Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Dane on racism / Pasar Ikan

I am back to a series of pics at the NY Times, this time by Jacob Holdt. After you have visited that slideshow, you can check out his website to see more photos if you want.

Your heart really goes out to those poor people living in squalor, especially that little girl on picture 9. If I understand correctly, that was Alabama some 35 years ago.

I have always had trouble understanding criticism of affirmative action, which seems to be based on the notion that there is now a level playing field.

Of course, we should not forget that hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people worldwide live under such conditions today. In the picture at the top, which I took in 2002 in a shanty town in Jakarta, you see a small plastic bag of cooking oil in front of the child; many items are purchased this way there.

The shantytown was created after the riots in the late 1990s during the collapse of many Southeast Asian currencies. People who lost their homes built shacks out on the filthy water in the bay. People were very friendly there; I realized after a short time that I need not fear anyone -- I was walking through a family neighborhood, a sort of suburb in a way. As an American, I had a deep-seated (and unjustified) fear of large conglomerations of poor people, so my visit to this shantytown was a truly liberating experience. Everyone just wanted to get along with each other and make the best of their lives. I was invited to play games I had never seen before and shown around the entire "neighborhood". There was a small school, a clinic, a giant (and putrid) fish market (that's what Pasar Ikan means), and lots of shops where you could get produce.

I had just gotten my first digital camera, and as I continued to feel more comfortable in these surroundings, I began to take pictures of people. I would turn the camera around and show them the images of themselves, and the experience was new to everyone including me. I had took some 30 pictures of people throughout Pasar Ikan over the course of an afternoon, and when I returned home, I had them printed out and sent them to someone I had met in Pasar Ikan who had promised to hand them out to everyone. At least they all got a picture of themselves. Many of them had lost everything to the flames during the riots a few years earlier.

The second picture shows three generations of one family, and the third picture was a rather magic moment as you can see. The longer I stayed, the more people I seem to have wanting to have their picture taken, and these children lined up spontaneously in a pyramid to have their picture taken. If you had told any of us back then that we would have an Indonesian-speaking president in the US seven years later, everyone would have surely been surprised.

The final picture shows the last row of houses stretching out into the bay. There was very little space -- a family of four might be living in a single room of just 12 square meters (120 square feet) -- so people would hang out in the boats. Made me think of the bayous I grew up in as a toddler. Like these children, I partly learned to walk on piers.

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