Monday, January 9, 2012

Benhil Burning

"I had time to rescue two items from my burning house," recalls Adi. "The television and the motorbike."
On the morning of September 27, 2011, fire ravaged a riverside quarter of Bendungan Hilir, Jakarta. Seventy densely-packed dwellings burned, leaving over 1,000 people homeless.
"The fire was caused by an electric kettle," explains Ari, three months later, sitting on the hard floor of his house, surrounded by the building materials of the neighbourhood's collective reconstruction. He has no furniture.

"There was no water in the kettle and the person had fallen asleep. They weren't taking care. It only took 15 minutes for the kettle to become an inferno. We lost everything."
Adi used to courier for ANZ. "Now my only work is rebuilding my home. We've had to take a bank loan to cover the reconstruction and replace everything we lost: clothes, food, all our kitchen utensils."

Bouncing on his knee, Adi's son chimes, "Mandi! Mandi!", asking for a bath. Onlookers watch from the open door as we sip sweet tea. "The show must go on," Adi smiles, leaning back against the wall.

Adi's two-year old daughter crawls across the floor, her bottom bloated in diapers. She is playing with a half-eaten cracker and a plastic cigarette lighter.

"There'll be another fire," I nod towards the lighter.
"Don't play with the lighter," admonishes Adi. But his daughter doesn't relinquish her toy, and the onlookers beam with indulgence.
Outside we tour the reconstruction, stepping over buckets and spades. The alleys between the houses are narrow and dark, the ground slick with mud, sand, and aggregates. Old women in baggy dresses survey the progress from cool porch steps.

Adi's uncle is a mason and has come from Solo, central Java, to help. "These guys really like to smoke," comments Ari as we pass the barefooted labourers.
Stardom overcomes shyness among the local children.

"Well, if you're ever bored, come back and visit!" says Adi, an indication that this tour is now over.

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