Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Laughter in The Flood: Two opposing reactions to Jakarta's annual flood

When it comes to the annual Jakarta flood (you'd think that was a festival or something, right?), all Jakartans can complain about is the sheer lack of complaining that occurs. Perhaps, this is all a ploy by the media, which only portrays laughter in the refugee camps and children playing in the brown, chocolate milk colored waters. However, as a Jakartan myself, I have gone down both rabbit holes: 1) giggling along as our car splashes about in the flood, or 2) anxiously looking out my bedroom window, hoping that the rain would stop so we would not have to move to a relative's house. I've also been on either side of the reaction spectrum. Most years, I understand and even share this happy-go-lucky feeling of the flood. Yet, when it becomes abysmal, I realize how one's positive outlook on the disaster has left this city in shambles for years. Sometimes, without sufficient anger, change can't be mobilized.

The dark cloud that hovered over Jakarta just a few days ago!
So, is there any good in maintaining our cheery approach to the flood, or should we just take a more sullen take on the issue?

Imagine living in a flood zone. Let's face it, with the current political atmosphere, it is near impossible to hope that your house will not be a pool in a few months or so. That money that you've saved? Maybe it's better to keep it for the children's education or to get a lifeboat. Praise the heavens, if there is enough to buy a house in cramp Jakarta. What would you do when the time comes to pack your belongings and move to a camp? Would you grumpily move your children or would you rather see the light at the end of tunnel? 

Imagine that you are a businessman on the way to work. You have especially woken up at 4 AM in the morning to avoid traffic caused by the flood. Thankfully, you've bought a high car that could, fingers crossed, keep your shoes and legs dry. You have a crucial meeting today and curse at yourself for scheduling it during the flood season. Despite biting your lips and thinking of just going to Singapore for a change, you get an earful from the radio about the flood and you also listen to interviews of those who had to move to a camp because of the constant rain. What would you do? Will you scorn those voices on the radio who seemed much too enthusiastic? Will you join some sort of organization to clean up the trash that hinders the water from moving properly? Or will you go up to your office and continue on with your day, hoping that the rain will stop?

If Forrest Gump says that life is a box of chocolate, I would say that it is a box of color pencils. Essentially, we have the authority and privilege to make clear-cut, well-informed decisions, especially in times like these. The annual flood is not unexpected. Although global warming has made it rather difficult to predict the rainfall and the month of the flood, we can be prepared. 

A positive outlook on tragedy might be hard to fathom, especially in a society where tears and screaming are more condoned. Based on my experience, having been in Indonesia during the 2004 tsunami, 2005 Bali bombing, and 2009 earthquake in Padang, as well as being in the U.S. when Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy took place, has given me an outlook of how different cultures deal with tragedies and disasters, especially ones that are destructive in nature. 
Just a photo of the downpour that occurred for the past two days.
Somehow, for a third world country, Indonesians have a unique, fairly cheery outlook, which brings with it its own sets of pros and cons. When Mount Sinabung erupted, Jakartans kept to themselves and continued with their own lives. This is one drawback of having such a laid back response to disaster. The lack of attention given by metropolitans to the suffering of the community that was affected by the eruption might mean minimized help. A lack of medical volunteers from other parts of Indonesia may mean higher death tolls. 

However, at the end of the day, this particular way of managing disasters are adaptive. It may even be, dare I say, a way to remain resilient to the issue at hand. Perhaps, it may even be the cause of low mental health issues. Remaining calm and positive about a negative situation may help us in the long run. When you are stuck in traffic due to the flood or stuck living in a camp, staying happy might be the only way to tolerate the environment. I found that having this attitude has definitely helped me avoid stressing out way too much. Of course, with this mindset, one should remain alert and prepared. Pack your bags before its too late, but try not to stress out. 

On the other hand, arguments against laid backness stipulate that responding so casually to a preventable disaster deters society from making the necessary changes to lower the possibility of another flood. Somehow, anger can be the fuel to mobilize change. However, I think that this anxiety should be had prior to the actual flood. When it is time to walk on the streets with water up your pants, keep smiling. But, before then, do remember to make changes to prevent further damage. Marshaling the might to change Jakarta should not occur when it is already a challenge to leave the house, let alone clean out the sewage system. Conducting these changes when we can't even see the cut off between the streets and the sewer is futile, at best. 

In the face of on and off flooding, it is highly crucial to remain positive and keep a list of things to do afterwards. Use the happiness or anger that you feel during these times to gain momentum for change. Staying positive may avoid you and other Indonesians who are ready to alter the conditions of our city and country from burning out. As I write this last sentence, the sun comes out, perhaps, cheekily, signaling a time for us to make a move and start making the necessary changes to prevent floods from ruining our homes and our spirits. 

Stay safe and dry fellow Jakartans!

*Author owns rights to photos above

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