It’s been almost two weeks since I arrived at Jakarta center. The past two weeks have been an unbelievable adventure for me. Every moment was full of magic and enlightenment that I couldn’t believe how much I have grown and learned in such a short time. During my flight to Jakarta, I watched an award-winning movie called “Eat, Pray, Love”. It’s amazing how its concept also applies to my experience here, and it convinced me that this is more than just an coincidence. I feel like I am answering a godly command.
I lived my whole life in Chongqing, China before I went to America for college. Growing up in a city famous for traditional Chinese cuisines and spicy food, I consider myself as someone who has a picky taste and a high tolerance for spicy food. But I started to doubt about myself the second day after I came here when Ayu, the local co-director, took me to try her favorite Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice) which made me cry because it was too hot. I was then further amazed when a 15-year-old girl, who grew up here, ate the whole thing without drinking any water.
It seems to me that they put chili in their every meal. That’s also what I saw in Indonesian people: quiet outside but vigorous inside. The more I get to know them, the more amazed I am by the sparks of their enthusiasm. Ayu, Rhama, and Joco are the locals who live in the center with me. I was deceived by their calm and quiet appearance and manners until they started to give some witty comments and quick remarks. I just simply couldn’t explain how funny and interesting they are with a few words. I laughed so much more often each day here than before.
Talking about food, I have to mention our “chief”, Ibu. Ibu means “mom” in Indonesia. It can’t be more accurate because she is our mom and her food always reminds me of “home”. Other volunteers told me if you want to try the most candid Indonesian food, no matter how many restaurants you go, you will always come back to Ibu. Also, Ibu’s food is so much less spicy than the food sold outside, which makes me really happy. I’m very conservative when it comes to food, so it’s really hard for me to be willing to try and accept food that I’ve never had before. But when I started eating Ibu’s cooking, I couldn’t stop trying more. She makes me fall in love with Indonesian food.
I’ve come at the right time. Ramadan started the third day after I came here. Before I actually experienced it myself, Ramadan was just another religious celebration that I read about on newspapers. During the whole month, the Muslims are supposed to fast during day time starting from sunrise to sunset. I was convinced by our co-directer, Maria, from Costa Rica, to fast together. We woke up everyday at 3:30 am for “Sahur”, which is like a super early breakfast helping us survive the coming day. It was such a precious and interesting experience to eat at such a weird time with the whole outside world in darkness. Every evening, around 5:46 to 5:47, people start to play recorded prayers on the street reminding people that “buka buasa” has come, which means breaking the fast. After going through the whole day with hanger and thirst, I start to appreciate whatever food that is given to me. My heart is filled with happiness and peace brought by God’s mercy and generosity even though I am not a Muslim. Ayu prays five times a day, before which she will clean herself and dress up. The way she prays is so aesthetic, full of peace. Each day, I am surrounded by an atmosphere that is of faith, mercy and spirituality. I come to appreciate the beauty and power of spirituality.
Each time after “Sahur”, Maria leads us to do Yoga on the rooftop. Under the night sky and with the prayer sound on the street, I come to feel the inner peace even though I sweat so hard doing the complex gestures. In that situation, I start to think a lot about my life and my future. I love the peace and silence when I get to speak to God in my heart.
So far, there has been numerous magical coincidences in the past two weeks, which Maria calls the “big magics”. In one instance, one night Maria and I just talked about our ideas of traveling and living outside of our comfort zones; then the next day we went to an art museum which has exactly the same theme of display that we discussed about. None of us knew its theme before we went. It’s an exhibition by an artist whose name is Douglas Diaz, titled “Shukke” which means to “leave home” or to “leave one’s comfort zone” in Japanese. It was an enlightening show with lots of thought-provoking and amazingly interesting ideas. Anyways, there were so much more magical coincidences and new experiences that have convinced me that this place has chosen me. A sense of mission has filled me with enthusiasm and anticipation for more that’s coming.
The kids have taught me more things than I did to them. They has shown me how to care, to love, to respect and to be confident. Each time before class starts and after class ends, they will come to me one by one, use their foreheads to touch the back of my right hand, and say hi to me. Even the smallest ones or the most mischievous ones respect me as a teacher and someone older. I was surprised by their openness and outgoingness. Playing with them or just simply watching them play softens my heart. Their fearless laugh always reminds me of the simplest joy I can have in this world.
So far, I organized two special activities with them. One was learning the “cup song”, the other one was the Chinese paper-cut. The most amazing part was that even though the outcome usually wasn’t what I expected, they created their own ways of playing and had so much fun together. For example, the Chinese paper-cut event ended up with a fight of paper scraps.
Having no prior teaching experience, these two weeks of teaching has been an adventure for me. I was amazed by how fast they learned new things, and sometimes disappointed with myself when I couldn’t keep them focused. They have taught me how to be confident and comfortable with the class, and that the first step to have them trust in me is to have myself confident with what I am teaching.
Another thing that I feel so blessed with is how much love and care I received from the people in my center. Although it has been only two weeks, I feel like I’ve been knowing them for a long time. We shared so much meaningful memories and had so many interesting conversations over travel, work and marriage. I learned from Ayu and Maria what strong women should look like. They are among the most amazing women I know, who are tough, caring, hard-working and independent. The way they care for me and the kids in the center has taught me what it means to give and to love.
It’s unbelievable how overwhelmed I am with all these new experiences and lessons in just two weeks. Things I have seen and learned in such a short time have been proving to me that I have made the right decision to come here. I’m looking forward to more stories that I’m going to make with these wonderful people.
By: Rebecca Cai