Swimming on Land

For the sixth time this week, it rained in Jakarta during what is technically the dry season.

I woke up to the sound of thunder and heavy rain, and thought, “Maybe it’ll stop.” But 20 minutes before I was due at the office, I was still standing stupidly at the far corner of the corridor at my kost, the sky bombing the earth with giant water drops.

Folding my black cardigan over my head, I decided to run out to the street in the hope of hailing a cab, but was stopped by a wide current of floodwater raging across the foot of our driveway.

The kindly security guard who always wears a hunter green uniform –like a soldier’s– informed me that I could not possibly hail a cab in this flood. With a sheepish smile, he gave me a plaid umbrella. “Missus, for over your head,” he said.

I started to walk across the flood, thinking it was just ankle-deep, and was surprised when my entire leg dipped into the water. Halfway through, one of my trusty white jelly shoes slipped off and was carried away by the current. I caught a glimpse of it bobbing a few feet ahead of me.

The security guard saw me limping back and immediately took out a pair of old brown Crocs. “That’s okay,” I said. “I’ll just get shoes.”

I ran upstairs, one of my feet bare, and dumped ballet flats and a towel into my bag. Donning my silver slingbacks, I ventured out again. This time, the security guard with his slacks rolled up to his thighs waded into the flooded street with me, pointing out where I could go.

Together, we got to an uphill road where he told  me I could walk and find a cab or an ojek (motorcycle taxi).

As I walked down those narrow, unfamiliar streets, the rain kept getting stronger. My little borrowed umbrella could not shield me from the worst of it.

Dripping wet and anxious, I finally spotted a man sitting idly by his motorcycle. I asked him if he could drive me to the office and he took out two plastic raincoats– one white and one blue.

He put the white one over his body and the blue one came next. He held the back of the coat and signaled for me to get under it for the entire duration of the trip.

What followed was pretty much the wettest ojek ride I had ever taken. What normally took five minutes became a 15 minute trip, since the highways were jam-packed with cars trying to avoid flooded areas and potholes.

Though I was huddled under the blue plastic raincoat, floodwaters kept splashing up my legs and the rain kept pelting both sides of my body, making my bag, my hair and my clothes wet.

Everything was wet except for my eyeballs.

I felt like a drowned rat. I felt miserable.

I didn’t realize that the umbrella I borrowed had fallen from my lap, so I was surprised to see another raincoat-clad ojek driver holding it and trying to maneuver close enough so he could return it to me. I could only manage to grin and say “Terima kasih” before he went on his way.

I got to the mall and was dripping wet. I paid the ojek driver Rp50,000 just for agreeing to take me. He could have refused, given the torrential downpour.

I had to buy new, dry clothes and change in a tiangge store’s fitting room.

People living in cities (like Jakarta and Manila) that are vulnerable to climate change but do not have the adequate infrastructure or foresight to respond to such disasters have to deal with such experiences often.

If not for the kindness of strangers, I would have given up all hope for a sunny tomorrow.

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