Major Paul Lodge and Captain Chris Willett are both reservist members of the Military Stabilisation Support Group (MSSG). In their civilian jobs, Paul is a Project Manager and Chris is a Police Officer. For two weeks, they are deployed on Exercise Civil Bridge, an MSSG overseas training exercise which this year is taking place in Jakarta – the first joint exercise of its kind to involve the British and Indonesian Army.
Day two’s highlight was meeting with the Mayor of East Jakarta, who even laid on some cake for us.
A piece of ‘sponge in a bag’ was going down well when the room went quiet and our hosts stared at one of my colleagues. The Mayor who knew no English managed to say ‘we don’t eat the chilli’ as a green wedge disappeared down with the cake.
The ice was broken
The gathered masses sat back to see the result as they all agreed, ‘no we never eat the chilli; it’s hotter than red ones…only to flavour the cake in the bag’. To spare any blushes I’ll say no more but it’s fair to say the ice was broken.
We had a busy morning of meetings planned.
After the interviews with Mayors we got out to meet more people. First up, the local police who, after the formal presentation, took us outside for a more relaxed demonstration of their inflatable rescue equipment. In front of about 100 officers and the station’s car park attendants I was in high demand for photo opportunities. That lasted until they realised WOII Chris Parsons is a stunt double for Michael Owen and I was side-lined as they clambered to have a photo with him instead……most undignified!
Dealing with the rainy season
It actually took some time to extract from the Police who kindly offered to visit us when we next have floods.
They struggled to grasp that we don’t have a ‘rainy season’ or more accurately a ‘non- rainy’ season and that we have no idea when or where we will have floods!! They have a complex system of pumps and gates which to be blunt directs flood water to a low lying shanty town across the road from the station.
The city evacuates the residents, the area gets wiped out and they efficiently clean up the mud salvaging enough wriggly tin to rebuild it. Have we considered doing that? Hmmm answers on a postcard as to where you would recommend we trial the concept.
The partial construction of colossal high density housing projects suggests an effort to alleviate the problem of shanty towns but I suspect the current pace of economic development will draw people into the city to fill any space vacated by those already there.
A five minute walk brought us to the local health department where we had another exceptionally warm welcome. Offered fruit instead of cake (naturally) we were frankly amazed at what they can deliver with so little. Accommodating 500 displaced locals in the foyer and another 400 in the basement (rooms, which aren’t big at all) …. for a month…with food, clean water and health care etc while not 50 metres away the flood waters wash away the neighbourhood and wash in rubbish and toxic waste from across the city.
Of course the rats and other vermin have the same idea when their homes are flooded. Impressed? Just a bit!
After all that hard work we needed a bit of local situational awareness and headed for the old town from where the Dutch ran the country as their colony in the late 18th century. Walking past a line of school children waiting to enter a museum caused carnage when they all decided they wanted a piece of ‘Michael Owen’ and followed us down the street. What must their teachers have thought?