This is the story of my “Election Day”. I will warn you, (if you know me at all, this will not surprise you) I love Barack Obama. So if you are not a fan of our President, you might not be interested. I’m about to get political (to the tune of Madonna’s “let’s get physical”—but sub political…)
Also, Obama and Indonesia are related topics: Obama spent part of his childhood in Jakarta, where he lived with his mom, Indonesian step-father, and half-sister. People here know about Obama’s connection to this country, and they believe he is more tolerant towards their faith than other politicians have been in the past. So, when I mention Obama here, people are big fans!
When I received my absentee ballot by e-mail, I was super excited—hurray, time to vote! I love voting. I love the stickers you get after voting. (Hey, Conor, since you’ll be working the polls, steal me a few stickers please). I love feeling like I have a say in who leads our country. I believe voting is a great privilege. In Indonesia, they had their FIRST direct Presidential election just in 2004. We are lucky to live in a country where voting is a right, and I don’t understand why people don’t take advantage of that right more often. (Flukey!) I don’t agree that all politicians are the same (I’m technically not allowed to believe that since my brother could one day join their ranks). But seriously, things change depending on who is in charge—whether it’s of the country, state, district, town, or school! Immigration policies, education policies (NCLB DAMN YOU!), equal rights for ALL people, and supporting public programs are all important to me, and I feel like one candidate has been and will be more effective on those issues. Furthermore, U.S. foreign policy, and how the rest of the world sees us has always been important. Anyone who has traveled can tell you the world’s reaction to GW Bush vs. Obama. I prefer a president who embraces the idea of discourse instead of threats.
Okay. Off the soapbox.
Before I go off on a rant or speech about how great Obama is, let me get back to telling you about my adventures to VOTE for him! This is the second time I have voted for Obama, and the second time I have done so absentee. I am gratefully missing the political ads, but I was devastated to miss the Inauguration last time. As many of you know, Virginia is a swing state, so I don’t care what anyone says (electoral college my bum) MY VOTE COUNTS! And dangit, it bloody better count after the cash I just paid…. But let me get back to my story.
So I received my ballots for President, VA Senate, House of Representatives, & the two amendments by email. I had to print them all, and then mail them back to the Floyd County Courthouse. So I printed, checked the right (or left –haaaaa) boxes and sealed up my envelope. The statement on the outside of your envelope requires the voter’s signature as well as a signature of a witness over the age of 18. I wasn’t sure if they needed to be a U.S. citizen, so I contacted the Floyd County Courthouse, and they said no, just over 18…. So it was Friday morning, October 5th, and I decided, today is the day. I thought about doing it on Conor’s birthday (Oct 4th) as a sort of present, but I was too busy. (Thought that counts, eh?) Technically when I set out, it was still your birthday in the US though!
So I needed signature, and I figured I’d walk over to my neighbor Kiky’s house and ask her to do the honors. I didn’t know if she’d feel as honored as she should, but hey, I needed to get it done. Unfortunately, she wasn’t home (foiled!) But the collection of other neighbors who work for her grandma in the “big house” (she is the landlady) were gathered outside and jabbering to me about where she was. Unfortunately, I’m still not very good at Bahasa Indonesia. BUT, the handy-man about the complex, Pak Cipto, asked where I wanted to go, and I knew where I needed to go—TO PIM! (Palembang Indah Mall). I knew that a collection of bules were doing their Friday morning shopping at the hypermart. They all live in the same house & work for the same school—Amy & Hafiza from England, Megan & Chris from the U.S., and Axel who is half Dutch & half American. I could have gotten one of the other neighbors to sign my envelope, but I didn’t quite know how to explain, plus I wanted someone who would be excited about it. So Pak Cipto brought me to PIM, and I found them all down in the hypermart. I did some shopping too, and then joined them for their traditional coffee and donuts upstairs while they waited for their driver to collect them. (I want a driver!)
I was very excited, and asked who wanted to do the honors, and Axel jumped at the chance—and said he’d try to sign in the style of Barack himself. After wiping the table of the donut shop, I put the envelope down and he did the honor, only after I (of course) snapped a photo. It’s a big day after all. So now, coffee done, and my friends heading back to their house, I had to figure out how to get home. I got a becak home, after walking away from a scandalous offer of 30,000 Rp. As if dude! I got it for 15,000. Oh yeah.
So step 2: Get to DHL or Fed-ex or somewhere. I had been told not to quite trust the Indonesian Postal system. And I might trust it for letters later on (sorry pen pals!) However, I couldn’t possibly risk my ballot with an unreliable postal system. I had googled DHL at work on Thursday, and knew roughly where it was. (I thought). So I texted Taufik, my trusty ojek driver. My neighbor, Dani from Malaysia, had recommended Taufik, and said he took her and a lot of her friends wherever they wanted to go. Ojeks are the motorcycles that are kind of like taxis, but obviously on 2 wheels. Most people here seem to have their go-to ojek driver. I probably wouldn’t choose one at an ‘ojek stand’. So Taufik had brought me a few places so far, and so I figured this trip would be cheaper and more interesting on an ojek than in a taxi—plus he would wait while I mailed it and bring me back. So he came to pick me up, and brought an extra helmet! YAY! I had been a bit concerned as I felt we’d be going on some main roads… So I told him where we were going in my broken Indonesian (he doesn’t speak English) and I even brought him into my house to show him on my map of Palembang that I have on my wall. We set off to mail my ballot. (USA! USA!)
When we got to one of the main roads where I knew we needed to turn left, we turned right. One fabulous (not) thing about Palembang (and possibly all over Indonesia) is the fact that there aren’t really turning lanes… so in order to turn right across a main road, you have to pass your destination and drive on for a good while sometimes, and then pull a u-turn in the designated u-turn area, which are few and far between, and then go back the way you came. Well I gave Taufik the benefit of the doubt, and figured maybe he knew something I didn’t, and we went on. I was scanning the shops on either side of the road for any sign of DHL, or the name of the street we needed to turn down. We got into the downtown, and he pulled off and asked a few people if they knew where Jalan Mayor Ruslan was (Mayor Ruslan street). A few puzzled glances, me trying to say ‘back’ and point to where we’d come from… so we go around a huge loop to go back the way we came. It was Friday afternoon, which meant Friday afternoon prayers.
Every Friday afternoon, all men are required to go to the mosque to pray. Other days, people (men and women) pray wherever they are (5 times a day), but Friday afternoons, men have to go to the mosque. So actually going the wrong way was really cool, because I got to see looooads of men spilling outside of one of the mosques downtown, kneeling down and praying. It was a spectacular sight. To see so many people praying at once was really impressive. We drove on, and we got back to the main intersection, and he turned around again—back the way we had come from!! I was thinking, “CRAP why don’t I speak more Indonesian!” I gesticulated, while trying not to fall off the motorcycle, that we needed to go BACK (which would require another 10 minutes of going forward in order to go back). Poor Taufik. He pulled over, asked again, and these dudes knew we needed to go back. SO, we pass the mosque again, but this time, prayers were over, so men were pouring out over the streets wandering through this mental traffic. We were starting, stopping, swerving. I swear, motorcycles just slip through any old space. I felt like if I closed my eyes it would make us smaller to fit between the cars. I guess it worked. I’ve compared it before, but I really did feel like I was on the Knight Bus from Harry Potter!
Take three. We make it through the big intersection, and past my school…I still couldn’t really find where the road was, but Taufik saw a ‘FED-EX’ sign, and pointed, and I said OK! Fed-Ex, DHL, it’s all the same right? So we arrive to Fed-Ex, and I got out my paper where I had written “can you wait” in Indonesian—“bisa menunggu?” Taufik laughed and nodded. I stroll in, pretty sweaty, with helmet hair, and slap my envelope on the counter, ready to MAIL THIS THING! The shop has me wondering if my ballot will get there… there are missing letters of the sign on the wall, but the two people working are friendly.
They give me a form to fill out. I hear them speaking behind the counter and hear them practicing their English “four hundred”… I shake my head, must be a mistake, they probably don’t speak English…. But alas, the calculator does not lie. They punch some numbers and show me: 432,900Rp. Sweet baby Jesus! $43!!!! I actually believe I shouted, “FORTY-THREE DOLLARS?!!!” They laughed (apparently what many Eastern cultures do when nervous…) I don’t think I was hostile, just shocked! One man managed a, “expensive, yes?” I lifted the envelope which weighed MAYBE an ounce to show how light this envelope was. (Okay, I don’t know what an ounce is, but it was like 3 pieces of paper in an envelope. Not heavy.) I laughed, to show them I wasn’t angry, and said “gila!!” (crazy!)
I sighed, and I said to myself, “Well, this is for you Barack, you better effing win.” The two looked at me like I was gila. I ask, “card?,” because I am NOT carrying $43 worth of cash on me. Yes mom, you are right, as always, I SHOULD CARRY CASH!
They shake their heads, ‘no card’.
“ATM?” I ask.
They point randomly out the door…
I go outside where Taufik is waiting, and tell him I need an ATM. We are on a main road here—probably the main road in Palembang. Four lanes of traffic. I’ve driven up and down it before in Pak Herizal’s car, noticing the CRAZY pedestrians who attempt to cross these four lanes by dodging the mental traffic.
So of course, the ATM is across the road. The fact that Pak Herizal and I have discussed how crazy people are to cross the road instead of walking half a mile to that distant bridge that crosses over the road, does not enter my mind at the time. Again, Taufik driving me on his motorcycle JUST across the street would take ten minutes, because you’d have to drive down the road a mile or 2 just to turn around to drive back. So instead, Taufik motions that we will cross the road together. My escort. Ha. I am thinking “I am crazy. I am going to die. For YOU Obama.” However, I take Taufik’s arm and scurry across half the road. We make it to the median. Not as risky as you imagine (I swear mom!) No cars or motorcycles were close to hitting us. We cross the second half of the road, and I make it up to the ATM.
Crossing, on our way back, I notice that Taufik still has his helmet on, and I wonder if I should have put mine back on to cross the road. Well, we make it, me squealing and running, and Taufik, calm and collected—moseying over. I get back into the Fed Ex office, and decide that as this is probably blog worthy—I should take some photos. I mean, the amount of times I get my picture taken, I figure they shouldn’t mind if I take some of them! Towards the end of my transaction, another employee comes in, and he speaks some English. He mentions again how expensive it is. “Yeeees, it is!” I explain that it’s for Barack Obama, though.
He says, “OH! You vote for Obama?”
“So you’re a democrat?”
“SBY is democrat, the same.” (SBY is the president of Indonesia…but I don’t think the parties are exactly similar..)
Conversation continues… Obama is great. (Indonesians love him). We discuss foreign policy. Potential for wars if Mitt Romney is president, etc. You know, the usual.
I bid them farewell after snapping a few more pictures of my cash spread out.
Poor ol’ Taufik, still waiting. I jump back on the motorcycle, and off we go! Homeward! Taufik takes the back roads, which I am okay with, because heavy traffic freaks me out when there is nothing stopping me from flying off the bike. The ride back was really interesting, because we went through all these tiny roads, and drove through two cemeteries. In the first one, there was a funeral happening. There were a lot of people gathered round one of the mounds of earth, and there was smoke—but I think they were burning rubbish in another part of the cemetery. As morbid as it is, it was cool to see.
We drove through more tiny roads through houses and neighborhoods. At the second cemetery we passed, there were little stands set up along the side, with people selling food and drinks. Rather strange.
One interesting thing I’ve noticed, here and in other parts of Indonesia, is that so many people are sitting and waiting. Old men just sitting outside shops, or women sitting beside food stalls; people sitting outside their houses; becak drivers sprawled out, sleeping in their becaks. It doesn’t strike me as lazy at all, just a calm, patient, endearing practice. They aren’t in a hurry to get everywhere. There aren’t so many jobs here, so people do what they can to make a living, and in the meantime, they wait. They talk to each other, and they smoke. Lots of smoke. Anyway, driving through these smaller neighborhoods, it was really cool to see so many people just out and about. Sitting, or working in shops.
When we were almost back to my house, we stopped at a roadside stand to get some ‘gas?’ Taufik pulled over, and I got off, and a woman was talking to us, and she grabbed a jug of what I thought was cooking oil, and poured it into Taufik’s motorcycle. I had seen these stands—and I wondered how they sold so much cooking oil here! Silly me. I took a picture, and although she doesn’t look it, she was happy to oblige. She asked me my name in Indonesian and I answered and I asked her’s—it was Ayu. When we continued on, Taufik said “sister” and I realized that was his sister! (I’m a quick one, aren’t I?)
I also decided I needed a picture with myself on a motorcycle, and tried to sneakily take one before anyone noticed, with the result that I look like a complete goober. But- it is full documentation!
When I set out this morning, I did not realize what an epic saga my election day would be, but here we are.
I am forty-three dollars lighter, but so worth it.