It’s a street in a strange world


Not as bad as I’d expected, based on warnings. Though, I won’t be sorry to leave tomorrow, when I head off to Kalimantan Timur (southeastern Borneo).

The traffic is…amazing.  The pollution is thick and hazy.  The city is immense.

And the smiles are fantastic.  I read in a guide book that “Indonesians are great smilers” – it’s true.

Will write more about the foreign-researcher-registering-scavenger hunt…later (the process will continue in Borneo).  In the meantime…some musings:


Rode in a mini-bus (jeepney-esque) back to the bed and breakfast tonight, cruising along with the traffic, watching the motorbikes and cars and people moving along.  People in taquiyahs, jilbabs, batik, in loose flowing modest clothes.  The call to prayer.  Bustling, brightly lit food stalls and miscellaneous small shops crowded along the sidewalk.  I was drinking a local type of soda that claims to be medicinal (indubitably delicious), enjoying the breeze blowing through the open mini-bus door, enjoying the scenes passing before me.

Paul Simon starts singing in my head:

A man walks down the street
It’s a street in a strange world
Maybe it’s the third world
Maybe it’s his first time around
Doesn’t speak the language
Holds no currency
He is a foreigner
He is surrounded by the sounds, the sounds
Of cattle in the market place
Scatterlings and orphanages
He looks around, around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says Amen and Hallelujah!

 This verse often comes into my head when I’m traveling, even without cattle or angels (I’ve always thought it would apply most to Ethiopia, but that’s an aside).  I think it captures those moments of awe that pop up when you stop to think about where you really are and you realize how wonderful the present moment is.

 I’m in Indonesia.  Here I am, in the capital city of Indonesia.  Life is so different here, but it’s not so different.


I hopped off at my stop.  The lane to the B&B is marked by a huge, sprawling pile of sad, hacked-open and emptied coconuts.  Coconut is eaten as part of breaking the fast each day during Ramadhan, and each day I see a mountain of round & proud coconuts reduced to a dry, browning rubble of shells.  The ground smelled of fermented coconut juice.


Have been feeling a bit homesick and lonely lately.  It seems to be harder in the big cities, where I often am alone on research trips, as I generally only meet up with my field teams closer to our research sites – it feels strange to be alone in such a mass of humanity.  But often, when I find the loneliness getting to be too much, a kind spirit comes into my life, if only for a moment.

The taxi driver who gave me a free Bahasa Indonesia lesson as we waited in traffic.  Another taxi driver who apologetically stopped to run into a convenience store so he could buy a drink after fasting all day, and then bought me a box of juice. The nice young men who shyly and politely took my poorly-placed food orders at the stalls near the B&B and who were wonderful examples of smiles and laughs transcending language barriers.  The friendly couple who talked to me over dinner after amusedly watching one such food-ordering-transaction.  The B&B watchman who gleefully recites sing-song basic Bahasa Indonesia greetings with me whenever I see him.