There isn't very much in this huge, grey city that would appeal to a visitor. Its streets are choked with slow-moving traffic, the air is toxic, and its trees barely make a dent in the concrete and smog. But when I stepped out of the airport into the thick, humid air, I felt happy. It had been four years since I handed a one-way ticket to Ulaanbaatar to the Garuda Airlines check-in girl in Bali. She me a funny look, as if thinking, "So, who did you piss off ?" Leaving was hard, and ever since, I hoped I'd be able to come back one day.
Years later, in Ukraine, I was writing a blog post about Aceh for the 7th anniversary of the 2004 Tsunami, and I needed fresh information about the situation there. I dropped a note to a former colleague working for the Multi Donor Fund (MDF), a highly successful disaster reconstruction program for Aceh and Nias. Almost as an afterthought, I added: "P.S. If you hear of any short-term work in Jakarta, let me know." That P.S. changed my life. It turned out that the MDF itself needed someone like me to do some writing and help close the program down (it finishes up at the end of the year). A door had opened. And it seemed like the whole world was plotting behind my back to get me to go through it. Everything, from contract arrangements to finding a place to live, fell into place like magic. There was a definite pull, an unmistakable feeling of inevitability, as if I were meant to go back and didn't have a choice. Jakarta may not be a pretty sight. But the city is alive, it has energy, and it welcomed me back. I got into a taxi and said, in hesitant Indonesian, Selamat sore. The driver grinned and replied, Selamat sore, Pak. Mau ke mana? The taxi pulled away, and a new chapter in my life began.