Another busy day in the world's tenth-biggest city


July 2, 2011

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    Travis Penn for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Through programs in hospitals, health clinics and neighborhood support groups, Mercy Corps encourages and empowers women to breastfeed, helping nurture a healthy bond between mother and child. Photo: Travis Penn for Mercy Corps

I wasn't quite expecting to see as much of Jakarta as this. Today we met the Mercy Corps staff at their offices for a presentation of the various projects the organization is doing in Indonesia. Then we got into the van to go to North Jakarta to visit a hospital whose community program encourages and supports breastfeeding in its pre- and post-natal health care.

We got on the highway and then things began to crawl. It look us three hours to get to our destination and, upon arrival, we all just poured out of the van in search of a bathroom. Imagine driving for three hours — all within the same city! (Note: at more than 9.5 million people, Jakarta is the tenth biggest city in the world.)

As soon as we got to the hospital, we talked with the people in charge of the breastfeeding program — an approach that Mercy Corps is championing here, especially in poor neighborhoods — and then went up to the maternity ward to see the new mothers and their babies. It was interesting to visit a hospital in a country such as Indonesia. The nurses in training looked so young and wore white veils. The overall quality of care seemed to be higher than I might have expected. There were six beds to each room, but there was plenty of space. The only problem I saw was that there was only one working elevator in the building.

Then we drove to a nearby fishing village to meet the community "facilitators and motivators" — female volunteers, supported by Mercy Corps, who teach and encourage breastfeeding in their own village.

When we got out of the van, I was overcome with the stench of dried fish as well as swarms of flies. Everyone in this village was engaged in the green mussel business. The whole area was covered in crushed mussel shells. Men, women and children were busy taking the meat out of the shells. I can't tell you how overpowering it was — especially the heat and the narrow passages around the village.

We were all somewhat appalled at the living and working conditions, yet the people seemed happy, healthy and busy with their tasks. The houses were mostly corrugated metal huts and the nicer places each had a rotating electric fan.

Everything about this village had to do with mussels There were so many mussels being processed that it was surprising to think that any were left in the sea. The mussels were collected in large plastic laundry baskets and then placed over a steaming vat to cook. When done, they were poured (shells and all) into smaller plastic baskets and then were distributed within the community for individuals to collect the meat.

After that, we went to a tofu and tempeh factory where Mercy Corps has helped increase the hygiene quality of the process while reducing the negative environmental impact. Tempeh and tofu are also very healthy foods (and cheap) that are being encouraged around Jakarta because of their nutritious value. Since we had missed lunch because of the traffic, we all jumped on the platter of tempeh that was offered us.

We got back to the hotel around 6:30 P.M. — after spending around five hours in the van. And we were told this traffic was not too unusual for Jakarta. We're certainly staying busy and seeing a lot of the work Mercy Corps is doing in this sprawling, vibrant place.