How you arrive in a community or someone’s home makes a big difference to the rapport you will build and consequently the quality of the interview and photography you capture. We’re a big fan of walking into communities. Of course, we’re almost always in some sort of NGO vehicle but that doesn’t mean we can’t park a little way back and walk up to the school or into the farm. It’s a less showy entrance than swinging in and hopping out of the AC, and it sets the tone for how we like to work.
We didn’t need any encouragement to walk yesterday. Jakarta’s traffic is as bad as they tell you it is and after 3.5 hours in the vehicle (after 17 hours of flights the day before!) we were relieved to stretch our legs when we made a stop to pick up a colleague. I asked how long it would take to walk to the woman we were due to visit. ’15 minutes if you take a short cut’ came the reply. That was that then.
So we headed off the congested main road and into the winding side streets. In doing so we began to absorb the essence of the place in the way it’s impossible to do when you’re stationary in the clogged arteries of the city. We noticed the myriad small businesses being run from people’s front rooms, we smiled at the brightly painted little homes, and we shouted back to the children who yelled ‘what is your name? where are you from?’ Fifteen minutes walking is time enough to give you a feel for a neighbourhood’s sense of community. And the first our interviewee Yuni saw of us was our silly grins, and not our vehicle edging down her narrow street.
It would be nice to say the afternoon’s arrival was as subtle and low-key, but I’d be a liar. We arrived in a torrential downpour. The road was less puddle and more stream. As we all rummaged around for our waterproofs and umbrellas I quickly swapped my Birkenstocks for wellies. I didn’t bother with socks – as is customary when visiting Asian homes I would be removing my footwear in a matter of minutes. Or so I thought.
The absence of socks saw to it that my feet were stuck fast in my wellies. There was no budging them. I tried. Ben tried. In the end it was left to the man of the house to get down on his knees and tug and tug. Much hilarity and a loud ‘pop’ later and my feet were free. It turns out we were the first foreigners to ever visit this family’s home. They’d been very excited about it. I wonder what they made of us?