OK, by now you know that I am no longer in Banda Aceh. When I came to Indonesia, it was with the understanding that I would spend my entire 12 months there but God has a different plan, so now I’m in Jakarta presumably for the next 10 months but we’ll see because God might very well change the plan again.
I have now been in Jakarta for a couple of weeks and I’m ready to share my first impressions with you.
My weekly day off is Sunday. I spent 8 Sundays in Banda Aceh, including the first Sunday that I spent super-cleaning and the last Sunday thatI spent travelling to Penang. Of the remaining 6 Sundays, I spent only 1 out and about – A and I spent the morning people- watching in Blang Padang Park and the evening riding out to the beach about 30 minutes away to watch the sunset while eating pizza (Western food in Indonesia is always suspect but this pizza wasn’t terrible) and drinking fresh coconut water. I spent 1 Sunday sick and the other 4 Sundays, A was off exploring the countryside with her Acehnese friend on her bike while I stayed in.
There were 3 reasons why I stayed in on those 4 Sundays. First, getting around was difficult. Taking a becak everywhere was not feasible because that cost adds up. Second, there’s nothing to see and do in Banda Aceh except the Tsunami Museum (didn’t go). And third, I felt extremely uncomfortable wandering around alone among the staring masses of Aceh. It seems like none of these will be an issue in Jakarta.
Go, See, Do
There is more to see and do in Jakarta than there was in Banda Aceh, at least for me. This is no surprise, since it is the capital of the country. There are museums, malls and coffee shops galore. On our third day in Jakarta, which was also our first day off here, A and I caught a cab to West Jakarta, spent the day exploring a few museums and wandering around Kota Tua (Old Town). We have been out and about every Sunday since then.
Additionally, getting to everything within and from Jakarta is relatively easy and quick. There are more transportation options here – cabs, becaks and Go-Jek (Uber for bikes) are easy to catch at any time of the day or night, so getting to any place is easy. Also, flights from Jakarta to just about anywhere else in Indonesia are way more affordable and faster than flights from Banda Aceh to anywhere else in Indonesia. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities for my monthly 4 days off. While I was in Banda Aceh, I had ruled out visiting a bunch of places in Indonesia because getting there from Aceh was difficult in terms of money and time and was so not worth it.
And speaking of transportation, the car to bike ratio of Jakarta is bigger than in Aceh so the traffic is worse. However, it’s not a big challenge for me since I live where I work so I mostly need to contend with traffic on odd occasions, like on my days off.
Of course, being a big city, Jakarta is smelly and noisy. A walk down the road is an assault on the senses. Neon lights, competing smells from the numerous food stalls that seem to line every street in Indonesia, garbage smells, bikes roaring by, cars honking. There is nothing peaceful about this city. However, the centre where I am assigned is in a middle-class housing scheme where it’s not too noisy.
The house is hot and the mosquitoes are relentless. I think Banda Aceh is hotter than Jakarta but this house is more closed up than the centre in Banda Aceh, so overall I feel almost as hot as I did in Banda Aceh. And the mosquitos! Dear Lord, the mosquitos. I sometimes sleep with my mosquito repellent on the bed beside me. I apply it before I go to sleep but sometimes during the night, those little nuisances will find a way to bite a finger or a knee, even though I have the fan going full blast on me to blow them away. They’re bionic mosquitoes!
Hair, Arms, Legs
Women and girls here don’t wear head scarves all the time. I’ve seen so much hair over the past few weeks that I almost don’t know what to do with myself. Some even wear modest shorts and short sleeved t-shirts. Yes, it’s practically a skin-fest and hair show in Jakarta! Enough said.
And finally, the staring. We had to come back to that. It seems like Indonesians have not learned the art of subtlety. Everyone still stares at me here, though not as blatantly as they did in Aceh. A colleague at the centre who is American and white jokingly thanked me for taking the attention off the white people. On the plus side, I haven’t had any nasty incidents and I pray that I don’t. Meanwhile, I’m keeping up my strategy of alternately ignoring the starers and staring right back at them.
So, my first impression of Jakarta in a nutshell: a bigger world of potential experiences has opened up for me just from my being here and I’ll be able to see and do a lot more, but I absolutely would not want to live here long term because it’s smelly and noisy and I’m too much of an attraction myself.
More to come!