‘Would they be happy?’ I ask him the night before. We were watching both at the darkness of the night, not knowing the answer. On the train I see them by day. The slums aside the rails. For miles and miles.
‘They think different,’ he said. ‘They only think about money and food.’ How to make money today to eat today. There is no long-term vision. No plan for the future. Especially, in these zones where the government will evict them to build a stadium. ‘They are worried and scared,’ he says, ‘but the government is not responsible for them. They have to move eventually.’
‘They have been living here maybe for 20 or 30 years, their entire life,’ he continues. And now they have to move. Because the city is expanding, and they live here illegally. Walking through these neighbourhoods, you can see how dense they are constructed. Every meter is a house, every pathway just as narrow to let a scooter pass through. There are little shops, little houses that serve as mosques, there are hairdressers, living rooms with televisions playing, people laying on the floor as bedroom, living room and actually all-in-1-rooms, the whole family, all housing functions.
Yet, these kind of micro cities in the city are disappearing, he says, because the government is taking more land to develop. And typically, they are located along the train rails and along the rivers.
I think about how the city of Jakarta is sinking and suffering serious flooding every year. Which is terrible for all citizens, but even more for these parts of the city. ‘They will come to the streets to find dry places,’ he says, ‘because their houses will be inundated.’ The beds. The clothes. The floor where they sleep, eat, pray, play and live on. After the flood will come the diseases. The sewage system that does not work and water mingles with rain and flood water. There will come rats and other animals. The smell of the swamp. Rotten garbage. No electricity, no refrigerators, food will turn bad. Health will be threatened. Chaos, inhumanity. Jose’s Saramago’s Blind will become reality.
But today is just another day. It is Ramadhan and the people are praying in the mosque. Women behind men, divided by an improvised curtain. All are covered from head to toe. Frightening and peaceful at the same time, demonstrating the power of religion and the unity. Two sides of a coin.
Yet, not a single second I feel unsafe. Ofcourse because I am with him, although that might be different without him. I always have wondered why there is less violence and crime in Asia than in Latin America. ‘Religion and education,’ he says, ‘and society.’ He refers to Buddhism and Hinduism, as another way of viewing life. ‘People know that nothing good comes from violence,’ he continues, ‘so they don’t. more and more.’
It is complicated to walk through the small houses made of wooden and brick objects, while having the lights of the sky scrapers at the background. What will these people think when they see the contrast between these two layers of the city?
For instance, people I met in the same kind of neighbourhoods in Tegucigalpa (the capital of Honduras) and in Rio de Janeiro said living in this kind of neighbourhoods complicates finding a job, just on paper, regardless their qualities and motivation. Which is unfair, and complicated and enforces the circle of poverty.