My Jakarta: Arifin, Bicycle Coffee Vendor
Afrin, who sells coffee to Jakarta’s thirsty residents, says that rainy days are the best for business. The slight-of-build 19-year-old, originally from Madura, East Java, says his piping hot coffee protects warm-blooded Jakartans from the effects of the chilly rain that leaves some people’s teeth chattering.
Afrin also talks about his ongoing battle with cops who don’t pay for their coffee, what it’s like to live in the same room as 180 other boys and the effects of having a job that allows you to imbibe all the Indocafe your body can handle.
How does it feel to be riding around selling coffee every day?
It’s one of the easiest jobs anyone could have. It doesn’t require any skill and you keep healthy because of pedaling all day. Sometimes, when it’s really sunny, I just park my bike under a tree and sleep for about an hour. Then I wake up and make myself a nice warm cup of coffee. Being the seller, I can drink as much as I want for free.
Where did you buy your bicycle?
My boss gave it to me.
You actually have a boss? I thought you were self-employed.
No, I work for my boss. I start working at 6 a.m. and finish at 6 p.m. At night, I calculate all the sales for the day and take the money to him.
How much money do you usually make in a day?
It varies, but on average it’s about Rp 100,000 ($10).
Which type of coffee do Jakartans usually crave? Where are your hot spots?
Cappuccino and Indocafe, which I sell for Rp 3,000. I always sell a lot in Taman Menteng because many people socialize there. Some foreigners there buy up to four cups of coffee for themselves because they claim the regular cup is too small.
Since you can’t ride around if it’s raining, sales must be bad on rainy days, right?
Actually, rainy days are best. People always feel cold and want coffee to warm up their body. Whenever it rains, I park my bicycle under a shed and people come to me instead of me approaching them.
How long have you been selling coffee in Jakarta?
I began two years ago. A friend told me it was easier to earn money in Jakarta than in my village, so I came to Jakarta on my own in search of a job. For the first couple of weeks I slept on the roadside.
One day, I was buying coffee from one of the bicycle coffee boys and I overheard him telling someone on the phone that his boss was looking for new workers. I immediately told him that I was looking for a job and I started that same afternoon.
Was your friend right? Is it easier to earn money here?
Yes, there’s no doubt about that. The motorcycle I bought is evidence of that. If I were still living in my village, I wouldn’t dare dream about buying a pair of shoes, let alone an expensive motorcycle.
Do you socialize after work with your friends?
Sometime we play PlayStation at home after work. But if I’m really tired I just go straight to sleep.
So, you own a PlayStation too?
No, it belongs to my boss. There are about 180 boys living in a one-room rented house in Kwitang, Central Jakarta. Our boss lives there with us too.
Do you feel comfortable living there?
Who am I to complain? I was lucky to have made it here, and thanks to my boss I can earn something every day. We are like a family. From the extremely wide mattress we sleep on, to sharing a cup of coffee, we understand that it’s about helping each other.
How often do you talk with your family back home?
I speak to my mom by phone once a week and I usually go home to my village during Ramadan if I have enough money saved. She really misses me, but I have to explain to her that I’m doing my best here so that one day I can help her to leave the village too.
Do you ever feel like you’ve had enough of this job and you want to return home?
Oh, that’s a joke, right? My life has never been better. Jakarta has opened so many opportunities for me. If I ever go back to my village it will be to build a mansion for my family there.
Is there anything you dislike about Jakarta?
I know what you’re thinking, but it’s neither the traffic nor the pollution; it’s actually the police. Some of them order coffee and then don’t pay. You should ride with me one day and see for yourself.
Arifin was talking to Dwayne Carruthers.