This morning I woke up to the sounds of continual traffic, horns honking, dogs barking, people going around their own daily business. I had slept quite well despite the heat and mosquitoes and being on a this mattress on the ground. We met to have breakfast at 9am and after that a few of us took a short walk down the streets as two of the girls hosting us needed to run errands.
Walking down the street was a nice chance to see a little part of the suburb we are in and get a feel for the city. The night before, coming from the airport, all I was able to observe was tons of traffic and some buildings. Today there was one major thing to observe: I am a bit of an unexpected sight. As we walked around, most people would stare. It was later explained to me that I am probably the first white person they have seen, so naturally my group of six stands out. We got a few offers of “I love you” by various males, but my joy was smiling at the various women who would stare at me. The smiles I got in return were of pure delight and what a great way to start my day. Being an extension of Jesus by sharing a smile.
After lunch, we took a train towards the center of the city. Another small adventure. Crossing the street alone to get to the train station was a small gamble with death. These cars are not interested in stopping for a cross walk. We got into a train and after a short ride got off to change trains. More staring began and at one point a guy was taking pictures of in a not so smooth manner of using his cell phone. Once on the train, we were sitting in the cheap car which had benches lining the side, were were serenaded by youths who live their lives on the street, sniff glues to get high and sing on trains to make money. Various sellers came by offering wares from q-tips to plastics bags and drinks, a woman with a mangled leg scooted by begging for money, and at different points, a young boy and a mother with a child came by sweeping the trash off the floor and asking for money in return.
Then the rain started. Your typical “it is really humid so let the skies thunder and then open up to pour” rain storm. We prayed a bit in the train station for the rain to clear, as we were going outside to do ministry with transgendered people on the streets. The rain let up just enough for use to walk over tracks and mud to get inside of shelter in a mall. There we met up with the ministry group, and once the rain slowed, we walked towards our destination.
Our ministry was going into a slum community that sits on an abandoned train line. Here you find a developed slum: the walls are made of wood and there is electricity available. We split up into small groups to chat with a couple of the guys. My group sat in a small room – I’m terrible with dimensions – that held nothing more than some stuffed animals and a dresser with a tv and a cracked fish tank on top. The guy we were speaking with, Irma, is only 23 and has been living on the streets/in slums for 4 years. He shared his story about why he was transgendered and how he ended up in the slums and his struggle with herpes. His is one of many that speaks of brokenness and a deep need for acceptance, identity, and family. The ministry that is meeting these guys are going out weekly to show them love. They are slowly building deep relationships and seeing changes in their lives.
Our next adventure was taking a train to another part of the city, followed by a bus ride. In the train station and on the train, we received more staring and even a boy who clapped and smiled as he said, “bule, bule!” which means foreigner, white person. Off the train, we entered a bus station and were instructed to keep close and push onto the bus. Wow, was that crazy! The station meets up high with the opening on the bus and it’s a free for all shoving match to get on. So that is just what we did, and as I felt the crowd pushing me on, I also had to mind the large gap between the platform and the bus. It was a bit like being born. All sides shoving in and suddenly we popped onto the bus. The bus is divided where the women sit in front half and the men on the back half. There are specific bus lanes that are built like a channel so you can avoid a bit of the street traffic. During the drive, we came upon another bus that broke down, so our bus driver decided to drive over the barrier. Now this is not a little tiny bus, this is a big coach style bus going over a cement divider. With agility, the drive rocked the bus over the divider and we proceeded on our way. The exit into the station was not quite as exciting – we simply push out past the waiting crowd.
We finished the evening by going to McDonald’s for dinner, where you can be very Indonesian and have chicken with rice if you prefer that to a hamburger. We had to wait a bit after that to take a taxi home. We wanted to let some of time pass to allow traffic to let up, so we walked over to a mall to find an atm and then sat for a bit in a Starbucks that is open 24 hours. The taxi ride was very calm thus finishing the day.
For me, being in Jakarta has opened up a new level of poverty. This is the third Asian country I have been in (Thailand and Vietnam being the first two) so the flavor of the city is similar, but the economics are very different. Just feet from a flashy skyscraper you find a slum city. There is trash and sewage ditches that line the streets. Crossing a bridge in the city, revealed a small boy and his mom sleeping in the corner (this being a harsh metal bridge). Slum cities line the train tracks (just feet from the trains) and many people look for anything to pull them away from their emptiness whether it is drugs, alcohol, or another form of cheap entertainments. The slum city on the abandoned train tracks is run by someone who charges $20 a month for people to live in a small room with electricity, but where do they go to get water and use a toilet?
It was a full full day and I cannot even begin to imagine how much more I will see and discover in my four weeks here. I do expect a completely different environment when we travel to Borneo, but for now find joy in seeking God and his heart for Jakarta.