There are 5 of them who permanently stay at the center: Ade, Joko, Ayu, Nia and Adit. Ade is currently running the house and when I watch them go about doing their thing, I dunno… something in me is stirred. They have such great family spirit, no deadweight – everyone has a chore/duty and they do it.
Joko, who’s 18 years old, picked me up from the airport and when I arrived at the center, the rest were preparing breakfast. Nia, who is 11 years old, was grinding chilli padi on a mortar to prepare sambal. Ade, 20 years old, was washing dishes. Adit who is 9, i think, was frying something. Ayu, who is 17, was upstairs doing the laundry.
We were all so shy with each other at first, but once we sat down to eat, they were talking to me like I had always been there with them. Nia is an extremely bright and courageous girl and I felt drawn to her. I thought I would have to take care of her like a sister, but really, she was taking care of me. She won at every UNO game and she helped me sort out my crazy stack of cards, reminding me to say UNO. She heaped food on my plate at dinner. She had an air of authority when she gave me a piece of her candy.
Ayu is really like the mother of the family. She’s well-mannered, soft-spoken and very friendly. There is no airs about her. She reminds me of a dear friend I left behind in Germany. Ayu helped me buy my 3g sim card today. I went to the market with her, and watched her bargain away a whole bag of veges for S$1. A lot of the sellers know her and talk to her. As I watched from the corner of my eye how a ‘mafia’ member extorted money peacefully from a vegetable seller, Ayu was calmly convincing the fruit seller to cut the pineapples for her at no extra cost.
Ade is confident and knows what he’s doing. He explained to me how the school is run. He says I can take the morning class tomorrow and teach English to ten Pri 1-3 kids. Joko is the jovial, joker one. He is also the biggest, haha. Ade is currently training Joko to eventually take over his responsibilities. If I’m not wrong, it’s because Ade is leaving for further studies.
Nordine is the director of the center but unfortunately, couldn’t be around to receive me. He flew off for France for an interview for his Masters program. Nordine is 24 years old.
I spoke English in the beginning. Now it’s a concoction of Malay, Bahasa Indonesia and English. Malay and Bahasa are quite different in terms of vocabulary. Cewek for minah, cowok for mat. Bisa for boleh. Mobil for kereta. Pria for tuan.
I’ve been told so far I look like I come from these places: Pakistan, Canada, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia. Ayu says if people ask next time, I should tell them I’m ASEAN.
There’s a great street right around the corner where I think it would be great to hang out with some of you guys. However, there’s something sobering about this place. I’m not sure what it is yet. But I will have 13 more days to figure it out.
Written by Yasmin