We have recently reached a year in Jakarta. Amazing.
Apparently when you move to another culture, there is a point when you step over the 'normal line'. When things that seemed crazy/different/bizarre/interesting upon arrival and in the ensuing months, no longer capture your attention. You probably won't be able to define the moment when it happens. But you're no longer surprised.
So I thought I would list a few things that seem so 'everyday', but that I know absolutely were not when we first arrived. You will have to forgive the few snaps I took today from the car, during a crazy tropical storm. Because that (the storm) is normal in Jakarta (hopefully not the terrible photos!).
The traffic. How can I not start with the traffic? A city containing the equivalent of Australia's population. And without the infrastructure to deal with it. Every day, whole families travel together on a single motorbike. Teeny babies being held, while their Mum's send SMS messages from the rear of a bike. Food carts being lugged by weary men and 'bajajs' worming their way through four undefined lanes of traffic. Police sirens punctuating the sound of horns, as escorts carrying ambassadors and government officials frequently attempt to wade through traffic. The familiar sight of red tail lights in front of you, all waiting to move. A drive that normally takes 20 minutes, taking an hour - for no particular reason. And if it starts to rain, just double your travel time. The 'language' of drivers - flashing lights mean "Oh, don't go! I'm coming through!" and a beep of the horn equates to "Excuse me, careful, I'm right here, and if you don't mind I may pass you now". Because everyone in Indonesia is polite. Very polite.
And as you drive, or mostly sit in the stationary car whilst waiting to progress, what do you see? Monkeys next to your car, occasionally wearing very freaky doll masks, collecting money for their owners. People sleeping on the footpath. Many, many, many beggars. 'Jockeys' waiting to be picked up by a complete stranger, so that they can be paid about $1.50 to travel to an unknown location with the occupants who need an extra person to go in the transit lane. Little ones playing on the edge of these crazy roads, as their parents make a living selling food there. The 'warungs' where people buy meals and congregate, engaged in lively chatter. People squatting, always squatting (how do their knees cope?). People crossing the roads, waving their 'magic hand' which is code for "Please don't hit me". Burning rubbish heaps. Smiling people.
Off the roads? Don't be in a rush at the shops, because no one who works there is! It may take three or four salespersons to complete the sale, even if you are buying a pencil. And you may need to go to at least two counters, maybe three to buy that pencil. Seriously. Being stared at is expected, and not noticeable anymore. I rarely open a door, because someone always beats me to it. I'm never on my own. Whether in my house with my 'helper', my car with our driver, or walking out of our home, someone is always smiling and greeting me. Our church has armed guards. And each time we enter our apartments or a shopping centre, mirrors are run around the bottom of the car as they check for bombs. Not very thoroughly, but they check. Speaking to my boys about why they should have their hands checked for explosives doesn't seem as strange. I no longer hear the 'Call to Prayer' five times a day. It certainly does still happen, quite loudly at times, but I only notice occasionally. Then there is That Smell...actually I'm not used to that yet.
I was asked recently what I like about living in Jakarta, by someone who doesn't. I answered that it is so crazy, so busy, so different, that it is a fascinating place. You could never be bored here or expect any day to be like the last one. And the people. The gorgeous people. The Indonesians I have met are kind, polite, generous and joyful. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be in their country.
- Watching the Australian Open with my boys.
- Tropical storms.
- Meaningful conversation over lunch with a special friend.
- Changes for the 'White Box Foundation' (more on that another time).
- Chances to do Jesus' work.
- Booking our mid-year holiday. Cannot wait.
- Legs that seem to be growing longer - becoming a big boy.
- Seeing my youngest in a costume - it's been a long while.
- Ami, our new pembantu. Her gorgeous smile and quiet nature.
- Ibu Sri being so understanding about our change in staff.