Back in Jakarta, our group attended a two-day flooding workshop, a joint effort between researchers at Northeastern and Tarumanagara University (UNTAR). At the workshop, the 35 of us spent the day in a conference room learning from a wide swath of experts trying to build a more resilient Jakarta, us picking up on bits and pieces of familiar terms.
Kemal Taruc, who did a Fulbright last semester at Northeastern, compared how Jakarta could learn better governance practices from watershed management along the Willamette in Oregon. Alldo Fellix Januardy, a human rights lawyer, gave a moving presentation about the plight of the kampung residents subject to illegal eviction. We also heard presentations about remote data sensing systems, flood mapping and land subsidence.
The workshop was valuable because it showed hidden connections among a varied set of things I care about.
Over the course of the semester, I wrote my senior capstone paper on how the citizens of Dharavi, Mumbai, of Slumdog Millionaire fame, resisted redevelopment plans. When I drafted my one-sentence thesis for the paper, I struggled because I wanted to include some elements about climate change. In the interest of having a clearer, more feasible paper, my professor advised leaving climate change out.
On Day 2 of the workshop, I listened to a presentation by an architect named Yu Sing. He worked with the people in Kampung Kota to design a community that encouraged social interaction and added green and blue spaces. As much as my brain will linger on the innovative designs that he displayed, his words stick with me even more strongly.
1) “A flood is not a disaster, a flood is a natural condition.”
2) “I see beauty in the disorder.”
If, when I came to Indonesia, I could discern beauty in the disorder, does that mean that there is also ugliness in harmony?
Upon landing in the Denpasur Airport, the flight attendants and pilots all greeted me with a knowing, “Have fun!” I cannot recall hearing that phrase upon landing anywhere else.
Sometimes, when I look outside the window on the bus in Bali, I understand exactly what they mean. Everything here is so lush. The red rooftops, the purple-blue volcanoes in the distance, the gold decals on the statues, they all shine. This is an enchanted island. Here, the sea and the mountains are close together.
Initially, we stayed in a city called Ubud for five days. Along Monkey Forest Road, there were dozens of mostly empty restaurants, souvenir shops, bars and beauty salons. For the most part, everything was deliriously cheap. Nice dinner? $6. Bikini wax? Maybe $8. Many Balinese people sat on the stoops of the sidewalks and called at us, offering taxis or manicures. The most haunting aspect of all of this was just how much there was. You could walk for 20 minutes and see three, four, five shops with people getting pedicures after dinnertime. It was if the places never closed. By the time we left Ubud, I felt relieved, again.
A few mornings ago, we visited one of the most aesthetically pleasing Hindu temples I had ever seen. The Pura Besakih temple complex is split into three sections, in order to honor Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma, three pathways of stairs leading to what looks like pagodas on top of a big hill. As we walked towards the hill, many small girls approached us and asked us if we wanted to buy postcards.
After my time in India, I learned how to ignore these girls. The rules I set for myself included saying almost nothing and always avoiding eye contact. Last year, my roommate Lila spent a whole hour crying about child poverty in our hotel room. Her compassion was jarring to me then because I had learned how not to be soft.
This year, I bought four, breaking my silly rules and feeling nauseous about how little $2 or $5 means to me. Quickly after I handed the girl the rupiahs, I saw what must have been the ringmaster of the operation supervising our deal.
Buying or not buying does not make a more moral person. That day, though, it felt hard to think about how many tourists pass through the Pura Besakih temple complex and not see the children and adults who were there, too.
On these four small postcards, I tried to relay my experiences to my friends back in the US. Nothing I could really say worked on the back of a 4X6. I always got cut off. In some, I only wrote about the girl who sold me the postcard, the chipped nail polish on her toenails. In others I focused on the beaches and the fun.
And now, in the format of this blog post, there is no real cutoff. There is no excuse I can give. I could write for quadruple the amount I did on a postcard. Still, I would not be able to make sense of things. All I know is that inside of this chaos, there are bird cages that adorn traditional homes, tourists everywhere, first borns named Wayan and a forest full of monkeys.