Yazan’s world has gotten smaller as he has connected with people from across the globe.
By Rassi Narika (YES 2003-2004, Indonesia, hosted with AFS in Vassalboro, Maine)
It was the first day of 2018 and I was at the end of a social media hiatus when a friend messaged me saying, “This might interest you.” Included with the message was a screenshot of a Facebook post from Humans of New York, (HONY, the storytelling blog that turned into a worldwide phenomenon), mentioning that HONY creator Brandon Stanton was coming to Jakarta in February and was looking for interpreters and recommendations for places to visit. I decided to end my social media hiatus a bit early and read through the post. He was looking for someone with “English proficiency, lots of energy – for long days work – and an outgoing and friendly personality.” And they also asked applicants to submit a short video.
It was just my luck actually that it just so happens that I work as a simultaneous translator/ interpreter, mostly for market research, so the idea of working all day and interviewing people is not new for me. But next I needed to prepare a short video. So, using Behind Stranger Things 2’s casting video as a reference, having watched it earlier that week, I prepared my casting script, rehearsed and finalized my video after about a dozen takes. Within two hours after the post, I sent in my application.
I heard from Brandon only a couple of days before his arrival. I told a few close friends about working with the Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York. I was nervous. I’m a fan, so I have my expectations. But I knew enough that I operate better without putting too much expectation out there and on myself. I was also nervous because I was unsure how he works and what he expected from me, but we cleared that up on the first day.
And then I had my assumptions of Jakartans. I anticipated that people would be more reserved, not articulate, or would choose to portray an ideal version of their stories and that we would struggle to get good stories. But I was humbled finding Jakartans to be honest, gentle, and vulnerable when we indicated we sincerely wanted to listen to their stories. I learned how you couldn’t stop how people want to portray themselves, but if you connect with them, listen and allow them to tell their stories, most people will respond with an honest, truthful and real version of themselves.
We walked all day long, so much that I busted my shoes! But it was worth it--we were having conversations with a bunch of boys on their Sunday adventures to find foreigners to take pictures with, a mother telling stories of putting her daughters through school so they could have a better life, a daughter overcoming a difficult relationship with her father, a man trying to get back on his feet after a business went wrong, a son struggling from losing his mother, a man sharing his thoughts on religion. I couldn’t believe the stories I heard; they were so rich, and I felt so refreshed.
And yet it was just 3 days roaming the city I’ve lived in all my life. I’ve only left the city for my YES year in Maine back in 2003, and during my graduate degree in London. Living in a place for too long tricks you. It makes you think you understand everything and that you won’t find anything new about it. You overlook the details, the small things, and take the strangers next to you for granted. Meeting strangers in Jakarta through the lens of HONY was quite surreal and humbling at the same time. It was not a matter of where or whose stories, I am now truly convinced that people have stories to tell as long as you spare your time, listen, let them share, and just be ready for differences
So many times while listening to these stories I encountered yet again the “there is no right or wrong, it’s just different” concept, so familiar to many of us from our exchange student orientations and experiences. Despite our differences, we talked. I could see where they were coming from--the different perspectives that shaped people to see culture, values, norms, and behavior through a different and specific lens. It’s a vantage point that helped me to make sense of the world, but also frustrates me at times. And yet, finding and talking to strangers once again, as I did (as we all did I’m sure) as an exchange student in the US, was a wake-up call that without humility and the willingness to reach out and have personal connections or conversations we are bound to always misunderstand differences.
To see the Jakarta photos and stories from Humans of New York, click here