try out her English. She is small with teenage looks. Only her face is visible, enclosed by her jilbab in an oval frame like an old photograph, but illuminated with a disarming smile. Nur means light in Arabic. At first I thought she was a school girl earning pocket money during the long break but she turned out to be 27 and married with a child.

Her specialities are two traditional snacks popular with Javanese. She makes them at home with the family somewhere in the maze of a huddled village kampung a walk away.

One, called rempeyek, a savoury cracker, is about the size of a small pizza but irregular in shape, made from spiced batter topped with anchovies and peanuts. The other comprises singkong (cassava) chips dipped in red sambal that stings the tongue. Both are packaged in clear plastic to keep them fresh for up to three weeks.

The family make about 20 of both snacks at a time. Untungnya (luckily), Nur says, she will sell five of each per day. I pay Rp10,000 (1 dollar) for one packet of each item which boosts her earnings up to about $5 on the days I pass by. Nur probably thinks I am a great fan of both, but the truth is I pass them on to the local ojek and security boys to have after 6 pm when they are breaking their Ramadan fast.

"Why are you selling snacks?" I ask, shouting to be heard above the traffic thundering below.

"For mudik, so I can go home to central Java for Idul Fitri after the fast," she yells in reply.

So there it is in a single word. Mudik is what drives Nur. Like the many in Jakarta who migrate home annually, dressed to impress and loaded with presents, Nur has the homing instinct imprinted in her DNA like a pigeon. Its pull is so strong she is prepared to risk a brush with the law, endless hours of occasional chance sales, and an invariably long, tedious and expensive round trip home and back. During mudik, urbanised Jakartans both rejoice at the slower pace of life and complain at the absence of domestic staff.

But Nur, like millions of others, owes no deep allegiance to Jakarta. She remains a villager, her identity and loyalties defined by her family, ethnicity, birth place and religion. She’s a bird of passage that alights on a bridge to feed on the crumbs in someone else’s world.


A perfect lunch break


Book in hand burning
I take chicken soup
The colour of an outback dam
Drained to its dregs
And a bowl of snow white rice
Flecked with insect wings of onion
Browned on a gushing stove
And with my right hand
Feed my body and the left
My hungry mind.

Eating at a warung in Tebet, Jakarta, after arriving by plane from Melbourne in 2014.

 

Pat Walsh (padiwalsh@gmail.com) co-founded Inside Indonesia in 1983 with John Waddingham. Pat is a prominent human rights activist and former adviser to the East Timor Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR).

 

Inside Indonesia 125: Jul-Sep 2016

Add comment

Security code Refresh

Latest Articles

The Floating School

Sep 12, 2017 - RAHMAT HIDAYAT

Despite its recent start, the Floating School already has 83 students. (Rahmat Hidayat)

A mobile school in South Sulawesi offers new horizons to young islanders

Gambling with truth

Sep 07, 2017 - LIA KENT AND RIZKI AMALIA AFFIAT

Two Acehnese young women hold up colourful protest signs demanding justice for past human rights violations.

Aceh’s Commission for Truth and Reconciliation has an important, though delicate, mission ahead

Encountering Indonesia at AsiaTOPA (Part 2)

Aug 28, 2017 - BARBARA HATLEY

Jaman Belulang by Teater Satu (Sandra Thibodeaux)

Reflections on contemporary Indonesia and Australia-Indonesia relations at the AsiaTOPA festival

Encountering Indonesia at AsiaTOPA 2017 (Part 1)

Aug 03, 2017 - BARBARA HATLEY

Garin Nugroho's 'Satan Jawa' drew a standing ovation at AsiaTOPA 2017. (Garin Nugroho)

Indonesian performances at the AsiaTOPA festival opened up ‘creative conversations’ between Australians and Indonesians

Fighting apathy, seeking engagement

Jul 29, 2017 - SARAH WINDRED

Students travelling by ojek to their KKN destination. (Sarah Windred)

Students have mixed feelings about a mandatory community service program at Indonesian universities

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.

 


Lontar Modern Indonesia

Lontar-Logo-Ok

 

A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar

Readers said:

  • Freedom of information
    carlos - 21 Aug
    Has anything changed since 2014? There has been a lot of change in government organizations regarding corruption. Are governments in East Java more ...
     
  • ‘I am an Indonesian citizen!’
    otto gusti madung - 14 Aug
    I find the article very good and horizon expanding
     
  • Encountering Indonesia at AsiaTOPA 2017 (Part 1)
    Ralf Dudat - 08 Aug
    Excellent article. In light of the fact that most Australian film critics, journalists and arts writers were either unaware or apathetic to Setan Jawa ...
     
  • Marriage denied
    ghulam maruf - 23 Jul
    I'm a asylum seeker in Indonesia and I want married with a Indonesian woman I'm also rejected from unhcr second time naw my case is closed from unhcr I ...

30th Anniversary Book

Inside Indonesia - 30th Anniversary Photo Book

 

Have you bought your copy of Inside Indonesia's 30th Anniversary book yet?

The book features 30 of the judges' favourite images from the 2013 Inside Indonesia Photography Competition.

Preview the book  and order your copy online (Soft cover approx AUD$23.00 / Hard cover approx AUD$35.00).