J is for Jakarta
When I said, “Yes, I’d love to work in Jakarta,” I wasn’t certain where I was headed. So, to be on the safe side, I asked and received this reply, “Well, you know Bali, right? It’s just on the other side of it.”
I smiled on my end of the phone line. “Just the place I want to go!” I really had no better idea where it was but to offer up ignorance twice was more than my pride would allow.
Jakarta, Indonesia sounded far-flung and exotic and that was good enough for me.
I’d never imagined teaching anywhere other than South or Central America. To get this kind of teaching job halfway across the world, well, what a coup! I’d be teaching Indonesia’s top students, hand-selected by the government.
“There’s soooo many people,” I said trying to take everything in, brushing my sticky bangs away from my eyes and leaving streaks of sweat. Thin women dressed in colorful one piece sarungs. Men walking with one-piece cloths and long-sleeved shirts. Babies. Whole families. My eyes widened as I nearly collided with a lady with three children walking just ahead of me.
I tried to keep an eye on my bag while the school assistant–it sounded like she called him Dingding— wove in and out of my vision in the crowd. I tried to keep up with our director. In spite of her size, she moved rather quickly. “Ethel, what are those funny orange contraptions, the ones with one wheel in the front and two in the back?”
Ethel paused and said in her slow, southern drawl, “They’re bajajs, like baj-eye, as in eye that you look out of. They’re pretty common in Jakarta.” She gave a small laugh and wiped the perspiration off her top lip. “They use a motor like you find on lawn mowers.”
“Oh! And those,” I said pointing to what looked like a man driving a rickshaw with a bicycle.
“Those are Becaks (BAY-chaks).
We’d reached the van I got in. Air! I needed air. I reached for the window crank.
“Leave that up now. Yadi, turn on the A/C for Amy. I expect she thinks she’s going to melt.”
I grinned. “What is that one?” I said, my face pressed up against the window. “It looks like a little army truck with a curved roof. “Oh, look, they’re getting out. There’s benches inside,” I exclaimed.
“Oh, that one. That’s a bemo (BE-mo). “That’s cheap, public transport. Yeah. It gets pretty crowded in those little trucks so try not to take them during rush hour.”
By the tone of her voice, I guessed that Ethel never took them.
“You’ll get used to them all. The teacher I’m putting you with takes one of each to the downtown campus every mornin’ so he’ll be the one to teach you, well, all about Jakarta.”
“Oh, okay.” It sounded rather exciting.
Indeed I did get accustomed to using all three in one day, going and coming home from work. I was happy to follow the other teacher’s lead because there was always throngs of people to get through.
“Hey, I’m gonna get my mail today. Dingding is–“
“Dhidhing.” the other teacher snapped. “Why can’t you get it right?”
“Oh, is that his name? Ok, Dhidhing will take me on the back of his motorbike to pick it up at John’s house. Why does John have it anyway? Mail, yeah!”
“Well, hold on!”
But once I was on the Dhidhing’s small motorbike, I saw it might be a little more difficult than I thought. It’s going to be awkward for me to touch a Muslim man, let alone hold on to him.
I gingerly got on. Where do I put my hands? Dhidhing smiled gently. That was the last of “gentle, ” I experienced for quite a while. He entered into Jalan Agus Salim’s heavy traffic quickly picking up speed.
Seat! I clutched onto the back of the seat, my nails digging into the vinyl. I was riding side-saddle. The exhaust fan piped out hot air onto my bare legs. We slid to a stop. I tried to told my skirt down with one hand, and to keep a hold of the seat with the other. My brightly-colored Guatemalan bag fell forward and caught around the inside crook of my elbow.
My heart thudded against my chest.
Dhidhng wove in and out of the traffic at a steady pace. We entered some very small, narrow alleyways.
I was totally lost. “Dhidhing, is John’s house much further?” I called.
“Belum,” not yet.
He whipped expertly in and out of the alleyways as my body shifted from side to side each time he dodged around some woman, carrying anything–loads ranged from baskets of batik to baskets of bottles on their shoulders.
Whhoops! Here we go again! Dhidhing drove around some a group of barefooted children, and then, some men walking, heads down.
I felt nauseated. Did I even want my mail anymore?
OH NO! I held on with both hands now as Dhidhing zipped out onto a main road again.
Errrrk! The motorbike came to an abrupt halt.
I coughed as all the fumes washed over me. Choked. Took a shaky breath. Threw my Guatemalan bag back over my shoulder. Hold on tight. Tight, Amy, tight. My breath came in pants. I felt hot puffs of exhaust pump out steadily against my left leg. Puff. Puff. Puff.
“Oh, darn that exhaust!” Thinking to shield my leg for just a minute, I reached down with my palm out and blocked the heat.
The light turned green and Dhidhing took off like a shot.
There, at the traffic light, I sat on my bum on the hot asphalt.
Vehicles sped around me. Didding! Come back!
I jumped up, scrambling to find some kind of space in the four-lane road. Gotta get to the side. Gotta get out of the way!
Okay, okay, okay. Going now. Now. NOW. I shot across one lane.
B-bbeep! Honk Beep! Everywhere I turned I heard vehicles beeping–at me and each other.
I saw a glimpse of our school assistant–he’d instantly become my best friend– in the lane to my right for a split second until another vehicle obscured my vision.”I’m coming, Dhidhing WAIT!”
“I come you!”
I couldn’t hear him. What?
Dhidhing circled around and ended up in my lane. His bike came to a near halt and he motioned for me to jump onto his motorbike. “You hold,” he said, pointing to his waist. Then, to be sure I understood, he placed both my hands on his waist, one on each side. I jumped on the bike to be sure to make the light again.
Believe me, I hung on. That I did.
Later, I relayed my story to the other American teacher, who nearly split a gut laughing at the thought of me sitting on my bum in the middle of Agus Salim Street, with traffic flowing around me.
I laughed too. I guess you don’t worry about the right protocol when you’re riding side saddle on the back of a motorcycle during rush hour.
That is Jakarta traffic.
Where is the heaviest traffic you’ve experienced? How did you handle the noise and any other pollution? How well do you like riding motorbikes?
You’ve just read, “J is for Jakarta,” by Amy L. Bovaird. Copyright April 13, 2015. You can see who else is participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge HERE.