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What it's Like Living Through the Terror Attacks in Jakarta

"There's fear and anger, and then there's a weird blank space where I feel I should understand something I don't."
January 19, 2016, 12:00am

Flowers around the corner from Starbucks, All photos by Eric Wirjanata.

It's now 7pm on Friday night. Yesterday afternoon someone threw a grenade into a Starbucks at the Cakrawala Building in downtown Jakarta. Simultaneously a suicide bomb went off next to a police box across the road. There were reportedly five attackers, who then started shooting people. The attack was apparently intended to mimic November's carnage in Paris, but thankfully it was botched and the police responded quickly. In total eight people lost their lives—three civilians, four suspected terrorists, and one who is yet to be identified.

I'm only one of the millions of Indonesians trying to make sense of this right now. Some, like my friends, are doing it on Whatsapp where they throw around words like bangsat and ngentot—basically Indonesian versions of 'fuck!' I've also got friends who check in to make sure I'm okay, even though they know I don't live near the site. There have been candle-lit vigils and the streets have gone quiet. We're all dealing with this in our own way.

People stop to look at the crime scene

I was at my house, around 30 minutes from the site, when the attack happened. I was listening to Spotify while my mum watched her regular Korean TV shit. It was only after my sister broke the news via a Whatsapp group that I checked Twitter, and found several accounts that neither confirmed nor denied the incident. Without much in the way of information, graphic photos of severed bodies started appearing around the internet. Everybody thought it was a bomb. Local news channels were slow to pick up the story and when they did, most messed it up.

We watched TV and my mum started yelling, "DID YOU HEAR THAT?" every time the TV prompted her to do so. I wasn't sure how to feel. I read Thomas Chatterton Williams' essay on the attacks in Paris, and I was struck by how little I have in common with his experience. Thomas wrote about grappling with fear and paranoia, and an overwhelming guilt of profiling Maghrabi men.

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Here, in the day since, it seems a form of delirious humour has become our favoured form of defence. Photos of a peanut gerobak (cart) that was determined to stay open near the bombsite went viral. So did photos of a young cop who was one of the first on the scene. He'll be forever remembered as hot the guy with the glasses who was gifted a hashtag from pubescent school girls—#KamiNaksir—meaning, we have a crush on.

These banners are everywhere. No Fear Jakarta.

And then there's defiance. #KamiTidakTakut—we are not afraid—has become a sort of hymn. Elementary students hold signs in the street sporting the term. Their faces beam with pride even though they're being told to stand there. When you walk in some neighborhoods in Jakarta, you can see banners that read, the people of street (X) reject the ideologies of ISIS. But I don't remember ISIS ever knocking on my door with a pamphlet.

When my friends tweet the #KamiTidakTakut hashtag, are they really not afraid? At best, the hashtag is harmless—you can't deny how easy it is to laugh after picking yourself up unharmed. But at worst, this sort of clicktavism encourages complacency.

Construction workers around the police box

Today I went to visit the Starbucks site with a friend. The tiny police box was already being rebuilt. Cameras were everywhere, journalists were everywhere. The Starbucks was closed, and a small carpet of flowers was laid over the ground, in front of which people were taking selfies. I ran into a good friend of mine and we got talking. Things hadn't righted themselves into stability, but it felt strangely natural to be there.

Local news crews are also everywhere

To be honest, I don't know how to feel. This is the first time this has happened in the conscious lives of most of the people I know. When a van full of fertilizer blew up on Indonesia's expat-concentrated resort island of Bali in 2002 over 200 people lost their lives, including 88 Australians. I was only 7-years-old. All I can remember was my dad coming home early from work. That's all it meant to me.

This time there's fear and anger, and then there's a weird blank space where I feel I should understand something I don't. All I know is those hours after I left the site, numerous candle-lit vigils were held around Indonesian cities. In Jakarta, we even had a vigil two days in a row. And I'm sure in all of those moments; maybe a few of us felt the same.

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