‘Anna bikhair, Alhumdulillah’

It’s been another two weeks at Karang Widya: field trips, going home, teaching and chilling.

And, unfortunately for the students, our Mid-Term Test.

I can tell you now that watching people take a test that you have written, calling them out on cheating and telling them off for talking is one of the worst things I’ve had to do as a teacher. The only thing worse is collecting the tests in and marking them! Having to give 0/5 when someone doesn’t include both parts of the Present Continuous Tense makes me feel like an evil witch!

Still, the test was extremely useful in highlighting the differences in ability between the students. On the whole, everyone did really well – especially the girls, all of whom got over 60. The test was out of 70. It just goes to prove that girls are more intelligent than boys…

The test was soon behind us and Wednesday saw us on a field trip to Bogor: waking up at 5:00 am to get the coach, looking in horror at a stuffed monkey in the Bogor Institute of Farming, and inevitably (we are in Indonesia) a photo shoot in the Botanical Gardens (Kebun Raya).

The Kebun Raya is really beautiful. Imagine Kew Gardens with tropical trees and exotic plants and a Palace surrounded by spotted deer. It was founded by British Explorer Stamford Raffles and is still home to his wife’s memorial.

Last week was a week of waking up early to travel. Friday saw Phun and I out of the house at 5:30 am to catch an angkot from the bottom of the hill (imagine a creaking, screeching minibus piled high with sweaty people – there was a man practically sitting on my lap!). This took us, after an hour at the side of the road waiting for more passengers, to Bogor where we caught another angkot to the train station. From the station it was half an hour on the train to Depok where Phun had to renew her visa and then another half hour to Cikini and HOME!

Arriving back to left over lasagne and pasta with tomato sauce was one of my best food highlights of the year. Over three days we ate vegetable lasagne and pasta and sushi and cereal and chicken pie and cheese cake and frozen yoghurt and dahl and macaroni and cheese and eggs and… RAJMA AND RICE. Definitely the most satisfying meals ever – there is nothing like living only on nasi and vegetables to make you appreciate food.

But the real reason for our trip to Jakarta was Amaala’s School Musical.

This year the school decided to put on Copacabana and, somehow, Amaala managed to land herself a main part! Which meant she had to sing a solo. She was absolutely amazing – I didn’t even realise she could sing that well. Or act. Or look so at home on a stage. I’d spent the whole week listening to her telling me how she couldn’t sing in tune and how everyone was laughing at her. It’s safe to say that she must be delusional because she was unbelievable. And I’m not just saying that because she’s my sister!

Unfortunately, the trip to Jakarta was not all sunshine and rainbows. Pele, our black Labrador, has kidney failure and, although a trip to the vet seemed to energise him on Friday night, it is unclear how long he has left. Leaving home not knowing if I would see him again made it doubly hard. And then there’s also the fact that we might move house before I get back. That means returning to a new room and a new neighbourhood and feeling bad that I wasn’t there to help.

All too soon, it was Monday and time to return to TLF.

The first thing we noticed on arriving back was that we now have all the students in our class. Computer lessons have finished and, at the moment, there aren’t any other lessons scheduled. That means that we have thirty-five teenagers to teach at once – so much harder than the original twenty.

After our test last week it is also much more apparent that abilities range greatly – for example, one boy still does not know subject pronouns (I, you, we, he….). In comparison, some people are practically fluent – although there are lots of grammar issues and missing vocab. This range of abilities makes teaching even harder. Still we are trying our best. It’s not easy when you have no training!

Aside from teaching the week has been rather quiet. We slept the afternoons away, made quick trips to Alfamart at the bottom of the hill for (healthy) snacks and, of course, joined in with the evening activities.

Every Thursday is Religion Night – the Christians disappear into one room and the rest, all Muslim, congregate in another to read Maghrib (evening prayers) and recite Surah Yasin together.

Religion has, so far, played a large part in my Gap Year. In a country where belief in one God is included in the Constitution this is unsurprising. In Sumba, I stayed in a Christian Convent. Here, I am surrounded by Muslims. And in each place, the fact that I am also Muslim gives me an invaluable way of relating to and understanding the culture. At the end of the day, that is the beauty of religion and, at least for me, what it is all about: bringing us together. Years of Sunday School and learning about Islam provides me with a sense of community and kinship no matter where I am in the world, whether it is celebrating Eid in London, praying in the beautiful mosques of Turkey or reading (the transliteration of) Surah Yasin with a group of Indonesian teenagers. And then, of course, it’s also just a way of impressing everyone around you – being able to say Anna bikhair, alhamdullilah (I’m fine in Arabic) is very cool.

Religion in Indonesia is also so different to the Islam reported on the news. It is crazily common here to see a couple walking along the street holding hands, the girl in hijab. Islam is just another part of life – people pray and then go to meet their friends and chill out in coffee shops or at parties. Hijab is not a defining characteristic, instead it is just another item of clothing that a large majority of women wear. Islam in Indonesia is liberal and relaxed and, especially at the moment, so reassuring.

And that is why it was so frustrating reading the news coverage of the bombs in Jakarta three weeks ago (I should probably have written about this in my last post). When I heard there had been a bomb, I was scared – the Sarinah mall is just ten minutes from our home after all. But thankfully everyone was alright. I was disappointed as the international news inevitably exaggerated the events. Yes, it was a big thing – “seven bombs” in one location, right in the centre of Jakarta – but to insinuate that the country is over run by extremists is ridiculous.  According to an article in the Guardian, 500–700 Indonesians have joined Islamic State in Syria or Iraq. Taken in isolation that may seem like a lot. But Indonesia has around 205 million Muslims.  As in most countries, extremism is a growing problem but one the vast majority of Indonesians are ready to tackle.

Living here has shown me that Islam and religion doesn’t have to be something to feel embarrassed by. Teenagers date and hang out and enjoy being young. They don’t care if their friends are Christian or Hindu or Muslim. Belief in God brings them together rather than tearing them apart – they pray together before eating, help each other in classes, hang out afterwards. All the Christians know how to say Assalamulaikhum (the Muslim greeting). At the end of the day religion is just another part of who you are.

And now it’s Sunday afternoon. I’ve just come in from a 3km run to Cipanas. There was an aerobics session at the running track: crowds of women (most in hijab) dancing away to Zumba tracks and Phun and I at the back messing up all the moves. We managed to get back before the rain. It’s absolutely tipping it down, even in our room – there’s leaks in the ceiling right above my head!

Sampai jumpa.


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