Thursday, April 22, 2004

Business as Usual

Business as Usual

Yesterday's downpour and the resulting traffic-jam were actually worse than I had thought. In fact it was one of the worst--it brought back memories of the massive flooding that I experienced here in Jakarta beginning of 2002. I didn't realise how lucky I was to be able to reach home relatively easily until I read the newspaper reports this morning.

Today everyone was exchanging tales about how they got stuck in the jam for three to six hours. Even at midnight, the jam did not subside. Many who got trapped in town, decided to spend the night in a hotel. The newly launched Busway transport buses, with their exclusive lanes, were also caught in a standstill at Harmoni because the traffic lights were not working.

During the 2002 flood, Jalan Sudirman became a river water. The kids from the city slums had a good time, turning the business district into their watery playground. I was caught in Kota after having dinner with a colleague. Water was rising everywhere. The filth from the canals spilled onto the roads. Luckily my friend's mighty Katana was able to overcome the surging waters and with great difficulty we managed to inch our way back to my hotel. He had to bunk in with me for the night when reports began to filter in that a greater portion of the Jakarta population were stranded in their cars on roads and highways going out of the city. For one night, my room over-looking Jalan Wahid Hasyim, had a river view.

Again we were lucky; imagine the thousands of people who were living in the squatter areas alongside the filthy canals and rivers. Their belongings were swept away, their makeshift homes damaged.

Life in Jakarta is never dull: if there are no demos, riots or bombs, Nature provides the necessary excitement.

And always, with remarkable resilience, you'll see the people going about in their business again after such calamities. The press will make some noise accusing the authorities for not doing anything to alleviate floods or to improve the traffic situation, but no one sincerely believes that anything substantial will be done.

People in Jakarta generally accept their fate; they take suffering in the chin and carry on with their lives. Probably surrender is a better word. They have more important things to worry about--bodies to clothe and mouths to feed back home. And business goes on as usual, while the next calamity awaits.

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