Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Eastern Journeys

What I’m listening to: “Semarang” by Daniel Sahuleka

Indonesia is a land of extreme contradiction. While there are mansions and malls that have shops that the average American could only dream of being able to afford the wares, there is also extreme poverty. It’s hard to describe adequately. I’ve been pondering what I’ve observed over the last couple of weeks and just trying to absorb it all. It’s difficult at best to even attempt to assimilate all the sights, sounds and experiences that make up Jakarta and it’s environs and put it into any kind of neat little package. Jakarta defies being put in a box, really.

One could almost call this “A Tale of Two Cities”, really. And I never realized just how well off my husband’s family are. Compared to the average American family, they would be considered “wealthy”. Compared to other family members here in Indonesia, they would be considered solidly middle class. I finally realized why our little family from America is looked on – not necessarily with pity – but with the good ol’ phrase “bless their hearts”. And because of my upbringing as a child of itinerate ministers who barely made ends meet and relied on church pantries and so on for a period of time, I still feel a little out of place in the more “upscale” areas. Like an interloper. I keep wondering when I’ll be told “you don’t really belong here”. I guess it’s no surprise that I feel more comfortable in the less affluent areas which abound.

We made a visit to the shore at Ancol and the beach was less than 2 metres wide and was littered with plastic bottles, bags and other refuse. But local children played in the sand as though it were the most amazing thing ever. Tour boats were moored along the sea wall that separated the Hotel Mercure from the shore and the Java Sea. In that few minutes of observation, I realized how grateful I am that our beaches in Florida are clean. The elder daughter became extremely distressed over the state of the beach at Ancol.

On July 4th after our outing to Ancol and Sea World, we dropped in at the wedding of one of the office workers in my family’s factory. I was warned by my mother-in-law that they were not very well off and not to be surprised that the wedding wasn’t very elaborate. I was not prepared to see a wedding that was on par with almost every single wedding I’ve ever attended in the US. Gorgeous wedding gown, faboo cake, nice decorations (silk flowers), buffet of appetizers, party favors and ice cream? Check. In fact, I think that compared to a lot of the weddings I went to in college, it was a step up. Comparing that wedding to the wedding of my brother-in-law blew my mind. That’s what really drove home just how well off my husband’s family is.

Our home-away-from home is located in a very industrial area compared to some of the really nice homes. The house is situated between the injection molding plant and the metal-stamping plant – both of which run around the clock except on national holidays and Sundays. To get to the house from the main road, you have to cross a bridge – Jembatan Genit* - over a river that is a sludgy brownish grey and littered with Styrofoam and other sampah**. The river is cleaner now than when I first visited in 2002, though. In 2002, the river was so full of trash that rats the size of Boston Terriers would run from shore to shore on mountains of crap. You couldn’t even SEE the water. The eldest daughter was even more distressed about the state of the rivers and canals in Jakarta than the beach. She’s decided to make cleaning up her home town her life’s work. She has always been concerned for the environment – it’s just her nature to care about God’s creation – but seeing the way the environment is treated here has really driven home for her the necessity of taking care of nature and the consequences of NOT being a good steward of the Earth’s resources.

The first time I visited my in-laws was in January of 2002. My father-in-law had passed away and my husband and I came home for the funeral. My mother-in-law was embarrassed by the location of her home. Once upon a time, her father had owned all the surrounding farmland but it had been sold off piecemeal for factories, so the family complex was surrounded on all sides by industry. What was once Mama’s garden is now a factory and office. To add “insult to injury”, the last few days of our stay were rained on to point of banjir***. We had to be floated out the back gate to the road on a getak****. Mama was very distraught that my first impression of her home/Jakarta would be tarnished by the experience. Far from it, however. What’s a few feet of water among family? I had the time of my life. It was like being at Disney World only without the “Disney-fication Factor”. It was real and unsanitary and amazing. I’d never experienced anything like it before and I still haven’t. But I fell in love with Jakarta. I’m almost more at home here than I am at home in the US.

Roundtrip tickets for 5 people from Florida to Jakarta: $8000
Seeing for yourself the reality of protecting the environment: Priceless

*Genit - Crooked
**Sampah - Trash
***Banjir - Flood
****Getak - a type of bamboo raft

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