Jokowi and more police

I paced out into the streets of Tarakan; this end of city was laid out the way I like things to be – compactly. Only several hundred metres from the ferry I was able to charge my Indonesian mobile phone and relax in a government office where I was welcomed. Was I surprised? Not at all. By now I was used to what may seem like Indonesian indifference at first, but which quickly turns into some of the warmest hospitality I’ve encountered in the dozens of nations I’ve tread in.

I contacted my pre-arranged host for the night. They’d had to leave the city and I was left to my own devices. That meant I was once again thrown into a position of being in a foreign location in the dark, alone, not able to communicate with locals easily at all, hungry, thirsty, dirty and tired, and in need of a place to lay my head overnight. I walked casually, filming anything of interest, including what I rarely see in the Third World: a plastics collector gathering containers out of the street-side rubbish for the purposes of recycling, I thought.

I had the nerve to ask a few hotels if I could stay the night free of charge, given my world record-breaking attempt. I nearly got a room, but missed out simply because Indonesia’s new leader, Joko Widodo, was due in little over a day and the hotel was full of important names. A little deflated that I’d come so close but was still so far from Jokowi, I loped off in the direction of the Tarakan Police Station.

It might sound terrible, but I admit I was expecting to be granted a place to sleep. I’d only become this confident because every single police station I’d dealt with anywhere in Kalimantan had been terrifically accommodating to me. And, even if it’d been bad to expect it, I was welcomed once again by the police.

An officer showed me to a red, 2-seater plastic-surfaced couch in a mosquito-occupied room. As I brought in my gear, several friendly female voices a short distance from the doorway welcomed me with hollers of, “Ohhh, sexy white man!” and the like. My thoughts: prostitutes and disease. I courteously nodded and then proceeded to ignore their soothing calls.

Not being able to find a tap to brush my teeth under, I took a chance and wandered around the back of the station without permission, searching for one. Down an alleyway, adjacent to a filled junk yard, rose a chorus of cheers as I took one step after the next. Behind a row of cream-painted bars a gaggle of prisoners had spotted me. They all migrated into the steel cage barrier at once, and with cheek bones pressed hard against the bars, stuck out their hands, begging for cigarettes. I gestured a few jokes which incited an even more energetic chorus. But not wanting to find myself on the other side of those bars myself, I then turned away to clean my teeth at the wall tap I’d seen.

The sofa was too small for my long legs, so I rolled down onto the floor and spent the rest of my night wriggling around, in quite some discomfort, falling asleep on the concrete now and then. When I heard a gruff voice telling me it was time to leave – at 5am – my head was spinning and I felt nauseous. I was sure it was the perpetual overtiredness I’d been suffering from for the past few weeks.

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