Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Jakarta floods of 2013

After Singapore, I returned to Jakarta.  The day I arrived, or perhaps as a result of events the day before, I arrive to a very flooded city.  The main highway out of the airport toward the city was closed because it was under water, so the taxi driver had to take an alternate, back-road route to get around it and back on the main road.  I had definitely never taken that route before.

I got to witness it all first hand.  I was supposed to do a couple of school visits that day.  One had already been cancelled on account of the floods, and I learned later that the area where that school was located was one of the worst hit areas in the city, so it was hardly surprising they were going to be closed.  The other school visit is what allowed me to get out on the roads and see for myself what all havoc had been wrought from the storms.  At one point, there was an SUV behind me with a large, red rubber dinghy strapped to the top. I joked to myself that it would be funny if you had to ditch your car and hop in your boat, it would be conveniently located on the roof of your vehicle.  Well, when we got to one of the really flooded areas, what did I see but people rowing down the street in that exact same red dinghy!!  I wondered if that was a common one for people to buy.  In any case, I ended up seeing three dinghies in total floating down the street. 

People seemed to be making the best of it.  Kids were swimming in it, like this fellow below, who brought out his inflatable tire tube and decided to have a grand old time in the new swimming pool!
In another case, there was a guy that decided to wash his truck since there was an abundance of water, and that would prevent him from having to haul bucket after bucket from his home or wherever he might retrieve it.  It's times like these I'm humbled how people can see the positive in what most of the rest of us would simply label as calamity.

Having said that, though, there was definitely some real sadness that I learned about.  While we were stuck in water and moving very slowly, all kinds of people were coming up to my window and knocking, holding small cups or other sorts of containers to seek donations.  I've never seen people begging in the streets in Jakarta, and I didn't know why this was happening.  I thought perhaps it was simply because I was stopped long enough that people had time to approach the vehicle, but I learned a very different story.  I asked about this to some local person, either at the fair with someone I had developed good rapport with, or perhaps with a local colleague.  Regardless, I learned that in some parts, the flood damage was severe, so much so that some people had lost everything.  While some only had to deal with minor water damage to their homes, others' entire properties were destroyed, so they were forced to head to the streets to try to get some money.  This saddened me greatly, and while I know that giving them some cash on the streets wasn't going to help, I don't know how else to contribute to them.  I never thought to ask someone I know there if there was a way I could make a donation to a local charity or something to help out.  Maybe I can still do so in some ways.  In any case, perhaps this is just routine for people in Jakarta now.  Many local people were saying floods of this magnitude happen every 5 years!

So as not to end on a sad note, I left describing my driver until the end.  This guy was really hilarious.  He was out directing traffic when we were stuck in an intersection with wall-to-wall traffic.  I thought it was a one-way street, but then I saw a few vehicle trying to cut through in the opposite direction or simply slice through the middle.  I'm still not sure what direction that road was, buy the driver was determined to get through it.  He was a wry little man, a little aged, and you could just tell that he knew what he was doing!  The only thing I didn't like about his rolling down the window to yell at people or opening the door to get out was that it allowed the perpetual monotone of a fire truck's siren to blaze even more loudly into my ear!  I'm surprised I didn't get a migraine from hearing that for about 45 minutes straight!  I had fallen asleep just before we got to that really flooded area with the dinghies, and when I woke up, he had given me a little packet of some sort of deep fried cracker-chip things he had bought.  It was so sweet!  I don't know how many packets he must have got for himself, though, because the rest of the time, I kept hearing him crunch them, including on the drive back!  Finally, speaking about that drive back, we came through a fairly well-flooded--though starting to recede--section in the city centre close to the Hyatt hotel, and by that time, there was so little traffic around that he decided it was a good idea to plow right through the water as fast as the flood water would let him!  What made it better is that he started laughing, almost hysterically, and that, of course, made me laugh, which let him know I approved, and that made him laugh even harder!  I wish I could have got a recording of the way he laughed.  He was just too cute and too funny, and I hope to get him again the next time I need a driver in Jakarta!

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