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Panic in my neighborhood

Indonesia, November 23, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Yayat Hidayat/Mercy Corps  </span>
    This is how Penjaringan, an impoverished neighborhood in north Jakarta, looked two days after a fire gutted the area. Photo: Yayat Hidayat/Mercy Corps

It was Sunday, September 27, 2009 and I was rather sad. That morning, my family and I intended to visit some of our extended family in another city, but our car stalled. I was disappointed, because I kept imagining that they wouldn't be able to meet the newest member of our family, my 40-day-old baby girl. “But it’s fine,“ I said. “We'll just go another time."

The weather was very hot that day. After my morning of disappointment, I remembered looking at the clock and seeing the time was 11:30 AM — almost time for Muslim prayer. But suddenly, many scattered crowds of people rain through our neighborhood while shouting “Fire...fire!”

I know that the adjacent neighborhood of Penjaringan is indeed located in an area of extreme fire danger. That neighborhood is very densely populated and poorly arranged, with mostly semi-permanent houses and bad drainage in times of flooding. Penjaringan's chaos had increasingly crept into my own neighborhood.

And the chaos grew that late September Sunday. ”Fire...fire!” The sounds were increasingly loud and made everyone panic. Many people tried to rescue their things, but most could only cry over what they'd lost. I began to feel the air get increasingly hotter.

My 40-day-old daughter, who was not usually fussy, was obviously feeling that something was happening. The air around us kept getting hotter. Everyone shouted, running while crying and looking for their children and their families. That's when I got involved, wanting to help however I could.

I was confused as where to run first. My thoughts went back to the past about a similar incident that happened a year ago. Yes, not much time had passed since the last time this happened.

I was thankful that my family and house were safe, but soon found that dozens of other houses were burned. Out of six breastfeeding motivators in the area, mine was the only house left standing. I imagined all of my friends in the area who had new babies, all the breastfeeding mothers and how they would be affected by a disaster like this.

I was separated from my baby girl for more than three hours. But, after the shock and stress of that day wore off, my worry went away and my enthusiasm returned. Although the situation in these neighborhoods is uncertain after the fire, I will continue to try and motivate my friends and local mothers to provide their babies with early and exclusive breastfeeding.