Jakarta is beautiful compared to Varanasi: wider roads, lush greenery, clean sidewalks. Inside the gated community for expatriates are enormous houses with marble floors and persian carpets, a gym and poolhouse, and many wealthy foreign people. Right outside the compound of their expat community are many smaller neighbourhoods, where service workers and foodstall owners live. We’ve been on several long walks with Paulette’s four dogs, adoptees from Jakarta’s streets. Outside the compound, we clutch the leashes and walk along small lanes.
The local neighbourhoods are similar to Varanasi’s Nagwa and Assi areas, except that: food stalls are different and cleaner, infrastructure is more solid, women are less covered, and children are fatter and more smiling. The areas are lush, with banana palms and long grass and other stooped trees with leaves with big holes in them.
Multicoloured birds flit in ornate bamboo cages. The paths are small and gravelly. Fences, gates and lots of neon graffiti on grey pavement against warm pink peach skies. Crickets.
Everyone waves and calls hello: women in nighties or tshirts and capri pants, kids in school uniforms and men in shorts. There are few other dogs, and many cats, which ours jump to chase. This terrifies the children, who as Muslims have grown up thinking that dogs are dirty. The kids and women enjoy the drama that revolves around disliking dogs, and shout in mock fear and run when they see the dogs straining at their leashes.
One elderly lady in a printed yellow nighty helped to save a tiny kitten from the dogs. She grabbed it from beneath a table by the scruff of its neck and poked her hand with the kitten in it through wire fence slats. She tossed it onto a pile of of garbage like a banana peel. A pile of kids watched, sitting on one another’s limbs.