Once Upon a Jalan-Jalan

Keepin’ It Rural Indicator (KIRI). I live in one of the more rural areas in East Java. You may be wondering how I can confidently say this without having visited a majority of my fellow PCVs’ sites, but based on something I’ve come up with, the “Keepin’ It Rural Indicator” or “KIRI”, I think it’s fair to confirm this. KIRI measures two things, (1) A PCV’s accessibly to an Indo or Alfa Mart (equivalent to a 7/11) and (2) a PCV’s accessibility to public transportation. My site lacks both of these things. If I want simple luxuries like peanut butter, good fruit, or to meet up with friends and even to just get the hell out of my village for a few hours so I don’t go crazy, I have to pull some serious strings, which often requires a certain amount of coordination and patience, two qualities I like to think I possess. Something called titip‘ing, which roughly means asking someone to pick something up/take a message for/do something for you out of your capability, comes into play. Other times, I’m reminded of the times before I had my driver’s license and had to rely on others to chauffeur me around. Sometimes it’s like I lack working legs and need someone to carry me. It brings back this heavy feeling, like I’m being a burden, an inconvenience, like I should only ask for rides into the city to meet my friends only if I’m dangerously on the edge of truly going crazy. That’s the beauty of this though, different volunteers struggle with different challenges. I have a fair amount of independence within my village however I struggle with being independent when it comes to getting out of my village. I hate having to rely on others to do things for me, especially if they aren’t urgent or dire needs, but it makes time for bonding in the car with my CP or whoever. Meeting up with friends and visiting other sites is critical though even if we don’t do much together but vent or laugh about how xyz-embarrassing-ridiculous-situation was, I still return to site feeling lebih segar (more fresh), happier, normal, and more appreciative of how comfortable I am at site, and how where I am, really is… my home, that no matter what, my host mom will always radiate this look of adoration — that confirms, despite our limited understanding of one another, she accepts me as one of her own.

Proof. Despite living in one of the more rural sites, I am in a unique position, about a 90-minute drive from Surabaya (capital of East Java, location of the PC office), a 90-minute drive from meeting up with my KeJombaKerto (cluster of PCV’s living in Kediri, Jombang, and Mojokerto) cluster group, and under 90-minute drive from Gresik, where two other PCV’s tinggal (live, stay). PCV Natasha and I had semi-joked/made it a goal to bike to Surabaya from our sites together and in early August we made it happen, but there was quite the concoction of confusion, miscalculation, and miscommunication involved along the way, but that didn’t stop us from getting there. I Google-mapped (SEE ABOVE) the route we took and it turned out to be the second furthest bike trip I’d ever taken (the first being in Taipei, where I biked 60+ miles in a day), but by far the hottest-dustiest-most dangerous bike ride, and Alhamdulillah I made it home [drop-dead exhausted/dehydrated] with a pounding pollution-induced migraine before the sun set. The host family, well they nearly passed out when I told them “Yep, saya naik sepeda dari Surabaya… ya SURA-BAYA!” (I rode my bike from Surabaya). After that bike trip, I felt like I had gained some extent of independence though I don’t know if I’ll be biking to Surabaya any time again soon… Natasha though, she’s a champ, and the times that we have met up, I have found her fearlessness and ability to make the impossible possible, infectious, which makes the journey to go on these adventures, all the more worth it. (Side note: yes, that is my lovely lime green bike, and yes, I bought an orange yoga mat and corn flakes, both very necessary items that remind me that I’m surely living within my modest Peace Corps means, really, I am!)

Natasha’s site is further north from my area, closer to the coast, we biked by many stunning areas, among them, a place where salt is manufactured.

Bergoyang-goyang. This phrase implies some extent of intense jolting, swaying or rocking around. I call it the OH-MAN-I-NEED-A-NECK-BRACE-WHILE-I’M-TRAVELING-TO-AND-FROM-MY-VILLAGE-dance. Anytime we get in the car, the bergoyang-goyang movement is inevitably unavoidable. Anyone living in and around my area is fluent in this dance. In all seriousness, this is a fairly dangerous 40-minute stretch of road leading from Mojokerto to my village area, ridden with by far the worst gaping potholes and other rough patches that have potential to make one’s vehicle topple over. Several students at my school have gotten in motorcycle accidents while traveling on this stretch. I’d heard that the road is repaired every two years, but it’s always been this way. From what I understand, the government doesn’t plan to repair it again until they get some engineers in to figure out how to further thwart the erosion that would make repaving more sensible and cost-efficient. Until then, the jalan (road) continues to worsen, as both commuters and industrial trucks have no other way of reaching the city. Whenever we have visitors at my school, the topic of how jelek (shoddy, ugly) the road is, is always the first thing brought up, the ice-breaker. It makes traveling less desirable, which could be a good thing, because it encourages me to stay in my village.

Notes from the Road. Last Tuesday, after a regency English teacher’s meeting, I found out last minute that my counterpart was about to ditch me the next day to go on a trip to Malang to solidify a partnership with a university. I wasn’t into going off course and pulling a “filler” activity from nowhere, so I decided to join in on the trip. While in the car, I took some notes that are barely legible because writing in a car while on an Indonesian road is just… a bad idea, but alas I wanted to share some thoughts about driving/being a terrified passenger in this country:

  • That morning, I was picked up and thankful to be in a car with seat belts [and shocks, for that matter]. It’s an automatic reaction for me, upon sitting in a car, to reach back for a seat belt. Everyone else in the car began commenting “wow, you’re so disciplined…” and I said “why? because I was ready on time?” (they were nearly an hour late picking me up) and they said “no, because you are wearing your seat belt!” Part of me felt like a fool, but the other superstitious side thought “ahhh yes Elle, the one time you don’t wear your seat belt on the rare occasion that you’re in a car WITH seat belts…mmmm… inshallah, nothing happens…” People in Indonesia only wear or pretend to wear their seat belts if there are police around. More often than never though, the option to wear a seat belt isn’t even available.
  • There isn’t really such thing as a highway, and if there is, I’ve never been on it. There are such things as toll roads, but those are rarely taken, and still, they’re only two lanes wide, prone to heavy traffic jams. While traveling from one place to another, you can get a good sense of what kind area you’re passing through, what the industry is like, livelihoods, where school’s are, entire communities, people working their day-to-day lives, whereas in America, you could be on an interstate for hours, even days, seeing the same mundane stretch of nothing but roads, railings, rest stops, and landscape, bypassing culture and communities at high speeds (speed traps permitting, that is).
  • Drivers here rarely get angry or frustrated. And if they do, they do a good job of suppressing it despite all of the chaos… of motorcycles weaving blindly all over the place…cars, trucks, becaks (like rickshaws), slowing down or stopping for no reason. It’s impressive.
  • Acceleration lane, what eeez theeez? No but really. It doesn’t exist either/never seen it. You pass on the right side, you pass on the left side, you pass even though the line is solid, whatever. The rules are yours to make. Everything else (lines, traffic lights, signs), merely suggestions.
  • Purpose of honking: yo I’m here, I’m passing you, I’m about to hit you, you’re about to hit me, don’t you dare do that…, you’re cute, learn to drive!, your goat’s about to fall out of your basket, and so on…
  • Speed limits… because there’s not really a presence of highways, speed limits are yours to decide, typically it’s slow and we average about 45mph while going on road trips. Trips that should take an hour could take up to three or more! PS watch out for crazy bus drivers trying to meet/exceed passenger quotas. THEY ARE THE WORST.
  • On the road, it becomes obvious what companies have the most money and the most customers. Cell phone providers, water purifying companies, and most obviously cigarette companies. Their banners are everywhere, medians, painted on the sides of buildings, posted on billboards destroying scenic views… and haunting me in my sleep, okay?
  • There’s not much to track when vehicles were last inspected or had any kind of maintenance. There have been several occasions where I’ve been in cars that are so outdated, rickety, leaking gasoline, on the verge of crumbling if we hit the right bump, sometimes missing rear-view mirrors, side view mirrors, you know vital car pieces that ensure safety. The other night while returning from accompanying some students on a team-building trip, we were driving down this steep mountain at night, and our van’s headlights weren’t working! It was absolutely terrifying, thankfully we stopped to fix them, but only after we stopped for ole-ole (snacks, souvenirs) first.
  • On the road in Indonesia, you’re constantly sharing the road with farmers on ancient bikes overburdened with crops, people carrying the most ridiculous [and impressive] objects on bikes/motorcycles, barefooted men pushing dilapidated food carts, massive trucks (oftentimes overloaded too: see photo below, if you look closely you can see there’s farmers sitting  atop mountains of sugarcane), becaks, sometimes horses, and of course motorcyclesx10000000000 dodging death with every rev of the engine. It’s scary. It’s a constant adventure. It’s a constantly scary adventure.
  • Sorry to be honest and to scare you all back home but generally every minute we’re on the road in Indonesia, we’re playing with some extent of danger, but people seem to know what they’re doing, and I generally try to fall asleep or attempt occupy my mind with music or a book so I don’t watch the road conditions ahead and freak myself out. I’ve gotten used to it for the most part.
  • So who wants to come visit?

1 thought on “Once Upon a Jalan-Jalan

  1. Pingback: Island Hoppers, Part One: Fast Lane | From Charlottesville to Indonesia

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