Below is a reflection I wrote during an extended stay in Indonesia in January 2016.
My second week in Jakarta has flown by. Only after writing that sentence did I realized that the second week of my project isn’t officially over. I have had something to do just about every hour of the day, and since we use activity for the passage of time, I feel like it’s much later than a Wednesday night.
Instead of traveling for a day trip to Borobodur this past weekend as initially planned, my team and I decided to stay in Jakarta and explore our temporary hometown. I visited some of the most popular cultural sites in Jakarta: the Grand Istiqlal Mosque (the biggest in all of Southeast Asia), the Grand Cathedral, and “Old Town” Jakarta.
Initially, I felt averse to visiting the big tourist attractions because my experience has been that the most popular attractions are often underwhelming and don’t convey the authentic character of a city. But, I’ve grown up a little and am skeptical of whether “authentic” characters even exist. A city has multiple narratives and what one native considers authentic is really just their individual viewpoint.
But, the mosque, cathedral, and old town each represent a part of Jakarta’s — Indonesia’s, history. The largesse of the mosque gave me a feel of the influence of Islam on this island nation. Indonesia has the largest country-level Muslim population in the world. The presence of Islam is ubiquitous, from the stamped “Halal” seal that almost every packaged food product dons to the sea of the hijab-wearing young girls that flood the sidewalk in front of an all girls school by one of our offices. I can hear the azaan throughout the day and it’s hard to drive more than five minutes without catching a minaret in your peripheral.
The fact that the Grand Cathedral is across the street from the biggest mosque in the region is representative of the diversity of values in Indonesia and the generally inclusive, multicultural attitude that most people here seem to hold. The people that I have worked with over the past two weeks are dedicated to their respective faiths and don’t seem to consider an alternative to a multicultural existence. I see some co-workers taking breaks for prayer in the middle of the day and those same people wait for their peers that run late to our weekend brunches because church service ran late. I love that.