Salam, friends and family—
Well, I’ve been on the other side of the world for a week now and figure it’s time for an update. We spent our first week in Jakarta working at the IRD Indonesia headquarters. We were welcomed with warm greetings, our own desks, and a welcome lunch. The first week at the office, Kerr and I attended a few meetings, read articles about internally displaced people and learned several new phrases in Indonesian. I can now greet people at any time of the day, ask about prices in the market and maybe give directions. Kerr has mastered the numbers and is now officially in charge of exchanging money and making appointments.
Before I left for Indonesia, when I was researching online, I somehow missed the fact that Jakarta is a HUGE urban city with 9 million people. The photos I saw online were of beautiful beaches, mountains and native animals. I was astonished to find a city full of skyscrapers and traffic worse than Atlanta. If I had to describe the city, I would say it’s as if NYC and Port-au-Prince were mashed together. Huge skyscrapers tower over tenement villages, and the luxury and glam of gated apartments and restaurants stand in sharp contrast to the barefoot street vendors and shops roofed with blue tarps. The air is thick, the smell of smoke is everywhere and the smog hangs low in the sky, limiting visibility. Take a look at the photo of a sunset from our first week in Jakarta.
Another thing that’s taken some getting used to is the Muslim call to prayer that rings throughout the town several times a day. The first day we were in Jakarta, though exhausted from jet lag, I woke up at 4:30 to hear the first prayers. This one is performed after dawn and before sunrise. Then the second round comes at lunchtime. Round three happens before sunset, and four just after. And a fifth set of prayers happens at different times in the evening. At the office and from our apartment windows we can see people praying, focusing on nothing else but undisturbed meditation on the Divine. Muslims believe that through this prayer they are constantly refreshing their faith. I wish I had that much dedication to anything, let alone my faith.
Kerr and I spent the end of our first week doing the tourist thing. We went to the Old Dutch part of town, Batavia, and saw a history museum, art and ceramics museum and many old buildings. We also went to a place called Taman Mini, which was kind of like Epcot at Disney, except for Indonesia. We saw the architecture, clothing and historic artifacts from all of the regions of Indonesia. It was a hot day, but fun to get an idea of all the different styles. On Saturday we went to the Ambassador Mall, 7 stories of craziness. Anything you want, you name it, is at this mall. At dinner on Saturday, Kerr and I agreed that we were ready to get out of Jakarta and see some more rural parts of Indonesia…Palu, here we come.
As our airplane banked to make a landing today I couldn’t help but gasp at the beauty and serenity of Palu. This small city sits in a bay or cove, flanked by mountains on three sides and the ocean on the other. As we stepped off the plane we were happy to breathe in the clean and fresh mountain air. Though Palu is the capital of Central Sulawesi, foreigners rarely see this town because it is one of the driest places in Indonesia—in other words, it’s not a tourist destination. But on our first night in town, we were “lucky” to be welcomed by rain. As we drove around the town today we noticed that no buildings are taller than three stories. This building code is in place because of how many earthquakes Palu has each year. Our hotel is described in Lonely Planet as “quite smart.” The rooms are clean and the AC works! And if you can believe it, the most expensive room here is $16US. For our first dinner in Palu, one of our colleagues took us to a local fish place. As we walked in the door we picked which fish we wanted, and the cook cut it right there and put it on the grill. Along with rice and some soup, we had a wonderful and authentic Indonesian meal.
We are excited for our first day of work in Palu on Monday. We will have a staff meeting in the morning and then get right to work. They have something like 30-40 grant applicants that they want us to meet with, to work with them on focusing their goals and activities and then help them with their English for the applications. All of the grant projects focus on peace building between inter-religious and inter-ethnic groups in Central Sulawesi. The local community-based groups, civil society groups and small NGOs write applications for grants and then IRD is the middle man to help them get USAID funding.
Well, that’s all for now. I hope all of you are doing well and enjoying summer! Talk to you soon. Grace and Peace ~ Gretchen