BANDUNG (JP): The Sahdi's, like other families in the neighborhood, live alongside the border of death. This family occupies a 12-square-meter room just one-meter from a railway track. It has only one door. There is no fence, let alone a brick wall to separate the railway track from the front yard of the ""house"".
Sahdi, a 43-year-old becak (pedicab) driver, has two daughters and two boys. The girls, 14 years old and 12 years old, go to a nearby junior high school. The boys, who are just seven and five, spend most of their days playing by the side of the railway track.
""No, my children and other children here know when the trains come. Nobody has been hit by the passing trains,"" Sahdi said when asked whether he did anything to prevent his children from being injured.
The room is the standard type of house in the neighborhood, which is inhabited by 523 residents. Such houses stretch along the railway track, which functions as their front yard.
This slum area, located in Kiaracondong district, is an extension of rowsof houses on the other side. Aman, an elderly resident of the Sukapura village, said that once there was a wire fence dividing the houses and the rail track and there was a safe distance from the track to the fence of about five 20 meters.
Later on, however, descendants of the village's older residents, along with people from other areas, gradually used the empty space between the track and the security fence. ""With the growing population, they moved closer and closer to the track. And this is now the situation,"" Aman said.
Most of the residents are pedicab drivers. According to Sahdi, they hire pedicabs from several people there and take home between Rp 5,000 and Rp 10,000 per day.
The land is owned by state train company PT KAI, but Ahyar, a 41-year-oldparking attendant who lives on the other side of the track, said he inherited the house from his parents. ""All I know is that I have to pay some money to our village head every year. They said it was for the space Iused,"" he said.
Regular spending is also for electricity and drinking water. Each house uses electricity, obtained from the nearby houses of better-off families byconnecting a cable. Seven to 10 families can get the electricity from one house and pay Rp 5,000 each (60 U.S. cents) per month -- which is quite expensive considering the small amount of electricity they consume. They mainly need it for lighting. Only very few of them have TV sets.
They also have to buy drinking water, especially for cooking. A 50-liter container of water costs Rp 200. As for washing, they go to public bathing,washing and toilet (MCK) facilities that are equipped with manual water pumps.
There are some 20 MCK facilities in the slum area, with one MCK used by 25 families on average. Most of MCKs are made by the community and three ofthem by the local government.
Occupation of space alongside railway tracks is commonplace in Java, where trains are widely used.
""It is like a pattern of slum growth in Indonesia,"" said Verania, researcher at the AKATIGA social analysis center.
The inclination to occupy rail track sides may have been prompted by two factors, Verania explained.
""The state train company is understaffed. They don't have people to control the huge empty spaces all along the tracks in Java. And local authorities let the slums grow there because they get money from the residents"".
A similar pattern of slum growth is also found along the riversides of cities. There used to be empty spaces in the area, and they belong to the Directorate General of Waters.
Migrants from outside the cities gradually occupied the empty spaces and developed them into slum settlements as can be seen along the Cikapundung River cutting through the city of Bandung.
Verania has seen a third pattern of slum grown, which is a minor one, at least for now. That is the occupation of cemeteries in cities. ""The processis a bit similar. At the first stage, they occupied the margins of the cemetery compounds. In time, they will move forward to the center.""
A group of families gradually converted certain parts of the Sirnaraga public cemetery into housing areas. Some houses integrated with the graves,which are now part of the houses.
And the density is incredible in the Sirnaraga slum area, with 27 people occupying 42 square meters of land. The built their own water pump and haveelectricity and public toilets. The water pump is next to a row of graves.
""Human bodies originate from the soil. They return to soil. If we use water from (the soil where) the dead bodies (are buried), what is the difference?"" said Iri, a father of 12 children.
""Besides, we have nice neighbors -- the spirits,"" he added.
Houses along the riversides have their own typical look. They are mostly designed as ""temporary"" settlements. This is due to frequent floods during the rainy season.
""Whenever floods come, we just take our things, dismantle these houses and move to higher places. When the water subsides, we return and set up the houses again,"" said Aisyah, 46, a housewife at Ciakupundung's riverside.
Residents of riverside slums have some advantages compared to those who live alongside rail tracks. They have no problem with toilets because they use the river, which they occasionally also use for washing.
The government should think about the improvement of slums in its development plan, Aisyah said.
In Bandung, the slum population makes up about 42 percent, data at the city administration show.
Improvement of slum areas is a prerequisite to combating crime. ""It is common knowledge that slums coexist with crime,"" Verania said.
""They (slum residents) cannot be ignored,"" she asserted.