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Under the Overpass They Called “Home”

Blog / Waria Mitra Payung : PKBI Pusat

That afternoon, the sun was shining quite blazing. My friends and I were walking to an area under a big overpass on the outskirts of the capital city. From a distance, visible mountains of plastic trash perched on the right side of the under the overpass area. Meanwhile, on the left side, some laundries were hung over burning trash.

There were around 200 people living there with each space in the form of soil-floored and overpass-roofed square space. Each room was separated using plywood so that it was in the form of a square of approximately 3 x 3 meters. We call it “under the overpass” or known as “kolong” in Indonesian, they call it “home”.

Our arrival was warmly welcomed by the people there, including 2 men who worked as scavengers, 4 housewives whose husbands worked as scavengers, and 16 waria (transgender women) who also lived there.

We gathered in the middle of the area and began the meeting by introducing ourselves to each other; starting from name, origin, and age. Some had lived there for years, some had only been there for 3 months.

They decided to live under the overpass for various reasons. Starting from the cheap rental price of land, which was around Rp. 300 thousand per month, to the environment that was willing to accept them as they were.

About a Humble Dream

Previously, I had never heard stories directly from waria (transgender women) about the dynamics of their life that’s like a roller coaster. On that opportunity, the sense of amazement was deepened when hearing one by one of them narrated a variety of stories that might never be captured if we do not have enough space to accept things that are considered taboo.

If most of urban people aspire to possess wealth and throne, they only want love to be happy.

“I just want to get married, have a family, have my own business, and live happily,” said Enjel, one of waria who had lived there for 5 months.

For Enjel, getting married is the only way to avoid loneliness in old age. Before living there, Enjel had lived in Medan as a factory worker. Unfortunately, the company did not pay Enjel’s salary while she worked there, so she decided to look for another job.

After that, Enjel worked as a household assistant. However, again, environmental acceptance became a major obstacle in her life. Even though her boss was kind, she was still treated harshly by those around her so she decided to move to Jakarta.

Out the tiger’s cage, into the crocodile’s pit. Maybe that’s the right analogy for Enjel. Instead of getting a more decent job and social acceptance, Enjel was driven out of her rented room in Jakarta because it was considered a threat to the environment. From then on, she moved to under the overpass and lived with other transgender friends.

Another humble dream came from Inem, a waria from Serang who had lived there for 7 months. The bitter journey started with her family. Almost all family members opposed her decision to become waria, so it was common for her to get abusive treatment from them. Expelled, insulted, and reviled were a daily consumption for Inem so she finally decided to move to Jakarta and work with other waria friends.

“I want to take sewing course to be able to open a clothes sewing business,” Inem replied when asked what was the biggest dream she wanted to achieve.

Even though swas still living on the road, Inem hoped that one day she could find a better life and made herself happy.

“Actually, waria don’t have to be on the road. (They) must have a decent life like others,” said Inem.

Unlike Enjel and Inem, a waria from Sukabumi named Ita has a story that might be happier. Since grade 5 elementary school, Ita had realized that she was a feminine person. Although initially opposed by her father, Ita managed to prove to her family and environment that being a waria was not something to be ashamed of. Moreover, Ita has been the backbone of the family since she was 12 years old.

When asked about dreams and ambitions, Ita answered with a smile, “I want to have my own shop. That’s it.”

More Confidence Thanks to Acceptance

Almost all waria who lived under the overpass worked on the streets so not a few of them had ever experienced violence. However, that did not make them retreat because for them, the essence of life is not to feel safe, but to  be able to survive at all costs.

Life without gadgets is not a problem because for them, good communication is not established through social media, but through daily conversation. This was what ultimately made Ibu Agis, a resident who had lived there for 12 years, became part of the family of those waria.

Ibu Agis was the first person to live there. Feeling lonely, she invited other friends to live there, including waria friends. For Ibu Agis, the presence of waria in their neighborhood is not a threat. They are present precisely as friends who are ready to share stories and experiences to achieve a humble dream together; to be happy.

Social acceptance in that community increasingly made waria friends believe that their decision to become waria was not something to be ashamed of and considered to be disturbing. With acceptance, waria friends become more confident in moving forward and become increasingly motivated to live better.

“Even if it’s the way, we must accept it. Everyone is not perfect. We are all humans, wandering off. We go our own ways,” said Ibu Agis when asked about how to live side by side with waria.

Ngabuburit (derived from the Sundanese language with the meaning of seeking amusement and distractions while waiting for day’s fast to end) with residents under the overpass was over. However, the journey on how to get food and reap happiness will never be finished. I said goodbye to go home, the people under the overpass hinted of adventure.

Under the overpass they called “home”,

May 14, 2019.