Every morning, we head off to work, leaving the house at 5am. We first ride for about 25 minutes on Bu Valentina’s motorbike. We begin by going through the back streets of her housing estate. These roads aren’t very wide and there are hundreds of polisi tidur. I have to concentrate constantly because there are so many and whenever my attention wanders, the bump catches me by surprise and not only gives me a fright but I am worried I will fall off. Also, the sudden slowing down throws my head forward and poor Bu Valentina gets a unexpected knock on her helmet from mine! We then head out onto the main road and luckily at that time of morning there aren’t too many people on the road. It is still dark although this morning we left 15 mins later and the sky was just beginning to lighten! By the side of the road are several angkot (mini bus/bemo). ‘Angkot’ is short for angkutan kota or city transport. These are all privately owned and the fare is usually very cheap. They are great because they will drop you where ever you need along their route. Inside there are benches along each wall and you’d be amazed how many people can be squeezed into one. The floor space is used for storing shopping or whatever people are carrying. The one I caught in Jember was so full of people, my pack couldn’t fit inside so the driver threw it up on the roof! He didn’t tie it down and luckily the ridges on the roof kept it from sliding off whenever we stopped or went round a corner.
On our morning motorbike ride, the streets get busier and busier as we get closer to the train station. At the train station, we park the bike in an area specifically for commuters like us. Per day it costs Rp2000 (20c) to park the bike. Hundreds of bikes are parked there and while when we arrive there are just a few, by the time we return there are rows 4 deep and because we were one of the first to arrive,our bike is always in the furthest back row! Amazingly, Bu Valentina just has to tell them her bike registration number (number plate) and they straight away remember where her bike is & point it out. How they remember all the different number plates is amazing! At first I thought there must be a system, but if there was, I couldn’t see it!
The next leg of our morning journey to school is by train. There are 2 different trains that head to and from Jakarta. One is the older style and truly reminds me of any photo I have seen of train transportation in India. It is a much older train and also the price is considerably cheaper. People pack themselves in and by the time the train leaves the station, people are hanging out the doorway because they can’t get any further into the train. Some of the young men bypass this and climb up onto the roof of the train. They climb up using the open windows as stairs. They sit up there in groups chatting with the heads barely a foot from the power lines which power the trains. Sounds incredibly dangerous for several reasons!
Our train is a very new one that has only been running 6 months. It is amazing and is part of Jokowi’s (Jakarta’s new Governor) promise to fix the horrible traffic problems people living in Jakarta face getting to and from work. It runs just as frequently as the other train yet is slightly more expensive. The best thing I love about it is there are always 2 carriages for women only.
These carriages are always the first and last. Women can choose which compartment they ride in but men can only ride in the middle ones. As these trains too are incredibly crowded during peak hour, it is nice knowing there are only women crammed up against you! In the morning we sometimes get a seat but in the afternoon we have yet to get one. Yesterday we caught the train at 4pm and by the time we got to our stop it was so packed. I looked around and guessed we had easily 200 people in our carriage. The other interesting thing I noticed while looking around was that in Jakarta, if that was a good cross section of women who live there, then easily the majority of women wear a jilbab (head scarf). At the most there were only about 10 of us bare headed. The styles of wearing a jilbab vary so greatly. It would make an interesting photo story of the different ways women wear a jilbab today. Some of the styles are incredibly feminine and look absolutely gorgeous. Some women who have put their very long hair into a bun, look like they are wearing a coronet which reminds me of princesses in fairy tales. Jilbab’s too here are a fashion accessory and women colour coordinate them with their outfit. It looks so smart.
We only go a few stops on the train but the stations are quite far apart. When we arrive at the station in Jakarta that we have to get off, for some reason, our carriage has 2 doors but only one has a step down. Both yesterday and today we were at the door with no step and it is quite a drop to the platform. We clambered down and then instead of exiting the platform at the gate, all the passengers rush towards the end of the platform where the fence has been damaged so we can squeeze through between the fence and the track. The first morning we did this I didn’t understand why every one was rushing and because I dilly dallied, I discovered that if you didn’t rush, you were then beeped at by the train driver with an incredibly loud horn seconds before he swishes by. Thankfully Bu Valentina had pulled my arm to stop me trying to follow the person in front of me!
The first morning we walked to the bus terminal at Blok M and caught a bus which took us to schoo, dropping us off across the road from school. The second morning and this morning, we caught a bajaj which is the most intriguing vehicle I have ever ridden in. The first time I rode in one I couldn’t stop laughing because everything about it is so funny. It has only 3 wheels; one under the driver and 2 for the passengers in the back. Surprisingly this wheel base gives them the most amazing ‘power steering’. They are incredibly zippy and can turn on a 5c piece. It makes the most appalling noise and it is impossible to have a conversation in one without shouting. They sound like a very unhealthy lawn mower! Belching out of the tiniest exhaust pipe you can imagine under the car are plumes and plumes of exhaust. The outside shape is a lot like a mini moke with a tarpaulin side and roof and a metal base. The weirdest thing though is the steering wheel. It is like a bike handle, long and the ends are covered in toweling probably because it gets so hot steering them around.
Being so small and zippy, they squeeze into tiny spaces however their tiny engine has no power so if they have to move quickly for longer than a quick burst, they struggle. For moving in congested traffic they are perfect. There are 2 types of bajaj; the orange ones which use petrol and contribute heavily to the pollution of Jakarta and the blue ones which run on LPG and appear to have no exhaust.