Jakarta Traffic


I went out the other night. There was a leaving party for a dear friend. It was in the South of the city, maybe ten kilometres away, so I gave myself an hour to get there. It was rush hour. And this is Jakarta.


The taxi puled into the roundabout, and traffic was standing still for miles. I asked the cabbie, can we try Jl. Rasuna Said? We drove through the leafy streets of Menteng, slowly but still moving. But as we approached the main road and traffic was stalled again. It would take me two hours to travel those ten kilometres. But my friend is leaving and I wanted to say good bye.


I told the driver, I’m sorry. I think I’d like to to take a motorcycle taxi. Could he help me find one? He drove on, and stopped outside a mosque. He called, Ojek, ojek! And a man standing under a tree waved him over. 


I paid, and got out.


The ojek held the bike. In skirt and heels, I cambered on. He averted his eyes. He passed me a helmet and said, Please wear this, sister. And so I put it on.


We drove away. Streams and streams of cars were standing, unmoving, carrying home the city’s super-rich. Horns beeped, but without blaring; most drivers were resigned to their fate of another night lost to Jakarta’s famous jams. We moved steadily through the traffic, traveling between car and curb. The bapak asked me where I was from, Canada, I told him, and then out of nowhere he named my hometown.


It started to rain. I asked the driver to pull over by a bus shelter. We waited, but the rain was not the type that would clear quickly. He took off his jacket and passed it to me. He said, half in Indonesian half in English, wear this, it will keep you dry.


We got back on the bike. He drove away, the traffic started to move. I pulled the zip tight, and closed the visor on my helmet. He said, are you okay, missus? I’m okay. Are you okay, bapak? I’m okay.


That short trip, those ten kilometres, although they did take an hour and a half, they encapsulate my Indonesian experience. Everythign that drives me to tears. Everything that lifts my heart.