Hey all! It’s once again Friday, which gives me another opportunity to give you all a sneak peak into my current happenings. Today I’m coming to you all from the sprawling city of Jakarta, which thus far has been a completely different change of pace. Between checking out temples in Bali, climbing volcanos in Lombok, and viewing wild orangutans in Bukit Lawang, my experiences have all been rather rural affairs.
Jakarta on the other hand, is as urban as urban gets.
Considered one of the fastest expanding economies in the world, with a rapidly growing population of well over 10 million people, this place just doesn’t stop. With this influx of new global business and luxury housing developments, the country has fully embraced both its status as a true global city, along with a more westernized consumerist culture. As part of this, I’ve been finding that shopping malls are a HUGE deal here. Expect to find at least one of these multi-leveled complexes in each neighborhood, where you can do everything from catch a movie, pick-up your groceries, or even go for a spin around an indoor ice skating ring.
With so much visible opulence, I was shocked to learn that over half the population of Jakarta is living below the poverty line (i.e. making under $138 USD per month). So, rather than continue to mall hop, I hooked up with a local volunteer organization and spent a day seeing how most people really live here.
Our first stop was a busy street in Northern Jakarta, directly under a train overpass.
Anneke, my guide for the day and one of the founders of the organization, explained that trains pass overhead about every 10-15 minutes, day and night. As if on cue, a large commuter came roaring across, no more than 20 feet over our heads. The sound was absolutely deafening.
I sat there for a second, wondering why I had potentially damaged my eardrums. Eventually Anneke pointed to what seemed like a large dark hole in the wall that was just barely big enough to fit a full sized adult.
“See that? 300 people live in here.”
As we ducked inside, I quickly realized that this hole was actually a long dark narrow alleyway with doorways leading to makeshift homes on either side. Loosely wired light bulbs had been strung up to provide the only source of light.
Eventually we stopped at a small home so that Anneke could check in with one of the families and ensure that the provided food and supplies were being properly distributed amongst the community here.
After they had finished, I asked the mother if I could take a look at her home. To my surprise, she flashed me a big smile and, without hesitation, welcomed me in.
“Her family of five people all live in this single room and she runs a restaurant in the back,” Anneke informed me as I slowly took in the entire scene.
Not knowing quite what to say or how to react, I thanked the woman for allowing me this glimpse into her home and we continued on our way.
Reaching the end of the alleyway, we soon found ourselves back outdoors on a riverside path. As my eyes slowly adjusted to the bright light, I soon noticed that the river was heavily polluted with everything from trash, to human waste, to rotting animals. We were also back under that railway overpass and, as luck would have it, just in time for next train to rumble through.
Completely unfazed by this, the people in the area once again smiled as soon as they saw us and gave us a large warm welcome.
Laughter and warmth were two surprising reactions that were present in each of the communities we visited. Just about all conversations I either had or observed involved lots of smiles, laughter, and just a general welcoming spirt. Not something I would have expected given how tough the living conditions are.
This was even more the case for just about all of the children I ran into, many of which greeted me with an ear to ear grin and plenty of giggles.
Despite the fact that they all lived in absolute poverty, these were some of the happiest children I’ve ever seen. I still struggled with how to emotionally react to this stark contrast, but it was heartening that all these kids could still just enjoy being… well, kids.
Much more to come on my experience in these communities in the following weeks, so keep an eye out!