Never have I felt such a wave of personal attention before, until I entered the village of Bekasi, Indonesia. This particular town is about one hour outside of Jakarta, and able to be reached on a 35-cent bus through one of the craziest and smog-filled traffic clusters known to the driving world. Though the city limits of this place contain over 2 million people, it is not at all urban, and has a very provincial feel.
Entering Bekasi from Jakarta, it seems as a simple rural village. There are a handful of main streets with single-lanes on each side, each passing traffic side packed with hundreds of moving motorcycles and collective taxis. Single-story shack shops line these streets, selling instant coffees, chips and occasionally mobile phones.
What is more interesting in Bekasi is passing away from the main street, into the network of homes, alleys and rice fields. The main street connects this village to the outside world, but it is the interior of this village that makes it what it is.
As we walked down the dirt and concrete alleys that snake these residence buildings together, we realized that we were fascinating the locals with our foreign skin and style, and attracted a small crowd as a result.
People often executed the same English lines:
“Where are you from?”
“What is your name?”
“How are you?”
While hearing these expressions over and over, it was an extremely hot day in the tropical weather, so rest was often called for. Everywhere we stopped for a few minutes, crowds would stop and stare, and their numbers would grow.
Once becoming the center of a crew, the people of this village would motion the inquiry to take a photograph of you, and you would sit in a single spot, while others took their turns standing next to you, posing, getting up, and letting the next contestant sit down for the same photography round.
Walking down by some establishments of this village, I was also asked to make announcements for the local community.
If you took your camera out, many people of this village would happily stand for a photo, and then possibly ask you to take more after you have captured an image.
Apart from the human population, the number of animals was quite abundant. Herders would walk up their crew of sheep every so often, the old ones looking suffocated in their dense fur, and the young lambs frolicking along.
Stray goat families also scattered throughout this village, on the main street and in the side fields, nibbling on whatever looked tasty, whether small flowers or wrappers or leftover pieces of rice dishes.
Of course, lots of little cats also roamed around Bekasi. They formed their own sort of social network, creeping under motorcycles, striding across the sides of alleys and jumping across the rooftops.
At one point we entered the back of a small schoolyard, which was an area of grass and dirt surrounded by rows of one-story buildings. Dozens of children began to come out and have a look at a new breed of humanoids unfamiliar to their previous visual experiences.
As some of them saw our presence, the word of newcomers spread, and more and more ran out.
This ongoing pattern of being a magnet continued consistently, until I was surrounded by a sea of over 500 children. It felt like being a celebrity without any special talent, yet being so entertaining and special to the spectators. Everything I did, whether shifted my weight, opened my mouth or turned my head 20 degrees, changed their facial expressions to any range of excitement or fascination.
We had to part ways with these children, as such a thing was quite overwhelming on a scorching day.
As Bekasi is partially a rice village, we also entered the muddy bog territory of a rice field.
I got to guest-star rice farm. This is certainly a job of hard work, having to be under the hot sun all day, using a load of manual strength to beat the stalks against the board for a little bit of yield, then having to repeat this process hundreds of times.
Sometimes we can find different sorts of universes within our own planet. You can be completely unfamiliar with it existing, and get treated like an alien upon arrival, and still be confused after departure.