Heartwarming tales amid the rain

JAKARTA: As the losses from one of Jakarta's worst floods in years mount, the heavy rains are not dampening the kindness of some Indonesians.

I found many people reaching out to each other in a spirit of giving.

Some opened their doors to strangers unable to get home; others helped rescue people stranded in their vehicles or gave stalled cars a push.  Such tales are too often lost among headlines about tragedy and economic costs and such.

Bank officer Difa Wati, 34, for example, has taken in two strangers and a friend who were unable to get back to their own homes from their offices in the BNI building in downtown Jakarta. They are putting up in her apartment where she usually lives alone, about 15 minutes walk from work.

“The last time a flood hit in 2007, I was stuck for six hours on the roads going home,” she says, noting that the stranded group are friends of a colleague.

“Now, I live closer and I can only imagine the misery they’d face, like I did last time, if they had to endure that journey back.”

Others are even offering shelter to those either unable to get home, or left homeless, on Facebook or through text messages to friends.

Those who get such lodging are the lucky ones. Nearly 16,000 others who have been evacuated from their homes and are staying in makeshift shelters.

There are other kinds of good samaritans, too.

I find three young men pulling a wooden cart and wading round in knee-deep waters asking people if the needed to be ferried anywhere.

When one woman with a child shouts to them for help, I expect them to charge a fee, like some others who are cashing in on thehelpless. But they don’t.

“Yes ma'am, please wait, we'll come to you. Where do you need to go?," asks one of them, Andi, 18. I later learnt he lives two streets away from where I stumble upon him.

“We are neighbourhood friends,” he says of his two friends, “and we pitied the people who were stuck.”

When I ask how much he is paid, he says: “No, we are not asking. If people want to give, so be it. If they don't, it's really OK. We are just trying to help.”

As I walk further up towards the main arterial road near Pullman Hotel, I spot a man tying a rope to a police car.

Then he gets back in the driver's seat of his open-air goods truck, which probably has 15 people squeezed in the back, and starts driving through the waist-deep waters. It turns out, he is pulling the police patrol car because it had stalled.

Further on, I come across the driver of a Toyota Fortuner yelling to three office workers stranded near the Plaza Permata building along Jalan Thamrin.

“If you need a lift, get in. I'm heading towards Mandarin Hotel and then  to Semanggi,” he says.

It’s spontaneous and random, but very sincere.

Near Mandarin Hotel, two men run to help six others  trying to push a stalled luxury car up a ramp.

As I take pictures, a man wades towards me and asks if I want to get on a rubber boat coming to fetch the stranded. I politely decline because the building I want to head to is just 50 meters away.

“Hey, you sure?” he asks. “It might rain again.” I am sure.

And I am also sure that Indonesians, in all their adversity, are selfless in offering help and do not appear burdened by calamity. They are keeping their spirits up by helping others.

zubaidah@sph.com.sg