03 June 2013

Snippets from Malaysia and Indonesia - Part 1


These two pieces were written on Facebook, thus my alluding to the POST button. I have not contributed to this blog mainly because I haven't had time during the past 3 years and so many things in my life have changed except for the joy I have writing when I am overseas about what I see. So here is a two piece observation put together as one plays off the other.

Item 1

I was explaining to someone today that I am always writing, but in my head, and sometimes it escapes ending up here, or in a blog. The older I get the more fascinating life becomes and I see stories everywhere. I was thinking about describing what it is like to walk out of an air conditioned building in which you have been working all day and the exact moment you sense the heat, moisture and smells of the air in Jakarta. I noticed that the coolness from the building followed me for a few more steps than I imagined it would then all of the sudden, like an alarm going off, whoosh, the temperature increases, your nose comes alive and sweat almost instantly appears on your brow. So that is my story, my observation of sorts. As I walked through Jakarta yesterday, I would see certain people walking towards me, and I could tell that something was askew and that interested me. One man walked past me and I realized that his pants were threadbare and his underwear was missing. I knew something was off about a half a block before he passed me, never looking directly at me, as I was at him. I try to imagine writing for people who will never come to Indonesia, never see the type of clothing people wear here everyday, never see the Muslim women wearing their abaya, never see the group of little girls I saw standing on a corner picking lice out of each other's hair. Every day, not just in Indonesia, but back in America, I generate observations and want to write them down, but I get too bogged down with other things, and in believing that my observations are no more important than anyone else's observations. It isn't about importance though, it is about doing something I like. I could write and never share it, but that seems wasteful. Then I get to this exact point where I am seconds away from finishing and seconds away from erasing the entire entry. This time I'll click on post.

Item 2


Her hand was outstretched as I near her. I could see her walking backwards keeping pace with my stride. Her face was dirty, her clothing a bit tattered. As the distance between us grew less and less, I made a move to the right and like a good dancing partner, she did the same. I moved to the left, and again she did the same, only the look on her face grew more serious, and she asked in Bahasa for money. I don't often give money to people with outstretched hands, but I tend to make exceptions for women with sickly babies. In this case I initially shook my head no, and made another move which was quickly thwarted. Were it an adult making the moves, I would likely consider them quite hostile, but it was a child, perhaps 5 years old. Her face was cute for a girl of five albeit unwashed, and her black hair sat on her shoulders flailing in the air as she moved her head to meet my turns. As my focus changed, I could see that she was part of a group of girls, all about the same age, some of who were standing in the intersections going car to car seeking money. I was worried about their safety, concerned about the light changing to green and the drivers of the cars and motorcycles believing it to be the start of the Indianapolis 500. How would these little girls traverse their way through the speeding cars. I paused to see and oddly enough, cars and motorcycles gave them free passage back to the side of the street proving that there is some humanity left in this darwinian world. I checked both pockets for change and gave this little girl the equivalent of $1 and she took it back to what seemed to be the oldest girl in the group and my dance partner returned to her position to scout out the next person on a very crowded sidewalk.


I decided to linger a bit, not directly on the corner, lest I be asked for more money, but I wanted to see how these girls interacted. There was a small group within the larger group standing in a line and each girl was searching for and picking lice out of the other girl's hair. I cannot imagine the socialization which has to have taken place to get these girls to a point where they not only would spend time helping each other pick lice out of their hair, but also understand the nuances associated with going from car to car asking for money and then getting themselves back to the sidewalk before being run over by an errant motorcycle which are merciless here in Jakarta. The parent in me wondered where the parents of these children might be. Is someone watching from afar. Do the parents wake their children up each morning and say "it's time to go to the corner and beg for money." How does a 5 year old girl learn so much so soon? I know the answer – poverty – but this is Jakarta where wealth is spreading like a wild fire, just not in time for these girls. It's not hard to imagine what the rest of their collective lives will be. At 14 or 15 their parents will either sell them off to be married, or some family will broker a deal. Not long after the street savvy child will have her own child and the cycle may continue on, or, if there is some miracle, that baby may be better educated and have more options and not be found walking backwards seeking money from strangers on a street corner in Jakarta. 

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