“The last resort is to move to a safer place,” says Pranowo, who is in his second term as governor and is expected to run for president in 2024. adapt to the environment by building houses on stilts, for example. If they want to recover their land like in the good old days, it is impossible. He is drowned now.
Commune with ghosts
There are no more rice fields in the hamlet of Mondoliko, another of the submerged villages of Sayung district and one of the most isolated. To get there, locals walk a mile along a narrow cement path that crosses open water and is itself still submerged; at high tide the water is thigh deep and the path is invisible. At the end of the road, the people of Mondoliko continue to travel two miles by boat, passing hundreds of hectares of green mussel farms. In the hamlet itself, the road is flooded and so slippery that they walk barefoot.
“The villagers had raised the level of the road by about 30 centimeters [nearly a foot] earlier this year,” says Kusmantri, 46, who works at a roofing factory in Semarang. “He drowned again.”
In his youth, Kusmantril helped his father in a paddy field which has since disappeared. After his father’s death, Kusmantri became the backbone of his large family. He dropped out of high school and started doing odd jobs, eventually landing the job at the factory. Now he himself has a wife and two children. A few years ago he bought a small motor boat, which enabled him to work at night as a mussel farmer and fisherman, catching blue mullets, shrimps and crabs. He sells his catch to neighbors and sometimes to a commercial broker.
Kusmantri has lived in this hamlet all his life, and he desperately wants to move. He has raised the floor of his house three times since 2013, a total of five feet, but seawater continues to pour in during the highest tides. Apart from a wooden bed frame and a small side table to put your TV on, the place is relatively empty. The green paint on the cracked walls has started to peel off, exposing the bare cement.
“When you come home from work and just want to rest, you can’t do that here,” Kusmantri says. “You must first mop and dry the floor before you can rest. We’re just tired of living like this. It drains our energy and our spirit.
Kusmantri pleaded with the provincial government to relocate the hamlet. Although officials have heard his plea, there is no indication that this is happening. There are only 40 families left in Mondoliko, compared to 170 historically. The abandoned and dilapidated houses give it the appearance of a ghost town. But the call to prayer still resounds from the mosque.
In Central Java, the Muslim tradition is to visit the cemetery every Thursday, late afternoon, to offer prayers to the deceased. On a recent Thursday, Khusnumarom, a 16-year-old high school student, visited Timbulsloko Cemetery.
Dressed in a traditional white shirt, black songkok cap and dark gray pants, he walked barefoot on a narrow six-foot-tall promenade, nearly two miles long, which was built by the residents earlier this year to replace missing roads. He made a right turn up some wooden stairs and crossed a stream on the slippery, submerged road; the deluge has reached the knees. But his steps were confident. On the other side, he climbed back onto the sidewalk and continued.
When he reached the underwater graveyard, the shadows had already begun to fall. The dead rain tree and tombstones were silhouetted against the dark orange sky. Khusnumarom found the grave of his grandmother, Mukminah. He raised his hands and began to pray.
Khusnumarom knows what his village was like through bedtime stories, including those Mukminah told him. Those memories will die with the older generation, and sooner or later the stories will fade too. Like many of his childhood comrades, Khusnumarom does not plan to stay in Timbulsloko.
“I know what this village looked like,” he said. “But we see and experience what he has become now.” He will look for a job in the city once he graduates. He wants to be a software engineer.