Nailing environmental care
If dawn joggers hadn’t been forewarned they’d have been frightened. An advancing column of almost 50 determined marchers armed with steel bars, hammers and other ugly weapons. Some lug ladders, obviously to scale barriers. Many are in white, the color of the dreaded Islamic Defenders Front.
Fortunately for the fearful – though not for those still abed on this splendid Sunday morning – there’s a pick-up in the crowd overloaded with an eight-speaker sound system.
“We are the Malang Community Carers,” shrieks Abdul Gafoer, tweaking amplifiers to ensure his voice will top the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru Massif ringing the East Java city.
He used to be in the army so knows how to shout at people. Malang lacks noise abatement laws so complaints are unlikely: “We’re here to protect the environment because we’re citizens who care.”
And also gouge, for today the activists are tree dentists on a mission to extract; they’re carrying pliers, claw hammers, crowbars and other tools to prise out the rotting nails wounding roadside vegetation.
Jalan Dr Cipto is a leafy avenue of 30 meter-high kenari trees [Canarium decumanum], planted long before the winds of unstoppable change howled across the archipelago blowing away the old, though not these splay-footed giants that germinated when blond men in pith helmets pedalled past.
Kenaris are the symbol of the West Java city of Bogor and already under threat with reports of residents stabbing the trunks and pouring in poison, hoping dead trees will be felled to make space for food stalls. That hasn’t happened in Malang, but the trees have long been used as handy posts for advertising.
“In Surabaya signs must be tied to trunks using raffia,” said Dodi Ashari, organizer of the event and a marketing man during weekdays. “It’s illegal to use nails – so far not here. We do this once every two months in a different location.
|Ready for anything: Lilik Sunarlik|
”We’ve got around 3,000 supporters, though only 100 are really active. On an earlier exercise we collected 20 kilos of metal. Our goal is five nails for every volunteer.”
An ambition easy to nail, with many members achieving their quota at the first stop. One of the most nimble, darting up ladders to worry out the metal spikes while others were seeking a snack or drink from the refreshment runners, was Zainal Rezeh who manages a boarding house.
“I was born here – Malang is my city,” he said with pride while trying to divert a river of sweat cascading into his eyes. “Of course this job could be done by local government workers, but they’ve got enough to do. I have time on my hands. I want a better environment. That’s why I come.”
Jalan Dr Cipto is no place for tree huggers who’d rapidly discover what it’s like to cuddle a porcupine. Close up it’s easy to see the hurts where ulcers have formed in the trunks as nature tries to expel the foreign bodies slowly rusting in its skin.
Some nails are long and thick and have been hammered so vengefully deep that attempts to remove start ripping the bark. Others are tacks that snap when levered. Ironically one of the most damaged trees stands outside the local office of the Forests Department, complete with bolt.
“I had a friend from Holland who was horrified to see how we treat our trees,” said Gunawan Wibisono. “I studied environmental management in the Netherlands - when I came back we started this campaign.”
It’s not the only one. After returning to base the volunteers bored holes alongside the sidewalk and plugged them with capped PVC pipe. The idea is to drain surface water hampering pedestrians and churning mud. The idea is to eventually sink one million pipes.
They also showed bystanders how to make backyard compost pits by digging deeper holes for organic trash.
Pamphlets were handed to anyone who showed interest, while those indifferent to the environmental message got it anyway through the million megawatt mobile sound system.
When the boring jobs were over MCC members distributed kendi (seductively-shaped earthenware jugs that sweat so the contents stay cool) to local communities.
The MCC is trying to revive an ancient custom of providing kendi (pictured, left) at neighborhood watch houses, or in wall niches near public transport stops, for the weary to quench their thirst. They hope this will reduce throwaway containers and a plastic pollution problem.
The carers were mainly professionals or retired. Among them were teachers, a lawyer, an engineer, big and small businesspeople, students and academics, ages from seven to 65. Although all were keen to pull nails, camaraderie was another attractant. People of such diverse backgrounds they’d never otherwise meet, getting together in a common cause.
Perched on a rickety bamboo ladder yanking nails on a Sunday doesn’t sound like a riveting pastime. But with everyone on the same page, dancing to the music when Abdul Gafoer lets his lungs rest, or exchanging confidences while fighting a stud that’s resisting arrest, then doing good deeds becomes fun.
Philosophical reasoning about owning an environmental problem and the need to walk the talk were offered by the volunteers to explain their involvement.
However the motives were best articulated by Margarette Narlita Isoya, a former English teacher now working in public relations, and her travel agent mother, Lilik Sunarlik.
They simply said: “This is our town. We want to make it better.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 6 January 2015)