It is a week before Lebaran and you have just received your THR (holiday bonus) a couple of days ago. Today, after you’ve paid your rent, car payment, bills, parents’ bills, and who knows what else, you go to the ATM and realize that you’ve got nothing left. And it is only the beginning of the month. And so it goes, the same old story month after month.
When I flew back home to Jakarta about four years ago I didn’t know what to expect. I had stayed ten years in the United States, during which I never came home. The chaos of the city was overwhelming and the sight of poverty came to me with such horror. I didn’t know what to do and where to start, but I know I had to do something about it. I had to make sense of why poverty is a problem to begin with. After living and working a few jobs here, I was able to understand what’s going on, and it has helped me cope and function better despite the dysfunction. I have figured out that it is not that I am lazy or not skillful enough, but that at the root of poverty in Jakarta is how messed up the pay system in this country.
There is a reason why America is called the land of opportunity. I have lived and worked there long enough to understand that in America, I could be whatever I want to be, if I worked hard enough to achieve it. Apparently, that is not the case here in Jakarta. I’m sorry to burst your bubbles, but if you do not come from a rich family, your chances of becoming wealthy in this country is slim to none.
Andrea Hirata, the bestselling author of rags to riches story Laskar Pelangi, is one of one of the “lucky” ones, but how many of us have that gift of “luck” paired with ingenuity? Not many, I am sure. And why would we rely on “luck” anyway? We need something more tangible, more practical, so we can be sure that our effort equals the expected result. However, the harsh reality here is that one could work really, really hard, yet still finds it impossible to make ends meet and starve by the middle of the month.
So, where do we go from here?
The first step perhaps is to accept the reality that Jakarta is a really poor city, excluding the minority of some of the wealthiest people in the world who happen to live here. Good deeds and charitable works are much appreciated, of course; however, other than just helping the poor, perhaps another very important task for those in government and businesses is to simply appreciate the talents of the people and start paying us fair wages. Yes, pay us more! It shows us that you appreciate our time and talents, but, more importantly, that you believe in us, in our future.
And if you’re worried that we would start enslaving ourselves to money, don’t worry. We are a generation who live to do what we love. We’d even do it without earning a single penny. We are also passionate, and, therefore, we are revolutionary. We have a lot of important things to say through our movies, books, plays, and paintings. We come up with new innovations, from a cure for terminal illnesses, beautiful housing for families, justice for the weak. A new world is in our hands, if only we’re given the chance to do this.
It is too naïve to think that we can eradicate poverty, I agree. There will always be the poor amongst us. But the young, capable, and talented who are perhaps the future of this nation may not always be around, if we don’t change the way we do things. They will soon move to other cities where they can bloom and bless the world with their gifts. And by then it will be too late.
I strongly believe that people who work should not starve. Sounds obvious, yet it doesn’t ring true here in Jakarta. And it is not our fault; it is the system that needs fixing.
I may not have a well-rounded view about Jakarta yet, and there’s a chance that I may be wrong and would like to change my mind on some things. My opinions are not set in stone. Let’s have a discussion in the comment section below; I would love to hear about what you have to say, too.
Penny Lane @noperfectclouds is a writer who also loves to paint in her free time. She wishes nothing more than to become a great author someday and to travel the world with her boyfriend. She refuses to live in voluntary poverty, and owes no one any explanation about this