The other day a friend shared a message from Facebook to our chat where the start of the post read “I would like to highlight how a sprawling, chaotic country approaches the Covid 19” and I took a breath – did I want to open up this message and the whole can of worms of anxiety that could possibly follow from hearing about how Jakarta was a total mess and we are all doomed?
It took me back to the first few weeks of the Corona virus hitting Jakarta when I became insanely obsessed with every piece of news I could find about it. The media was feeding us a high dose of fear and I was hooked. My neighbours and I would compare notes as we scrolled and scrolled (and scrolled and scrolled times a million) through one disaster story after the other, scared that if we stopped reading we might miss the news that it is in our street, it’s coming, it’s here – WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE.
No, it’s fine. Breathe in. Breathe out.
It didn’t help that the first confirmed Indonesian cases were from a restaurant around the corner which was quickly closed, as was my school.
A little panicked. Breathe. Breathe.
We decided to close off the gates of our complex. Two families left after being told by their embassy to GET OUT.
A little more panicked. (Am I still breathing?).
Then the news started talking about Jakarta more and it wasn’t pretty. As the supermarket shelves in Australia were being emptied out by panicked buyers, the Australian media was predicting that Jakarta was about to go under and it was going to be much worse than running out of toilet paper.
Riots were predicted. A “complete breakdown of social order”.
Can’t breathe. Hyperventilating.
I started to stare at the gate and imagine hoards of people coming in, breaking into my bubble of privilege and demanding all of my toilet paper (just kidding, another lesson to learn from Indonesians is the joy of washing with water but I digress) – I mean, demanding all of my rice. Where would I hide?
The embassy contacted me, people from home were worried, it was going to be “dire” here as Ramadhan loomed over our heads and millions of people went pulang kampung (back to their countryside villages) and then even worse, came back to Jakarta. Corona was going to destroy us all.
Fuck a duck.
I went to the supermarket to do some cool “panic buying” to check the situation with what was running out. Hm, nothing was running out. They were checking temperatures and disinfecting stuff. They were stocking the shelves. I started to look at people suspiciously. Were these people going to turn on me when the rice ran out? Did they know that I am INNOCENT? My kids are Indonesian? My “pleading for my life” speech became my focus as I tried to piece together the few words I have learned in 10 years from Duolingo into a “why I should be saved” speech. I didn’t know if “Good morning, can you take my pumpkin to the bank?” would prove all of the work I had done to assimilate over the years.
Then I thought, if we left, where would we go? Could my suami (husband) join me straight away? What about my family? Friends? Neighbours? Would I be leaving them behind to be slaughtered in the massacre that was coming their way?
Then something happened. As the community in my complex shrank down to 3 families and I was the token bule left, I had no one except social media to feed my anxieties. My Indonesian community was not panicking. They were making plans. Plans of where to eat. Plans of where to quarantine. Where to work. How to make money. They were cooking together. They were sharing food. They were buka puasa bersama (breaking the fast together) during Ramadan. They had all cancelled their plans to pulang kampung and were settling in for the long haul. Praying at home instead of the mosque. Being santai (relaxed).
Then I stopped reading the news and started to think about Jakarta. This city that I have called home for ten years plus. The people I have met, the people I pass by every day who call out “hello” and play with my kids. These people do karaoke SOBER. They can do anything.
Humans have a “fear instinct” which the media plays on to get our attention. I don’t think anyone around here is reading the news.
And I am going to join them for a while.
Breathing deep here (but not too deep, it’s still damn polluted).
(Side note: that original article my friend sent was about how amazing the system was in Jakarta compared to the US – suck it, Trump!).
(Side side note: yes, I know the situation is still crazy mansplainer, I’m just saying it’s better without the media).
Thanks @JeffGendz for the photos