It was just another bright sunny day when we drove along the Bandung’s roads. Ah, the sweetness of living in tropical country. Despite endlessly putting up with sweat and swear – sweat from hot weather and swears toward inept drivers passing by - we always enjoyed our little adventurous trip in this crowded town.
Our humble car entered a car park as He needed to buy something at the shops nearby. The car park was full and the only space available was near the garbage heap. So we pulled over there. If that was the only choice that we had, so be it. He got out of the car while I decided to wait inside.
My eyes looked around the place and suddenly caught a glimpse of two fellows, a woman and a little girl about six years old who was presumably her child. The mother carried a big sack hanging over her shoulder down to her back. Looking from some bottle shapes protruding from the surface, the sack must’ve contained some unused plastic bottles or containers to be recycled. Her child was roaming near her, picking up here and there some plastic bottles from the garbage heap. They are pemulung. When people dismiss doing complicated stuff like sorting garbage to recyclable and non-recyclable bins (seriously, how complicated is that?), they are there to lessen the problem.
My eyes glued on the little girl that at that moment was wandering right in front of the car. She picked up a plastic cup that still contained some liquid, looking like ice cream that was half melted, probably was newly thrown to the garbage heap. And my heart suddenly jumped when she scooped the left over in that cup with plastic spoon in it, and shoved it into her little mouth.
I opened the car door and made a step toward her, but another thought stopped me. I came back inside the car and instantly searched for available food. Fortunately when taking the kids outside we always equipped ourselves with food inside the car. So I grabbed a big chunk of chocolate stuffed bread and walked outside.
I moved toward the little girl. “Hi” I smiled at her. She looked back at me. The eyes were innocent and bright. She was beautiful, despite the messy hair and shabby clothes she was wearing. I lowered myself so my eyes were level with hers “Are you hungry?” What a stupid question. She just looked at me shyly while still holding the plastic cup of melted ice cream in her hand. I handed her the bread “Here, this is for you”. She looked hesitantly at the bread, then her eyes searched for her mother who stood at a close proximity from us. After getting an approval nod from her mother, she smiled and happily took the bread from my hand and said thank you. I could see that despite her hunger, her mother had taught her some manner fairly well.
She walked up to her mother and from the gesture I saw that she was offering her mother the bread. The mother shook her head. She opened the plastic wrap, ripped the bread apart with her hands and I vaguely heard her little voice saying “Look Ma, it’s chocolate…”, and with some mouthful bites she ate the bread. I suddenly felt a lump forming in my throat.
That little girl and her mother are not beggars. They are pemulung who collect inorganic garbage to be recycled. As despised as they might be, they share contribution to save the environment, as a balance to people who live a "modern" lifestyle that leaves sizeable ecological footprint on earth. They are unsung heroes to the environment. Yet they are filthy, and they are hungry.