A Year of Living Dangerously

Thursday, June 30, 2005

An open-air mandi with fish in it...

Wow, where to start. Today is Tuesday, June 28th. We finished our work in Nias and we are supposed to be in Aceh today, but we are going back to Jakarta instead.

3 days ago, an aid worker from the International Red Cross was shot and killed by some of the activists in Aceh. It happened except that it was on the road from Banda Aceh to Krueng Raya – the one we were supposed to take. The International Red Cross, the Indonesian Government and GAM (the rebel organization in Aceh) are currently in peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland. It is thought that the shooting/current uprising is to draw media attention to GAM’s position.

The Acehnese are not only wary of foreigners, but also of Indonesians of Chinese decent. I think I mentioned in one of my prior posts that Chinese colonists came to Indonesia 3 – 4 hundred years ago and that there is a lot of tension between the Chinese Indonesians and the Malay Indonesians. Well, this is a very extreme sentiment in Aceh. The Acehnese are worried about anyone who could potentially make them change their lifestyle or try to take over. The point is, the danger is not just for me as a foreigner, but also for Frans and Gina, who are partially Chinese and look it.

Another factor was that the BRR cancelled their meeting with us. The BRR is the government organization with whom we need to register all of our relief activities. If that meeting was still on, we would have flown to Banda Aceh for the meeting and had Nana and Pak Mustafa (the principle of the school we’re trying to help) meet us in Banda Aceh. We would request that they bring with them all of the information we need for the proposals we are working on. But since the BRR meeting is cancelled, we’re not even going to risk that. We’ll go back to Jakarta and maybe fly Pak Mustafa to us sometime in the near future.

So we will not be going to Aceh today. Frans assured me that when things cool down a bit, we will try again. Better to be safe.

While we did not make it to Aceh, our trip to Nias was very productive.

Goals of work in Nias:
- Boat project – this is part of the larger Sirombu village project. We’ve already provided 40 fishing boats and will also be providing a larger vessel to carry the produce to market. We needed to verify that the delivered boats were being used and get pictures of the type of vessel we want to purchase.
- Housing project – another part of the larger Sirombu village project. We’re just beginning construction on 240 houses for villagers. We needed to confirm progress on the houses we constructed and make sure our timeline going forward was still realistic.
- VCO production project – part of the larger Sirombu village project. This project is just in the beginning stages. We needed to locate appropriate land for the production facility and verify that the type of coconut indigenous to Nias was appropriate for the process we intend to use.
- Food Aids – not part of the Sirombu village project, a standalone project for all of Nias. We needed to verify continued need of food aids, assess possible acquisition of the food in Ginung Sitoli, and locate the appropriate distributor.

We arrived on Nias Saturday morning – landing around 8 AM. We were met at the airport by one of the task force members – Meta.

Fona & the Task Force:
Our work on Nias is with 2 major partners. ZTO, whom I’ve already described, is the contractor that is building the houses and Geoff is the head of that. Clive is his foreman on the ground. Our other partner is Fona. Fona is a man of Sirombu who lives in Jakarta now. He is very well respected within the district and has very strong ties to the people. He is our contact for gathering all of the information we need to make the project happen as well as our guide in socializing the project with the people. Fona has a task force of 10 local men supporting him on the ground. I met all of the task force men over the course of the 2 days.

Before we left for Sirombu, we had a few errands to run in Ginung Sitoli. This included stopping at the largest grocery store in town to check on the possibility of purchasing the food for the Food Aids project on Nias Island. You can see from the pictures in my album that the “grocery store” was no bigger than one 20’ x 20’ room with boxes piled in the middle. Ginung Sitoli is not a small town (I asked the population, no one knew), so this kind of surprised me. But it is not part of their culture to shop at large stores – these people go to the local open-air markets with lots of stalls because competitive pricing is easier to get that way. Anyway, after spending about 15 minutes at this store, Gina & I came to the decision that we would have to purchase the Food Aids in Medan and have them shipped to Nias. This small store was not big enough to handle the quantities we need.

Ginung Sitoli, by the way, was hit very hard by the earthquake and the impact is still extremely visible. Reconstruction is taking place – but it is obviously going slow. There is one area (see pics) where everything collapsed completely. Now all that is left is a field of cement rubble. In other areas, you’ll see 2 standing buildings then the next is a roof sitting on the ground. We passed a couple houses that were leaning worse that the Tower of Piza, but still being used as a house.

After the grocery store, a couple more quick stops and a pause at Meta’s parents’ house and then it was on the road to Sirombu. Sirombu is only about 50 miles away from Ginung Sitoli, but it took us over 3 hours to drive there. There is pavement in some places, but it is marred with pot holes like a bad case of chicken pox. In other places, it is completely broken. It was 3 hours of big bumps. Frans & Gina slept although I don’t know how they did it. Included in the album I put up is a picture of one of the bridges we crossed. The vehicles had to be aimed at the 2 logs that would support the left tires. Some of the other parts of the road had been reinforced with sandbags. I thought the sandbags were cemented rocks, but then I looked closer – nope, we were driving on a road supported by sandbags.

By the way, we were driving in a mini-van which we rented in Ginung Sitoli for ~$70 per day. Why so expensive you ask? Isn’t it Indonesia??? The mini-van came with a driver.

There were wooden houses along the road. Sometimes we would go almost as much as a mile, but then another house would appear. 95% of the houses were make-shift construction using bamboo and wood planks. Many of the houses didn’t bother with doors. I guess they didn’t have anything worth stealing. Frans said that the wood houses withstood the quake much better than any of the cement/brick ones because they were more flexible. There was actually surprisingly little apparent damage from the quake along the road – with the exception of the bridges (but those have all been rebuilt).

We also passed a lot of local women carrying things on their head. It looked like something out of the jungle book.

We arrived in Sirombu around 2 PM and went straight to the housing construction area. The houses that are being constructed are nice! I was really surprised that for ~$3,000 USD, you get a fully-functional 2-bedroom duplex. The construction is very efficient and very strong. It clearly can be constructed quickly as well. (again, pictures available in album).

The process for building these houses is simple:
- prep the land & infrastructure
- insert cement columns into the ground
- slide cement wall panels between columns
- cement in between panels to fill in the cracks
- pour floors
- attach roof
- put in windows/doors
- paint
- voila!

While the houses were impressive, it was also clear that we have a long way to go before 240 will be completed. If everything goes on schedule, we could be done as early as mid-October – but that is subject to weather and the rainy season just began. The good news is that we don’t have to wait until all 240 are complete to be able to begin moving people out of tents and into these houses. Hopefully we can move the first families by mid-July, but that depends on whether we can be sure that the families and children will not be endangered by ongoing construction.

We spent about an hour walking around the housing construction and then headed for the pier. The earthquake lifted the western side of Nias Island by about 2 meters. The river that ran through town is now only a stream in a huge bed. But even more than the river, the beach is dramatically changed. There is about 100 meters of coral before the ocean begins. It all used to be covered by the ocean. And the pier is now completely useless – it is way to high up to be reached by the boats.

My pictures show a small vessel that was making a trip from Hinako (a very small outer lying island) to Sirombu, bringing people and goods. The boat was anchored about 100 feet from shore and there was a man using a small fishing boat to ferry people and goods to shore. Even with the ferry, no one made it ashore without getting wet up to their necks because the ferry couldn’t get close enough to the shore due to the coral.

The building of a new pier is included in our total Sirombu Village project – it was a late addition because it was only made useless after the 3/28 earthquake where the project was originally planned after the 5/26 tsunami. It won’t be built until the housing construction is complete though – first things first. Plus the plans are still under revision to make sure the engineering will withstand further earthquakes and tsunamis.

Looking at the yards and yards of coral that are now exposed to the sun was also a shocker for me. I know that coral takes thousands and thousands of years to grow and that we are loosing a lot due to illegal fishing techniques and harvesting, etc. I can only imagine what the snorkeling was like prior to the quake.

Later in the weekend, Fona mentioned to me that the coconut trees are hurting. Some are even dying. Frans said we’ll need to make a report and send it to Conservation International. Maybe they can provide some insight into what could be done for the environment. I think suffering of the trees is also linked to the rise of this side of the island. The depth to reach water must have changed and the trees’ roots probably do not go deep enough. The trees are close to the ocean and are probably used to being able to access water easily. I hope that with the start of the rainy season, the trees will get enough water to survive while their roots grow deeper. This is all speculation on my part though. We’ll put together a report and see if we can get someone out here to look at the trees.

After time at the pier and looking at the houses, we went to the canteen near the construction area. Frans said that the canteen is where UID people always eat when visiting Sirombu and that it’s the closest thing to a restaurant in town. We brought a couple of cases of instant noodles with us from Ginung Sitoli. The nice lady at the canteen would boil water for us and prepare our ramen noodles for us.

The canteen also prepares dinner for the 30-some-odd workers that ZTO brought in to build the houses. Many of the workers are local, but some had to be brought in as well. While we were sitting there, they all showed up and were served rice with something green, I didn’t get a close look.

By the way, all the workers liked me. I got a rare glimpse of what it must be like to be a model or a famous actress or something because they were all staring. I even was given a long hand written note by one of them, in English, saying he wanted to meet me and talk to me, etc. They see western men periodically, but I think a blue-eyed western woman is a real shock for them.

Fona arrived in Sirombu around 6 PM and we had dinner and talked with him until late at night. Around 8:30 or so, we shifted from the canteen to Fona’s Aunt’s house – which is about 2 kilometers from shore in a not-tsunami-affected area. This is where we would spend the night.

The house has one large room, 3 bedrooms, and a kitchen area in the back. The mandi (shower/bathroom area) is outside behind the house. 10 people lived there, with 2 pigs, 1 dog with 5 puppies, and 1 cat with a kitten. The family was considered pretty well-off by Sirombu standards – the pigs and the amount of space they had were the determinants.

In front of the house was a bamboo shelter with a kitchen. Since the earthquake, the family sleeps and cooks here. They are afraid of the house, especially this week. The tsunami happened exactly 6 months ago and the earthquake 3 months ago – they believe that a third could come this week some time. Great. We slept in the bamboo shelter with the family. (see pics)

The discussion with Fona that night was very productive. One of the first things I asked was whether the food aids were still needed. It is now about 3 months after the earthquake and we have a donor who wants to give food. It can no longer really count as emergency food and we see people working. So the natural question is if the food is still needed, or should we direct the funding towards another project.
Fona said that the food was definitely still needed. While the people may be farming and working again, it will be a while before they see the fruit of their labor or can harvest the crops. In the mean time, however, they still need to eat and the food aids will help support them. He continued saying that a man or a woman will starve if they don’t have food. But if their children are starving – without food aids, they might be driven to crime. He has a very good point.

Another topic that came up as we talked is the difference between a large NGO such as the International Red Cross and UID. The IRC has incredible amounts of funding at their disposal and they create reports after project completion to give put up on their website or give to major donors. We, on the other hand, have to create a full, detailed proposal to be reviewed by donors before funding is approved and then we have to answer scrutinous questions throughout the duration of the project. Plus, our donors are mostly successful business people – who are used to high quality reports and information. They don’t really care about the amount of money as much as they are very concerned about providing a high quality project that adds value to the people.

Amongst all this work to keep the donors happy, it is also our role to make sure that the end result is not some labeled relief project complex. Our end product needs to be the Village of Sirombu. We have to keep in mind that anything we build has to fit with the culture of the people it is for. This requires explanations and socialization to both victims and donors. The donors want to provide a high quality house with a bathroom – a step up from what the people had before. The victims are used to mandis located outside of the house. In the case of Sirombu, a compromise was struck by putting the mandi outside of the house (although enclosed in a room) and putting a squat toilet in the floor. Some of the villagers had never seen and/or were not used to a squat toilet (they just used a hole in the corner of their mandi). Explanations had to be made about the benefits of the mandi. Anyway, this whole mandi issue happened during the design phase of the houses and before I came for the summer, but it is still a prime example of having the talk both the donors and the victims into meeting each other halfway.

Side note: the word “mandi” refers to the entire bathroom as well as to the actual tub-like construction that holds water for the bath.

Sleeping in the bamboo shelter resulted in a lot of mosquito bites for me – despite mosquito repellent. In fact by the end of the trip, I was completely covered. And I still itch now (days after leaving). If I didn’t know I was immune, I would think I had accidentally caught the chicken pox.

Life in Sirombu is very simple. Breakfast consisted of ramen noodles with a boiled egg.

In the morning, I used the mandi at Fona’s Aunt’s house, where we spent the night. Oh man, was that an experience. Okay, so it is an open air mandi (pic in album) – a square bamboo enclosed area with a cement floor. The door was an opening in the bamboo with a cloth that slid across, definitely not completely covering the opening. On one side there was a well that you throw a bucket into and haul up water. Then use the scooper to scoop water from the bucket onto yourself to bath.

Frans told me afterwards that there were fish in the well.

That morning, we went back to the beach and to the pier. We were hoping to catch some of the fishermen using the Delasiga boats provided in May. We happened to arrive just as some fishermen were coming back and we got to see them carrying and counting bunches of fish. (Pictures of fish not yet posted, but coming). They carried them in bunches of at least 20, tied together at the tails. Then they were hung over the handle bars of their bikes and carted away.

None of the fishermen that came in were in one of our boats, but we met an owner of one. He offered to go pick up his motor from his house to put in the boat, after which he could take the boat out to sea and we could see it in action. The process took a couple of hours but was very interesting to watch. (again, pictures of this not yet posted, sorry)

While they were doing that, I walked through a few trees and ended up at the

On the way back, we stopped at the elementary school. Frans & Gina had both been there before, but wanted me to see it. School is not in session now – the kids are on holiday. Gina said it best when she stated, “It looks deserted. But it’s not!” The three-room wooden shack had wholes in the walls. Each room had one or two blackboards and wooden tables and chairs. (Pictures of this are up though!). The concrete on the floor was broken and there was trash all around. About 90 students go to school here – 30 in each classroom. Outside there is another small shack with holes in the walls and roof – it’s the administration building. And at the end of the school yard’s field – there was a long narrow, totally pathetic building. Those were housing for the teachers.

Seeing the school was probably the hardest thing I had to swallow during the trip. We didn’t stay long, but it was enough to really take my breath away.

From the school we drove to the middle of where the town is now – really a village of tents next to one government building and a couple of small market stalls. I had asked if we could stop at the tents so that I could take a few pictures of the current living environment – tents after 6 months.

The tents were lined up all around with barely a few feet in between. There was on central area of grass where everyone hung out and the kids played. But the tents were everywhere! I couldn’t believe how many!

Before taking pictures, I always ask permission and, if it’s a child, I kept some little hard candies in my pocket to offer them. Well, I didn’t have too many and once the kids figured out that I had them, they disappeared very quickly. The tent village was packed with women and children. The men must have been out working. Once we made friends initially, the children were all very excited to have their picture taken. They especially liked the fact that I had a digital camera and could show them what they looked like afterwards. Potentially hours of amusement.

Frans brought out a box of ramen noodles we had in our trunk along with a few snacks and gave them out. It went very quickly though. We quickly talked amongst ourselves and decided to leave the tents and go acquire some additional food to give them.

We picked up:
- 5 cases of ramen noodles
- 2 cases of small snack things
- 6 small soccer balls (my idea)
Grand total: ~$15 USD

The distribution of food created almost riot conditions in the tent village with people grabbing and pushing and hands and yelling. I couldn’t believe it. Afterwards I remember thinking about how excited I can get about free food. I guess this is the same thing, except extreme because they get handouts so rarely and because of their low standards of living.

This process of passing out food was also a big reality check for me. Like I mentioned earlier, one of the projects I was working on was figuring out how to distribute food aids. I now had an idea of how difficult this would be. If this is the reaction to a few cases of ramen noodles – making sure ~$200k USD of food packages get dispersed one per family in 18 villages would be quite a task. I’m very glad we have Fona’s task force – who we established would be able to do the distribution for us.

During the distribution process, I was alternating between staring at the chaos in shock to being hounded to take pictures of various kids. Some of them were very funny about it – insisting on a photo, putting on a blank/sad look and then smiling and laughing about the results. At one point, I got kind of annoyed at one little girl who wanted picture after picture. But then I stopped and reminded myself that I had a digital camera and could always delete and, in the mean time, this was making a young girl who lives in a tent happy.

We eventually ripped ourselves away from the tent village after about an hour of this. Lunch consisted of ramen noodles eaten at the canteen.

That afternoon, Frans, Gina & I sat in on a meeting of Fona with his task force. He said it was the first time the entire task force had met since the 3/28 quake. I didn’t understand most of it because it was in bahasa Indonesia. I’m learning, but I’m not that good yet. The meeting was at least 3 hours long and I tried to sit patiently and see if I could learn something. What I did note, however, was that the entire task force really consisted of very intelligent, capable, honest men. We’d spent much of the weekend being escorted around by various members. It was now great to see them in action (or at least discussing it). Having these guys as our crew on the ground is really a godsend.

We packed up and headed out. For dinner, we stopped on the way back to Ginung Sitoli at a little restaurant place (barely a step up from the canteen), where we had ramen noodles.

We were on our way to spend the night at Meta’s father’s house in Ginung Sitoli, and then fly to Medan the next day, followed by Jakarta the following day.

While we stayed in a room in Meta’s father’s house, we were still in for another big shock. While I was getting ready for bed, a teenage girl hauled 4 big buckets of water into the mandi attached to our room and filled the mandi with clean water. We found out in the morning that the family had to go out and buy that water for us. Prior to the quake, they were connected to the government’s water system and paid the government a monthly fee. The community’s water system was destroyed in the quake though. Now, they actually have to buy all of the water they need to use because they don’t have a well. And to dig a well would cost $250 – which they don’t have.

Side note: This fact kind of shocked us. At that point, Gina, Frans & I decided that we are going to make that well happen for the family. We won’t create a project and put it through UID – it’s too small. We will just organize a collection ourselves. (We could just pay for it the three of us, but that could be interpreted as showing off). So, we will be accepting donations of no greater than $20 per person to this small well-digging project. If you would like to pitch in – please drop me an email!

At some point during the 3-hour long turbulence back to Ginung Sitoli, everyone except the driver and I was asleep and I had a sort of surreal moment. I realized that I had been thinking about coming to Indonesia and helping these people for months now. And even before that, I have wanted to explore the undeveloped parts of Asia. And I’m here. I’m in Asia. On the back roads of small, out-of-the-way island, seeing things I’d never even imagined.

As I was thinking about this, the driver popped in a cassette into the van’s tape player. And the song that came on ended up making me cry. It was one I remember vaguely from when I was a little kid. Read the lyrics below and substitute the name of any one of the places we’d been over the past few days for the word “London.” You’ll know why I had to wipe away a few tears…

How can you tell me you’re lonely
And say for you that the sun don’t shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London.
I’ll show you something that will make you change your mind.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Gina & I with some of the local children of Sirombu Village... Posted by Hello

meeting local children at the tent village in Sirombu. These people have been living in tents for 6 months now. We're trying to change that as well as improve the school for the children. More info to come tomorrow, in the mean time - check out the rest of the album at http://www.clarkcolor.com/share/p=716281119975191048/l=52077971/cobrandOid=1003

Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Electricity 3 Days A Week

Tomorrow we leave for Aceh & Nias. Pretty crazy! I’m very excited to be going. Okay, here’s the itinerary:

Friday 6-24
- depart office for airport ~ 12 PM
- flight departs Jakarta ~ 3 PM
- arrives Medan 6:05 PM
- purchase supplies for the trip in Medan
- overnight in Medan

Saturday 6-25
- depart Medan 6:30 AM
- arrive Ginung Sitoli (capital of Nias Island) 7:30 AM
- rent car and drive from Ginung Sitoli to Sirombu ~ 4 hours
- spend day viewing houses, checking progress
- take pictures of fishermen using boats already delivered
- overnight in Sirombu

Sunday 6-26
- spend morning finishing up activities and information gathering from yesterday
- possibly move a few families into new homes
- depart Sirombu for Ginung Sitoli ~ 1 PM
- arrive Ginung Sitoli ~5 PM
- overnight in Ginung Sitoli

Monday 6-27
- 12 PM depart Ginung Sitoli
- 1 PM arrive Medan
- overnight in Medan

Tuesday 6-28
- 7 AM depart Medan
- 9 AM arrive Banda Aceh
- rent car, buy supplies
- 1 PM meeting with BRR
- 2:30 PM depart Banda Aceh
- drive to Krueng Raya ~ 1 hour
- dinner with Principle of middle school of Krueng Raya
- overnight in clinic in Krueng Raya

Wednesday 6-29
- visit school
- pictures with orphans
- gather information necessary for proposals (both school and public health)
- 3 PM depart Krueng Raya and drive back to Banda Aceh
- 6 PM depart Banda Aceh
- 10 PM arrive Jakarta

So that’s where we’re going. It’s an awful lot of transit time to get 24 hours on the ground in two different cities. But the flights to these remote areas only happen at certain times each day.

So what else has been going on since my last post – which was about this past weekend?

Work has been very busy. Monday I spent a large portion of the day working on the itinerary and budget for our trip, so that they could be submitted to Catharina and Cherie for approval. I also spent almost a day putting together another housing update presentation for our donors, including an updated construction timeline and an invoice for June.

I also re-worked the Public Health Project proposal that Nana gave us on Sunday. She is incredibly intelligent and had more than enough data included in proposal, but it was the first one she has ever written. As a result, it was just a little disorganized. I reorganized it and tightened it up to where it now looks pretty close to finished. The budget is the only tenuous portion left. She’ll be joining us in Krueng Raya and I will review the budget portion with her then.

The crux of this proposal is that there are no trash cans or dumpsters in Krueng Raya. On top of that, there is no system for removal of trash either, so even if it were collected in trash cans and dumpsters, it would not be hauled away. As a result, Nana said that there is garbage strewn all over town. The piles of garbage are breading grounds for bugs, mosquitoes, and bacteria. The garbage has also clogged the sewers and contaminated the rivers.

The AMSA (Asian Medical Students’ Association) Clinic in Krueng Raya, where Nana works, has noted a distinct rise in treatment sought for skin allergies, skin infections, dyspepsia, and acute diarrhea. They believe that this is due to the garbage problem.

The project recommends educating children and women about the benefits of a healthy living environment and installing garbage collection and removal services. The total project is currently budgeted at $100k USD and includes part- or full-time employment for 26 villagers.

When I had completed revising the proposal I showed it to Gina and she liked how I presented it. She also said that we have almost all of the information needed before sending it to donors. But, she also said that finding financing for this project will be very difficult.

I was slightly surprised at first about this comment, but then I thought about it a while longer. A clean living environment and health education is important, especially when it gets to the point where it affects the health of the people living in the community. But garbage removal is not an area that will attract donors. People want to give scholarships to children or build houses for the homeless. This will be a more challenging sell.

Side note: By the way, if anyone reads this and might know an interested donor, please feel free to email me! Nathalie.Butcher@unitedindiversity.org

Then Gina mentioned that we are also looking for funding right now to cover the overhead costs for the AMSA Clinic in Krueng Raya – the clinic where Nana works. It was set up by Conservation International and will eventually be taken over by the community, but the community can’t afford it yet. The clinic’s staff thinks that they need another 6 months of overhead coverage before the local governments will be able to support its ongoing operational costs – which, by the way, are only ~$2,750 USD per month! The clinic is mostly staffed with volunteers. This money covers medical supplies, electricity, food, water, and a couple of employees. It’s amazing how far money is stretched out here.

Also interesting to know is that the clinic runs off of a generator. I was just told today that Krueng Raya is only supplied with electricity three days out of each week. The supply in Aceh province is limited and rationed out. Apparently the villagers have gotten used to this and have learned to work around it, but we were warned so that any volunteer teachers we find for the school project would know before they arrived. Unbelievable.

So other interesting things this week: Yesterday, I was running late for work and came out of my apartment and the service elevator was sitting there open, waiting. So, I got it and pressed the button for the lobby. Well, I’ll never do that again. On the way down, we stopped about 6 times for various building employees to get on or off – one specifically with a large wheely-trash can. I have no idea what they were saying (my Indonesian is not that good yet), but it was obvious they were amused at finding me there. I insisted that they get in and use the elevator despite the fact that I was in it (which they were very hesitant to do). It’s not their fault that I broke protocol. And waiting for the elevator to go all the way down 25 flights and then back up waste a lot of their time.

Frans explained to me later that the guy moving the trash can could have lost his job if the manager of the building found out that he brought the trash can into the elevator with me. I’ll politely wait for the non-service elevator from now on.

Frans also told me more about his time in Holland yesterday at lunch. He left Indonesia when he was 17-years old and stayed with his Uncle in Amsterdam for the first couple of months. But after that, he moved out on his own. He stayed in Amsterdam for 8 years. During that time, he made enough money, doing anything he possibly could, to put himself through University and cover all of his living expenses. He told me that his family could have supported him and he could have stayed in Jakarta, but he wanted to do this by himself. He explained to me that is how he learned the value of real work and the value of earning things himself. The story was very impressive. Then he said, “and Gina too!” She did the same thing, and worked as a maid in order to support herself.

I know a lot of people who support themselves and put themselves through school – but it is still impressive to hear. AND, they both did it in a foreign country.

I also had lunch with Richard McHowat this week. I met Mr. McHowat at the Mercantile Sports Club at the top floor of the World Trade Center (the one in Jakarta). The sports club reminded me a lot of the University club. Effectively – an urban, golf-less country club.

Richard McHowat:
Mr. McHowat is about 6’2”, blond and in his late 40’s maybe? He likes to talk. He is the President of HSBC in Indonesia and a friend-of-a-friend of Dad’s. He has 2 children, one currently studying in Italy. He is Scottish (lost his accent though – it’s British) but is really taken with southeast Asia, especially Indonesia. He lived for a while in Thailand, went back to London for a “stint” and decided he had to get back here as quick as possible. Loves Indonesia, especially the fact that everyone knows their place. He’s off for a 4-week trip to Scotland, so I’m lucky I caught him.

We had a wonderful, 2-hour lunch. He did most of the talking and told me tons about expat life here in Jakarta and his experiences and what the Bank is doing. He also told me that the Bank just funded and built a clinic one of the tsunami hit areas in Sumatra. And they did it in record time.

To construct the clinic, they used old shipping containers. They designed the building in modules, lining them up and cutting holes for doors and windows where necessary. Then transported the containers separately and put the building together on site. It has its own generator, water purifier and living quarters. It’s fully self-sufficient and operational. 10 weeks from funding to opening. Good work!

It was a very nice lunch. Mr. McHowat is very interesting, fun and generous. I look forward to meeting up with him again when he returns.

Alright, well, there is always more to write, but I have to go pack to leave for tomorrow. I don’t know if I’ll be able to upload while I’m gone, but I will be taking my laptop and keeping my journal while I’m gone. SO, you should be able to expect a good portion of the trip report as soon as I return, if not all of it.

Oh, one more thing. When I get back from the trip, I'll be spending Thursday and Friday of next week at a conference. Check this out: http://www.adrtsunami.com/index_aceh.cfm. I'm paying the entrance fee out of my own living money for the summer - but I know it will be worth it (plus I talked them into a killer discount because I'm a student volunteer). Anyway, I'm very excited because this will give me an opportunity to learn about the logistics of rebuilding the entire Aceh Province (as opposed to the small projects I'm working on - which are still good and valuable, but a totally different scale). Anyway, I have a lot to look forward to and to talk about.

Signing off. See you next week!


Monday, June 20, 2005

Street Jockeys and Umbrella Boys

This is going to be a long post. I had an extremely busy weekend and have a lot to talk about, so, let me get started….

Friday morning we had a 2-hour meeting with Zero-To-One, the non-profit construction company building the houses for us in Sirombu. We went into the meeting with the goal of establishing a monthly process and a long-term timeline.

Side note: In a previous post, I spoke of one of UID’s partners – a non-profit construction company that was founded because the president’s son had died in the Bali bombing. ZTO is that company.

Introductions were made and I took a backseat role for a while as I watched and learned.

Geoff, the president of ZTO, is a tall, white-haired Australian man of probably 65 years. He has lived in Indonesia for almost 30 years now and speaks bahasa Indonesia fluently. He wore a simple open-colored white button-down dress shirt, sleeves rolled up, with black pants. His forearms showed huge muscles, a tan, and tattoos. I feel like he ran offshore drilling platforms when he was younger. Needless to say, very direct and very strong (physically & personality).

It only took about 10 minutes to really see what the problem was. It was like a video clip out of my communications class. Geoff and Frans were both saying the same thing, but it just wasn’t connecting because there was a communication gap due to the culture.

You see, Frans & Gina are both polite to extremes. Frans ends almost every email, including to me, even if it’s just a note saying we’re going to lunch, with “Please call me directly if you have any needs for I would be honored to help. I stand ready to serve you. Very sincerely, Frans.”

Geoff wants things simple and clear. Frans wants to make it such, but he’s so used to being polite. After about 10 minutes of watching, I finally stepped in and said to Geoff, “what I think Frans is trying to say is that he wants to make this process as simple for all as possible. Lets talk today about establishing a process and a time line that we can follow and we won’t have to go through this again.”

Geoff was very cool with that. Gina and Frans both breathed a sigh of relief. And in the meeting we got the progress report process set up, along with a future construction timeline. We’ll be able to pay Geoff in advance going forward and get the reports to the donors done in a timely fashion. It was a very productive meeting, but just needed some help to get started.

Friday evening, I met up with Fitri & Yuyun, the girls I met at the café in my building last Sunday and we went to dinner at a bar called Aphrodite. Also along with us was Fitri’s little brother (19 and very shy) and an old friend of hers – Nando (28). Aphrodite is an “expat” bar – and was crowded with Brits, Aussies and Americans (all male over, generally over 30 but under 50). It had lacrosse and soccer up on big flat-screened tvs and also had 2 pool tables. To be honest, I did wonder a little why this place would be interesting to Fitri and Yuyun – 2 nice respectable Indonesian young women. Maybe Fitri thought I would appreciate it. I did enjoy playing pool.

What really put me off at first was the number of very young Indonesian women wandering around in outfits that I would deem totally inappropriate. Not only did they show a little too much, but they were also totally inappropriate for a sports bar. 4-inch heels with sequin black halter cowl-neck tops.

These old guys with beer guts (and totally unattractive) would not get anywhere with women here in the US, but here, they have gorgeous young women to date. And these young women enjoy being with guys that can afford to buy them dinner and drinks and have good jobs. It makes them feel like they are hanging out with important people.

The guys like it. The women like it. They’re happy with the situation. Why does it bother me so? And who am I to really judge?

Saturday was my tour. I was very excited about that. When Daniel picked me up, he told me that I was the only one on the tour today. This was both a blessing and a curse. Yes, we could go at my own pace, but it also meant that his sole focus for the entire day was me. And it’s his job to be friendly to people and try to get them to give him more business, anyway, he was just extremely eager.

The tour was very good though. It was a good mixture of enough history and knowledge with just walking and looking. I took quite a few photos, three of which I posted here last night. The rest of which can be seen through this link:

Link to photos of tour of Jakarta: http://www.clarkcolor.com/share/p=292191119223187229/l=51248108/cobrandOid=1003

I think Daniel found it weird that I wanted so many pictures without me in them. I really like to try to capture what the place was like though. I guess it’s the artsy side of me coming out. There are a few of me though, as you can see.

Okay, so the first part was a quick stop at the National Monument. We were there too early though, the gates were still closed. And then it was on to “Glodok” – or the large market in China Town. It was really incredible – you can buy anything imaginable there. And it goes on and on. And it was just packed with stuff in every corner.

Although the Chinese descendents in Indonesia only make up at 10% of the population, they control close to 80% of the wealth. (I knew this part before the tour). The Chinese that emigrated to Indonesia were very entrepreneurial. And while they’ve been in the country for 300+ years and no longer have any ties to China and don’t even speak Chinese, this is a big source of resentment for native Indonesians (which are actually long-ago descendents of Malaysia). Past presidents have been very lenient to this minority, because the president knew that they controlled the money and knew how to make money. Anyway, the point of all this is that China Town in Jakarta is actually one of the more affluent areas (relatively speaking).

Next it was the Puppet Museum. Very cool. Apparently traditional Jawa (the island that Jakarta is on) does not use theater or dance to relay history or stories nearly as much as puppet shows. This museum housed both wooden and leather puppets. The photo album contains a picture of an Indonesian man (I don’t remember his name) holding what looks like a very elaborate fan – it is actually a leather puppet of the Tree of Life. The man’s father actually made that particular puppet by hand, in addition to the puppet I’m holding – which is Rama. Rama is the Indonesia equivalent of Romeo (except with a happy ending) and he is riding a bird to go rescue Sinta (Juliet). I couldn’t part with the puppet I’m holding and it just accidentally followed me home. My puppet was also hand made by that man’s father. Oh, and the man is 4th generation puppet museum curator and puppet artist. Very cool.

After the puppet museum, we went across the street to the old Dutch town hall. It was nice, with a bunch of very old antique carve wood furniture. And then to Café Batavia – which was very cool. It is one of the original expat hangouts in Jakarta and it is just drop dead gorgeous. I felt like I was literally walking onto the set of Casablanca.

From there we went on to the docks – where wooden sailing ships transport lumber from Borneo to Jakarta. There is nothing mechanical used – all of the wood is transported on and off the ships by hand and the boats have no engines. There was a huge long line of them too. And just piles and piles of lumber. When we got there, most people were breaking for lunch. You can see I got a couple of pictures of some dock workers eating lunch. (I always ask permission before taking their pictures). They were incredibly friendly and seemed to like seeing me around. You can see how smiley and nice they were in the pictures – despite the fact that they were having rice with some flavored water for lunch. The people here amaze me constantly.

Moving on (still a long way to go with this post), Daniel get a local fisherman with a small boat to paddle me across the harbor to the fishermen’s village. The harbor water, I might add, makes the Hudson look like Aquafina. Truly grotesque with garbage floating everywhere. Makes me a little nervous about the fish that are pulled out of that water. I’m hoping all of the sea food I’ve eaten has come from water a little further out. Anyway, you can see in the photos this little old man that paddled me across the harbor. And people were looking out of their huts as we passed and waving at me. Again, amazing.

The fishermen’s village was not the lowest level of poverty in Jakarta, I was told. I’d hate to see what the worse areas look like. This was pretty bad. Tight living quarters. Pathways so narrow and it was a definite maze. All the kids that we passed were saying “hello mister” to me – the only 2 words in English they probably know. The smell could have been nicer. Definitely a fishermen’s village.

That was the end of the tour. We ended a little early – because I was the only person on the tour we went pretty fast. And I was back at my apartment by 2 PM, at which point I went to CarreFour to do a little grocery shopping. As I picked up everything I was looking for (including 1 pirated dvd - $0.60), I noticed how comfortable I’ve become here. Don’t worry Dad, I’m still extremely careful to watch myself. I just mean that I know how to direct the taxi to go where I want him to. I was completely comfortable finding everything I needed at the store and asking where things were. And it didn’t bother me I was the only blue-eyed person I saw.

After a quiet afternoon, Ted & Rita picked me up and we went out for Thai food for dinner. Ted was back from Kuala Lumpur.

Very tall and must have been a red-head, although it’s now fading. Kind of on the reserved/conservative side, although very talkative. Not quite what I was expecting for a man who left Texas to marry a woman on the other side of the world (not that I really knew what I was expecting). But you could tell they married because they really loved each other.

We talked about my work and how I knew his sister Mary. He also told me a lot of things he had learned/noticed being an expat here in Indonesia – things you would only know if you lived here and were not visiting. Probably the funniest thing I heard all weekend was about “street jockeys.”

There are certain roads in the business district of Jakarta that are only allowed to be used by carpools of 3+ people or public transportation during certain times. This rule was announced in 1999. Soon after it was announced, a new form of entrepreneurship appeared. Boys stand on the side of the road holding their pointer finger up. These boys can be picked up, driven across town and dropped off where ever – all so that you can add an extra person to make the carpool minimum of 3 people.

Rita then added that her brother makes the maid ride in the car while his driver takes him to work – then they are three: the brother, the driver and the maid.

This had me in stitches. I just couldn’t believe it. So funny. Actually, almost as funny as the “umbrella boys” that I saw for the first time last week. Umbrella boys magically appear with large umbrellas as soon as a downpour starts. There seems to be absolutely no reason to carry an umbrella in Jakarta – since for $0.50 you can have a boy follow you to where ever you need to go with an umbrella over your head. I will get a picture of me with an umbrella boy at some point before I leave Indonesia.

Ted, Rita & I had a very nice dinner out. They are really extremely nice people. And we also talked about possibly going to hike/climb Krakatau – a volcano in west Jawa. That would be super cool.

After dinner, they dropped me off at home and I turned around and went out clubbing with Fitri. It was fun. We went to 2 clubs – both with cover bands singing all sorts of stuff – Latin, American, all sorts of things. The second place had by far the better band, but the first place was fun too in a really cheesy way. OH, and at the second place – the band played “Oye Mi Canto” – which was our theme song in Patagonia! So cool!!

Man was I beat Sunday morning. Dad actually called and I very sleepily answered. I did roll out of bed in time to be dressed and cleaned up before Frans & Gina showed up with Melissa, Jemimah and their 2 nannies. Those 2 little girls are SO cute. Sangat lucu sekali!

Link to photos of my life in Jakarta. It includes a few pictures of both Melissa and Jemimah, as well as a picture of Ted, Rita & I out at dinner:

We all had lunch and then Melissa, Frans & I went swimming in the pool here at my apartment. It really is a beautiful pool – with both a great water slide and a water fall. I’ll take pictures at some point and add them to the above album.

Melissa is very shy and very observant. She didn’t say “boo” to me most of the day. But I think she liked me. She told Gina that I looked like Barbie! I think it was the blue eyes. Totally cute. I believe I was the first westerner she has ever seen.

Nana showed up around 3 PM with her brother.

24 years old and very mature. She is a medical student from Yogyakarta who has been volunteering in a clinic in Krueng Raya. Her father and brother are both also at this clinic helping. She is UID’s key contact in Krueng Raya and has supplied a lot of the proposals that UID has worked on from Aceh.

We discussed the school in Krueng Raya that we are going to visit as well as an environmental proposal that she recently put together. The environmental proposal is to work on waste disposal – which is currently not happening there. They believe that the recent rise in skin and bacterial related sicknesses is due to the garbage everywhere. This proposal will help address that. Finally we also discussed the clinic’s operating expenses, for which there is no funding after the end of June. Granted the local government needs to take over these expenses eventually, but in the mean time Nana asked us to help her find donors.

Nana is damn impressive for a 24-year old medical student. Very inspirational.

Alright, I’ve covered what I did and saw this weekend – although unfortunately not with depth of thought. Here’s the annoying thing about traveling: there’s so much that I want to share with everyone else that by the time I’ve covered just the actual events (and not really much in the way of thoughtful commentary), I’ve already written 6 pages. Makes me kind of feel bad for the people that read all this. But then again, you all don’t have to read every word – feel free to quit whenever you get bored. This blog is as much for me as it is for all of you. Okay, so while this blog entry didn’t have much in the way of in depth thought, I’ll admit that I didn’t really have much in depth thought this weekend anyway – too darn busy.

So, here's to street jockeys and umbrella boys! I'm going to bed. You're just going to have to wait to hear about today (Monday)...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The fishermen's village on the harbor's edge... Posted by Hello

Crossing the harbor... Posted by Hello

Me and the curator of the puppet museum. Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 16, 2005

all of Indonesia.... Posted by Hello

I thought it might be good add some perspective to the places that I'm talking about. Here are maps that show where I am and where I'm going... Posted by Hello

It's all about perspective...

Traffic here is totally unpredictable. Last few days it has take over an hour to get from the apartment to the office. This morning, it took less than 20 minutes.

I’ve been going to the gym every morning. I still don’t like the heat and by the end of 25 minutes of cardio, I’m dripping. But since I’ve been told that it is not safe to really walk around in Jakarta, this is my only exercise. Even with going to the gym every day, I’m still concerned that I’ll blow up like a balloon.

This morning, I found my way over to the Park Lane hotel, which is right next door to the apartment buildings I live in and there is a path through the garden that connects the two buildings. The path has 2 gates that are only open during the day and a guard at the door to the hotel. The Park Lane is gorgeous inside, by the way, and swarming with wester business men. Anyway, I went in and up to the front desk and requested tourist information. They only had a single tour brochure on hand, but it’s a nice looking one and judging from the hotel – they probably only would allow reputable companies.

Anyway, I spent a bit of time looking at the brochure and decided to call and see if I could reserve one for this weekend. They asked how many people and where am I staying. Then I was promptly told “Daniel” would pick me up at the Puri Casablanca Apartments at 8:30 AM on Saturday. Wonderful and how simple!

My tour: The “Old Kampoeng Batavia Heritage Tour” includes the old China town with open markets, the original Dutch Jakarta Town Hall (with under water jails!), and the Indonesian Puppet Museum. I’m very excited.

In the office I’ve spent the last day working on the new proposal for volunteer teachers for Krueng Raya (the town in Aceh province). Gina spent an hour on the phone on Tuesday night with the principal of the school. Afterwards she had to take a breather to collect herself and then sat down and explained the conversation to me.

The information we had gotten earlier was a little mixed up, which I was really glad to hear, but it is still sad. Out of 350 students, only 19 died as a result of the tsunami (as opposed to only 14 survivors which was the original message). But, the teachers are gone, that was correct. The school is fortunately set up in the hills slightly, so it was not destroyed by the tsunami. However, it is damaged by the earth quakes – the walls and roof are cracked. Plus, the school was used a temporary shelter and base for emergency aid. All of the chairs, tables, and doors are gone as a result. Basically, the victims took and used anything that wasn’t cemented into the foundation to build shelters.

On top of the lost teachers and current barren, damaged state of the building, enrolment has actually increased. Krueng Raya was the only public school in the area that did not charge tuition. As a result, many of the children who could formerly afford to go to a tuition-based school have now re-registered in Krueng Raya schools.

Gina said that it was very difficult to speak with the principal. As he talked about things, he was crying and every other sentence was “Please help! Please!” Gina wants to help, but had a lot of questions that we need answered if we are going to get funding. Gina turned to me afterwards and said that this is the hardest part of her job – keeping it together while extracting necessary data.

The proposal we are drafting has 3 major components:
1. 8 volunteer teachers + 1 volunteer staff member
-Salaries, living expenses and a new barracks for housing included
2. Building reconstruction
-Repair walls, roof, floors, water, sewage, electric
-Provide chairs, tables, blackboards, doors, and teachers’ desks
3. Scholarship
-For all students – cover books, school supplies, uniforms, daily lunch
-For new orphans – child support

So far I’ve put together the structure of the presentation and started setting up some excel files to calculate the funding needed. We need a lot more information though in order to make the official proposal. So, we will be going to the school to have a first hand look and get estimates for fixing it as well as acquire data on the number of students now registered in each grade, etc.

Frans immediately chimed in and said that we need to go to Nias as well to check on the progress of housing construction and hand over the first complete houses. So, we are going to combine the two trips – go to Sirombu first and then Aceh. The Governor of North Sumatra will be visiting Sirombu on June 26th. Frans thinks this is an opportune time for us to go to Sirombu (face time with the local politicians helps make giving easier because they know who you are and the kind of things you are doing).

SO, it looks like I’ll be making my first field trip from ~ the 24th to the 30th! That is, if we can get the itinerary and budget for the trip approved by the powers that be.

It’s a pretty quiet past 2 days for me here, primarily because Frans & Gina are buried under donor questions. The donor for the Sirombu project is having a board meeting tomorrow and needs all sorts of status updates and scope change answers so that he can present effectively to his board.

This is a whole new world for me – the world of a small non-profit and how they have to respond to their donors. I mean, small companies are at the whim of their customers, but here since everything is given with no real product in return, it’s just a whole new level of courtesy.

The office here has “office boys.” They are young local men (in their 20’s and 30’s) whose responsibility it is to run errands and make our lives simpler. They make the copies, fetch us coffee and water, food at lunch time, and pick up after us.

I needed to mail a small birthday present today and asked Maggie for packaging so I could take it to the post office and mail it. She sent an office boy out and he returned with wrapping paper. I laughed. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but I hadn’t communicated my needs clearly enough. So then I tried to explain that all I wanted to do was mail it. While in the office there were multiple boxes that could have worked, Maggie had one of the boys build a box just the right size. Then instructed him to take it to the post office for me and have it weighed. Then he brought it back with descriptions of the different rates and speeds. I chose which one I wanted and back the man went to the post office with my package.

Between the office boys and the maid that irons my pajamas, I feel really weird. I’m not a princess or someone who needs to be waited on hand and foot. It actually embarrasses me to have to ask them to get me water (I haven’t figured out where the cooler is yet). But Frans and Gina have explained to me that I if I don’t ask, they’ll feel like I don’t trust them to even get the water and that’s their job. I guess I’m so used to being the lowly analyst who makes the copies before the meetings that this is not something I’m taking to easily.

Thang’s response was to say just be thankful for them and appreciate the fact that you are privileged enough to be able to afford a maid here. However, Thang did go on to comment that there are a lot of expats that live here simply because they can afford things like that.

Frans and Gina responded to this that people need jobs here. And these men appreciate the job because it pays the same as construction and they are indoors in air conditioning with nice people.

I guess it’s all about perspective.

It reminds me of the nice customs agents at the airport. The US agents have a reputation for being difficult, cranky and not happy with their jobs in general. Many of my Sloan friends have confirmed the trouble they’ve had going home and coming back. However, entering other countries is a relatively painless process. I think this may be partially due to the fact that in the US, working at the airport is not a sought-after job (lots of weird people who don’t speak English). But in third world countries, people consider themselves lucky to have such a job (air-conditioned building, sitting down, with benefits). Like I said, it’s all about perspective.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

My maid ironed my pajamas...

So, for one of the presentations I am putting together, I learned that the construction company on the ground in Sirombu is a small non-profit subsidiary of Kojo Construction. Frans explained further while working on an invoice for the construction. The subsidiary, known as Zero-To-One (ZTO), was founded by the president of Kojo Construction after his son was killed in the bombing in Bali in 2002. Apparently, the father opened his son’s laptop and the desktop said, “The most important thing in life is freedom.” The father founded ZTO in memory of his son to build homes the victims of terrorism and natural disasters.

I’m in tears again. I think this is part of being in the non-profit/aid world – hearing both beautiful and tragic stories all the time.

Both taxis to and from work were fun rides yesterday with very talkative drivers that wanted to teach me bahasa Indonesia. They both asked if I was single and for my phone number as well. I just laughed and said “no, no!” They were kidding, I think.

My maid ironed my pajamas.

I forgot to mention in my post yesterday that Rita told me she and Ted were in Phuket when the tsunami hit. Apparently, there was some discussion about Ted going scuba diving that day and had decided against it because he was too tired. If he had gone, he would not be here today. Ted & Rita were down at the beach and saw the water receding. Ted knew immediately that they had to get to high ground, and they did. They were very lucky.

In the Jakarta Post today, there were two articles that caught my attention. The first was an article about the unemployment rate in Nias. Since the earthquake of March 28th, the unemployment rate has risen 125% to approximately 50% of the population. The two major industries on Nias are farming and fishing. While the land and water are still around, the earthquake destroyed the trading and storage facilities vital for selling their produce. Additionally, there are ~5,400 boats that were destroyed or damaged and have not yet been repaired. Some ~2,000 people are managing to make a living by foraging for scrap metal in the destroyed houses. The scrap metal can then be sold to fencing companies for $0.08 per kilo. The government worries that the high unemployment will result in dramatically rising crime rates.

The second article I noticed was about relief housing construction in India. The government allocated $23 million to build 10,000 new houses to replace those destroyed by the tsunami. It was also a priority for the government to get the houses completed prior to the onset of monsoon season. However, the only building materials that were available for acquisition and shipping quickly and cheaply enough to pull this off were metal sheets. The iron effectively turned the houses into ovens in the summer heat of southern India. Also, in order to construct these houses, incredibly large plots of land had to be cleared and nothing was done to protect the soil. As a result, the dirt paths between the houses will become mud when the rain hits. The floors of the houses are also dirt and the houses are expected to catch the water, creating deep mud inside the houses. And without forests and foliage, there are threats of mudslides and houses collapsing. The people don’t want to move into these places, they would rather stay in the tents. Everyone believes that it was a total waste of tax payers’ money.

This last article reminds me a lot of talking to Prof. Rigobon about how to rebuild destroyed housing effectively. Do you build 10,000 crappy houses or 200 decent ones and the rest live in tents? I don’t know the full circumstances of the Indian government, so I hate to pass judgment, but the information in the article is disappointing.

It also makes me proud of what UID is doing in Sirombu. The houses being built there are by know means extravagant, but they meet the needs of the people and do so rather economically. Each house is costing ~$3,000. Plus, Frans told me today that they build a few different example houses in Sirombu and let the villagers choose which one. Frans said this was important for acquiring the trust of the villagers and making sure that the houses UID build would be used.

Some other government, I don’t remember which, also donated boats to Sirombu fishermen. But because of the specifications of the boats, they are sitting on the beach, ignored. The boats don’t meet the needs of the fishermen. UID is very careful to make sure all aid they provide is in the form that the people can and will use.

Back to work for me – I’m working on a GANTT chart timeline for the next phase of house construction in Sirombu. The chart will be used tomorrow by one of our donors in a presentation to their board.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Weekend #2 - out'n'about with locals...

I had a very busy, very fun weekend.

Maggie, the secretary in our office, invited me to dinner Friday night with her family and to spend the day with her on Saturday as well.

Maggie is 55 years old and has never been married. She has a small house in west Jakarta, where she lives with her maid and her maid’s 4 birds. She was the second-to-youngest of 7 children – 5 boys and 2 girls – many of whom live within a few blocks of her. She spends a lot of time with her neighbors and family, especially hanging out with the little children. She also has a driver who drives her to work and waits until she is done and then drives her home everyday. She said sometimes her nephew or someone borrows her driver during the day though.

So Friday night, Maggie’s driver took us to west Jakarta where we met Maggie’s family for sea food. Maggie’s older sister, Margaretta, was there and Margaretta’s husband, son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. Margaretta is an English teacher, and she teaches only privately in her home – mostly to students studying to go to college in the US. Two of her sons (she has three, one lives in America as an engineer, the other two are here in Jakarta) learned English from her and are also English teachers. Everyone was very proficient.

Sea food is quickly becoming my favorite of Indonesian food. I’ve always loved dive restaurants and these places are awesome. They are always open air and you walk in past bins of all different live fish and crustaceans. You can stand there and pick which fish you want to eat. Someone always orders for the group and then as dishes are ready, they start to appear.

Side note: All Indonesian restaurants, not just the seafood, seem to have no concept of what is an appetizer or a main course. They don’t time the main courses to come out with each other. When the food is ready, it is served. Simple. Done.

We had fried fish, steamed little peal-your-own shrimp (so good, served with a hot sauce very similar to tobasco for dipping), some shell fish that I have no idea what they were, soft shell crabs, and some big hard shell crabs. Man was this dinner just amazing!

After dinner Maggie and Margaretta dropped me home.

Maggie also had a friend in town for the past two weeks – Maria. Maria is from another island and was here for a wedding. She’ll be leaving in a couple of days. Maggie intends to take her to lunch, shopping, and then dinner tomorrow and asked if I would like to come along. I said of course!

Saturday morning around 8 AM, I got a phone call from Maggie saying she would pick me up around 11:30 AM. She also asked if I would like to spend the night at her house. It kind of caught me off guard a little, because in the states it’s generally only done if you live too far away for traveling home that night. I accepted however, because this would be a great opportunity to see life at a native Indonesian’s home.

Shopping, lunch, and dinner were all very fun. Her sister and her sister’s husband were also along for the day. They were all so very friendly and all in their late 50’s/early 60’s. I very much felt like I was spending the day with the grandparents of a close friend – especially because they wouldn’t stop feeding me. Everyone knows I like food, but really it was perpetual. It was fun though – because we had all sorts of things I either don’t normally have (like frogs legs or Japanese noodle soup with boiled calamari) or things I’ve never had before (black rice popsicles).

When we were back at Maggie’s, she lent me a “daster” to wear around the house. It was, I guess, a house dress that is supposed to keep you very cool in the heat. It very much reminded me of some of the night gowns that are put on baby dolls – just a tube of fabric that is gathered at the top. I looked like an apple because the thing stuck out over my chest and then hung down to about my knees with no shape – just two little tiny legs sticking out the bottom of a gigantic umbrella/tent thing.

Oh, she also offered me an opportunity to bathe before going out to dinner. I accepted, but had to ask her to show me how. You see, traditional Indonesian bathrooms (“mandi”) are quite different from western-style showers.

Since I can’t seem to post pictures right now (although I did take a picture of Maggie’s bathroom – while she laughed at me from behind), click on this link – it will bring you to a picture of a “mandi” (a traditional Indonesian bathroom) on the web. http://www.wanderingstars.com/99-00/home/images/002_11.jpg Maggie’s is much nicer than this one, but you can see the tub of water and the scoop.

Basically, there is a tub (or large sink) of water (always left full) in one corner of the room. The floor slants slightly down towards one corner. You scoop the water out of the mandi and just throw it on your self while you stand in the corner. Once you are all wet, then you soap up, and start scooping again to rinse.

If you are careful, you actually don’t really need to use much water to take a bath this way. It’s probably great for the environment in addition to being a source of major confusion for westerners.

In the morning, Maggie and Wenni (another friend of Maggie’s) gave me a lift home.

Rita called me to confirm our lunch date for 11:30 and promptly showed up.

Rita is the wife of Ted Frank, brother of Mary Frank – who set up my bank account at HSBC. Ted and Rita happen to live in Jakarta and Mary recommended I look them up. Ted just happens to be on a business trip for a few weeks in Kuala Lumpur, but I will meet him when he returns. Ted & Rita were married 11 years ago, when Rita was 37. They met when she was working for KPMG and training in utilities in the States – he worked for one of the gas companies she audited. They kept in touch and a couple years later they were married and he moved to the Asia Pacific for her. They spent 5 years in Kuala Lumpur, but since then have been back here. Ted has 2 children from a previous marriage, the elder is studying in Italy currently. Rita is 48, but doesn’t look a day over 40 and is very fun, generous and laid back.

Rita and I grabbed lunch at Plaza Senayan and then walked around for a bit. We then saw Mr. & Mrs. Smith (Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie). And then went to Sarina, which is a building where there are a lot of Indonesian handicrafts – beautiful stuff. In all, it was an extremely pleasant day.

Rita dropped me back at my place around 6, and I grabbed some of my books and went downstairs to the café to read and study bahasa Indonesia.

While I was sitting downstairs, I met 2 girls about my age. I had seen them last week at the café as well and they asked my name and then invited me to join them. We must have talked for at least an hour and a half. They are both super cool and very pretty. One of them, Frita, owns a salon in Bandung. She lives in Puri Casablanca on the weekends. The other,, and I grabbed some of my books and went downstairs to the café to read and study bahasa Indonesia.

While I was sitting downstairs, I met 2 girls about my age. I had seen them last week at the café as well and they asked my name and then invited me to join them. We must have talked for at least an hour and a half. They are both super cool and very pretty. One of them, Frita, owns a salon in Bandung. She lives in Puri Casablanca on the weekends. The other, Yuniarti, works in purchasing for a large diamond drill manufacturer. They both speak English very well (it seems everyone here does). Yuniarti doesn’t live in Puri Casablanca, but her sister does, and she comes often on the weekends to visit her sister and Frita.

Anyway, they were both super fun and invited me to go out with them next weekend. I hope it works out. I really want to meet some people my age – and cool single girls like this.

Anyway, to bed by 10PM so that I won’t be a zombie at the gym tomorrow morning ~6AM.

Friday, June 10, 2005

End of the first week - pretty quiet

I’ve given up drying my hair. It is curly and frizzy no matter what I do. The waves and body the humidity creates is actually not that bad though – looks decent. I think it only looks okay because my hair is pretty long - the longest I’ve had it in a while. It settles into long waves and ringlets. If it were shorter, it would have a couple of kinks and stick straight out.

The American Embassy was pointed out to me as we passed it today on the way back from lunch. It has high black walls with all sorts of electrified wires on top. It looks like a real military base in the middle of a jungle or war zone. It was enough to make me feel intimidated about approaching it. Not that it’s open anyway. It’s still closed. I did register my trip though – since you can do that online though.

Sam sent me an email asking me how safe I feel when I’m alone (not with people from work or people that I live with) and the answer is I feel okay. Okay, not great, but not scared either. I'm careful to watch everything, my purse especially, and I don't venture far from areas that I know. Most of the time, there are so many people around that I doubt anything big would happen (like direct mugging). I stick out like a sore thumb here and everyone looks me. But that fact also unnerves me. As I learn more Indonesian and learn my way around, I'm sure I will feel more comfortable.

In the malls or shops, I feel fine. I just don't wander around outside without specifically knowing where I'm going.

I've learned enough Indonesian that I can give directions to taxi drivers and ask for help when I need it. I don't yet know many of the streets in Jakarta, and so if we leave the 3 or 4 I do know, I get lost immediately. The fact that the roads do not turn logically compounds the confusion. For example, to turn right (remember they drive on the left side of the road so think about making a left turn in the US), first they veer left - exiting the road they are on and merging onto the road they want to go on, and then they pull a u-turn in the middle and you are going right. There are very few lights, and lots of merges, over-passes, round-abouts, and one-way streets.

Not much really going on in the office. I’ve drafted a couple of presentations and an introductory proposal for the VOC production and I’m waiting to hear reactions.

I’ve made a few mistakes in Indonesian that the people in the office find very funny. Generally just word substitutions – “lusa” for “lupa” (the first is the “day-after-tomorrow” and the second is “to forget”).

I had “street” food today. Everyone here has warned me to wait a good week or so before trying the street food – just because stomachs not used to Indonesian food don’t generally handle it very well. People say that you have to slowly adjust to local food here. Anyway, Frans ordered satay for lunch from the street and it was great. It’s now 4 hours later and no bad reaction yet. Thang said to wait, it may still hit. I think I’m going to adjust okay though.

Uh, plans for the weekend. Maggie, the secretary in our office, has offered to take me around Jakarta tomorrow. She said her cousin has recently moved here and she will take us both to see some of the sites. On Sunday, I’m meeting Rita for lunch. She is the sister-in-law of Mary Frank, who works at HSBC and set up my bank account. It was very nice of Mary Frank to connect me with her brother and sister-in-law and I’m really looking forward to meeting her (someone outside of work). That’s it for the weekend. I’ll hit the gym as well, of course.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Tuesday & Wednesday - 6/7 & 6/8

Getting to the office is getting easier. I’ve actually managed to give broken directions.

The word in the office this morning is to avoid all 5-star hotels and large malls. There are supposedly cars with bombs in them in the city.

On our way to the meeting with Ibu Mimis and the Ambassador from Timor-Leste, Gina showed me a proposal that just came in. It is from Krueng Raya, a town on the east side of Banda Aceh. Of a middle school where 350 students used to attend, 14 are still alive. To make it even worse, all of the surviving children are now orphans.

All of the teachers are missing as of 12/26 as well. The proposal asks for volunteer teachers and for funds to pay them and for their living expenses. It mentions that the school building was also destroyed, but the proposal does not ask for money for that. They just want teachers for now.

Gina said that it is easier to find Math and Bahasa Indonesia teachers than to find cultural and/or religious teachers. This is because to teach culture, they need to understand the local culture of Aceh. Frans said that the children there did not understand him when he tried to have a conversation with them. They speak Achenese.

The people of this town are currently living in barracks. There are no houses left and none have been constructed. Gina said we’ll probably have to figure out appropriate housing for the volunteer teachers as well.

By this point, both Gina & I are tearing up. “We have to help them, Frans, we have to. These are just children!” she said.

Gina then told me that this was one of the best proposals she had seen. It had a one page summary, typed, and then charts of supporting data – listing the names of the teachers now missing and then children that lived. Contact information was also provided.

Proposals often come to UID either hand-written or just by phone. They have no supporting data, they just need help. The problem is donors want to know where their money is going. The donors don’t really need a lot of information, but they do need basic information to base their decisions on. But often the victims don’t have the information, don’t know how to provide it, or just plain aren’t ready to gather the information. If the donor wants a picture of the remains of the house that was destroyed, sometimes the victim isn’t ready to take the picture (that’s if they have a camera – probably not if they don’t have food or a home).

Gina gave a good example of how the donors often send an inspector of some sorts before making a large donation. The inspector is just supposed to verify that everything the donor has been told is true. Two destroyed houses? Check. How much did you use to make per month? Check. It is easy to see how the victims feel like they have no integrity left and are forced to be beggars. These are people who used to support themselves, own small businesses like a corner store – not necessarily much, but they had dignity. And then if the donors are providing continued help – funding a building project or such, they want updates on progress. The victims sometimes feel like they are being baby-sat.

Gina explained to me how UID writes many of the reports and tries to act as mediators between the victims and the donors. Often, she has to try to explain to victims that if the donors ask questions, it’s okay. They just want a little information to know more about who they are helping.

She says UID’s role is to make it happen. Anything it takes, just get the volunteer teachers to those surviving 14 children.

We met up with Ibu Mimis at the Ambassador’s office. We were shown into his office and brought drinks while we waited for him to appear. As I mentioned in my last post, according to Frans, Timor-Leste is surviving on aid right now from the UN. As we looked around the Ambassador’s office, the TV, printer, fax, and computer all had a sticker on it that said “Donated by the United Nations.” Very sad.

The Ambassador, Rev. Arlindo Marçal, joined us after a bit. He was maybe 50-years old and very soft spoken. His wife is Canadian and she and the children are currently in Canada on a summer holiday.

Ibu Mimis brought a sample of the coconut oil and gave it to the Ambassador. She then spoke about what the manufacturing of VCO requires and how it helps the economy. She also spoke of the recently-proven health benefits of coconut oil.

The Ambassador was interested in going forward however he did want to know why we were interested in Timor-Leste. What were our motivations? Why Timor-Leste? He was obviously and understandably concerned about having his people exploited. Ibu Mimis and Frans spent time describing their respective foundations and the work that they have done in the past. This reminded me of the victim distrust that Gina had explained to me just a few hours before.

We will be moving forward with developing of a proposal for VCO in Timor-Leste. The first step will be to send a 2-page rough proposal providing additional information to the Ambassador. I am to write this and have it reviewed within the week and then sent to his Excellency. After approval of that, the next step will be to go to Timor-Leste to view potential locations and analyze needs further (I won’t be able to go because my visa is for a 1-time entry into Indonesia. If I leave, I may not be able to return).

Back in the office yesterday evening, we learned that the ministry of trade had been evacuated because of a bomb threat. Thang said not to worry – that the ministry of trade is a long way from here and nothing happened anyway. Thank god we don’t work in a an attractive building. Our building is very old and does not attract attention. It also does not have any prominent offices.

Frans showed me some videos of Aceh and Nias just days after the disasters. I was bawling. There were fields of bodies lined up where they had run out of body bags. And then it showed driving along and there still being bodies all over – in the streets, everywhere. After seeing that I called it quits for the night and went home.

Today has been a quiet day in the office. I am focusing on the draft of the proposal, as well as writing this journal entry. No meetings out of the office. The internet connection was incredibly slow this morning – even slower than normal. I check the download speed = ~500 bytes per second. That’s 30 kbs per minute! It is taking me over a minute to open each email and it took me almost 30 minutes to download a 600 kbs file that was mailed to me. This is not important for the blog, but its annoying the crap out of me.

Oh, I did have a conversation with the button-pusher guy in the elevator. They employ someone to sit in the elevator and push your floor button for you. Crazy. Anyway, I managed to get out the floor number and say good morning properly. He asked me if I spoke Bahasa Indonesia and I said just a very little. Then he asked me how long I’d been here and I managed to respond 5 days. And then he asked me if I was from Holland and I said no, I’m from America! Sounds silly, but I was beaming when I got off!!!

Note: Since Indonesia was a Dutch colony for close to 300 years, many of the Bahasa Indonesia words are similar to Dutch. Therefore, often the Dutch can kind of understand Indonesians. It was therefore a compliment for him to ask me if I was from Holland – because it means I understood a lot better than he would expect from an American.

Not really much else going on here today. The internet is down, so we all are leaving a little early (5:30, as opposed to 7 PM like yesterday). The day starts later here and ends later.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

First day of work - 6/6/5

Hit the gym when I got up, showered and had breakfast at the café downstairs. Scrambled eggs and hash browns ($3 incl bev) – first American thing I’ve eaten here.

Thang had some work to do and wasn’t going into the office yet, so I took a taxi in by myself. The poor taxi driver didn’t know where the office building was and I didn’t recognize the route or the building well enough to tell him where to go. He had to stop and ask directions 3 times. I felt bad. But, while I may not have been able to tell him where to go accurately, I did now know enough Bahasa Indonesia to apologize profusely.

On the desk in the office – 1 glass of water waiting, some office supplies and 1 roll of toilet paper. ? Apparently, you need to take this with you when you go to the bathroom. And when you use it, you throw it in a small waste basket next to the toilet. You do not flush it. At least they are western style toilets.

The internet connection in the office puts a whole new meaning to the word slow. I’ve been timing the loading process, and it seems to take at least 45 seconds to load a web page.

Frans gave me a business plan to take home over the weekend. It was for setting up a virgin coconut oil (VCO) manufacturing facility on Natuna Island, which is a small isolated Indonesian island very similar to Nias. He asked me to review it because it is the same process they want to use for coconut oil on Nias.

I read it on Sunday and I’ll admit I was intrigued by the process, but the business plan was clearly written by someone without much business experience. I took some notes on the questions I had.

When I came into the office this morning, I learned that we would be meeting with Ibu Mimis (Ibu = Mrs.) that afternoon. Ibu Mimis is the lady driving the instillation of VCO manufacturing on Natuna. She is also the wife of Bapak Tides (Bapak = Mr.), who is on the UID Steering Committee. I spent the morning organizing my thoughts about the business plan to ask relevant questions at the meeting.

We left for the meeting with Ibu Mimis a little after 3 o’clock, which would take place at her home in south Jakarta (reminder – the office is in the north). It took us 2 ½ hours to travel the maybe 40 miles to Ibu Mimis’ home. Jakarta traffic.

We were at Ibu Mimis from about 5:30 PM until almost 9 PM. She is a fascinating older lady, who clearly has learned a lot about coconut oil in order to set up the facility on Nantuna Island and help the local economy there.

Her house is incredible, beautiful inlaid marble floors and couches with raw silk pillows, floor to ceiling windows one next to the other wide open with floor length curtains in between each all looking out to the garden. You could just walk out any of them into the gardens. The house was just stunning and very much what I thought a nice Indonesian place should look like. What did surprise me, however, was the fact that it was down a little street, no bigger than an alley and on either side were shacks of the poorest living conditions. Granted, you couldn’t see this from inside the house, but so close is the poverty. And this seems to be very typical in Jakarta – a beautiful house then shacks then an apartment building then shacks.

Conversation there would kind of touch on a topic and then vear off and discuss something else for a while. Then it would come back on point and talk a little more about the coconut oil production. Each question I asked would be answered, but then it would bring up some other story. And through the evening, demonstrations of different things kept coming out.

First she brought out half of a young coconut with the husk still on. We were able to see the husk and try the coconut water and meat. She told us that coconut water is sterile because it is protected within the shell of the coconut. One time, when she was trekking, one of her friends became extremely dehydrated. A local medicine man cut down a coconut and fed it to this man intravenously, as if it were saline, and the man lived.

She also brought out a bottle of syrup that she has produced on a local island in an industry she started there for the people. She mixed it with soda water for us to drink. It was like a cross between gingerale and champagne – sweet but with very fine bubbles. It was fantastic. She gave me some to take home.

Ibu Mimis then brought out samples of coconut oil, both hers and a number of competitors. She showed us the differences – hers is thicker, sweeter smelling and has a higher lauric acid content. Lauric acid is found in high quantities in breast milk. It has a lot of properties which promote good health, including encouraging the development of anti-bodies.

Ibu Mimis invited us to join her tomorrow for a meeting with the Ambassador from Timor-Leste in his office downtown. She is proposing to begin this same VOC industry there. Apparently, this is an interest of Prince Albert of Monaco (UID’s primary donor of late), so it makes sense for us to join. We will be helping with the efforts at his request, despite UID’s mission is to help Indonesia (not other countries).

Side Note: Timor-Leste (East Timor) was originally a Portuguese colony. When the Portuguese abandoned it in the 70’s (?), the people of Timor-Leste came to Indonesia for help. Indonesia took the opportunity to make them another province. Since then, they have been fighting with Indonesia to regain their independence. They wanted help, not acquisition. They’ve been war torn for years and as a result have no natural resources or anything. Frans told me they are possibly the poorest nation in the United Nations. Frans said that they are surviving right now on aid only.

Towards the end of the evening Bapak Tides joined us, her husband. He is a character – obviously very smart and very philosophical. He spoke first of the larger social implications of the aid efforts we are planning. He explained potential jealousy of other villages when they see the installation of VCO production in Sirombu (the target town on Nias). Why did they get a facility and not us? Or why did they get boats and not us? We were hit too. It makes sense and is definitely something to consider.

Then Bapak Tides started talking about rivers. When you look at them from above, they look like they are going neither east nor west, but merely wandering without direction. It is only when you view them from a vertical perspective that you realize they are following 2 unique and distinct principles: 1) find the lowest point and 2) seek the path of least resistance. I understood fully, but couldn’t help but think how this conversation is similar to the river – it’s going somewhere but I have yet to discover its purpose. Well, he then asked me to take a look at UID’s mission statement when I have time. He said that it is currently too broad and the projects completed so far look as if they have no actual purpose. Perhaps because I have not the history or personal goals with UID that I can see a pattern and perhaps I can help focus the mission statement.

All this time while Bapak Tides spoke, Ibu Mimis was not sitting still. She saw me scratching where a mosquito had bitten me and first got me aloe vera and practically put it on my legs for me. Then she brought out bug repellent. And then spoke to one of her maids and meringue cookies appeared (made with coconut flour – a byproduct of VOC production). She pointed out that nothing is wasted. I felt like I was sitting and trying to listen to Grandfather Butcher talk about something interesting he had learned and Grandmother Butcher was fussing around me the entire time.

Towards the end of the evening, she brought us on a tour of the house and gardens. They have thousands of books on the second floor of their house – which they have archived alphanumerically like a true library. She pointed out ceceks – small lizards which are impossible to rid an Indonesian house of. And then out to the gardens to sample all of the Indonesian herbs direct from the bushes. Quite the tour.

Ibu Mimis sent Gina & I home with samples of the virgin coconut oil, bottles of nutmeg syrup, and boxes of the meringue cookies. We stopped for pizza on the way home. Then Frans & Gina dropped me off at my apartment and I immediately passed out.

Ibu Mimis:
60 years old. Part of the royal family of Central Java – the only part of Indonesia where the governor of the province is actually royalty. Actually, a sultan. She was an interpreter for Sukarno when she was younger – both French and Dutch. She has her own foundation for over 30 years now. She opened a local airport in ’66 in Papua. After that her father said she was no longer Javanese – now Indonesian. Likes to trek and run expeditions. Headed a sailing expedition from Indonesia to Vancouver. Built a 20 meter traditional Indonesian vessel, will probably donate it to a museum.

Bapak Tides:
67 years old. On the steering committee for UID. Owned a newspaper when he was younger. During Suharto’s regime, newspaper was shut down and he was imprisoned for 5 years. Very philosophical. Great laugh.