Greetings from Jakarta, I have made it here safe and sound! I am taking this time over the long weekend (Monday is the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha/Idul Adha) to update you before I head out to different fish farms around Indonesia.
I arrived late afternoon on Thursday and was pleasantly surprised/seriously humbled to learn first-hand how hectic Jakarta is. Before coming to South East Asia I thought that growing up in Chicago had given me a good metropolitan upbringing. I felt confident that I could take on most challenges of a big, crowded urban center. And then I met Bangkok, which quickly shattered this illusion. Once I acclimated to Bangkok – to its heat, sounds, traffic, a new language – I thought I was prepared for everything else I might encounter in a city, but I have once again been humbled by my experiences in Jakarta. Every time I cross a street here I feel as if I am taking a leap of faith; the traffic doesn’t seem to ever really lighten up, you just have to confidently dodge cars and motorbikes like in the game frogger. Suffice to say Jakarta is not walker friendly. And, although I have been fortunate enough to avoid them so far, Jakarta’s traffic jams are the stuff of legends. Supposedly they make Bangkok’s seem quaint. I hope that I never have to find out myself.
Thankfully I will not be in the city much longer as most of Indonesia’s aquaculture is well outside of Jakarta. On Friday I visited the Directorate of Aquaculture under the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries. Although their building is a straight shot from my hostel and only two kilometers away, I still managed to get dreadfully lost within 500 meters of the Minitry’s front door and arrived 30 minutes late, drenched in sweat. Despite my tardiness and (I’m sure) somewhat flustered appearance, the directors welcomed me graciously and with a previously un-experienced level of hospitality so far in my Watson year. I sat down with them for about an hour (over tea and pastries) to learn more about governmental perspectives on aquaculture and their ongoing projects to promote food stability and food sovereignty through aquaculture in the country. We also developed a plan for places I could visit and observe some ongoing aquaculture research and extension work.
From Tuesday onward I’ll have a rapid-fire tour of the island of Java. First I’ll visit Sukabumi to observe catfish culture in a biofloc system and visit a small-scale feed manufacturer. Then I’ll head to Yogjakarta to visit a rice-fish farm, another feed manufacturer, and a shrimp farm in a coastal, sandy environment. Finally, I will return to Jakarta to observe Asian Arowana and Eel culture in sites a few hours outside the city. This itinerary I’ve described will involve buses, trains, planes, and perhaps even a few motorbikes, and take place over the coming week and a half. There will be very few quiet moments, I think. My hope is that I can parlay this whirlwind adventure into a slightly longer stay in Indonesia. For now it’s just the next 1.5 weeks but if some of the research extension sites or farms have the capacity to let me stay, it would be exciting to be in Indonesia for longer. I would like to gain a stronger sense of place, to once again observe and participate in the daily rhythms of aquaculture, to gain a depth of understanding beyond just a brief site visit. Of course with the language barriers that exist for me in Indonesia and throughout Southeast Asia this hasn’t been very feasible so far, so I’m grateful for what I am able to learn.
I am learning that not achieving my “dream” project is okay and, perhaps, one of the key pieces of the Watson fellowship. Because I am also learning that there are myriad “dream” projects to be pursued. Each new experience has pushed me in unexpected directions, forcing me to construct a different story of aquaculture than I’d previously envisioned. Perhaps the most important takeaway from the year so far is that I can rarely predict with much certainty where my adventure will take me. So I am learning to let my discoveries unfurl without trying to understand them beforehand. Before I get too reflective or preachy, I’m going to end this post. I doubt I’ll have much free time in the coming week to write much, but I’ll try my hardest to keep everyone updated!