Most of us in wealthy nations are used to a world of consumption: we expect to meet our needs at the grocery store, the shopping mall or farmer’s market. We rarely see where what we purchase is produced; rarely even wonder beyond maybe a sticker or tag that tells us the product’s place of origin.
But the subtext of those stickers and tags is the story of the communities that sew our clothes, grow our food and catch our fish. They live in a world of production, where all the hours of their days revolve around a single activity. I visited one of those places today: the slum neighborhood of Kalibaru, Cilincing, North Jakarta.
Kalibaru sits on the seafront of the city’s port area, its low-slung shanties perched along a wave-battered concrete wall. Fishing boats of all sizes and conditions bob along the bamboo piers of the Java Sea.
The neighborhood’s alleys are clogged with residents peeling and shelling iridescent green mussels: the fruit of fisherman who ply the waters from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. every day of the week. People of all ages, from seven to 70, are involved in the process. With every step along the paths, you crush shells that were the bounty — and work — of yesterday and the day before.
The smoke and rolling vapor from cookfires that steam the mussels permeate the atmosphere. A legion of cats pick at the remnants of meat in the shells. Kalibaru seems somewhat hellish, or at least purgatorial, until laughter washes over the monotonous sound of cracking shells. Just like Penjaringan, the city beneath the toll road we visited beneath the bridge, there is joy and vitality here — despite everything.
Here, Mercy Corps has created the Healthy Start program to promote early and exclusive breastfeeding among pregnant mothers and women with infants — women like 37-year-old Karsih, who has six children and two grandchildren. The program helps support and educate women who choose to breastfeed despite the overwhelming pressure from midwives and others in the community to use formula from birth.
Karsih’s youngest is 10-month-old Ridho. When he lays down for a nap, she’ll return to the alleyway to shuck mussels alongside her children.
Karsih, her fellow mothers and their children live in a world that most of us never see: the world from which our needs are met.