Indigenous Peoples Calendar Archive April, 2013: Javanese Labor
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Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

People everywhere perform work to survive that they would prefer not to. History is full of examples and there are many terms to describe them including "manual labor," "hard labor," "menial work" etc. Traveling, I have seen innumerable scenes where I have known that I would prefer not to perform the same work, but also where I have been uncertain about the opinion of the person performing that work.

Such scenes that I have seen include child labor, manual-labor-intensive farming and factory assembly-line work. Although I had a job delivering newspapers as a child (which I don't classify as child labor) I have no experience of any of these forms of work.

Like many people, I'd seen images and video footage of workers at garbage dump sites before I ever traveled to parts of the world where they exist. My first visit to a "working" garbage dump was in the Philippines. There, close to the capital Manila, is a dump known locally as "Smoky Mountain" after the constant smoke from the incineration of the refuse. That experience was moving both emotionally and for my digestive system — I vomited after spending a few hours interviewing and photographing the people who lived and worked there.

I remember thinking at the time that I was unlikely ever to see another scene portraying equally well work that I would prefer not to perform. Then I visited Indonesia. In a small, Javanese city, locals had dumped their garbage at the side of the road. It wasn't long before this man appeared and started sifting through the garbage looking for things he could sell — just like I'd seen at the garbage dump in Manila.

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