And now, for the rest of the story…

I arrived back in Jakarta to catch my flight back to Hong Kong the following morning.  I was to be picked up by some of the Indonesian People’s Movement people I met at the wedding.  After a few minutes of searching through the crowds, I saw their familiar faces.  They helped me with my luggage, and while I walked toward a taxi, they laughed and said, “No Lisza – we have a ride.”  So we walked through parking lot after parking lot, past all of the vans and the compact cars, until we were in the dirt lot reserved for motorbikes.  Really?  I looked to Indra…really?  They just laughed and told me to hop on.  “What about my suitcase?” I asked.  Andy assured me it was taken care of.  Indra and I eased out of the over-crowded lot to the street, where we waited for Indri and Andy to join us.  I couldn’t help but laugh as they came around the curve, my 21kilo suitcase nestled between them.  I’m pretty sure Indri could have fit IN my luggage! 

Suddenly, we were pulling in to traffic, and the excitement began – there was so much to take in as we wove through Jakarta traffic.  We passed office buildings and hotels before heading into what appeared to be a neighborhood.  The streets were lined with ditches that were filled more with trash than water.  Children and chickens were everywhere.  There is a unique kind of poverty in Jakarta.  I’ve seen a lot of township and bush poverty in my time – but never really city poverty.  Shanties lined with tin and drying clothes; children playing half naked next to the road; every free space is a mini-landfill; the river is grey with pollution and trash; smog clings to the air; bajajs and motorbikes weave between trucks carrying drums of oil, waste and god-knows what else; women shrouded in their Muslim faith under their bike helmets hold rags over their mouths to keep out the exhaust; dirt covers literally everything and flies make up half of the population.  It was quite the jolt from beautiful environment-saving Bali.  I wanted so badly to take pictures of everything I was seeing, but I was afraid to use my camera.  Not for fear of losing it on this bumpy bike ride, but fear of blatantly displaying my whiteness in a brown country.  But then I realized, between the burnt red-white skin, the huge pack on my back or the massive piece of luggage following behind, using my camera was not was going to give away my nationality. 

As we wove between trucks, BMWs and bajajs, I was amazed at the talent every driver seemed to posses in handling this life-threatening traffic.  Everything was a traffic jam, and yet, everyone on two (or three) wheels kept moving.  There were no lanes, you drove on whichever side of the road was free until something bigger was coming your way.  In which case you beep your horn in smaller-than-you frustration and slide over between the stand-still trucks.  I saw a bajaj with American flag stickers plastered all over the back and attempted to take a picture – instead I came away with a bloody souvenir on my knee.  Note to self: keep all body parts as tucked in as possible at all times, otherwise, you will lose them. 

<—Obviously not the bajaj I was trying to get a picture of, but this one didn’t threaten to take my leg off either….

About an hour into the drive, we got stopped – ID check.  The overweight policeman threatened our halts with a baton that looked suspiciously like a pipe.  Maybe it was.  Andy and Indra, the bike drivers, got called off to the side where a group of policemen were congregated.  A finger was placed over Andy’s cycle sticker on his ID – no registration equals a fine – payable upfront, cash only.  The overweight officer walked over to question Indri and I.  She shot me a look and was quick to tell him I was American and I worked with them via email from America – just here to visit their office.  The officer nodded his acknowledgment to not mess with the blue passport.  I looked to the other side of the road as Indra opened his wallet for Andy.  Their passports are green.  We were on our way again shortly.  The fines surely must line the policemen’s pockets, because they sure don’t pave the roads.

Just around the curve we were met with a flooded roadway.  But that didn’t stop the motorbikes and cars from easing their way through.  On the other side of the pond that had appeared after the last great rain, there were hills of rocks that made up the road way.  I half expected us to hop off the bikes and walk them and the luggage over the rocky territory, and yet was not totally surprised when we didn’t.  By this point in the ride, over an hour into it, the motorbike had more than lost its appeal.  My butt was beyond asleep, my right hip was becoming more and more dislocated with every third pothole.  Soon, I was overwhelmed with sickness.  Maybe it was the exhaust filing my lungs, maybe it was the 100+ degree sun draining me, maybe it was the fact that it was 2pm and I had only had coffee and toast that day, maybe it was the weaving in and out of traffic – or maybe it was all of the above.  But whatever it was, I prayed to either throw up or die – either would be better.  Or maybe I was dying – a slow Jakarta death.  Not to mention the delirium from the pain of my 20 pound backpack rubbing against my freshly sun-burnt back.  I had to ask them to stop.  We pulled over to the sidewalk and I practically fell off the bike.  Indri bought me a water and Andy added my pack to his bike, and while I was embarrassed, I felt a little better.   

Twenty minutes later, we finally made it to where we were staying that night – a Rooma-Cascas – literally translated “stacked houses,” or an apartment building.  As par to the course, everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming, and everyone wanted me to eat.  The neighbors came out to meet the white girl, and Andy and Indri translated their questions for me.  After dinner that night, I had the chance to sit and talk with Andy and Indra for awhile.   We talked about religion: Andy told me that he used to be Christian Protestant.  “Used to be?” I asked.  He solemly replied, “When you are around so much poor, hunger and death – you got no time to think about God.  Now, I don’t know, I guess I just not care.”  We talked about politics: “Are you afraid of the Revolution?  Because the kind of change that will bring about justice and hope can only happen one way.  Revolution.  Its ok to be afraid.  We can be too.  But its the only way.”  I fell asleep that night to the sound of motorbikes and the call to prayer, the smell of grease and goats and thoughts of lasting change and fear and hope. 

3:30am came way too soon and early for my taste.  But by 4am we (and by we I mean Indra, Indri, Andy, the woman whose house I stayed in, her 16 year old nephew, their neighbor and myself) were all piled in a van headed back to the airport to catch my 7:30am flight.  I got to the ticket counter and handed over my ticket and passport only to be told that I had been “wait-listed.”  I had been warned about that the night before when I had called to confirm my ticket.  But I was also told that since I had an actual ticket in my possession that when I got there in the morning I should be fine.  Fine I was not.   I was being told there was no seat for me.  The stand-by list was already 15 people deep.  I asked if there was an afternoon flight they could bump me to.  I had a ticket in my hand – with a seat number and everything!  But they were telling me that the next available flight was January 4th!!!  They suggested I try the other two airlines that fly to Hong Kong.  So I raced from counter to counter, begging for a seat, any seat, today, tomorrow – just get me outta here!!  No luck.  I hurried back to the original counter and begrudgingly listened their only other offer – buy a business class ticket.  I gaffed.  “You mean to tell me that even though I have an actual for real, physical ticket IN MY HAND, that you do not have a seat for me, but yet are OH SO WILLING to allow me to BUY a whole other ticket at nearly 4 times the original price I paid?  Certainly you are crazy!”  I didn’t shout, but I was not happy.  And maybe I didn’t say that last line, but I wanted to.  Oh how I wanted to.  I asked to speak to his manager.  I told him my story.  I pressed the fact that I’m an American, living in Hong Kong, I make so very little money, and buying a first class ticket would cost almost a whole paycheck for me – something I was not willing to part with.  Surely, because you have wait-listed me WITHOUT my consent I am owed some sort of courtesy from your airline.  “I’m sorry ma’am – we have a flight January 4th if you would like us to go ahead and book you that – no extra charge for the change of date.”  OH REALLY?  So kind of you to offer.  Its a shame that I only wanted the seat my ticket told me that I had!  After a bit of haggling, with 15 minutes before they stopped boarding, the manager “upgraded” my ticket, saving me about $300, costing me about $600.  And while first class was lovely, what with the unlimited orange juice in a real glass, fully reclining seat, American newspapers and choice of magazines at my disposal, slippers in case your feet got cold (which I totally stuffed in my carry-on) and a crew that called me by name (seriously), I was too exhausted from the last three weeks, the last 24 hours, to really enjoy it. 

Still fuming over the thought of an upgrade that I couldn’t afford I realized,  I could.  It might make the next few months a struggle. But ultimately, the guy behind the counter was right, I could afford it. And that made me feel even worse. In the training that I received in New York before coming to Hong Kong, one of our leaders shared something that has not rung true until that moment. “No matter how much you work, and how hard you try, you will never be able to stand in complete solidarity with the people you are working with. You will want to, but the color of your skin, the privilege of your nationality will always hold a little something back. Best you understand that now, so you can work through that when you face it.” I can spend three weeks in Indonesia, I can spend three months in Hong Kong. I can listen to stories, read articles, stand in at rallies, and offer any support needed. But its true – there will always be something that separates me from those I want so deeply to stand next to. And I think that maybe that is the most important lesson I could have learned from this trip. The experiences I had were powerful. I was often overwhelmed by the hospitality of the families and friends that I stayed with. I was moved by the power of people joined together to work for justice. But at the end of the day, I get to go home. When there are those that remain on the picket line, when the merchant rises another day to sell their wares, when the children face another day of hunger and boredom, I need to remember, I’m not there, but that doesn’t mean that I forget. I cannot be like them, but neither can I deny the experiences that I have had. I have seen the need for justice, for hope, for freedom. Now its about learning what I can do to help bring that along, even here in Hong Kong.

Taking a break

There is one more Indonesia post to go, but its going to have to wait a little while because….Its almost Christmas!!!  And I have not posted a single festive thing since my pitiful Thanksgiving posts!!!  So, the next few days will be dedicated to Christmas cheer and what-not!

To answer the question that I am sure is on everyone’s mind, “How does one celebrate Christmas in Hong Kong?” – let me tell you.  If you are a local Hong Konger you drown everything in neon, shimmering – preferably moving – lights in colors that have no relation to Christmas.  (I’m waiting for Nick and Valerie to host the Christmas Throw-up-off – ’cause I’ve got it in the bag!!)  But, if you are not a local, if in fact you are a single white female experiencing Christmas by yourself for the first time, this is what you do: Look pitiful and hope someone invites you over for dinner.  Just kidding…sorta.

Tomorrow the marathon of Christmas festivities begin!!  There is a staff luncheon at that Cathedral at noon; after which I will rush home to make some fantastic authentic American Christmas dish with all Chinese ingredients because I cannot afford to shop at the Western market; then off to the Christmas Eve service at my fantastic church Tao Fong Shan, complete with Christmas party with games and food – of which I will only be able to stay for half of, as I then; rush back down the mountain into the chaos that is Kowloon (my neighborhood) and to the Christmas Party at the BH – where we have invited 4 other shelters to join us (we are expecting at least 100 migrant workers, plus our 50 or so volunteers!!).  The next morning I will get up bright and early to skype with my family – it will still be Christmas Eve for them – so I will get to watch as the entire Burke family eats all of my favorite foods without sharing; then its off of my pastors house where I will share Christmas dinner with his family (because apparently the pitiful eyes worked on he and his wife last week); then back to the flat to skype Christmas with Kris; and then again before I go to bed I will skype Christmas morning with my family.  There will probably be some celebration in there for my brother, as it is also his BIRTHDAY!!  I have off the 26th from work as well – and I will probably talk to my family and to Kris again, and am hoping to go hiking with a couple of friends if it isn’t raining. 

It hits me in waves that I won’t be home for Christmas – that I will be missing out on all the traditions that make Christmas so special for me.  I haven’t gotten really sad yet, I’ve been trying to stay busy enough that I don’t really have to think about it.  I know that the actual day will probably be hard, but I also have to remember: I am in a unique place to be celebrating with women who are also away from their families – not just at Christmas, but ALL the time – and they don’t have the privileges of communication like I do (ie, skype, frequent phone calls and impending visits).  So I know that it will be really special to celebrate with them. 

So, there will probably be a sappy post about traditions and being sad later, but for now, I am excited about the next couple of days.  Merry Christmas everyone!!

 <—Me with my little Charlie Brown tree, and the cutest little stocking ever (courtesy of my dear friend Dani in KY!)

Bali

 I made it to Bali after a day full of airport delays. Syamsul, whom I had met in Jakarta, was working at the hotel and introduced me to Ava, a high-spirited Filipina. They briefed me on the People’s Protocol – an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol. “The Kyoto Protocol does not truly involve grassroots communities and peoples who are worst-affected (by climate change), especially in the South. It has grossly neglected the severe damage to their livelihoods, well-being and welfare. It does not consistently and coherently adhere to the vital developmental principles, especially people’s sovereignty over natural resources.” (Taken from the Statement on the Kyoto Protocol and Climate Change.)

For the next week, this make-shift team gathered from Indonesia (Syamsul), the Philippines (Ava), and Australia (Flint) would be working on press releases and further research to strength the People’s Protocol. On International Human Rights Day, our little team was invited to participate in a rally and march in Dempasar – one of 19 marches coordinated around Indonesia to express the people’s fear of further mining projects and deforestation, which all lead to human rights violations as their lands are destroyed and the people are left vulnerable to exploitation from large corporations and corrupt governments. It was a hot day, hovering around and above 110 degrees even in the shade – but that didn’t keep nearly 500 people from turning out. And with those who came to rally came an equal number of police. I heard commented over and over again, “We just want a peaceful march, and they treat us like we are going to storm the city!” But the march went on – there was singing, dancing, shouts of joy, cries for freedom, liberation, land rights. There was a call for those who had no business in Indonesia to get out, “U.S. Imperialists – #1 Terrorists” was the chant as someone walked by carrying the face of George Bush plaster on the head of a horned monster with black trash bag hair atop a stick. The face had fangs drawn over the mouth. And from the stories I had been hearing the last two weeks, it was obvious that large U.S. corporations and the support of corrupt governments were really sucking the people and the land of the blood that used to flow so freely.

One night Syamsul, Ava and I took an evening after one of the workshops to eat our dinner down on the beach. Amidst the sound of the lapping waves on the beach, Syamsul shared with Ava and I some of his experiences in working recovery after the 2006 Tsunami. He talked about leading a team of 8 into the remotest part of the island, where no relief team had even thought of approaching. All access to the inner part of the island, which was surrounded by streams and rivers, had been washed away. New bridges had to be constructed from fallen trees, and the search for bodies began immediately. The community was still in shock, and gave desperate pleas to help find the bodies of the missing so they could be properly buried. Syamsul said that they only way to face that kind of work is to drink, a lot. “You just can’t do that kind of thing sober. And if you do, you wish you hadn’t.” He told the story of a mother who had suffered 2 miscarriages and a still-born baby in the last few years. She had recently delivered a healthy baby who was only a few months only when the Tsunami hit. She lost her baby in the current. The entire community tried in vain to get her to eat, to talk, to cry. But she just sat in shock for days. He spoke of another little girl, maybe 7 years old, who watched her father get swept away in the current. Her mother is a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia and they had no way to contact her. Syamsul said the little girl hardly left his side the entire three weeks he was there. It made me think of the women who go off in hopes of making money for their family back home. But what happens when their family needs more than they can send because of natural disasters such as the Tsunami; or worse, are killed in these disasters? The risks that migrant workers take in leaving their families seem to grow more and more with each person I talk to, with each local who shares a story of lost farms, lost pride, lost lives.

To my disappointment, and probably to some of yours as well, I didn’t get to attend much of the actual UN Conference.  A lot of what I was involved in were the side-events  taking place directly outside of the grounds.  That was much more of what I was interested in anyway.  I did get to go into the main delegation room on my first full day there.  It was really fascinating, though at times a little boring, listening to all of these delegates from all around the world talk about the smallest details of the Kyoto Protocol.  When you entered the room, you were handed a set of headphones where you could turn the channel to your language of choice.  So whenever the speaker didn’t speak English, just slip on your trusty headphones and receive instant translation!  Amazing!!  It was really overwhelming to even be sitting on the sidelines of such a historical event.

The side events and workshops that I attended had more to do with how climate change, and the decisions made by the UN (and the non-decisions made by the US) effected particularly the global south.  Aside from my time in West Bali, attending the march and hearing Syamsul’s first hand accounts of the Tsunami – I also heard from a woman from an island near New Zealand that is literally being washed away.  In her lifetime, she has seen the waters take over half of her island, dividing it in half, making it impossible for crops and trees to grow, and flooding even the homes built on stilts.  It is inevitable that in the near future, her people will have to move – so they are preparing now as a community how to relocate.  They are trying to raise money so that they can own land, instead of being placed somewhere by a government as refugees in some camp for the rest of their lives.  I listened to a man from Haiti talk about how his island faces droughts, floods, hurricanes and flooding.  Each part of the country is effected in a different way – no one way is worse than the other.  The result is always the same – people are starving and losing their homes. 

For the past decade we have listened to experts and governments debate on Climate Change and Global Warming – is it real, is it something that is just fabricated by extreme environmentalists?  How great of a threat is it really?  We have sat by as governments have shifted blame, relocated “problem-projects” and tried to skirt their way around emission laws.  You hear blame cast from one country to another, from one official to another company.  All the while, long before the debates hit public light, people were suffering.  There may be some who don’t want to believe that climate change and global warming are real threats – but tell that to the farmer who can’t plant rice anymore  because there is no more rainy season.  Or to the island people who are hit with one record-breaking hurricane after another.  Maybe there are large corporations or businesses that claim they are doing their part in cleaning up their carbon emissions and factories.  Tell that to the family that washes their clothes in the river full of pollution from the factory down the river.  Or to the Papua people who are rapidly losing their forests – their home and way of life – as they are being cut down to make way for more “development” (aka – more factories that are being relocated from the global north to the global south, and high rise buildings).

So you see, I don’t really see this as just an environmentalist issue anymore.  Its a human rights issue.  And I think that is what the Kyoto Protocol is missing.  I mentioned the People’s Protocol earlier.  Its a project that I got to work closely on while in Bali.  I talked with dozens of people to whom the People’s Protocol offered actual hope for life and well-being.  If you are interested, please check the People’s Protocol out here.  Sign the petition if you can. 

After all the events related to the People’s Protocol were finished the rest of the team returned home.  I still had a day and a half before my flight.  So I moved to a cheaper hotel closer to the beach.  My plan was to just relax, enjoy the beach, watch a good sunset, and have some quality alone time.  However, being white in Indonesia is an event. Something about the light tone of my skin draws stares, questions, assumptions. This was made obvious in various ways throughout my stay. At first, it was sweet. I often felt like a celebrity as people would come up to me, especially in Semerang, and ask to take a picture with me. People passing on the street or on the beach wanted to meet me, learn where I was from. Wahyu’s family filled up their camera phones with pictures of me with their children. And I was never lonely during my delays in the airports, as someone was always excited to talk to me. But as the trip worn on, I realize that the privilege that comes with being white, also presents a large target. On the beaches of Bali, “white” is seen as someone to sell to. I had one day  to enjoy the beaches. I had planned for a quiet afternoon soaking up a little sun and watching the surfers. But my time on the beach was anything but restful as every five minutes I heard an, “Excuse me miss, would you like to buy a mango/sarong/painting/surfing lessons/jewelry/massage?” If I said no in English, they only persisted, promising to offer me their best deal, “I bargain much.” But, if I respond in Indonesian with “tidak” and a grateful nod of my head, they left me alone. As easy as it could have been to be frustrated by the assumption that I was there to buy buy buy, I was struck more by the efforts of these sellers. These were men and women, probably forced in this tourist hot-spot, trying to sell, to bargain, in hopes of making enough to feed themselves. I wondered if the woman carrying the basket of fruits on her head came from the mountains, and learned the balancing trick as a child imitating her mother in the fields. Or the man with the paintings of happy beach scenes – would he rather be looking at pictures his children had drawn in the school they couldn’t afford? It’s a kind of desperate poverty – a plea for a chance with each pineapple or bracelet sold. The next vendor that passed me by, I bought a piece of fruit from. As I watched her slice my melon, careful not to draw any sand near the dripping juices, I wondered when the last time she had a decent meal was. And I am ashamed that I didn’t ask.

I spent a lot of my time fending off vendors, feeling split between shame for not buying their goods and probably supporting their family, and frustration at not being able to take a nap on the beach.  The beach in Bali is nice.  If you look of in the distance, you can see the volcano.  But its a tourist hot-spot.  I was staying at Kuta beach, which is apparently one of the more crowded beaches in Bali. (hence all the vendors)  The beach was nice.  There was a beautiful sunset one night, and as always – being near the water is healing for my soul.  But I do wish that I had ended up a place a little more remote, a little more quiet, a little more local.  Maybe next time….

Semerang

I was picked up in Semerang by my friend from Hong Kong, Uut and her husband Wahyu – both who were excited to receive me. I would be staying in the guest house where Wahyu’s family rented out rooms. Even though they had already had a wedding in Uut’s family’s home two weeks earlier – they were now preparing for the wedding in Wahyu’s family’s house, which was in 4 days. The family was quick to welcome me in to the preparations! After meeting all of the extended family, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, nieces – I found myself helping to wrap glutinous rice in banana leaves. Listening to the laughter and excited chatter around me, I couldn’t help but feel at ease, even in a language I didn’t understand. Some things cross all cultural barriers – one of those is the excitement over a wedding. All the women of the family and the houses around came to help prepare the foods. The day before the wedding, women came by in groups of 4s and 6s, or in pairs toting a shy child behind them. They sat on the floor of the living room, ate the sweets, sipped the tea, shook hands with Wahyu’s mother – slipping in money and wishes of health and well-being.  The Indonesian version of a wedding shower, only the mother of the bride or groom gets to collect the gifts.

The day of the wedding started before the sun rose. Uut and her sister-in-law Eni had decided it would be fun to dress me in the traditional Indonesian way. Everyone was excited as they tried to find a skirt long enough for this tall American. They fussed over my hair until it stood half a foot from my head, and donned me with so much make-up that no one recognized me at first glance. The Kebaya (traditional Indonesian dress) of sky blue and gold sparkles with an earthy brown skirt added to the allusion that maybe I could belong here. The wedding was full of people, family, food, music, laughter, the shaking of hands. I was introduced to more people than names I can remember. The band dedicated a John Denver song to me. I felt as though I must have had my picture taken more than Uut – everyone wanted their picture with the white girl turned Indonesian.  When I was getting ready for bed that night I pulled 23 bobby pins, a hairnet and a rose out of my hair.  No kidding.

My entire time in Semerang, the children never left my side.  When I slept, they waited outside of my door in interchangeable fits of giggles and whines, chanting my name, daring one another to peek inside my door. They waited for me outside of the toilet, even when I was sick.  We played games until their parents forced them to bed – the Indonesian version of London Bridge and all the hand slap games that are popular in the 3rd grade.   Rock, paper, scissors was also a big hit.  They were eager to practice the English they had been learning in school with me, and just as eager to teach me Indonesian. We shared in the fun of learning – pointing out objects around us or on us: pohon, batu, bunga, baju, cincin, gigi, kaki – tree, rock, flower, t-shirt, earring, teeth, leg.

The family, likewise, was eager to share their food, always covered in sambal – chili.  I lost feeling of my tongue and lips a few hours after arrival and did not regain sensation till two days after I had left.  Even the small children eat samabal on everything!  The Indonesians love to cook, and they are very proud of their food.  Eating all of that spicy food, however, did not sit very well with my stomach.  I never get sick.  Ever.  But I didn’t poop right for five days.  That’s gross, I’m sorry, let me rephrase. I was run-to-the-bathroom-every-hour sick for 5 days, in a home with a toilet that doesn’t flush. 

 

Also, no one uses toilet paper.  Luckily I had a packet of tissues in my bag that I rationed out before I broke down and admitted to Uut that I wasn’t feeling well and needed more tissue.  But even despite getting sick, I still managed to enjoy the food. They eat egg with nearly every meal – boiled, fried, scrambled in the rice.  They also love fruit.  My favorite was this fruit cocktail – diced papaya, pineapple, pear and apple in a bucket with huge chunks of ice.  When the ice melted, you scooped out the fruit and juice in your cup – SO good!  Someone was always trying to feed me.  And if I said that I was kenyang, full, they looked hurt.  So I ate through the pain.

 

They wanted to know all about my family – where they worked, how many of us there were, what were our wedding traditions. It was fun to share bits my own culture, as Uut or Eni translated to the rest of the family gathered around, the children begging me to play hand games with them while I talked. They asked my opinions of Bush, and I could sense a hesitation in the room until I answered in a way that made them all laugh and sigh with relief. It is always fascinating to me to see how my country, and its leaders, are viewed through the eyes of another country.

 

The night before I left, I joined Uut and Wahyu’s friends, all members of the Indonesian People’s Movement, for an outing at a local beach. We shuffled through the black sand, laughed at the silly antics of one of the older members acting like a wind-up monkey. I was so impressed with the bonds in this group – people from all walks of life, from different parts of the same country, bound together by a passion to work towards a better future for their people, to bring about just change in their surrounding environments. Their works left them separated from loved ones, struggling to make ends meet – but I could sense that they felt such an importance in their work, that they would never give it up for comfort. These were people – young and old – committed to working for lasting change, no matter the cost.

First days in Jakarta

I arrived in the Jakarta airport well past dark – the corridor leading me to baggage claim was made of windows.  I couldn’t see much outside, but I could see the outlines of trees and bushes.  Already I liked this place.  I walked to Immigration, a young officer took my passport with a slight glance up at me.  Another face in the line.  “Hello,” I greeted him in my best Beth Rumble voice.  The immigration officer in Hong Kong had only stamped my little blue book with a grunt, but this guy stopped what he was doing to smile at me.  “Hello.  How are you ma’am?”  His English barely contained an accent.  “Tired.”  He gave me the beginning of a wink as he asked, “Why so tired?”  I shrugged, “Ahh, traveling, you know?”  His smile faded slightly, he looked disappointed.  “Well, I’m sorry.  And now you will be more tired, because you have not yet bought your visa.”  No big problem, just a matter of retracing my steps, explaining with a bit of embarrassment in my voice to the security guards asking why I was going the wrong way.  Newly purchased visa in tow, I made my way back to the friendly immigration line.  “Florida, huh?  I don’t have a friend in Florida, but I do have one in Colorado.” He pronounced my home Floor-e-dA.  I let him.  “Oh really?  I have two very good friends in Colorado – actually thinking about moving there myself one day.”  We chatted a minute about Denver and Boulder.  “When you move to Denver, can I come visit you when I go to visit my friend in Boulder?”  I smiled, “Sure why not.”  He smiled back, “Great, I’ll see you then.”  What a friendly introduction to Indonesia.

Ipang was waiting for me outside.  I felt like I walked into a heat wall. He told me that it was a good thing I hadn’t flown in two days earlier – the flooding had been so bad that people had been stranded at the airport for days. The humidity seemed to have done a good job of drying up the roads. We caught a bus to Ipang’s office where I would be staying for the next two nights.  The bus was a rather inefficient system if you ask me.  Everyone loads on, the driver goes about 20 yards, then he stops and walks through the isles collecting everyone’s money.  Slowly down the isle he went, trading tickets for rupiah.  Finally, after about 10 minutes, we were on our way.  As we drive through the streets of Jakarta, I notice the signs lit up in front of their shops.  Some are easy to desifer.  Londri.  Taxsi.  Some, I don’t even dare wager a guess.

My sleeping arrangements in the office were…interesting.  A thin mat on a tiled floor.  Let’s just say that sleeping on a tile floor with a towel for a pillow doesn’t make for a good night’s rest!  That, and it was incredibly loud.  Even though we were well off the main street, all night long there was the constant sounds of motorcycles reeving by, roosters crowing at all hours of the night, bells clinging from passing food carts, people talking, laughing, arguing, the calls to prayer over the loud speaker, and the chanting prayers of the faithful Muslims every few hours.  The noise doesn’t ever stop.<–the street outside of the office where I stayed

<—my “bed” for the first two nights

The next day, Ipang showed me around Jakarta a little bit, helped me secure a ticket to Semerang, and explained the public transportation in Jakarta as well the standards of living in the city. Prices were high, but wages were low. The average minimum wage worker makes only $100US a month – at best. But even food is expensive, and often families would spend over half their income on food alone. Being able to afford things like phones and the Internet were out of the question for most people.

Transportation in the city seemed to be a mess – cars, vans, jeepneys and motorbikes were everywhere. There are so many motorbikes in Jakarta it looks like a convention just rolled into town.  Only, instead of cut-off leather, the women wear bike helmets over their head shawls.  I was informed that, before there were only open vans that people jumped in and out of without the vehicle ever coming to a complete stop. Recently, Jakarta had attempted to offer a more reliable means of public transport – a rail car that had a special lane, and during rush hours was overloaded with people. Ipang told me that this transport was quicker, but that it cost more money too.

When I went to bed that night, the guys in the office were diligently working in front of their computers on one project or another, some relating to upcoming conferences. There would be three conferences back to back that their office was involved with – the UN Conference on Climate Change, the meeting with the families on Migrant Workers, and another that I didn’t hear described. When I awoke the next morning at 4:30am to leave for my next flight, everyone was still hard at work. The office that never sleeps.

Updates are coming

Just not right now.  My computer is sickly (again!), so that leaves me with limited computer time at work. I have some really good posts in the making about my experiences in Indonesia and the UN Conference, and I want to do them justice by having plenty of time to type them out.  So, that means, sadly, my faithful audience will have to wait another few days. 

But until then, this story should tide you over.  Lunch menu at the Shelter today:

~Boiled lettuce with cracked black pepper

~Pan-fried onions

~Chicken feet

~Mini-tangerines

Yes, I said chicken feet.  There were about 60 of them piled on top of each other in the pan.  I opted to go the vegetarian route today – but those claws kept staring at me, making it difficult to enjoy my boiled lettuce.

Back In Hong Kong

Well, I am finally back to the land of neon lights and concrete.  I am sunburned in all the wrong places, have narrowly escaped a motor-bike ride with my life, and now own a $600 pair of slippers.  I will update more later, but for now I am exhausted – and using coffee house internet as my is out AGAIN.  Stupid PCCW! 

By the way, should anyone ask, my favorite part about my sunburn is not the evidence of white finger marks on an otherwise red arm, nor is it the triangle on my right ankle.  No, my favorite part is not the streaks under my arms, or how one ear is more red than the other.  My favorite part would have to be the bright red speckles on the top of both feet.  Let’s say by chance, someone should put sunscreen on their sandy feet, then go for a dip in the ocean, then lay out for a little while – their feet might look a lot like mine – bright red dots where the sand blocked the sunscreen.  Not that that’s what I did or anything….

 Also – David – thanks for the lovingly admonishing comment, I guess it was my turn after all. 🙂