Friday, February 2, 2007

Jakarta Floods

by Tika

Its flooding season again folks. Seem like its getting worse. Most of my life growing up has been spent outside of Indonesia, but I did manage to spend some time in Jakarta during my awkward pre-teen years. That was some years ago: the 1980's.

Whenever it rained, I would really have trouble getting the "bajaj" man to take me home from school. The bajaj is now an almost extinct, if not already gone, three wheeled mass transportation vehicle made of very thin metal structure. I say it is a motorized open air tri-cycle masquerading as something other than itself: a minature car-jeeplike vehicle with a canvas roof.

The older the bajaj you ride on, the more a passenger would have to hold on to something, or just pray, for fear of being ejaculated from her seat as the motor causes it to vibrate a lot. You can't step your feet onto the passenger feet platform, since it gets very hot when the bajaj starts its motor a good while.

So in the bajaj, you always feel like you are floating on hot vibrating steel with only your bottom supporting you, since it is only on the seat the bajaj is well protected from the heat of the motor. You can hardly see where you are going since your vision gets blurred from the vibrations.

I would wave for the bajaj, always dripping wet since during downpours is about the only time I would ride the bajaj. During non-storm days, the other mass transit vehicle I choose to ride is the mini-van-bus.

To go on to this mini-van-bus, known throughout the parts as the "mikrolet", you have to stand by the street, wave your hand when you see an ongoing one about to pass you by. If there were space for you, it would stop momentarily. A hand would try to grab you onto the doorstep. It would start moving again even though your whole body isn't fully inside yet. You are lucky if there are people behind you so they get to be the last one hanging on.

Anyway, during rainy days, I have to stick to the bajaj since the mikrolet is always packed making it impossible to get a spot there. Yet, it is almost as hard to get one bajaj to take me home. There would be several empty ones passing me by. But, once I told the bajaj driver man where I wanted to go, he would shake his head out of some fear of being drowned in a sea of rainwater.

Yes, the road to my house is always flooded during rainstorms, up to knee length high in some parts during really bad days. So the bajaj man would mumble a definite no and just whiz on by, splashing some more muddy rainwater on my already dripping wet school uniform.

But some bajaj men are more adventurous and they would take me in for triple the "usual" price. To ride the bajaj, you have to bid the price for a ride. This is why I try not to ride the bajaj since the other more preferable mass transit vehicle had a fixed price per distance.

So I would eventually get one bajaj to take me home. I would be just glad to be out of the downpour and be finally in an acceptable almost rain-free-chamber. I would have an umbrella during rainy days, but it is just too flimsy to help me out during downpours.

Dripping wet inside the bajaj, with some splashes of rainwater still coming in from the open air space I call the window, we would start to move. I would have my umbrella open and stick it out of the window to get some protection from these oncoming splashes of rainwater.

We would be moving very slowly over the standing rainwater, which is good since the slow movement causes less vibrations of the bajaj. One other good thing about the rainwater is that it has helped to dissipate the heat from all over the bajaj so I can actually rest my feet on the bajaj floor.

We finally get to my street with the really high standing water at its crossing. Amazingly the bajaj manages to zigzag through and actually find shallow parts to pass us safely out of the flood.

So here I am, many-many years later, able to stay intact after going through the many floods of Jakarta. But I'm sure many people went through even worse ordeals.

I had several classmates who are always absent during bad rainy days in Jakarta. At first I thought it to be some joke, since before I lived in Jakarta I was a resident of a trouble free and idyllic utopia called Ottawa, Canada. The teacher would holler their names at the beginning of class and some student friend would shout out "house is flooded!". The teacher would nod and move on down the list.

With more people and more settlements being built all over Jakarta, it's no wonder that the flooding is getting worse. Not to mention climatic changes due to greenhouse effects that has made rainy and dry season in our country even more chaotic.

This is of course just my biased and non-expert opinion. But I am not one to say that Jakarta people have not tried to work this out. It is a complicated ordeal to have to go through. I am sure people have been trying to think of a way out of the mess they are in. I think it is more of the lack of science than the lack of motivation to solve the problems of the flood.

I now live in New York City and sometimes, parts of the city can get flooded during bad rainstorms, which last only a day at most. But in Jakarta it is different. We have never ending tropical rainstorms during rainy season, lasting many-many days.

In an overpopulated city such as Jakarta, this is no easy problem. You have less money and less people to think and work on this problem. It's a tough job to have to get done. But I am optimistic than someday, Jakarta people will find a way to deal with the problem and make some new science the world has yet to learn from.

My utmost respect to all the Jakarta people for their resilience, perseverance and their never-ending hope in going through this storm.

***UPDATE. We just recieved news that our sister's house is flooded all over up the the waist. Our brother is trying to pick her up right this moment. It must be about 11 PM at night there when we recieved word. I remember visiting our sister's house last year. She was so proud of her home, however tiny it really was, because she just finished some little rennovations in her only son's room. I was so proud of it too. I dedicate this story, my attempt to tell my love for the city where I was born, to her family and to all those Jakarta people whose homes and lives are severely affected by this tragedy.

(*images taken from KOMPAS Newspaper, THE JAKARTA POST Newspaper and GOOGLE image search)


Dewi Susanti said...

Glad to read that someone is still optimistic about the flooding situation in Jakarta. I can't say I'm on the same page with you at present.

Tika said...

Science is humble optimism. Slow, great changes usually take more than a human lifetime, but cracking problems is never imposible.