Opinion & Analysis

A sunken village, ten million people and monsoon season: Six weeks in Indonesia


Arriving in the bustling city of Jakarta after a long flight from Blenheim, Stuff journalist Maddy Croad says the culture shock was, understandably, quite the shock. Maddy was in the country to attend the 2024 Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies (ACICIS) - an internship programme for emerging journalists that provides language training and seminars followed by a media work placement. Despite the initial culture shock, Maddy was soon chasing stories and exploring Jakarta and the surrounding region. In this article she describes her time in Indonesia and seeing firsthand the impact that climate change has had on one of the country's most vulnerable communities. The Asia New Zealand Foundation funds New Zealand journalists to attend the ACICIS programme.

Local resident Ibu Doah described what Timbulsloko used to look like. Gardens and coconut trees were rife, children would play in the streets and rice fields stretched for kilometres.

But now, she said, there is nothing left. People who could afford to have moved away, farmers have become fishermen and she has been left with “nothing”.

Maddy Croad with children at a Green Mussel operation in Kalibaru. Image: Supplied/Maddy Croad

Indonesia has been ravaged by climate change, rising sea levels and sinking land for the past decade. It has now reached a point where the country’s capital, Jakarta, where I spent most of my six weeks, could be completely submerged by 2050.

Timbulsloko was one of the coastal villages that had already seen the effects of the changing climate, with most of the community and housing now submerged. Most homes in the area have been raised with dirt and wooden boards at least three times, to try and keep up with the rising sea.

I decided to go to Timbulsloko. I had seen photos of the village on National Geographic, The Associated Press and other Indonesian media outlets. But seeing a place like that with my own eyes was something else entirely.

With a backpack, camera and a couple of seats on an overnight train. Me and a translator made the six hour trip to Demak, then a further hour-long car trip and a walk, to the cluster of floating homes that was Timbulsloko.

A young girl who lives in Timbulsloko at the local Muslim school she attends each day. Image: Supplied/Maddy Croad

Being a bule (foreigner), someone who spoke barely passable Bahasa Indonesia and a journalist with a camera usually wouldn’t be a great combination for entering somebody's home. But I was met with completely open arms.

The locals had agreed as a collective to allow me to photograph their homes, their children and themselves. I was invited into almost every home, and each time I crawled through the front door I was met with bottles of water and food.

Every person in Timbulsloko was incredibly open about what had happened to them. I hadn’t realised just how open they had been until I came home and received the English versions of our interviews. They spoke of the exhaustion of flooding every week, the state of their homes, how they want to leave but can’t.

This was one of the last of many experiences I had in Indonesia, after receiving the Asia New Zealand grant for the ACICIS programme.

I flew out of Blenheim two days after Christmas, arriving in Jakarta just before New Years Eve. The culture shock was instantaneous. I quickly realised how conservative the capital was due to its majority Muslim make up, and I felt the stickiness of the heat just as quickly.

For the following two weeks I attended Atma Jaya University in a journalism class made up of 10 Australians and me.

A girl carries food back to her home in Timbulsloko, just as it starts to rain. Image: Supplied/Maddy Croad

We had Indonesian broadcasters, journalists and experts come and speak to us every few days in the mornings. We would then venture to the food hall for a $1.50 lunch and head to the other side of the campus for four hours of language class.

After class we would make the walk home, playing the roulette that was crossing the road. With over 10 million people in Jakarta, double the amount who live in the whole of New Zealand, we quickly became aware that the only way to do so was to stick your arm out, lock eyes with the drivers and walk across with confidence.

Each weekend a group of us would venture somewhere outside of Jakarta. A tent on a one hectare island one weekend and a shack wrapped in a bug net in the middle of the mountains the next. We quickly learn the ‘cross your fingers and hope for the best’ mentality.

The highlight of my trip was my time working at my placement, where I spent four weeks at Al-Jazeera mentored by Asia Correspondent Jessica Washington.

A worker taking Green Mussels off of heat in Kalibaru. Image: Supplied/Maddy Croad

I was immediately given the opportunity to chase stories that I wanted to write. I started dubbing some of Al-Jazeera's broadcast videos, and then wrote a feature on the potential entertainment tax hikes in Indonesia, speaking to business owners who may lose their jobs.

I spent the rest of my time working on longer projects, one around the contamination of Green Mussels in Kalibaru which was causing mussels to shrink and making some people sick. I got to speak to mussel farm workers and conservationists about their perspectives.

I learnt that groups were using the mussels to clean the water, a technique that they originally learnt from a project completed in the Hauraki Gulf.

I started working on a story and video in Timbulsloko, looking at how the coastal sinking and flooding that had happened to the small village was starting to be seen on a small scale on New Zealand coastlines in places such as Bluecliffs and Moanataiari.

At the end of my internship I also had the opportunity to help Al-Jazeera's live blog for the Presidential Election, corresponding from a polling booth in Sanur, Bali.

Locals line up to vote in the 2024 Presidential Election on election day in Sanur, Bali. Image: Supplied/Maddy Croad

Aside from working, just being in a completely foreign country was an experience in itself.

Motorbikes, 80 cent street food, 40 degree heat, five daily calls to prayer, the MRT, monsoon season and an atrocious amount of Nasi Goreng were things that after a while, I considered normal.

But after being back in New Zealand, and working in a newsroom here, it is clear to see that at the root of it all, both countries are struggling with a lot of the same things.

Cost of living, housing, homelessness, politics and climate change. Although Indonesia was experiencing these things on a much higher scale, in New Zealand these are issues too.

We are quite an isolated country here. Before going to Indonesia I didn’t know people's homes had been submerged by climate change, that street buskers doused themselves in kerosene to make money or that there were places where crumbling homes and slums could be seen side by side with high rise’s and apartments.

It was a reminder that there is always stuff to be talked about or shown to others, and I hope that more fresh out of university students like myself get to experience reporting and work like this in the future, to hopefully share some of those stories to the motu.

- Asia Media Centre