Polishing Army

Jumat, 6 Oktober 2006

Oleh: Achmad Uzair (Koordinator Tim Kerja Lafadl)

Medan, 3 October 2006. It was just 11.30, an hour to go for dzuhur praying. There were still few people coming to a mosque located on Diponegoro street, next to the office of North Sumatra Governor. Normally, Indonesians call such streets where government and other important offices are located as jalan protokol (protocol streets). Here, on Jalan Diponegoro, we do not only find government offices, but also some private companies’. It is not surprising that the “consumers” of this mosque are those wearing nice dresses and shirts. Apart from those people with nice wears, there were also some children mostly in shorts sitting in groups.

At 12.15, many more people come, mostly through the northern gate of the mosque where more cars/motorcycles are parked. Together with their coming, the children previously sitting in groups were spread out approaching the coming jamaah. The children, mostly under 10 years old, were offering small paper with numbers to jamaah. They were following jamaah from the park of the mosque and wait until they put off their shoes. Without any words said, jamaah will accept that paper and the children would immediately take their shoes to their partners who had been waiting at some other part of the mosque. Without any verbal ijab-qabul (something required by Islamic law for [economic] transaction), a deal has been agreed between jamaah and the polisher community. And this polishing business only prevails on this northern part of the mosque.

This part of the mosque has been plotted for different groups. At that day, there were at least 5 business groups conquering different sites. Each group usually consists of at least 2 persons. The younger one has a duty to “persuade” jamaah and collect their shoes; while the older one (approximately at 17 at the oldest) is in charge of polishing the shoes. However, some children are also doing polishing, though it looks like they have difficulties in polishing shoes which are as big as their arms. With a shoe brush and KIWI or Swallow, they hope they make their customers proud again with their shoes. To make customers satisfied, some of them are even putting the socks and the shoes off of customers’ feet. Of these business actors, many of them are having South Indian look. They come from Tamil race, a group which has been living in this region for centuries.

Apart from polishing shoes, this community also provides waiting services for those beautiful shoes. As widely known for Indonesians (particularly in Java), beautiful shoes or sandals are easily lost in mosques. Due to its familiarity, if Indonesians are tired of corruption cases, it is usual to compare maling sandal (sandal thief) [whom are usually publicly beaten when they are caught] with corruptor [often released from charges]. But, here in Medan, it looks like there are only few cases with or without waiting services they provide. However, if the shoes do not need any polishing, the children are still taking the shoes and put it under waiting services. Similar with tacit transaction they had, this polishing army also has the payment in tacit deals. It looks like there is a kind of common understanding between customers and this army. As far as my observation, in general jamaah would pay 2000 rupiahs per shoes polished. However, there are also customers who do not pay at all for any service they had (particularly the waiting service). And these boys do not protest.

They also look familiar with temperamental jamaah who sometimes think of them as annoying. Looking at these boys and the way they face life, feelings can deeply involved. As the case for me when a gentleman with expensive shoes and contemporary mobile phones would leave the boys unpaid. But, after some steps taken, he took two sheets of a thousand rupiahs off of his pants’ pocket. And the boys were running for it. I feel relieved watching their work paid.

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