Flowing in to the Javanese Sea, Jakarta’s Ciliwung River is one of the most polluted rivers in the world.
Less than two meters from the river’s edge lives a small community. They call the bridge near the Rumput Market their home. Most of the people who live here simply can’t afford to rent an apartment. Some do actually own an apartment, but rent it out to afford their daily food.
There are large signs posted next to the bridge that tell us that it is illegal to live here, under the bridge. To avoid forced eviction, the bridge residents must pay bribe money to the police. Jakarta isn’t lacking in laws – just their enforcement.
The teenagers that occupy one side under the bridge earn their money by jumping on passing buses and playing original songs for the passengers – for a small donation. If that is not enough to fill their stomachs, they then search for rubbish. If the Ciliwung doesn’t wash up enough plastic bottles, they search the streets of the mega city of Jakarta. Local middle-aged men pay them 30 cents per kilo, then on-sell to factories for a comfortable profit.
Residents of the bridge near Pasar Rumput exchange their small earnings for coffee, cigarettes and food at their little corner shop down the road. If you haven’t earned anything today, you fall asleep with an empty stomach tonight. Nobody has any savings.
When I get to know these teenagers, I am impressed by their maturity and sense of responsibility beyond their years. Especially because, unlike many other dominantly Muslim Indonesians who see dogs as meat or disease, this young group has decided to care for a defenseless puppy they’ve named Bobby.
With Bobby they share a destiny under the bridge – where tenderness and violence cannot be separated. I am fascinated by the mutual giving and taking of motherly love between the boys and dog. At times they share love softly. At times, they violently demand love from Bobby, reclaiming their lost childhoods.
When I returned to the bridge one month after filming this documentary, Bobby had died. When the kids told me, there was no grief in their voices. The loss of Bobby left me hopeless. My innocence was gone. I could only feel the bitterness of life on Jakarta’s Ciliwung River.