10:45am – Jl. Teuku Umar (Heavy traffic)

I’m looking out the driver’s side window at the expressions on the other drivers faces as they move slowly past me on the other lane. On some faces I see frustration and bewilderment; as if they still can’t comprehend how their streets have become so congested over such a short period. Some smile at me, some smile with me, some look at me and instantly turn their heads away, some frown at the lark of space in front of them. Some are paying attention to the road, while some are either texting or talking on their mobile phones, or chatting with their passengers. And during all this, motorbikes are cutting through the traffic; whizzing past with no coherent patterns. Everyone’s in a hurry here today. Everyone else seems impatient; struggling for the slightest space available. Bikes, cars, trucks, buses, bicycles and pedestrians, all blazing their own trail, moving towards their own destiny, but for a moment in time have to coexist within the confines of this here traffic jam.

“Hmmm… Maybe they all know something I don’t.” I thought.

I’m closer to the traffic lights now. We had been moving only a few metres at a time for the last 30-plus minutes or so. Finally, I can see the set of traffic lights at the major junction ahead that I need to cross to get to my office. The lights are red but the counter next to it is now down to 55 seconds, which means the lane to my left whose light is currently green will soon go red; at about the 30 second mark. And when this happens, those eager drivers reposition themselves; changing lanes and cutting each other up to gain the best position, for the inevitable ‘green’.

Me…, I like the chaos here because it has character. Despite the organised confusion, the people on the streets of Denpasar–Bali rarely engage in any form of ‘road-rage’. The driving maybe aggressive but that’s where it all ends. Everyone just smiles and goes about their business. Its kind-of like an unwritten law here. Motorists can be as reckless as one can possibly imagine and quite frustrating to drive alongside sometimes, but hardly anyone openly expresses the severity of their frustrations here; only foreigners like me, you know, the assumed civilized. But I have acclimatised. It’s been 6 years now since I started living in these parts and I’ve grown into the place.

I continue looking and smiling at the faces from the other lane, with the music playing in my car louder than my smile. I had bought some mixed cd’s during my last trip to London, at a restaurant that featured a live dj and mouth-watering ‘Nigerian’ food. I was there with family I hadn’t seen in a long while. Now coming back from Asia, after not eating properly made Nigerian food for about 3 years, I initially found the portions and liveliness of the location intimidating. But it felt amazing to back with my people, eating traditional foods and listening to music from my native land. So I ended up buying 8 cd’s that night. A bit excessive I know. But I had intended to honour the evening with some act of excess, so it’ll live longer in my memories… Go figure?

Ok… So now I’m back in Bali, stuck in traffic, listening to my Nigerian mix, wearing a full beard, my head shaved, with a pair of silver reflecting retro-type sunglasses hanging on the bridge of my nose. Not your typical everyday sighting on the streets of Bali I might add. For me, it’s all gravy because I’m used to standing out.

I look to my right and see a tanker stuck behind a couple of minibuses. The minibus in front appears to have some problems. The driver of the first minibus is unsuccessfully trying to restart the engine and then begins waving his left hand at some chaps approaching from his rear to help push his bus clear of traffic. The driver of the second minibus, now stuck in between the broken down bus and the tanker, is sitting in his vehicle talking and gesturing with his right hand. The two men approaching had come out from the tanker to my left (I assumed because the logo on the tanker’s matched their uniform) and were rushing to help push the first minibus clear so traffic could pass. Now there’s a woman dressed in yellow standing by the passenger’s side window, talking the driver of the first minibus. They are now joined by the two men from the tanker, who initially attempt pushing the minibus from the side. Why? Because the second minibus is parked so close to the rear of the first minibus that the two guys and the woman cannot go behind and push, which arguably will be most effective, considering the road is on an incline. Now the driver of the second minibus sees all this but decides instead to just sit there and carry on conversing with the kid standing in middle section of his bus, still gesticulating with his right hand. The two men then approach and ask the driver of the second minibus to back his vehicle up a bit so they can help push the first minibus and clear traffic. The driver of the second minibus eventually agrees and reverses a few metres and then stops; still completely unmoved by the event in front. So finally the two guys and the woman push the minibus and it starts and drives off. Hooray! …job well done. Now I assume the fun is over and turn my attention back to my lane, but from the corner of my eye, I see the woman dressed in yellow, who helped push the first minibus, get into the back seat of the second minibus as it started gaining momentum before it too speed off.

“How peculiar…” I thought.

I was amazed at what I had just observed. But what really arrested my attention was the attitude of the second minibus driver. I mean, even when he had agreed to reverse the bus so ‘they’ (the two men from the tanker and his passenger, the woman in yellow) could push the first one, which incidentally, was also to his advantage, he did so with nonchalant reluctance. Now that bewildered me. My mind continued to wander until I heard a series of beeps coming from both behind and beside me. I slipped the car into gear and carried on my way; making a sigh as I continued bobbing my head to the track playing. But my thoughts were clearly on what I had just observed.

Moments later, I turned down the volume and began pondering; about the mind and what it perceives as normal and abnormal; about fundamental good and bad. I wondered how the driver of the second minibus had perceived his actions. And if he was able to replay the incident in his mind, perhaps during a quiet moment, would he see his behaviour back there as being normal, one he could justify?

Ok…, it’s not like he committed some cardinal sin or anything as such, but his actions, or rather inaction didn’t particularly help the situation; especially when a solution that had been designed in his favour clearly existed. I danced around the walls of my known mind, searching for indication or reason for this kind of behaviour. Now I know I did the same sometimes, in fact loads of times, but why?

Suddenly, a certain event from my not so distant past sprung up; on how I had reacted to an offer made by my wife to help deal with a situation lingering that was causing me some distress. I had rejected her offer even when it was clearly the best available option, and by doing so, rejected her as well. Clearly I could see her offer was made because of love, regardless of how I initially had perceived it. It was the sensitivity of my pride that changed the meaning of the language she spoke, not her. After all, love is what prompt one to share with another their agony and strife.

“So why do I act this same way, and worse yet, when I see someone else act the same, feel aggrieved at their ignorance or reluctance for better judgement.” I asked. “That means I am very much a hypocrite, yes?” “I mean, wasn’t that what I too was currently doing?”

Take the scenery observed away and replace it with mine and the results still breathe the same. And regarding this particular behaviour, I assumed I had overcome it. I had made the adjustments after all that reading, meditation, prayer and introspection. Yet here I was, observing my own hypocrisy. This realisation cut deep, and in that moment, I felt sadness. I can’t say for certain that I won’t repeat the same behaviour, again; but I know that I am aware ‘more’ of it now, so I will work towards doing my best.

Funny what happens in traffic…yes?
Ea2 – 06/12/11
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