New City, New Field Partner: Settling into the “Big Durian” (Part 1 of 2)

By Laurie Young, KF16, Indonesia

A little over 4 months ago Kiva welcomed a new field partner headquartered in Jakarta, VisionFund Indonesia (VFI). VFI operates out of the two largest cities in Indonesia: Jakarta and Surabaya. Because it’s a relatively new relationship, a fellow has yet to spend time with VFI or be placed in Jakarta. That’s where I enter this story. I’m working with VFI to help them move from a pilot to active status. If you would like to learn more about the pilot to active process, a former fellow (Amber Barger of KF14) wrote a great post about it here. Within my two-part series, I’ll give you a taste of what it’s like to get settled in the field and get to know a new partner.

When I initially found out that I was placed in Jakarta (nicknamed the “Big Durian”), I immediately drove to my local Barnes & Noble to buy the Lonely Planet Indonesia guidebook. Picture this: I’m standing in the aisle of the store and on page 96 where the section about Jakarta begins I start to read the first sentence, “Jakarta is a hard city to love.” I’m thinking that that’s probably not a good way to start any relationship. Luckily, as I continued down the page, many of the Big Durian’s redeeming qualities were included and those are what I’ve seen thus far in the city that is my new home for the next 3+ months. For those of you who may not be familiar with the durian fruit, it can be best described as a large, spikey and gives off a notoriously putrid odor.


As I write this blog post, I’ve been in Jakarta only about four days. I haven’t even been inside VFI. I may be biased because I arrived during Idul Fitri (Lebaran) which is a national holiday in Indonesia and comes at the end of Ramadan. During this time, most people exit the city to spend time with their families in their hometowns. So I may re-form my first impressions when all 9+ million of my neighbors are here. Until then, I stand by what I’m about to say: Jakarta is a relatively easy city to navigate, economical, has great food, some interesting places to visit, and home to absolutely the friendliest and most helpful people! Granted, some of the streets can be a bit smelly and crowded with cars (hence where the reference to durian comes in) but what megalopolis doesn’t have a few streets with too much traffic that smell a little funky and have a rat or two lingering around an abandoned pile of trash?  I’ve noticed that Jakarta at least has an infinite amount of cats (many without tails, but we’ll save that topic for another post) to keep most of the rats out of site!

In these four days I’ve managed to accomplish a great deal as there are numerous activities that a fellow must complete before stepping foot in the field partner’s office and getting to see microfinance in action. Since this was all a little daunting for me because no fellow had previously been placed in Jakarta, I was fortunate to have Anne Conlin of KF15 and a Jakarta resident as an invaluable resource. It’s amazing how powerful the Kiva Fellow connection is worldwide!

So, here it goes, a list of (some) things a fellow must do once arriving in the field:

1) Find a place to live:

Because Jakarta is the capital city and VFI is located in one of the nicer neighborhoods of town, finding an apartment to rent within walking distance was going to be pricier than I had budgeted. Fortunately, Jakarta has what is called a “Kost”.  These are boarding houses that rent rooms (the ones I looked at all had adjoining bathrooms) but with shared kitchens and other facilities. My new home is at a Kost that has 50 rooms, and mine is smaller than my freshman year dorm room but clean, with a/c, refrigerator, attached bathroom, wifi, 4 pieces of laundry included a day, and a 13″ TV w/cable! The Kost even has it’s own security guard/grounds keeper. Urban safety still matters!


My new home

2) Locate Internet fast enough to upload this post:

Before moving into my new home, I was constantly in search of free wifi. Fortunately Jakarta has a myriad of coffee shops or convenience stores, that with a small purchase (ok, so almost free), allow you to access their internet. The internet has been relatively fast for things such as email but uploading photos is a different story.

3) Procure a working Mobile Phone:

I’ll spare you the details on this one, but having an ‘unlocked’ global phone from the States made it relatively cheap and easy to get a SIM card and have pre-paid minutes added to my phone. The world of cell phones without contracts and large bills is refreshing!

4) Eat:

I would be less-than-honest if I told you I have a stomach of steel that can handle Indonesian food 3 meals a day. I’m one of those people that needs to “ease” into the local cuisine or suffer dire consequences, hence the 3 dozen protein bars in my suitcase. I have had a variety of delicious meals since arriving including the noodle dish and chicken satay from a street vendor pictured below. I have also stumbled upon a place that I’ve been denied access to over the past 3 years while living in Seattle that my east coast upbringing included regularly. Rumor has it that they have durian donuts! If the rumor is true, I’ll be trying those sometime in the near future.

Indonesian Noodles and Satay

Lunch of Indonesian Noodles and Satay

Dunkin' Donuts

Dunkin' Donuts!

5) Locate the office of the Field Partner:

This was easy to accomplish with a map, comfortable shoes, and some sunscreen. Also note that when any sort of walking is involved in the 90+ degree heat, bottles of clean water is also a must have! This is the front façade of the building where VFI is located.

VisionFund Indonesia Building

Building that VisionFund Indonesia is located in

6) Explore:

In between tackling 1-5 above, I’ve been able to get out and see a few of the landmarks of Jakarta! Both doing this and taking long walks has been a great way to familiarize myself with the city.

Jakarta Sites

Visiting the National Monument (Monas) and the Jakarta History Museum (what used to be the old Batavia town hall)

It’s amazing what can be accomplished in a few days and only knowing a handful of Bahasa Indonesian words! I know most of my fellow fellows of the 16th Kiva Fellows class around the world have already tackled the same tasks and I can only hope that they had as much good as luck as I have had so far! Stay tuned for part two of this post in which I will give you a further introduction and more specifics about VFI and the borrowers who they serve.


Laurie Young is a Kiva Fellow (KF16) working with VisionFund Indonesia in Jakarta.  If you would like to learn more about VisionFund Indonesia, please visit its partner page and stay tuned for part two of this series!  Laurie also just created a lending team for VisionFund Indonesia so please join her if you would like to support them and their work throughout Jakarta and Surabaya!

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