Mount Merapi’s one-stop shop

One resourceful shopkeeper has ignored warnings to evacuate Indonesia’s volatile volcano and has diversified into a pro

It’s the original one-stop shop. Its owner, Ihsanuddin, sells drinks, chocolate bars, cigarettes.

He has a few tables and chairs for food. And in the last few days he’s diversified into a profitable little sideline – but more on that later.

Next door, his brother has a motorbike repair and parts shop.

All in, a typical family business in this part of central Java – except for the fact that noone is supposed to be here at all.

We’d driven up towards the base of Mount Merapi, now entering its third week of relentless eruptive activity.

The village of Dalun lies just over 6km from the crater’s edge – well inside the official danger zone.

The ash was falling from the sky like constant drizzle. Patterned umbrellas stood out against monochrome grey.

We’d heard that some people were returning to the area, tired of uncomfortable, often unsanitary conditions at the shelters in the “safe” areas.

So we decided to make a quick trip up to see for ourselves.

All week we’ve been talking to people whose routine is to return to their homes for a few hours during the day, to feed their livestock and check on their houses, before heading for the shelters to sleep.

A 50/50 arrangement, one official told us – a compromise between safety and respecting the villagers’ wishes.

But this, we were told, was different. People had decided that the mountain had done its worst, and were taking up permanent residence once more.

What we didn’t expect to find was a sizeable group of Dalun residents who hadn’t left at all. More than 20, we were told, had stuck it out, even through the huge eruption last Friday which killed nearly 100 people higher up the volcano.

And so Ihsanuddin and his 15-strong extended family, children too, had stayed in their shop, catering for their fellow villagers who would return briefly during the day.

Feeding them, selling them petrol, and (this is his new sideline) charging their mobile phones.

It seems they can’t do it in the shelters, so here in the danger zone, thanks to the resourceful Ihsanuddin and his generator, they plug their phones into a cat’s cradle of wiring.

“I’m used to it,” the shopkeeper told us. “I only sent my children away today because their grandmother insisted. She was worried about the ash and the threat of mudslides.”

Those we spoke to said they didn’t believe the hot gas clouds which have raced down the mountain to such fatal effect would be able to reach them.

They did admit they were at risk of so-called lahars – landslides of unstable, newly deposited volcanic material. But, as they say, they’re used to it.

Authorities find it difficult to persuade these mountain people that they know more about Merapi than families who’ve lived here for generations.

Even more difficult to persuade them to stay away. But, in truth, for all the warnings that the alert level remains high, they don’t seem to be trying too hard. 

A couple of signs urging co-operation were all we saw on the way up to Dalun. Not a single roadblock preventing access.

And as the ash cloud gets smaller, and the mountain quieter, you can only assume Ihsanuddin’s customer base will get bigger.

He might need to find some more plugs for those phones.

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