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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

You are so nice, Oma, you must be Muslim

Today I went up the mountain to attend an English Camp for middle school students. The headmaster of the school had spoken with my vice principal and my English teacher and myself on Monday and asked if I could please go to his school on Wednesday. The headmaster has a daughter who attends my school. She and I had taken the bus together the week before to visit a different English teacher’s home. Mr. Ali, the headmaster, arrived with his car and picked up Mrs. Sulis, the English teacher and I and drove us for about 20 minutes up past rice fields and rivers and steep rural places where the road had washed out to a little school. His was the only car on the grass parking area. There were 8 motorcycles also parked there. We walked into the school office and were immediately served little multicolored sponge cakes and deep fried bread with sugar wrapped around bananas. I love Indonesian hospitality!

Then were taken around the corner of the school building and saw that there was a small tent erected and in front of that on the grass in the shade, blankets were spread and I counted 95 students sitting and smiling. There were tables set up at the front with chairs for 8 people and a loud speaker system and a small stage with a microphone and 4 potted plants. Each of the students had a number written on a paper and pinned to his/her shirt. This school is a Muslim middle school and students graduating from this school could potentially attend my Madrasah for High School. All the girls and women teachers wore jilbabs covering their hair, ears and necks. The girls that I saw sitting on the blankets had long pants on and long sleeve shirts. The boys had on long pants and short sleeve shirts.

I greeted the students with the standard Arabic statement that begins each teaching session and they answered with the Arabic response. It is a prayer it’s also what my host family says to each family member when they wake up in the morning. I then sat down at the special place they had designated for me. The announcer began the program with the Arabic prayer and then I gave a short introduction about who I was and where I came from and where I live now telling them that I was the new English teacher at the Madrasah – speaking a little in English, mostly in Indonesian and a little Jawa language thrown in from time to time. Then the announcer began to call out numbers and the students with that number came forward and presented their poem, or song or speech in English.

Each student gave me a photo copy of his presentation. The English teacher sat beside me and on a score sheet graded each student as they did their presentation. Here are some selections from their works:

Poem to Mom:
Mother… is a woman who is always ready when my stomach feels hungry and thirsty
When I woke up in the morning, noon and night.
Mother… you are skinny because I, you sacrificed everything for me.
Mother… which can only pray for you I dedicate
Because your services not rewarded.
Mother… I love you so much
Also to my dad….!!!

My Friend (This one was performed with sad eyes and kneeling, pleading, looks)
Why you to leave me, In a moment I am sick, in a moment I am to need.
My Friend… what these is that the name Friend so that sick my to feel while you leave me.
I am so distant for seek substitute you. But not that same like you.

Weary… I to stand in under sun beam
Since you strike along keep away go
Until this hair begin whiten
As yet.. I don’t discover you come back.
Powerful my love never brittle
Never vanished space and time
Entrust this loyalty
For honesty, I love you.

To headmaster that I respectfully, father and mother teacher, that I respectfully again with Friend class nine that I affection. Permite we stand in platform represent friend class nine for convey to program separation it. To youngers class affection, during three years certain free sex. ( I think he looked up something in a dictionary and it gave him this translation. The dictionaries are not always accurate. No one in the audience or the judging staff reacted to this statement. I didn’t hear it accurately and only happened to glance down at his written paper.)

I miss U
Three days honey I passed it
But it so help self three year its time
Without your present in my eye balls
Just your face shades fill my brain.

Body you layers soul steel
In the beast layers spirit freedom
You advanced to batter enemy
Determined you one, Indonesia free (The students cheered at this.)

After about an hour of songs and poems and speeches they asked me to please sing a song. I made up a song (in English) about how much I enjoyed visiting their school and meeting them. Then they wanted more, so I asked if they knew “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and they did so we sang that together.

Then they wanted me to speak some more so I brought out my little 3 x 5 cards with information printed on them. My name is Colleen Young. Please call me Oma. My favorite color is green. My favorite food is nasi pecel. I have 3 children Etc. and passed out the cards to the students. Then I went back and asked each student with a card to read the information out loud. Then I repeated it, then had the whole student body repeat the information in English. I would occasionally ask them a question. “What is my favorite color?” or ‘How many grandchildren do I have?” to see if they were understanding the material.

By this time the students were not so shy and a few of them had some questions for me. The first question they always ask is “How old are you?” In Indonesia, it is very important to know because you use different levels of speech to address a person older or younger than yourself. I always answer this question by making them guess my age. I begin by saying: Am I fifteen? They laugh and say no. Then I say “Am I twenty?” No, how old am I? What do you think? As the age guess increase I repeat the numbers in English and Indonesia and I tell them “higher” or “lower” till someone guesses the right age (61) and then I say ‘Correct” in Indonesian and everyone cheers.

At this point the English teacher at the little school tells me:
“You are so nice, Oma, you must be Muslim.” My eyes get tears; I am so touched by the love they shower on me. No, I am not Muslim. How can I tell you, I don’t have the words in any language, who we are is more than our religion, more than our nationality and I am finding out that who we are is more than even the concept we have of ourselves.

They give me a frame with an announcement about the English “Weekend Camp 2010.” It’s Wednesday, never mind. Then all the teachers leave the students and go back to the office. In the corner of the office there is a little sink and we wash our hands and I am given a decorated cardboard box with white rice and spicy fried leaves and fried corn fritters and a piece of beef and 2 tiny bananas wrapped in plastic and a blue boiled duck egg. We all eat with our fingers. I have heard that food tastes better when it is eaten with fingers and I think it’s true!

The English teacher at the middle school tells me to please never forget her and the sweet memories we make today.


  1. Oh Colleen...Another wonderful missive from you. I so enjoy reading and feeling everything you write. I feel like I am there with you but better, as I can be there in my mind and heart, but like that fly upon the wall. I have such a privalige that I can listen and watch thru your eyes and heart, but yet not be there. Isnt it wonderful? So often with reading your mail, I do so with tears of different sizes, coming andd going. My tears come from pride in you, and joy of what you are experiencing. Also a great sense of wonder of all that has gone on in your life in such a relative short time. I think about this time next year...what an old hand you will be with the language and customs. You then will probably wonder how it could ever been so hard. It will become second nature to you, your mind racing as it translates. By then this 2nd langueage will be a most comfortable way to speak and think and live. Wanna bet it will happen in under a year? You are a wonder dear lady...their special Oma. I hope you can let me know if you are able to recieve my blog stuff. If I dont hear from you this way, then I will try email and if not that then snail mail. Love you much and miss you, but so happy you are there. Corkala

  2. This is a wonderful story, thank you so much for sharing it with us.
    Oma Lautzenheiser-Page (Maggie's mom)