Poor Jakartans say no to chicken as bird flu spreads

For many poor residents of Indonesia’s densely populated capital, Jakarta, having chicken on the dinner table is a luxury that seldom comes.

Now many are forcing themselves to decline the rare treat of fried or curried chicken amid a widening bird-flu outbreak and lack of public information about the virus.

“I’ve heard that if the chicken is properly cooked, the virus will die, but I rarely eat chicken anyway because I can get by with just eating tofu and vegetables,” said Wahyu Hidayat (24), a motorcycle-taxi driver.

Indonesia announced on Tuesday that the number of suspected cases of bird flu has risen in the country where four have died from the virus over the past two months.

Health officials declared an “extraordinary incident” and said six patients with confirmed or suspected bird-flu infections were being treated in hospital.

Hidayat, a newlywed living with his pregnant wife beside a crowded canal in the Central Jakarta area of Matraman, admitted he knows little about bird flu but fears the disease will become a pandemic.

He said he told his wife to stop eating chicken because of the possible impact on their unborn baby.

In nearby Cikini Kramat Street, Fatmawari said she, too, is wary.

The housewife said she and her eight children avoid eating chicken. Their house faces a makeshift chicken slaughterhouse owned by a neighbour.

“We are scared of eating chickens but when we do eat them, we eat them apprehensively. We put our lives in God’s hands, but there is no harm in being cautious,” said Fatmawari (46), who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

Two doors away, the chicken seller, Nasaruddin (65), said poultry remains one of his household’s main dishes.

“Of course I eat chicken.
Do you want me to fry one for you right now?” he asked. His income allows him to eat the birds whenever he wants, unlike most of his customers.

Nasaruddin, who has been buying live chickens and cutting them up for sale since 1965, said he regularly cleans their coops and ensures they are properly fed and watered.

“I’m not worried because I know how to select healthy chickens.”

Yet he admits to being a “little disturbed” by the 14 caged turtledoves owned by his neighbour Sadli bin Ilin.

Bin Ilin (47), a messenger for an insurance company, said he believes his pets are safe from bird flu because he regularly washes their cages and changes their water.

“I haven’t thought about vaccinating them, but the most important thing is we keep them clean,” he said.

But his wife, Rusmini (45), is not convinced by Bin Ilin’s assurance that his birds will not be infected.

“I have complained to him about what he is going to do with his birds. He told me that only chickens and pigs can be infected with the virus,” the mother of four said.

“I just hope our children will remain healthy,” said Rusmini as she watched her seven-year-old daughter playing with friends in front of Nasaruddin’s chicken slaughterhouse, a few steps away.—AFP

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