I hold my breath, and take the step into the street.
A tidal wave of motorcycles, cars and small trucks descend on me as I begin to cross the four-lane road.
Making the “straight arm and waving downward” gesture that I see Indonesians making, I walk right out into the street. Motorcycle horns toot, engines gear down, and wind whips around me. My nose fills with exhaust fumes as cars and motorcycles swerve either in front or behind me as I slowly walk across the road.
This is the middle of downtown Jakarta, and this is the way that people cross the street.
Finding A Way To Cross
Occasionally I see the white striped lines that indicate a crosswalk. Even these, however, don’t have crossing lights or anything that stops the cars from moving. I’ve seen stoplights here, but have yet to see a crosswalk signal that tells me when to go or stop.
The only time I got help to cross the street was when I was lucky enough to find a “Whistle-blower.” This Whistle-blower is a young man occasionally found on the side of the street. He has an interesting job. He bravely steps into oncoming traffic, holds out his hand to stop it, then waves the pedestrian across, all the while blowing bursts on a whistle. Sometimes he only succeeds in stopping the first lane of traffic, but every bit helps!
The Whistle-blower also helps cars that are trying to get out into the stream of traffic from a side street. In this case, the driver usually opens the window and hands the Whistle-blower a 2000 rupiah bill (7-14¢). It makes me wonder, “Is this his sole job?” If so, it must be tough to get by.
When we first arrived in Jakarta, a dear friend provided us with a driver to pick us up. Careening through the streets with hundreds of motorcycles flowing around us, we held our breath, hoping our driver wouldn’t hit one.
A major way of getting around the crowded city is a motorcycle taxi (ojek). Uber, Go-Jek, Grab, or the women-only LadyJek offer a helmet and cycle ride to those with the app to summon them.
Sidewalks also seem to be rather haphazard in this city. As I walked around, I sometimes found the sidewalk disappearing, leaving me in the street.
The traffic never ends as cars honk at motorcycles weaving in and out like tributaries in an alluvial plain.
And so, I took the step into the street, felt vehicles all around me whoosh by, made it to the other side… and breathed again.
Are you open to crossing into a different culture's way of doing things?