Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday the 13th

We threw a small party last night for Dave's coworkers.  They would be at a coworking space in our neighborhood all day, and come over afterward for chili and corn muffins.  This was a particularly good deal, because we otherwise live quite far from the embassy.  No one would come to a Friday night party at our house, if they were not already in the neighborhood.

The challenge: We would serve chili to about 20 people.

We have 20 pieces of every other dish - plates, silverware, etc.  But we only have 8 bowls.  That's because when we bought the bowls in Jakarta, the store only had 8 in stock.  No problem, we thought.  We'll just buy more when the time comes. The time came yesterday.  So, the plan was laid out.  We would prepare the house before work, I would quick run to Muji to grab the bowls, and then I would work somewhere near the school because Talent Show rehearsals were after school today.  That would have Lilly, Fia, and I arriving home just in time for the party to begin.  No problem, because Ibu Sri was prepped on all things party and could manage the set up.

The day began confidently, with fresh flowers from down the street.  I was in the car headed toward Pondok Indah Mall for Muji, the Japanese store that sells our bowls, right on time.  Traffic seemed a little crazy, but nothing that I hadn't budgeted for.  We arrived soon after the store opened.  Pak Adi parked next to the door and I raced inside, telling him, Only 10 minutes, and then we will go.  All set.

I skipped up the escalator and straight to my store.  On a chance meeting, I said hit to my friends who apparently share an appreciation for all things organized and Muji as well, and then headed back to the kitchen shelves for my bowls.

Problem.  No bowls.
Solution:  The friends in the store happen to be my neighbors, and have offered to lend their chili bowls for the evening.

I'm back in the car within the requisite 10 minutes and we were on our way to the American Club, a quiet spot close fairly close to the school where I should be able to work for the next four hours.


Macet translates to "jammed" in Bahasa Indonesia, and is the Jakarta word for "crazy traffic."  We hit crazy, unexpected traffic on the way to the American Club and what I expected to be a 15 minute drive was double that.  Originally on track to arrive at the club only minutes after I should have started work, we were now passing that time on Jalan Fatmawati.

Problem: Macet.
Solution: Mobile wi-fi. Traffic moved so slowly that checking email and downloading documents from the back seat was a breeze.

Back on track, we arrive at the American Club, I pick up a few things from the commissary and catering and send them back home with Pak Adi.  I settle myself into a table in the cafe, just as my main documents arrive via email.  Order lunch and a coffee, and I settle in to work for the next 4 hours.  Smooth.  I finish and arrive at the school just in time for Talent Show rehearsals, where both Lilly and Sophia do markedly better than last week.  More success.

But during the rehearsals, things begin to decay.

Annika has gone home with a friend, who promised to drop her off at our house around 6.  Now that friend has no driver.  Can we come pick her up?
Dave has discovered the lack of bowls.  Dave is not so keen on the borrowing from the neighbors plan. Why didn't you just buy disposable bowls?  He's panicking and making new plans to serve the chili.  The neighbor needs to leave but Dave hasn't showed up to pick her up bowls.  I'm feeling a bit silly, coordinating between two people who are only a few hundred meters apart.
Technical difficulties arise in the Talent Show rehearsals, and it becomes clear that we will not be leaving on time.  Then the PA system began a lightning announcement that will not stop for a few minutes.  More technical difficulties - but now I'm stewing about the lightning.  Dave and Annie's playdate are both texting me about rain.  Rain is a blessing in Jakarta.  The country is in the midst of a horrible drought and the water table in the city is so low that in many homes, water no longer comes out of the tap. If we were home, rain would be a blessing.  But traffic on Friday nights is never good, and adding rain to the mix will easily double our drive.

The final act completes their rehearsal and we jet out of the school.  I've sent Pak Adi home because of the late night, and so I'm driving.  We climb into the car.  It has not yet started raining, and traffic has not yet increased.  I'm expedient as we head toward Angie's house - Lilly's performance partner, who lives on the way home.  About halfway there, rain is coming down in such torrents that I can only see the lights of the cars in front of me.  Stay in the middle of the road and follow the traffic. Somehow the little girl chatter in the backseat had a calming effect, and traffic in Jakarta moves so slowly that its hard to be scared.

We drive through water that reaches the bottom of the car, but otherwise make it through unscathed.  Drop off Angie and head for a quick cut-through at the mall.  They've just opened a back way, so that we can drive directly through the mall between our house and Angie's.  This should cut our drive in half!  Yahoo!  We are on our way to the party!

Problem: We sat completely still for 30 minutes at the mall cut through.  Apparently its not such a well kept secret.

Problem: The mall cut through wasn't moving because Kemang Raya wasn't moving.  That's the street we needed next.

Once we began moving, we made it through both roads rather smoothly.

Problem: Having reached the road to our home and to Annika's playdate, its another parking lot.  Apparently, the entrance to our neighborhood is flooded out. We could now walk home in under 10 minutes.  But it takes us another 30 to drive it.

We finally reach the playdate, where the mom has an extra box of bowls wrapped up for us to borrow.  We grab the kid and the bowl and turn around.  Luckily, traffic between Kaia's house and ours was smooth so we make it home in 5.

It took us 2 hours to arrive home.  Lilly's teacher says the same drive takes her about 8 minutes at 6:00 a.m. most mornings.  I usually expect 20-30 minutes during typical traffic.  Two hours.

The guests all faced the same traffic in our neighborhood, so we arrived no later than anyone else to our party. And the chili was delicious.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Morning Escape from Jakarta

Dave's parents were in town this week.  We showed them around town, and we all took the day off on Monday to escape the city and walk through the rice terraces and villages that make up most of the island of Java.  We went hiking with idGuides, who were very well organized and kept us all safe and happy.

Dave and I fully prepared for a morning hike by packing our water bottles, granola bars, and rain jackets and charging the camera batteries.  Only when we got out of the car did I realize that I had brought my camera, but not my battery.  Luckily, my father-in-law is never without at least two cameras.  He handed me his smaller camera and here is what I saw.

The landscape is gorgeous, a green mix of wild jungle and agricultural terraces.  The sun did come out for part of our walk, but the ominous dark clouds made for dramatic photography. As I sit at my desk, I am amazed that this scenery is just an hour away from the heart of the urban jungle.

Although we could drive to the trail head in about 90 minutes, the village was not accessible by car.  We wandered a bit through the village and then out around the fields and hills, all guided by a team of local villagers.  There was garbage everywhere. It is difficult to explain the trash on the street in Jakarta, and the girls and I were even more disturbed by the trash on the side of the trail. I told them that garbage trucks certainly can not reach this village, which is true.  But that doesn't fully explain the problem.  The first and second pictures are taken from the same place, first looking out and then looking down.

Sophia was in awe of the pink pineapples.

Life had all of the romanticized benefits of rural living, but living in this village is clearly hard work.  These were the roughest and the nicest houses I noticed on our walk.

These men are digging a new water route through the rice field.  Farmers rotate their fields of rice   regularly, and divert irrigation to whichever field needs it.

This man is managing the scarecrow lines, a number of cables crossing the rice paddies with plastic bags or noisemakers attached.  He shakes the lines to scare the birds away.  This seems wildly labor intensive to me; also rather relaxing, possibly on par with going fishing - another activity that only keeps my interest for about 10 minutes.

The madness of an Asian megacity makes me forget what a beautiful country we live in.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mumbai 2017

Dave has been officially offered and has accepted a position in Mumbai, India following the conclusion of our time here in Jakarta.  We will transfer next summer.  The whole family is feeling excited about this, for loads of reasons.

Dave is feeling excited in large part because the bidding process is over.  In the State Department, a person finds their next job through a mishmash process of lobbying and official assignment called bidding.  Jobs are centrally posted, individuals make contact to apply for the job.  This is followed by interviews and searching your contacts to see who you know that may know someone who knows someone who could make a decision about you.  In a field where people make new hiring decisions every year and the entire office turns over completely every 3 years, personal references are invaluable.  Dave was in the enviable position of being able to choose between two jobs.  In the current State Department climate, this was good luck and (I believe) a testament to Dave's good work.

I wrote about our decision a few weeks ago, the point where we decided not to return to Washington for the next four years.  But I thought you might enjoy the thought process from the day.

We chatted with the girls about the two cities over dinner that night.  They felt excited about DC, even though they seemed serious about me returning to work and living on a very tight budget.  They also felt excited about Mumbai - the food, the clothes, the friends, the new adventure.  That list has since grown to include the school and the opportunity to live in a high rise.  Over dinner, they could not decide which city they would prefer.  And then Sophia said, I think Mumbai would be great because there will be no garbage on the street. I'm sure people pick up their trash and the skies are blue.

Um, sorry kiddo, I said.  I think Mumbai will be even worse than Jakarta on that front.

All three looked at me with disbelief.  And then each of them echoed, Well then, we should go to Washington!

Prepared for the garbage and the smells and the abundance of poverty, I am not excited about moving into another massive Asian city with hyper pollution and nasty traffic.  I miss parks and relaxing outside.  But I am otherwise way excited about Mumbai, which looks to be a vibrant city in an ancient country rich with culture.