Living in an Impoverished Nation

Cilacap gas station- glass bottles filled with gas and even a funnel for
 easy fueling for scooters.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time, trying to formulate my thoughts on the subject. I’d like to begin by saying that my experience here is all the more frustrating because of the circumstances. Missionaries are sent to impoverished places, but have a message to share, learn the language, and hopefully help people come to Christ and better themselves to lift themselves out of poverty. Those who have done international service projects in poor places go and serve- building schools, cleaning up, giving medical care, how awesome! I would love to join you. Me on the other hand- we are here for a longer time than normal vacations, but short-term enough that is is hard to find volunteer opportunities. There are not many people that speak English, and we have short notice before leaving. We are not here with a group or any sort of organized anything, so there are no interpreters. 

Somehow, Indonesia is not as disheartening for me as India. Perhaps because there isn’t as big of a gap between the rich and the poor, or because it seems that the poor aren’t as poor? Or is it just that you can buy more with rupiah than you can with rupees? It seems that most people here live at least in cement huts or better. There are established houses with good roofing and walls around their yards. It is more the exception than the rule, though. Most of the roofs are made of corrugated asbestos tiles. Sometimes the walls are too. Air-conditioning is a foreign concept. Some lucky people have fans.
Cart that stays by the hotel. They didn’t want me to take pictures of them, so
this is the best I have.
 The shop owners on the main streets live in back of their shops. There are very few indoor, established restaurants here. Probably because people can’t afford to eat out this way. There are an abundance of food carts, though, set up along the sidewalks. At night, they even tarp off section of sidewalks, set up benches, and become little sidewalk restaurants. I know the snack cart/gasoline vendor right down the road from the hotel sleeps in her cart, so I think that must be her home. We were advised not to eat from the carts which is too bad because sometimes the smells coming from the cooking food are heavenly. There are the stationary carts and the moving carts. The moving carts are usually selling something specific- ice, milk, fruit, fried snacks, etc. They each have a some sort of noise making device on their cart- bell or gong or wood block- that they ring/hit as they go down the street to alert people they are coming.

Wooden ship building
Landon and I wandered into a small neighborhood the other day. We went back behind the main road and down a smaller road to a sidewalk. Most houses in this area didn’t have 4 walls, but instead had 3 and then tarps covering the front. There was a canal running next to the sidewalk full of open sewage. Kids were playing in the rubble of partially torn down and abandoned houses. There was one with a pretty high fence around it. These 5-7 year old boys were climbing the fence and jumping down into a big pile of sand. They had a toddler with them that also tried to climb the fence. We left that area before Landon had a chance to try. In the neighborhood, there were chickens wandering around, goats, stray cats and dogs. There were lots of people home just loitering around. No matter when we go on our walks, there are people sitting around outside little convenience stores or eating places. I wonder if they have jobs, or if their jobs are at night, or if they are just taking a break.   

Graffiti is everywhere. I don’t know where they get the money for spray paint. Trash is everywhere. There are trash receptacles on some streets, and in our hotel, but for everyday people, there is no trash collection. There are community “dumps” which are abandoned lots or pieces of land where nobody lives. That’s where people dump their trash. Usually it’s really close to the river or ocean. 
These guys were irrigating the rice fields from the copious puddles of rainwater that has fallen recently
I see lots of people doing hard labor- from fishing, to rice cultivation, to digging ditches and building wooden ships for work. I read an article about the fishermen who take out a loan from boat owners to buy a small outrigger canoe fishing boat like the one below (except most have motors). The boat owner then buys all their fish from them, setting the prices so low they barely have enough to live on day to day, and can never pay back the price of the boat. Sounds like a bad deal. That was until I saw all the other ways people try to harvest things from the ocean. The first time we went to the beach near Cilacap, I saw a guy with a rope and a line fishing off of the beach. People don’t fish here for fun, I don’t think. They are fishing for food. Another guy I saw yesterday gathering a net off the beach that he had put out. He was in the waves up to his neck trying to gather it and bring it into shore. There are discarded and tangled nets all over the beach areas and harbor, along with all sorts of trash.
Landon really wanted to go inside the canoe. But we didn’t
 The most heart breaking people I saw, though, were the guys who sit in modified car inner tubes- they have ropes tied in a net shape to make a seat- checking traps out in the ocean. They paddle using bits of styrofoam that they’ve lashed onto their inner tubes, and have a styrofoam cooler in between their feet. Setting up their camp on the jetty, they’ve set traps for crabs and lobsters and mark their territory with strips of cloth and their traps with empty bottles and bits of Styrofoam for makeshift buoys. This guy that Landon and I watched from the jetty was struggling through the swells to check all of his traps. This can’t be a very lucrative venture. There is no safety net here, though, and I’m sure they are trying their best to provide for their families. 
This guy is the reason for my post

Bike rickshaw

The roads are a smorgasbord of transportation types. There are a lucky few with cars- but cars are not all that common. Mostly scooters and motorcycles rule the roads. They are the family vehicle here- there are often babies in slings on their mommies, and toddlers learn really early to hold on tight to the back or front of mom or dad. People get around on bikes, and I saw a mom picking up her kids from school today with just a bike- the kids sat on the back flat part that is usually used for packages, etc. Kids get around mostly on bikes with some lucky ones having their own scooters. There are 1-2 auto rickshaws that I have seen- but they are motorcycles with the passenger compartment in the front just like the bicycle rickshaws. There are tons of bicycle rickshaws. I wanted to ride one, but an Indonesian guy from Austin’s work said they would try to rip us off. Plus, I like walking and always have my stroller for transporting Landon from place to place. We are rarely the only walkers about, but I know people look at us weird when we tell them where we walked from! There are a few taxi cars, and these taxi vans that were common in Jakarta as well- they are painted green and don’t have a side door. You just hail one and jump inside the back of the van. Landon and I don’t use these either because usually we don’t know where we are going, or even if we know how to get there, we don’t know the name of it.

People are really resourceful here- think our grandparents or great-grandparents during the Great Depression. They would much rather fix than buy new- because they can’t afford to buy new for the most part. We see that in the interesting fixes they come up with for things at the hotel, as well as out in the community. Bread pudding is a thing here- because it is putting the left over stale bread to good use. I eat it every day because it is tasty.
People are happy here. Aside from some tantrumy toddlers, it doesn’t matter if they are living in the nicest house in town or in their food cart, people just seem happy and excited to see us. It really does prove that possessions aren’t everything, and that having too much stuff can actually make us less grateful for what we do have. 
Happy kids

One effect that I have noticed is I am much more content with the stuff that I have. Austin, Landon and I are living out of suitcases in a hotel room, but we have air conditioning and Landon has a ton of toys which is more than most of the kids in this city. We have everything we need, and the resources to get anything else we could want. Suddenly our 2000 Altima is not looking so bad. Wants vs. needs are greatly clarified. I feel so incredibly blessed with the life I was born into, that my parents provided for me. I am grateful for the educational opportunities and sports opportunities that I was given in high school, college, and graduate school. I’m grateful for the country that was born in, that upward mobility is possible with hard work. I know that there are many on government assistance in the U.S. that could not survive without it, but I bet they could survive without cable TV and smart phones and cases of soda. Anyway…

 Another effect is that I just want to help everybody. Buy all the fishermen fishing boats so that they could make some money for their family. Build a proper house for some of these people living in huts. Get some new clothes for the half naked kids. Do something lasting to help these people rise out of poverty. The problem is that I am a toddler’s 24 hour caretaker, and he is an active toddler! And I don’t know Indonesian, and I do not have unlimited funds to spend helping the million plus people who live here. Austin and I have agreed that we will try to give goods rather than money to people, so I try to pick up some things for the disabled lady that sits on the corner all day a few times a week. I’m not satisfied with that, but it’s the most I can do right now. I wish there was a church congregation here of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with some people who spoke English and Indonesian because then at least I could try to partner with them to make a real difference.

In conclusion, it is hard living in a developing country. We have to be careful to only drink bottled water, and peel or boil all fruits and veggies before eating. Even with all that, Cilacap is a beautiful place and I’m so glad we got to come here and meet more people of the world. If only there was more I could do to help them. 


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