Friday, 16 October 2015

Happiness is free!

16 October 2015
Jakarta day 2
Happiness is free!

Today we went to meet the real people of Jakarta whilst exploring an illegally self built town near the harbour in north Jakarta.  Call it a shanty town, call it a slum, I don't know what but for me it was a very privileged, thought provoking and uplifting experience.

We set of in the morning to Fatilliha Square in north Jakarta, an area known for its old Dutch colonial buildings.  We wandered around for a while before meeting Ronny, a guy I had emailed before we came to arrange a back street tour.  We will pay a fee for the tour but half of it funds local community projects for the poor.  Ronny seems a genuine nice guy full of information and anecdotes.  We chat for a while before setting off with a Polish lad called Greg with joins us. 

We hop off a local bus and are led off a dark narrow alleyway behind buildings off the main street.  We walk through a maze of DIY houses and the occasional make shift shop each knocked up with old wooden boards in a space about 2 metres square.  We stop along the way to chat to people and the young children follow us wanting to play or hold hands.  We eventually emerge onto a train track and walk along the track being careful to avoid being killed by speeding trains and reach another area.  The people here are living alongside a polluted river, amongst litter and rats but they have created their own self sufficient world here amongst it all.  You'll see small market areas, sewing machines on the go, fish laid out to dry in the sun, clothes being scrubbed and hung out to dry along the alleys.  Despite the dirt, basic minimal living conditions and lack of possessions there's one thing that strikes us- the people here are happy, they enjoy life more than people at home in England who have everything they ever want.  These people work hard but they have it tough and still they laugh, smile, help each other and make the most of what little they have with dignity.  They welcome up into their homes and expect nothing in return except to know something about us. 

We build up quite an entourage of children as we go which after a while culminates with 20 or so children discovering that it's my birthday today and singing a very enthusiastic mega long rendition of "happy birthday" to me in a variety of slow then fast then quiet then loud versions in both English and Indonesian.

What a day!  A humbling experience that has left me feeling attached to a place and sad to leave after only about 4 hours.  I don't want to just waltz through a country ignoring that this poverty exists.  It may all be a bit voyeuristic, and it feels a bit like that with touring through taking photos and then swanning off back to our luxury hotel later but at least I've mingled with the real people of Jakarta, been inside their homes, talked to them about their lives and told them about mine, it's made me feel more human.

So later we return back to Fatilliha Square discussing and trying to absorb what we just experienced.  The big open space of the square is getting busy now with every type of street performer you could ever imagine, we sit a people watch as it falls dark taking in the relaxed atmosphere.  Several Indonesian tourists want a photo taken with us (because we are white/European), we oblige and pretend to be their best friends presumably so they can post the pictures on Facebook or whatever.

A bumpy tuk tuk ride back in the dark through the chaotic traffic and choking petrol fumes is, believe it or not, our preferred mode of transport.  Having seen the backstreets today I now feel more qualified to do some touristy sight seeing in central Jakarta tomorrow.....

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