30.12.2011 - 01.12.2012 28 °C
For New Years Eve, we travelled to Tidung Island, a small island to the north of Jakarta which is part of the greater Thousand Islands. It was the students who suggested it. However, on the day before the journey we received news: due to bad weather, our guide said that it was best we cancel our trip. This caused a variety of problems, and so the journey to Tidung Island was abandoned and we settled on a trip to Harapan Island (also a part of the Thousand Islands). We were supposed to catch the boat from Muara Angke at 6.30 am. However, due to a combination of poor planning and terrible traffic we missed our boat. The next boat was at 11am, we were told, and we had to wait.
This was not necessarily bad news, however, for we had to wait in Muara Angke, a town located in north west Jakarta. Muara Angke is a port town with a famous market renowned for its seafood. However, Muara Angke is not a place for tourists: it is a town of dirty, grimy streets, streets of intensity, and real, raw character. Everything, the stench of the fish, the muddy streets packed with impoverished people trying to make a living or trying to survive, the surprise and disbelief, followed by the yells from people shocked to see a white face; all of this provides a real shock to the senses.
As mentioned previously, I went with some students and a couple of other teachers. We found a place to rest and store our belongings, and then myself, another teacher, and one student decided to venture throughout Muara Angke. We took a turn from one of the main streets and met some interesting characters.
As you can see, these fellows were constructing a cage, which, they explained in Bahasa Indonesia, they use to catch Ikan; that is, they construct the cages with their hands which they then utilise in order to catch fish. We also met a woman, who offered us Kopi (coffee). She was all too happy to have her picture taken.
We then continued our endeavour and explored the area further.
The stench here was close to unbearable. The lake, or whatever you desire to call it, was more akin to a large toilet; and it was next to this oversized toilet that people lived, utilising the water to wash their clothes and possibly bathe. The houses were built from the most basic materials. Check.
Noting my students reaction to this area was particularly interesting. As a rich and privileged Indonesian, my student exclaimed his horror at this sight. He was genuinely shocked that some people in Jakarta live in such conditions. I asked him: “Have you never seen anything like this before?” To which he responded, “No, never.” This surprised me a great deal. How can a person who was born here in Jakarta not be aware that such places exist? Indeed, how can a person not be aware that slums not only exist here, but exist in abundance? I hold nothing against my student, of course, whom I consider a friend. First of all, his reaction was not just one of surprise but also sadness. I did not take any pictures (I felt bad and intrusive doing so), but the slum was filled with small children and their mother's living in the most wretched conditions imaginable.
Upon our mini-expedition, we received a phonecall from one of our companions. The boat was about to leave, he told us, and so we made our way to the boat.
It must be noted, the return boat ride cost a mere 25000 rupiah (about £2), and the journey lasted for approximately three and a half hours. In other words, the boat had no seats, was crammed full of people, lacked air conditioning, and the experience definitely gave one some insight into how refugees feel when they flee some ghastly shore.
I was sick, sick unto death with suffering (to steal a few words words from Mr. Poe), and nausea soon enveloped the core of my being. Take a look for oneself.
After some time and much suffering, I realized that we were not confined to the dungeon below, and it was with great relief that I discovered the roof of the boat. However, with the boat travelling at high speeds, combined with choppy waves and dreadful weather, this led me to believe that sitting on the roof of the boat would soon reduce my person to a body swimming amongst sharks.
I began to feel better, however, and the sickness and nausea suffered in the dungeon below was soon vanquished.
Before long, we stopped off on one of the regions many islands. This allowed us to refresh ourselves and eat before we changed boats and made our way to Harapan Island.
We boarded the second boat, which was a peculiarity at best.
We arrived at Harapan Island at some point in the afternoon.
And so, my News Years Eve and day was spent here on Harapan Island, a peculiar little place.
When we arrived on Harapan Island, we had no place to stay, so we simply knocked on the above family's home, whereby we were greeted with food, drink, bed, and cheer! This behaviour is not unusual in Indonesia, where trust, collectivity, and compassion seem to be attributes commonly espoused by the masses. This is even true in a mega city such as Jakarta, where people are not only friendly but genuinely caring and always willing to help when help is required. Imagine knocking on a random family's home in the North of England, for example, or London? What response would a question such as "can we stay in your home tonight?" be greeted with, I wonder? The likely outcome could range from a punch in the office, a calling of the police, or perhaps a generous supply of abuse swiftly followed by the slamming of a door. The people of Harapan Island, however, were generous, kind, and pleasantly surprised to see a selection of fellows such as myself. It was a very small island, with a small community of approximately 1500 Muslims. The community was close-knit, with every face knowing - and embracing - their neighbour. The islanders here seem to live a comfortable life, where the consumption of fresh fish and seafood constitute their diet. There was a sense of peace on the island, too, which was refreshing.