One Papaya Leaf and Counting…..

It’s the end of Ramadan in Jakarta.  The perfect time to be here. The city has emptied out. Some 80% of Jakartans have gone elsewhere for the week.  Electricity usage is down by 70% compared with a week ago. The air is clean. The streets are quiet. This holiday has given us, in the words of that guy on Ally McBeal, “a fresh bowl”

And winding down my time here in Indonesia, I’ve taken the time to reflect on all the things I’ll miss about Jakarta when I leave here. I’m sure the list is greater, but here are 6 things.

  1. Fauna: in a city with near zero green space and 20 million people, you think it be limited, but it is everywhere you look. The geckos who welcomed us so abruptly when we arrived have become

    our friends.  Yes, they scare the bejeezus out of me when the scurry away when I open a cabinet door, but they cause us no harm and eat the mosquitos.

The myriad of butterflies that grace us daily in our own front yard.

The flying lizards. Flying lizards? You ask.  Damn straight.  We’d heard from our staff that the

lizards fly and we totally disregarded them, until one day we watched one climb a tree in our yard and soar across the lawn into another tree.  It was the darndest thing.  And now we see it all the time.

Even rats, considered horrid when we arrived, are rather quaint.  We look up and see one running across the rafters of our new favourite smoothie bar and it doesn’t faze us. They’re part of life here.  Except when you step on a dead one.  Then, they’re still pretty horrid.

  1. The dozens of sights I’ve seen and the millions of sights I haven’t.  I’ll miss the beauty, the uniqueness and the history of this place.  Once could spend a lifetime here and see something new every day, I’m sure. And that is all rapidly changing whether by neglect or progress. It won’t be the same again forever.
  1. The people, who are generally kind and considerate.  They are also seriously proud maybe to their detriment. Insisting on doing things their way even when solutions lie in front of them. Take, for instance, the Uber drivers who, despite the power of a GPS on their dash and turn-by-turn directions in a native language, insist on orbiting my neighborhood in ever shrinking circles until they find my house!

But they are endlessly resourceful and their solutions to problems work and sometimes are even better than conventional.  I’m also convinced there is some sort of magic among them..  I hear stories of magic here.  Stories of people mysteriously gaining power or influence. Or after months of seemingly nothing happening, there is suddenly instantaneous progress. And being here now, I start to wonder if time may be more fluid here. May all the real work is being done in some other dimension.  

I also think that a large portion of their communication is telepathic.  Watching them communicate in a loud, crowded places, they never seem to yell or slow their speech and yet, the message always gets through.  Mostly though, I’ll miss the easy smiles of the Indonesian people.

  1. Motorbikes. Though a scourge upon the traffic scene with their blatant disregard for laws and

    sidewalks and their platelet-like way of clotting routes for the rest of us, I marvel and the efficiency of all that can be done/carried on the back of one. Texting, sleeping, even breastfeeding an infant.  Balloons, live goats, hundreds of pounds of ice, small furniture.  All can be carried with some seat space and some raffia twine to lash it. It is still a source of entertainment. 

  1. The hustle.  Just the sheer hustle of people here. You don’t need a lot to survive here. Food is cheap. Clothing can be cheap. Shelter is as little as a tarp and a bench. It may not be easy, but you can survive if you hustle for that  last little bit. From the parking hawkers, to the Momma Jockeys, to the rag pickers, to the street musicians. They’ll take a handout if it’s offered, (They may even take your hand),  but few are looking for a handout. Everyone is constantly hustling. It can often be frustrating, maddening at times, but they’re all trying to make their way in the world.

  1. My papaya tree. Planted from a seed,to a pot, to our yard, I’ve watched it grow daily. It’s still quite small and I’ll never see fruit. This papaya tree only ever has 12  or 13 broad green leaves at a time.  A new one sprouts out the top, and the lowest one yellows and falls off. Losing one leaf perhaps once or twice a week.  In an age where things move in a flash and lives change in an instant, I think there is a good value in measuring time by the leaves of a papaya tree.

I’m told if you stay in a place long enough, you’ll grow to love it. Warts and all, Jakarta has definitely gotten under my skin. And so, with just one papaya leaf remaining of my time here, those are some of the things I’ll miss the most.

Keep an eye out for Secret Asian Man’s continuing ventures in Jordan.

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