Mbak Noor and the Love of Her Life

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Noor is married to her job. Every morning she sets up shop on her curb, behind the Ministry of Education in Jakarta, selling mind-numbingly sweet coffee and nasi uduk to hungry customers who make their way to the back entrance road of Plaza Senayan in search of a snack and a place to rest.

What makes Noor’s spot so incredible is the eclectic mix of people who swing by every day to sit in the shade, grab a smoke and enjoy a break from the drudge of the workday.

“This place is for orang lewat,” Noor said over the roar of motorbikes at eye level. “There are cleaners, government workers, cab drivers looking to take a break. Everyone comes to relax and enjoy the shade.”

The shade may be a selling point. But what also attracts customers to Noor’s is the idea that she is mobile. In the span of 10 minutes, Noor visited three different gates, slipping coffee and snacks through the metal bars to people who simply couldn’t be asked to make the long trek outside the gates to get a hold of a coffee or sweet bread.

Some customers even have her phone number. They call Noor if they need to order ahead of time or have her bring them something to the gates.

Noor’s curb is surrounded by offices. There is foot traffic in the early morning hours, before everyone settles in at the office. Then around 10 am the motorbike drivers, ojek, swing in after the morning rush to recharge, gossip and leaf through the morning newspaper.

Noor, who is back behind Senayan before the sun comes up, and leaves for home a little after 4 in the afternoon, has been selling coffee and snacks for three years now.

“The space here is perfect for me,” she said slicing open a sachet and mixing a coffee for a customer, without missing a beat. “There are always people out here walking by, there is always someone who wants a coffee. This is a good spot.”

Noor happily hauls her thermos of hot water, cooler of ice, basket of instant coffee sachets and newspaper for people to sit on so their pants don’t get dirty to her spot every day. “Unless, of course, I am too tired, then I take a day off to rest.”

But those days are few and far between. Especially since most of her friends also sell snacks, cigarettes and coffee in the same space.

The best part about Noor’s curb—other than the cool shade she provides her customers—are the prices. A coffee will set you back Rp.3,000 and the nasi uduk is the same price. A boiled egg is Rp.2,000 and assorted fried gggggggggggoods (gorengan) are all Rp.1,000. It’s easy to drop by, grab a drink and a bite to eat, pay with Rp.10,000 and walk away with change, a pretty impressive argument for Noor, when just down the street lunch will cost you Rp.200,000.

There’s something to be said for venturing outside, getting to know the local entrepreneurs and supporting them when you can. A cheap cup of coffee and a smile from Noor are a match made in heaven.

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Hush Petersen is currently on sabbatical from the hero's journey. He loves sipping Budweisers, doing the crossword and judging people outside Ranch Market in Mega Kuningan. You should join him some time.


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