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Cooped up in small homes and lacking awareness, Jakarta's urban poor find it tough amid partial lockdown

Channel News Asia - April 16, 2020

Kiki Siregar, Jakarta – Siti Patonah and her third-grader daughter, who live in a slum in South Jakarta, spend most of their time crouching together in front of her handphone these days.

With schools closed since Mar 16 to curb the spread of COVID-19, her daughter's teachers have been sending videos to the parents for the students to watch.

Homework, usually some written tasks, has to be completed, and photos of the completed sheets are then sent back to the teachers for marking.

"I have to accompany my child every day because I need to explain the lessons and homework to her.

"It is very hard because I am not a teacher. I have to make sure that my child understands, with my own method, that's the problem," Patonah, 44, told CNA.

She accesses all the materials on her handphone, and occasionally browses the Internet for additional information.

While network connection is not an issue, she said her usual 3GB monthly plan is simply not enough and she has to fork out money to buy twice as much data so her daughter can continue studying at home.

They do not have broadband connection at home.

The city's education department has yet to announce when will schools open again. Last Friday (Apr 10), a partial lockdown known as large-scale social restrictions kicked in, further reducing the movement of people in the capital of Indonesia.

Jakarta is the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Indonesia, accounting for close to half of the country's 5,136 COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday.

Patonah's small family is part of about 1.2 million poor citizens in the megacity of 10 million people, according to data from the Jakarta government.

Her husband Endang Sopian, 45, has been sitting idly at home since Mar 26 after his employer, a restaurant in one of Central Jakarta's high-end malls, shut down to heed the Indonesian government's call for people to stay home.

He received his March salary but was unsure if he would still get his paycheck in April. He also stopped working as a part-time e-hailing rider out of fear that he might get infected.

Sopian said he would have to resume working as a rider should they run out of savings."I'm just here at home. I sleep a lot. My daughter actually asked me, 'Why are you always sleeping?'" he said.

Their house is about 40 sq m, enough for the three of them to live in, but there is no balcony or yard. "So in the morning, I go out of the house to sunbathe to keep my body healthy," Sopian said.

Nine people in a small house

Social distancing is a privilege the poor cannot afford, as illustrated in the case of Mila Karmila and Wati, who live together in a rickety house in a small alley in Jakarta.

A foul stench lingered in the air as the sisters opened up about their daily struggles amid the large-scale social restrictions.

They are aware that Jakarta is plagued with a disease and that it has affected their lives, but they have no idea what the restrictions entail.

"The television is broken, how are we supposed to know?" said Wati, 45, who goes by one name.

A total of nine people – including their husbands and children, as well as an older brother – live together in the 20 sq m house, so the sisters prefer to spend their time outside the house for some fresh air.

Wati is a housewife while her husband is an informal parking attendant who earns tips from drivers.

However, after the large-scale social restrictions came into effect, there are almost no cars on the roads and he is staying at home with no income.

Karmila, 40, earns one million rupiah (US$64) per month by washing and ironing clothes for people living nearby. Her husband is a public minivan driver, who usually earns 100,000 rupiah a day.

Since the pandemic, he only earns about 20,000 rupiah which he has to spend on gas, leaving basically nothing behind for the family's basic necessities. "We don't even have rice to eat," Karmila told CNA.

As the two were chatting, their older sister Suhana dropped by. The 46-year-old lives in a different sub-district in South Jakarta and came visiting on Tuesday despite the large-scale social restrictions.

"I'm bored at home. I want to meet my sisters," she said. "But I will go straight home after this."

"If the police catch me, I will just say I want to visit my family because I don't have money and I need to borrow money from them. It's not that I am violating the regulation," she said.

'I try not to worry that much'

Just a few metres away, Ila Sanilah, 44, still operates her coconut water stall in front of the shack she shares with her husband and 22-year-old son. Business has been badly hit by the social restrictions.

"Usually we sell about 100 glasses of coconut water per day, but it will now probably take us a week to sell the same."

"I can't save with my current income. Nowadays I'm just thankful that we can still eat," she said, adding that one glass is sold at 5,000 rupiah.

After closing her stall, Sanilah then spends the afternoon taking care of a neighbour's preschool daughter who likes to play on the street.

Sometimes she is joined by some other housewives on the roadside kerb, as the children play together.

This ritual has not changed even though the large-scale social restrictions regulation has come into force.

Being forced to stay home also meant running out of topics of conversation for many. Patonah, the housewife who has to guide her daughter to study at home, said she did not know what to talk to her husband about these days.

"Usually he would tell me about his day at work, and I would tell him things I encounter while picking up our daughter from school. Now we got nothing to talk about," she said.

They used to watch television together, usually the daily COVID-19 press conference by the government. As that can be a source of stress, Sopian now watches movies at night while Patonah prepares study materials for their daughter.

In the meantime, he tries not to worry that much.

"Before the outbreak, we always say, wouldn't it be nice if we can get some time off work? Sleep a bit more, especially since I only come home at 11 pm most of the time.

"Now I get the chance to sleep and rest. Just try to look on the bright side and let's pray this soon will be over," he said. – CNA/ks

Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/jakarta-poor-find-it-tough-amid-covid19-partial-lockdown-1264304