Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Boarding House

One of the things involved in this research is ethnographic mapping, for us it's essentially a long way of saying getting to know a neighborhood and identifying the children living there who fit within the parameters of our study. Once we have identified the children as a group, we work on sorting them into sub-groups, in this case by the type of job they do, where they live, time spent in Jakarta and so on. Once we know our sub-groups we identify where on our map we can find them, what time of day, what they're likely to be doing, so we can organize ourselves, meet them, and hopefully conduct an interview or two.

One of the sub-groups we identified in Jakarta was scavengers. We've all seen the pictures of children in Brazil or India or Mexico standing in a trash heap, a graveyard of tires and plastic bags and refrigerators, poking among the refuse with a stick, looking for things they can use or sell. Here children also go among trash outside of shops or homes looking for things like plastic or metal. Children who scavenge also go to food markets, sweeping rice that has fallen onto the ground during sales to take home with them and cook. 

Walking along the train tracks in East Jakarta, there were makeshift shelters on both sides of the tracks, unclaimed real estate because of the dust and the noise, it was the perfect place to build a home if you couldn't afford land or rent. These homes are made of iron sheeting, cardboard, discarded wooden planks, stolen pieces of fencing. When researchers first told me that many children were living in boarding houses, I pictured large buildings with mean caretakers, the boarding houses of movies and stories. But as we walked along the tracks they pointed out temporary shelters, calling them boarding houses. Ah yes, houses made of boards.

Two researchers entered one of the houses after being invited in, so as not to cause a stir with my foreign-ness I hid outside around the corner, sitting on a wall and watching the busy movement of the community. But then one of the men living in this boarding house saw me and brought me inside. A new cardboard box had been torn apart and laid on the dirt for the occasion of our arrival.  Two interviews were taking place, but the interviewers explained that I spoke no bahasa indonesia, and therefore could not eavesdrop on these private conversations. So I sat. There were large bags of organized plastic and metal and cardboard that would be taken for recycling, the scavengers paid by the kilo. There was no roof, just the shelter of a tree against which the makeshift building was leaning. Amazingly there was a dispenser for water (obviously stolen from a nearby educational institution), atop of which sat a giant bottle of water. Two boys were interviewed, two adults and their small daughter sat nearby, curious. The other five people who live in this shelter, which is 10 ft x 20 ft at the very most, were out working. I was concurrently sitting in their living room, dining room, bedroom, kitchen and entryway. How kind of them to invite me in.

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