The independence of having a car is something that from the age of sixteen is sought after. By the time you have the keys of your very own car in your hand, you’ve earned the privilege, twice over. You’ve paid the same price for the car and the insurances for one year. You are prepared to forfeit weekends in Edinburgh to repair fuel injection pumps, noisy bearings and replacement clutches. You are prepared to waive your weekly Chinese takeaway budget on petrol costs and think nothing of spending a night on Diet Coke just to be able to drive home.
While this feeling does quell, the appreciation of having a car doesn’t. On into your twenties you delight in being able to drive yourself to and from the airport, hire a car in Spain and drive to France.
In your thirties you delight in being able to drive to do the grocery shopping or work without the kids. The car becoming the only place you can listen to your own music, make a phone call, think and drink your take-out coffee in peace. Your car becomes your den, your bubble, the place where you can block out the outside world and regain your composure after a hectic day.
Your car, your independence, the freedom to go where you like, when you like, your vow never to give it up, even when moving to Qatar where driving incurs a 50/50 likelihood of be mowed over every time you negotiate the roads. Or Abu Dhabi and Dubai where the driving is orderly but fast and dilly dalliers get left behind. You’re a driver, always will be. That is until you move to Jakarta.
It’s not that expats can’t drive in Jakarta, they don’t drive, apart from a very rare adventurous Bear Grylls type character, which I am not. There only similarity between driving in Jakarta and driving in Ireland is that both drive on the left hand side of the road and most of the cars are manual.
Most of the roads (I use this term loosely) are just about wide enough for two cars to pass with considerable negotiation. As there is more often than not a 3ft trench, wide and deep, at the side of most roads, it would be imperative to keep all four wheels on the tar and not lose two into the dyke. In the spots that two cars cannot pass, there are often children on the road operating a Go/Stop system for cash. Only aged 7 or 8, they stand barefoot, six inches away the passing cars, holding their hands out for loose change.
On the more significant roads, where two cars can pass easily, the most thing to be wary of the assortment of road-users in Jakarta. At any stage a single lane of traffic can be populated by a couple of tuk-tuks, five motorbikes, a guy pulling a cart, a woman walking and oh, a car. The term “eyes in the back of your head”, surely originated from an Indonesian taxi driver and the most amazing thing is that there are not more accidents. The fact that speeds rarely pass 30klms per hour, quite possibly lends itself to reduced fatality rates.
Also amazing is how so many people gasp at the appalling traffic in Jakarta, with an infrastructure like, well, like Jakarta and ten million people living in the city –what could you expect? Unlike being stuck in traffic on the South Link in Cork where the only view are the tail-lights of the Peugeot in front, stuck in traffic in Jakarta is like having front row seats for a live show. “A view of the 3rd World”. Commons scenes are women washing clothes, children urinating and peeks inside the destitute one-room homes of local people. Food preparation is carried out on the street, inches away from the car window and people sleep, eat, work and live, just there at the side of the road.
Suddenly the liberation of having your own car, pales into insignificance as you hand over your hard won, cherished keys to your Indonesian driver and just be grateful that you’re inside the car and not outside.