My activist friend, Marta, runs the Wicked Good SEED (Support Environment & Education Development) accelerator project in Labuan Bajo, a 7 month scholarship program sponsored by Wicked Diving. She invited me to spend a couple of hours talking with the teenage students of SMKN 1 High School, a vocational tourism high school, in Manggarai. I love getting in touch with the local culture through my travels, especially, curious and enthusiastic teens, and agreed to meet her the following morning.
She meets me on her motorbike in front of La Cucina Restaurant at 7:15 am, but she didn’t have an extra helmet for me. The cops can be a bit strict on the helmet policy around here, unlike many other places in Indonesia, so we decided to hail down a motorbike cab instead. It’s about 10 minutes away in a ruralish area outside of Labuan Bajo. The students are all dressed in a matching baby blue and yellow uniforms wearing Vans or Converse shoes in crew cuts and ponytails.
I was a few minutes ahead of Marta, and while I wait for her to arrive at the school, I get plenty of rubberneckers wondering what this foreigner is doing standing by herself in front of the school on the side of the road until she arrived.
Marta escorts me pass about a half a dozen of full classrooms, and I get big hand gesture waves, bright smiles, and welcoming hellos from the students. If there’s anyone that knows how to boost my self-esteem, it’s definitely Indonesian kids!
We get into Marta’s classroom where she teaches 4 hours a day on Monday’s and 2 hours a day on every other weekday and most of the kids were already in their seats. They’re all wondering who is this foreigner guest their teacher brought into the room.
Marta introduces me to the class and then allows me to tell them something about myself and encouraging they ask me questions to help practice their English.
“Hello, my name is Celia. I’m from California…in America. I have 3 brothers and 2 sisters which is a big family for Americans. I have been traveling since October, and this is my third time to Indonesia.”
I’ve never been great at introductions.
There are several students quick to raise their hands and ask me more questions about myself wondering if I like Indonesia, what my hobbies are, and then one of the girls followed up and asked…
“How old are you?” she asks.
HOW DARE SHE!?
I hear the turntables scratching through my head with “How old are you?” Beat. “Erwee, Erwee.” Scratch. Beat. “Erwee, Erwee.” Followed by a dozen pots and pans falling through a glass ceiling.
Marta quickly steps in and explains to them about cross-cultural relations and what’s appropriate to ask people, and this was wasn’t necessarily polite among Western culture. 🙂
Thank you, Marta! But I answered anyway.
“I’m 34.” I say confidently.
32 pairs of eyes went big in the classroom as if they felt sorry for me. Hey, kids! I’m not that old, okay! Am I?? Well, whatever, the 30s are the new 20s in America! Take that even though you Indonesians all look like you’re 30 when you’re 60 and 60 when you’re 90. Oh, go away with your impressive anti-aging genetics! 😉
Whew! That was a digress. Ha! Back on topic. Where was I?
Oh, yes… the introduction.
As I am finishing up introducing myself, one male student walked into class late apologizing for being late and proceeded to say to me, “Sorry, sir.”
The class chuckles and corrects him before he apologizes again and accidentally calls me sir a second time.
Oh, kids. You have a long way to go, but you’re so adorable.
I take a seat in the back of the classroom and observe Marta going back and forth between speaking Bahasa and English. She then asks for a few of the students to give a presentation on a topic about a place that tourists could go but also how to make it environmentally conscious. I was interested to learn about the Bajawa Hot Springs to Cunca Waterfalls to the Batu Cermin Caves. I haven’t really even thought about the land attractions since I’ve been here.
Then the class concludes, and Marta welcomes me to spend 15 minutes with the students and allow them to practice their English. Several of the not-so-shy types run over and ask to take photos with me. We needed to allow the next class to prepare and finished off with a few group photos of the class.
One thing I’ll say is I’ve always loved the inquisitive and warm Indonesian teen minds. I spent a month with them in Java a few months ago and now a couple of hours this morning on Flores Island, and, while adults are usually much more my speed, I sincerely love their age in this culture.
I visited my brother’s English class in Japan and they asked me how old I was too, lol. What lush green grass.