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Humans of New York

New York City, one story at a time. Currently sharing stories from Indonesia. Now a show on Facebook Watch.

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“We were planning to swim today but then we decided to go looking for foreigners. Rayhan had never seen one before. Foreigners are fun and handsome. If you get a picture with one of them, you’ll get a lot of likes on Facebook. We found a few already. There was one family from France that was really nice and let us a take a picture. Then we found one other girl but she was kind of snobby. She said some words in English and walked away quickly. Maybe she was feeling sick.” (Jakarta, Indonesia)


“It was spontaneous. I didn’t ask for permission. We’d been dating for five months, so I just decided to go for it. We were standing on a beach. Watching the sunset. I waited for the perfect moment when she wasn’t paying attention. Then I leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. At first she was silent. She gave me a bit of a side look. I thought I’d messed up. So I pointed at the waves and pretended that I saw something in the ocean. I let things cool down for a few months before trying again.” (Jakarta, Indonesia)


“I tried to start a business right out of high school. I didn’t have much experience. But a mutual friend showed me a business model and I agreed to partner with him. We supplied wholesale groceries like onions, barley, and garlic. My partner did the purchasing and kept all the books. I just supplied the money to purchase more stock. I was completely dependent on the information he gave me. And at first we showed a lot of profit. Every time we filled an order, there would be an even bigger order. So I just kept putting more money into the business. That went on for four years. But when I finally tried to take some profits, my partner claimed there was no money. He showed me an entirely new set of books. He’d stolen everything, and I couldn’t prove a thing because I hadn’t been keeping my own records. I hid it from my wife for days. We had two kids and I’d just lost everything. But when I finally told her, she supported me. She only told me that I couldn’t sit around and think about it. So I got a job as a taxi driver. I was done with business forever. That was twenty years ago. Both my kids are educated now. They’ve grown up to be good human beings. And that guy never changed. He kept cheating people. Last I heard, he was in hiding somewhere.” (Dhaka, Bangladesh)


“These types of shops are notorious for cheating people. A lot of them use fake parts to fix your car. But I take pride in doing things right. And most of my profits go back into the business. I could stash all my money in the bank, but I’d rather use it to create jobs. I support five employees with this shop. I handpicked them myself. All of them were being paid horribly at their old jobs. They were living in horrible conditions. They had families to support but were barely making enough to feed themselves. So I paid them double, gave them shelter, and gave them food. If the work is getting done, they can have as much freedom as they want. I don’t give them metrics. The most important thing is that they’re happy.” (Dhaka, Bangladesh)


“The land where I grew up was very rich. The property was empty when my father bought it, but he plowed it with cows and grew many crops there. He built it up from nothing. I have many memories there as a child. The land was next to a river. There were lots of coconut trees. The trees didn’t belong to anyone but they felt like my own. My father died when I was five years old and passed the land on to me. It was my only possession. It was my back-up plan. I worked as a janitor in the city, but I always returned to visit my mother and bring her money. It was in my twenties that I began to notice that the river was eroding the soil. Every time I returned, a bit more had fallen into the water. There was nothing I could do. We stayed until the water was five feet from our door. On the day we left, my mother told me: ‘One day you’ll realize how hard your father worked for this.’ And that’s the hardest part. The land was my only memory of my father. And now I can’t show it to my kids. I feel like it’s not just my inheritance that’s underwater, but all my father’s hard work.” (Dhaka, Bangladesh)


“My mother passed away during childbirth, and a woman from a nearby village tried to purchase me from my grandfather. At first he was insulted, but the woman kept begging, so he finally agreed to marry her into our family. She never breastfed me. She never showed me affection. And the moment she had children of her own, she abandoned me. I was ten years old at the time. Her new husband threw my school bag into a lake and told me to go find work. I moved straight to the city. There were times I was so hungry that I made soup out of goat food. But I never begged and I never stole. There are a lot of bad people in the city, but I was lucky enough to meet the good ones. People who showed me the right path. A restaurant owner let me live with him in exchange for washing dishes. Then when I was fifteen, an old Pakistani man taught me how to drive, and I became a bus driver. I met my wife while driving that bus. We have three children of our own now. I have nothing to leave them when I’m gone. But all of us are well fed and well housed.” (Dhaka, Bangladesh)


“My boyfriend would do all sorts of crazy things when we first met. We’d talk until four in the morning. He said he’d die to be with me. But the moment he knew that I was falling for him, he suddenly grew cold. He’d call me names. He’d disappear for days every time we argued. And he started spending time with other girls. He said they were just friends, but it bothered me. Plus he would never commit. I asked him for a commitment because my parents are trying to fix my marriage, but he just listened to me cry. He wouldn’t say a word. During one of the periods that he wasn’t talking to me, I reconnected with an old crush from my childhood. And this new guy treated me so well. He even came to meet my parents to show that he was serious. But my boyfriend logged onto my Facebook and discovered our messages. And he started crying and begged me not to leave. He said he’d marry me if I came back to him. So I did. But now he’s saying that he hasn’t decided if he can forgive me.” (Dhaka, Bangladesh)


“I feel like girls aren’t safe anywhere. Maybe I’m watching too many crime series on television, but I’m scared to ever leave her alone. I even get nervous when she goes to school because the driver is male. I do my best to teach her to be safe. I tell her how to react if a man approaches her. I tell her what is not appropriate. But she’s so shy. She’s silent around adults. So I’m scared that she won’t stand up for herself. And that if something happens, I’m afraid she’ll never tell me about it.” (Dhaka, Bangladesh)


“Invention is my hobby. I want to invent all kinds of inventions. Many things I have invented already. This is my first invention, which is quite small. It is a generator. One motor can generate electricity from the other motor. I will make a bigger one when I get some money. There are so many wonderful inventors. There is a scientist named Dr. Hanson who has made a wonderful robot that can talk. She can’t say her favorite color, but she is still a beautiful robot. Dr. Hanson is a great scientist and wonderful man. I will be a great scientist too. One day I will go to Australia and make a flying car that doesn’t make pollution. I already have the idea in my brain.” (Dhaka, Bangladesh)


“I started this business two years ago when I was twelve. An older friend told me that we could make good money selling fruit. We buy the fruit from villages and bring it to the city where it gets a much higher price. My friend is six years older than me, but he couldn’t keep up, so I set off on my own. I work every day. I’ve already made enough money to buy some land. I’m going to build a house and use the rest for farming. My parents tell me that I should be in school. I respect their views, but I also make more money than them. So it’s hard to listen. Plus I’m learning a lot about business. Even though I’m skipping school, I don’t think I’m skipping education.” (Dhaka, Bangladesh)


“I always sat in the first row. I always had the highest rank in class. I wanted to be a teacher, just like my teachers. But when it was time to enroll in grade seven, my mother told me we couldn’t afford it. I cried and begged but she just stayed silent. My teachers were so sad that they offered to pay half of the tuition. But it wasn’t enough because we'd still have to pay for the books and exams. So my mother made me understand that school was not in my luck. I’m still seventeen, but now I’m married and I work as a maid for a family. I wash their clothes, wash their dishes, clean their bathroom. Their house is near a school. So every morning I have to watch the children walk by in their uniforms.” (Dhaka, Bangladesh) [*Im getting lots of messages from people wanting to help. A few days ago I got in touch with her family about paying tuition, and looks promising that we'll be able to get her back in school*]


“My husband passed away when my children were very small. I taught myself handicrafts to survive, but it barely earned enough for us to eat. When my oldest son turned eighteen, I found him a wife. I was hoping that she’d help with the household. But she abandoned us after my granddaughter was born. I came home from work one day and found the child alone. I could only get her to stop crying by soaking an apple in goat’s milk. I’ve been raising her ever since that day. She calls me ‘mummy.’ With a lot of hardships I have made her grow. She survives on apples and milk. But I’m old. And when I’m gone, I don’t know who will take care of her.” (Udaipur, India)

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