Monday, October 24, 2016

Maple Park Tower B, Jakarta, Indonesia

Written by Karen.

The gray clouds are rolling in fairly quickly from the south.  It has been a cooler day today, likely due to the rainstorm yesterday which also seemed to knock down some of the air pollution.  The Java Sea is a few miles from our apartment, but I haven’t been able to see the water for the past few days.  The air pollution is still thick, heavy and impenetrable.  I hear thunder grumbling off in the distance.  Surely, we will have another rainstorm tonight. I welcome the thought of a cleansing rainstorm and another cool day tomorrow.  

We are renting a small - perhaps 300-square foot - studio apartment in a multi-towered apartment complex in northern Jakarta, where thousands of people live inside a very small architectural footprint. This is a poorer and more conservative neighborhood than the neighborhoods in south and west Jakarta where ex-pats and tourists typically congregate.  

We are the only non-locals, which for all of its inherent complications that brings, it does offer us a glimpse into a more typical Jakartan neighborhood.  We have gotten curious stares, but then friendly grins when we smile.  We’ve been able to talk with one of the clerks at the small mini mart on the first floor.  She is happy to practice her English.  Her name is Santa.  “As in Santa Claus,” she says with a big smile on her face.  She waves enthusiastically whenever she sees us.  

While there wasn't a whole lot of options in this little market, Santa always made us smile with her infectious enthusiasm and joy. One night when we hadn't gone into the downtown area of Jakarta to eat, we walked up and down the three aisles of the small market, searching for something to eat besides cookies and potato chips.  We settled on a box of noodles and a jar of tomato sauce. Alcohol isn't sold at this market, so we opted for 0% beer.  In our little kitchenette, we laughed as we struggled to light the single propane burner cooktop, cook the long noodles in a shallow skillet and tried to drain the noodles with our single fork without losing too many down the sink drain.  It was an epic collaboration between the two of us, and somehow it worked.  Spaghetti ala tomato puree.  No salt.  No spices. Just noodles and tomato.  It hit the spot though on that cool and rainy night.  

Another meal courtesy of the little market: peanut butter and potato chip sandwich. I purchased the salad at a larger market downtown.  That was a mistake.  The tap water is not drinkable here - at all - and somehow I thought that a healthy salad sold by a large supermarket would be washed with treated water.  It wasn't, and I suffered mightily for that miscalculation.  
We can say 'thank you' in Indonesian, but I’m sure not perfectly.  But, we get it right most of the time.  We get a big smile in response.  They know we’re trying.  We communicate with other neighbors as best as we can, mostly in sign and body language.  People are polite and gracious.  The complex itself is surprisingly quiet for as many people who live here.  

We can also ask for a taxi, which one of the security guards will then go into the busy street to flag one down.  When we leave, he will again go into the busy street and stop traffic for the taxi to enter into the endless flow of vehicles.  This is not something that is done just for us.  It is a routine service that is done for taxi drivers and private drivers alike.  If you waited for a break in the traffic, you would be waiting for a very long time.  

The traffic outside of our apartment complex.  There are no traffic lanes and motor scooters and cars jostle for position wherever there is a bit of room.  At this particular intersection, there are men standing in the middle of the road accepting money from drivers so they can pass. 

Our single window and small balcony door on the 20th floor faces the inner courtyard of the multiple apartment buildings and overlooks an exceptionally large, blue-tiled rectangular swimming pool.  As I look outside the apartment, I can see glimpses of our neighbors lives all around us, kinda’ like a benevolent version of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, Rear Window.  We are that densely populated and that close to one another.  Most apartments keep their windows and balcony doors open to catch the breeze and cool their homes down.  The little balcony extends the interior space outdoors and I watch children wander inside and then outside again.  A television flickers on, and then another, and then yet another is visible across the courtyard.  

A man comes outside onto the small balcony and lights a cigarette and leans against the rail and looks toward the water as the sunlight starts to fade.  He stands in deep contemplation as he blows cigarette smoke away.  A woman comes onto her balcony to check her laundry that is flapping in the breeze like a row of family flags.  The majority of balconies have laundry drying in the afternoon haze. A young girl comes out and gets a shirt that has been hanging on one of the plastic hangers from the metal rail. 

The laundered clothes are placed on hangers and then strung along the outside balcony rail.  I wonder how many pieces of clothing have fluttered down to the ground? 

The multiple apartment towers that make up this particular apartment complex.  
The call-to-prayers have started again.  We haven’t figured out the timing of when the call-to-prayers occur.  They have started as early as 0345 hours in the morning and as late as 2345 hours at night.  The mosque is just a few hundred yards from the apartment complex and I wonder if the balcony doors are open in order to better hear the call.  We can hear the call-to-prayers throughout City as well as in our apartment; the lilting sounds surround us throughout the day.  

(Note: the following video clip was taken from our balcony on the 20th floor and shows our immediate neighborhood.  You can see the white-balled roof of the mosque and the Java Sea in the far background.)

The pool has been empty today.  I consider whether to go down and take a dip in the pool, just to cool off a bit now that the intense sun’s rays are hidden behind the tall buildings.  While I am still deciding, I look over the balcony again at the pool and realize that there are now about 20 people in the pool.  And then I notice that while the men and boys are in swimming trunks, the women and girls are in swim burkinis.  I watch them laugh and play together, or float peacefully on their back, or lazily swim laps up and down the length of the pool. They’re enjoying their time together. 

I know that I will not go down and join them in the swimming pool although my swim suit is a modest one-piece. The line of modesty is unclear and I’m not sure of the protocol. It’s okay.  I can do something else or go swimming another time.  

A thunderclap boomed.  I looked to the horizon.  A rainstorm is definitely on the way.  I looked down towards the pool.  The families were getting out of the pool and gathering their things.  Seconds later, the pool was empty.  Lightning flashed.  Plop.  Plop. Plop.  The rain was beginning to fall.  Slowly, then picking up speed. 

Darkness comes quickly.  It is dark well before 1800 hours.  I’ll pull the window shade on our window shortly.  As I can easily see into the surrounding apartments, so they can just as easily see into ours.  Lights are flashing on in the nearby apartments.  Either people are starting to come home or the darkness has compelled light.   I take another look down at the pool. It is dark and empty.  The large advertising television screen over the still crowded expressway throws blue, red and yellow light across the courtyard giving the space a disco-like feel.  

The call-to-prayers have ended.   The open-air dog kennel next door have put their 5 active guard dogs - from this distance, they look like Doberman Pinschers - away for the night. They will eventually go to sleep in their open, concrete cages.  The rain is falling heavily now, only slightly muffling the sounds of the traffic jam in front of the apartment complex.  The semi-circle of apartments around us are awash with soft lights as the occupants silently go about their evening business.  It is quiet. For now.  I pull down the window shade and pull the grey metallic curtain over the balcony door as we retreat into our little home ourselves.  It will be another hour before the call-to-prayer begins again.  Until then, we will listen to the soft sounds of the rain pelting against our window and read the news of the day.  


Karie and Simon said...

You are a really good writer Karen. The words that you chose to describe your observations.... I read your piece like I was there.

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hey Karie and Simon! Thanks so much. I appreciate it! And thanks for following along with us. It's great to hear from you. Let us know how things are going for you guys when you get a chance, okay? Take care. Karen