Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Just When You Think You've Seen Everything...

Anyone who has spent as little as one day in Indonesia can see that safety is not really a priority. The best example of this is the way people drive. It is complete chaos. I've lost count of how many times I've seen people narrowly avoid death or injury. Many seem oblivious. The hazards can go way beyond the road but the road is always nearby.

It is amazing to see people walking beside (or sometimes in the middle of) a road. They barely blink when a motorbike narrowly misses them as it zooms by. It is also not uncommon to see someone (especially a child) run into the street without looking or to run into the street and then look to see if there is a vehicle approaching. News Flash: There is ALWAYS a vehicle approaching!

Years of observing and asking questions have led me to a few conclusions.....

First of all, there are so many vehicles and so few sidewalks that people are used to vehicles driving dangerously close to them as they walk down the street. I guess it's kind of like getting used to garbage smell if you live next to a dump.

Secondly, there seems to be more of a reactive than preventative approach when it comes to safety. This means that nothing is really considered unsafe until someone actually gets hurt. I've had a quite a few of these instances where I've tried to warn someone of impending danger only to be told that it isn't dangerous since they've never seen THAT happen before. My favorite instance of this was a toddler left unattended in a kitchen with a pot of boiling water directly above where he was playing. I made a fuss and the parent considered me to be a little bit strange.

Third: motorbike helmets are NOT for protecting your head. They are worn to avoid being pulled over by the police for not wearing a helmet. This leads having to pay a "fine". I've seen people turn onto a small road where there aren't any police and immediately pull over to take off their helmet. Ironically, I've seen way more accidents on small roads than on big ones. Sending an SMS while driving a motorbike also isn't dangerous.

Fourth: hard hats and shoes of any kind are not necessary at construction sites. One of my favorite memories is sitting in a taxi in front of a construction site. A guy from the 5th floor threw a bucket to the ground without even looking. Another guy, barefoot, was walking by on the ground. The bucket fell right in front of him. He stopped, looked up, smiled and waved at the guy on the 5th floor and carried on with his day.

Fast forward to this afternoon. I was sitting in a food stall enjoying an afternoon coffee. The woman who runs the food stall was in the corner cutting some vegetables. Her daughter, who was around 3 years old, was sitting next to her and had a knife of her own. It was a small but very sharp knife. At first, she was poking at a small onion in her other hand. How she avoided cutting herself is beyond me. Then, with her mother watching, she got up and started running around with the knife. Then she started swinging wildly at a cat in front of her. She was swinging so wildly that she almost cut herself a few times. Eventually, she swang too close to the cat's tail and it ran away. Then, she started throwing the knife on the ground and then picking it up by the blade.

I couldn't stand the thought of this little girl cutting herself so I left. The alternative would have been watching or having a very confusing conversation with her mother about the safety of knives. It would've been like the "Who's on first?" conversation......."That is dangerous, she could hurt herself!" "What do you mean, she plays with the knife all the time." "But she could cut herself very badly." "But she has never cut herself before?" "The knife is sharp, if she cuts herself, it could kill her." "But she didn't cut herself!"....... and on and on and on.

One more observation...

Knives, scissors, jagged metal or any other sharp metal object you can think of is NOT dangerous and no care is needed when handling them. This is especially true when walking with one of these items in your hand.

Just when I thought I've seen it all: A toddler playing stabby-stabby with a knife while mom proudly watches. As I'm writing this, it occurs to me that I have no idea what the Indonesian word for dangerous is. First thing I'm doing after finishing this blog is looking it up and memorizing it. Not that it will do me much good.

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