Friday, March 16, 2007

People storage

Back to our Sidoarjo trip -- Refugees from the mud volcano are being housed at a marketplace near the disaster area. The stalls they're living in are meant to be used by vendors during the day and locked up at night; they're not designed to be lived in. Even as market stalls they'd be pretty depressing: windowless, unventilated concrete boxes. They reminded me of the storage units you can rent in the US for your extra stuff that you don't want to look at or have around anymore.

The banner refers to two proposed forms of compensation: being resettled en masse in a new housing development, or being given money to buy their own place. Sentiment throughout the camp was overwhelmingly in favor of cash. I think people are tired of being told where to live, what to eat, etc.

Here's the inside of one. Charming, eh? Guess how many people were living in it.

That would be twelve. Twelve people from three families.

Now, here's the part where I try to be fair: people are getting a roof over their head and three meals a day, all paid for by the gas company accused of causing the mess. Throughout Indonesia there are poor people living in tumbledown shacks they built themselves, so maybe a crowded market stall isn't so bad. But I don't think you should set conditions for refugees compared to the worst possible standard of living. And at least a leaky handbuilt house is your own house. When people said the lack of privacy was making them crazy, I believed them. And when they said the food was lousy, I believed them too.

The women have come up with an amusing answer to the food. Instead of eating the rice that comes in every meal packet, they spread it out to dry.

Then they make a dough out of it and fry it into crispy, salty crackers, which they sell. They use the proceeds to buy their own food, or to pay their kids' school fees.

No comments: