The end of May has rushed me–I didn’t notice the wind catching the sails until we were flying–and I suppose that’s the way it always goes. Soon it will be a full month since I landed in Jakarta. Six of them does not really seem so long now.

Already, I have found things to love, and things I know I could grow to love. So here’s an early love letter: one to the beginning. 

That first day, getting everything set up in my kost (boarding house), I stood in the room wondering for a moment what I was doing. The distance from home sunk in, and I was nervous about everything. But exploring bits of the city, and being welcomed to the office, were what helped me settle my nerves, and replace them with excitement. This is a letter of two parts. First for the office, then the city.

The Office

The CIPS office is in a lovely building with high ceilings, decorative stair balustrades, and a rooftop with a view of the surrounding city. Clay roof tiles, vibrant green trees, and skyscrapers stretch into the skyline. There are many delicious little “warungs” (a kind of small restaurant) nearby, and at lunch time everyone rises and discusses where to eat, splitting off into groups accordingly. We usually grab take-out and all come back to the office “long table,” to talk and eat together.

Some of my favourite little features in the office are the stairwell storage closet everyone calls the “Harry Potter room,” and the stickers on the doors of the warmest and coldest workspaces in the office, labelling them the sauna and the ice box respectively.

Besides the building and its surroundings (not to mention its much-appreciated air conditioning), what really makes the office a wonderful workplace is its beating heart: the “CIPSies.” 

When you step inside, you’ll find a team of people who are first of all, truly a team. They support each other, and care about each other and their work. Through collaboration, they are able to accomplish quite a lot, even as a smaller think tank. I was impressed by the several projects they have on the go at once. 

Everyone has made a point of introducing themselves to Alejandro (my fellow intern) and I, and welcoming us into their organization. In the first week, as we had meetings with the heads of different teams (fundraising, external relations, research), it became clear how much passion and dedication every member of every team puts into their work.

On top of being a skilled and hardworking crew, they are friendly, kind, and delightful to be around. They value good humour and lunch hours are filled with lively conversation and joking. When we all gather to sit and eat, the room lights up. Bringing back snacks to share from whatever region of Indonesia, or the world, that someone has visited is an unofficial CIPS tradition, and there are often delicious things going around the table along with the laughter.

We have received invitations to badminton and to dinner outside of work, and also met up with a coworker when we visited her city near Jakarta. I am thrilled at the opportunity to get to know my coworkers better as lovely people and as capable professionals. The CIPS workforce is relatively young, and I found it’s just as we were told by HR: they do serious work at CIPS, but they like to have fun doing it.

The City

We live in an area with narrow streets, where cars have to squeeze past each other, and a plethora of little shops and eateries line the road in either direction. There is the best take-out fried chicken or ayam goreng I’ve ever eaten just steps down the road, and beyond that a fruit stand where we pick up mangosteens, starfruit, and snakefruit (a local fruit called salak here). The food we order, often prepared right in front of us, has already sold me on Jakarta. If there’s one thing I’m sure Indonesians know how to do well, it’s eat. No meal has disappointed me yet, and there is already a long list of dishes, constantly added to by my coworkers and friends in our kost, that I need to try. The only challenge is adjusting to the spicy sambal sauce most people put on everything, but I am making it a bit of a mission to build up a tolerance. Wish me luck.

A delicious dinner of fried duck, or bebek, with rice and tempeh, slathered in sambal, at a warung near our kost.

I can already see how I could get used to this, to life here. How odd it will be to go back to silent streets, without the prayer calls from mosques being broadcast periodically throughout the day. Without the numerous little shop fronts shoved together, overflowing with the sounds of fast-paced Bahasa Indonesian and cooking.

My home in British Columbia, which sits on a hill in a smaller city, is peaceful – but my neighbourhood here in Cilandak, Jakarta Selatan, is alive. 

And I already know I am going to miss the sights and the sounds of it. So for now I will try to drink it all in, to be present in it everyday. It can be a lot of pressure with a time limit over my head. But I want to forget about it; I am taking it slow. 

For now, “drinking it in” can just look like this: I am walking by a juice stand on the way to work, and I stop, take a little extra time to order one. Soursop and brightly coloured pitaya, mango, guava, or something else equally delicious, because I love how they put whole fresh fruits in the blender, and I am here now to have it.

And then there is the larger city–Jakarta is massive–if one braves the traffic we were warned about. Funnily enough, so far riding on the back of motorcycles through it all is one of the new things I most enjoy. I am honestly impressed by the way they weave through the traffic, coming close but never touching and giving the road a certain flow, like an urban dance, albeit one with many stops and starts. I love to watch it. 

Motorbikes seems to be the most popular way to get around, and though you might think they are more limiting than cars, you would be wrong. I have seen families of 5, passengers carrying luggage, and entire mini shops attached to motorbikes, just cruising down the street. I have nothing but respect for the Jakarta motorbike driver. And I do not plan on trying my hand at it anytime soon. If I ever do, it will be in the countryside; I’m not ready for the traffic dance yet.

Jakarta is all still so new to me, but in some ways this beginning feels like a continuation. There are many things here that remind me of growing up as a kid in my birth country of Brazil. Tropical countries seem to all have some kinds of food, building styles, and practices in common. Like the ability of the people to do absolutely anything, including working a couple stories up on those construction platforms, in flipflops (a true story from our kost).

All that to say: it’s early days yet, but I’m thinking there will be more love letters to come.

With love,

Ana

Exploring the National Monument in Jakarta. Photo taken by Alejandro on his camera.