Watching Your Step


A Street Merchant in Jakarta
A Street Merchant in Jakarta Along One of the City's Open Sewers


JAKARTA, Indonesia — No matter where you go, there’s always a horror story that awaits.

My good friend Melissa told me about a friend of hers who, upon arriving in Jakarta, stepped off a curb and plummeted into a hole in the ground. Worse, he was covered up to his neck in raw sewage.

Unable to speak the language and scraped up from the fall, he yelled for help as he dodged the city’s insane traffic. A crowd of gawkers gathered, if only to express amusement at his predicament. Eventually, he dragged himself out and to an emergency room, where his unwanted eau de toilette made it a challenge to elicit medical treatment for his wounds.

As Josh and I locked our bikes en route to his uncle-in-law’s birthday party, he pointed out these rectangular openings on the sidewalk filled with a dark, ominous sludge — Jakarta’s so-called sewer system. Apparently, raw sewage here simply runs into these canals that flow into a river — untreated — on its way to the ocean. Every so often, they get clogged and workers have to dig out the offending material by hand, wearing rain boots and t-shirt masks even though it was at least hip-deep. Then they shovel it all into white bags and pile them on the sidewalk, presumably for removal.

Connecting the dots of these stories feels like putting together a jigsaw puzzle of sorts.

Lunch, at a Vietnamese restaurant named Vietopia, was lovely. The pho was great. The family sang “Happy Birthday” along with a few verses unfamiliar to me.

And Melissa’s friend, she said, learned to love Jakarta and its people despite his initial experience.

I feel quite fortunate.

6 thoughts on “Watching Your Step

  1. I forgot to mention that some of the people who went over to gawk at my friend threw tomatoes at him. No joke. He said they threw TOMATOES. That would be funny if he had been on an episode of the Muppets, but unfortunately, he was standing, all scraped up, in sewage. I also forgot to mention that he had only just gotten over Dengue fever. Some guys have all the luck;)

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