Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Children of Desa Indong, Halmahera

In a sense, we saw the children before we even saw the island.  There were dozens of them, in brightly colored clothes, standing with their toes on the very edge of the little port, looking expectantly at our approaching fishing boat.

Our friend from college, Fitria, had been living in Desa Indong for 6 months teaching them as part of the Indonesia Mengajar program.  Our arrival was an event. They don’t usually get visitors.
As soon as we alighted on dry land, they crowded around us and followed us everywhere. They ran ahead of us, tailed behind us, played alongside us. They would just look at us curiously, but when we talked to them they would shy away. One or two just sat outside on our doorstep, staring at us endlessly. Their main entertainment was simple: rubber elastic bands.  They either twisted it to different shapes on their fingers, or they made a long chain of rubber bands to play skipping with. For hours and hours they would play in the scorching heat of the Maluku sun.  Poor and completely happy.
The next day we taught at the school. At some point during the “what do you want to be when you grow up” session, Fika asked them whether they knew what a lawyer is.  Nobody knew. And then she said ooh well we have a lawyer here who can explain what it is! I stared at her resentfully.  I started sweating a little bit. Thirty pairs of little eyes were all looking up expectantly at me.
“A lawyer is…” I began desperately, “… well… similar to a police officer! Who wants to be a policeman?”
One little hand shot up.
“Good! And what do the police do?”
“They catch bad people!”
“Why? What did the bad people do?  Give me an example!”
Scattered voices. And someone said “stealing!”
“Stealing!  Now is stealing bad?”
“Says who?”
“Allah!” they said in unison.
I smiled. “Okay. Yes. Very good. Who else says it’s bad?”
“Pak Ustadz!!”
I grinned.  “Yes, very true. Who else?”
Confused silence.
“Have you ever heard of rules, laws?”
Some uncertain nods.
“Well the government makes all sorts of rules and laws that people have to follow. And when people break the rules, they get caught by the police. And what happens to them then?”
“They go to jail!” said someone at the back.
“Immediately?” I asked.
Silence again.
“Not immediately,” I said. “First they have to go to court, where there’s a judge who decides whether they really broke the rules or not.  Because sometimes people are accused of things they didn’t do, and sometimes actions that seem bad are not always wrong.”
I was on fire. But only for half a minute.
“Now, a laaawyeeer… a lawyer… a lawyer… reads the rules and knows all of it! And a lawyer can help judges tell whether someone really broke the rules or not. A lawyer reads a whole lot of books!”
One boy was now staring out the window.  Another one was singing to himself.
I carried on bravely.
“Because not everything that seems wrong is wrong according to the law. For example, is lying wrong?”
“Yes!” they said.
“And sinful,” I added, to blend in a little. “But it won’t always make you go to jail, unless the lying caused harm to someone else.”
Around about this time Fika perhaps realized what she had gotten me into and attempted to save my ass by calling on our other friend, Adra, to explain to the kids what advertising was about. Advertising!
After Adra attempted to explain “product essence”, we quickly turned the forum over to Aji, who had been sitting quietly at the back observing everything.
Tactfully, Aji preferred not to explain his real occupation and decided to tell the children that his occupation is as an “adventurer”. They got excited as he told them of the many places there are all over the world.  At the end he said, “Do you want to travel the world?”
“Yes!!” they all said.
“And do you know what you must do so that you can travel the world?”
“Yes!!” they said.
“What is it?”
After Aji explained that prayer comes third after first study and second hard work, and the guest teachers had all finished laughing inwardly, Fitria the resident teacher could be seen shaking her head at us with a smiling look that said, “you’ve ruined my kids”.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

speechless eh ... unlike those debates in Boston's class rooms .. I like new haven more ... but the spechless of defining what a lawyer is in remote area as far as Banda remain still ... Peace Teez