Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Borneo (2) - Meeting the Schoolkids and a Boat Trip in Pangkalan Bun

Our colourful hotel in Kumai
on a hot morning
After three days living on a boat on a river in the jungle watching the wildlife up close, Jenie arranged for us to stay one night at an hotel in his village where we would be able to freshen up a little (facilities were limited on the boat and after three days trekking through the jungle we needed a bit of a scrub).  The following day we would visit his sister’s school in Kumai before heading to Pangkalan Bun.

Jenie’s sister, Raya, teaches at a local elementary school while at the same time continuing her studies at university before becoming fully qualified.  It soon became clear once we met Raya and watched her in action at the school with the children that she had a passion for her job and her young students.

Kumai village is quite small, the people on the street very friendly and we enjoyed long hot showers and a good night’s sleep before getting up to meet Jenie and his sister at 8.00am when they would take us to the school on their motorbikes.  Unfortunately, we used my mobile phone as an alarm clock which for some reason known only to my phone had decided to turn back its clock one hour so we were actually waiting outside the hotel at 7.00am instead.  By the time we thought it was 8.30am we were getting a bit worried when Jenie turned up on his scooter.  When we eventually established that he was actually half an hour early and not half an hour late there was much hilarity at my expense. 

So thanks to my stupid phone with a mind of its own we ended up spending nearly an hour outside in the baking sun and by the time Raya arrived on her scooter we were a little hot and bothered.

One of the classes
Raya and Jenie transported us to the school along roads pitted with potholes with a skill that only locals possess.  Technically, Indonesians drive on the left but the reality is that you drive wherever you can, avoiding cracks and holes in the road as well as people and all manner of animals who may stray into your path.

We arrived at the school armed with some exercise books, pens and pencils, and a football for the kids.  We bought what we thought would be enough for one class of children but as it turned out the gifts were shared out among most of the students, the youngest getting pencils and pens and the older ones the exercise books.  The boys were most excited about the football which was for all to share.

The elementary school taught kids between the ages of about 6 and 12.  It was a madrasa which is a religious school and Raya explained to me that for this reason they only receive funding from the Department of Religion and none from the Department of Education.  This means that they receive about one third of the funding that other schools receive and so need to rely on the parents for contributions.  The children have to provide most of their materials, the library was shockingly bare of books, and Jenie brings those clients who want to visit the school and they bring small gifts like we did, which are much appreciated.
Paul wandering through
one of the classes

The only way to describe our visit to the school was utter mayhem.  It must have been break time and all the kids were running wildly around like absolute lunatics and the noise they were making was deafening.  They had been told we were coming and it is obviously still so much of a rare occasion for foreigners to turn up that they were very excited to be meeting us.

Raya introduced us to all the teachers (who were all female) and the headmaster who was an older man of about 65 who founded the school about 40 years ago.  All the schoolgirls and teachers were in traditional dress wearing headscarves and the boys were wearing a simple uniform of blue trousers and white shirts.

We were welcomed by everyone with warm smiles and handshakes all round.  All the children crowded around us to shake and kiss our hands, something which made us feel a little uncomfortable until it was explained that they are taught to do this when they greet their teachers and other adults as a mark of respect.

We were first taken to the first grade classroom for the youngest children where we handed out pencils.  Most of the children in this class were incredibly shy but when you caught their eye, smiled and greeted them their faces lit up.  They were encouraged to speak English and some spoke it very well.  It was hard for me not to try and practice my Indonesian but Paul kept reminding me that they were the students, not me!

The next classroom we visited was the second grade where the children were a little more cheeky and we played charades where the class was split into groups and we had to mime an action to each group.   They had to shout out the action in English (eg dancing) and if they could not guess they had to choose a forfeit of either singing a song or performing a dance.  Paul excelled at this game, interacted with the children really well and was very entertaining to the delight of both Raya and the children.

We also visited the two top classes where once again the children had to demonstrate their knowledge of English by asking us simple questions and in return we handed out the exercise books.  Some of the children spoke English exceptionally well but most were very shy.

Finally it was explained to all the students that the football was for all of them to enjoy, something the boys were very happy about, they could hardly contain their excitement.
Paul at the back of the class!

We were given large glasses of ice tea to cool us down and Raya gave us some chocolate sweets which were made by one of the students.  While we were there and posed for group photos with each class we visited, one with the whole school, and then there was one of us with just the teachers.

It was a fascinating experience and we enjoyed every minute of it.  It was taking us a while to get used to being in a Muslim country, and although much of the religion doesn’t sit well with us and I find it stifling having to cover up in the intense heat but we have never been made to feel anything other than welcome wherever we have been so far. The early morning call to prayer which wakes us up at 4.45am is a bit tedious and sometimes it would just be nice to have a nice cold beer in a bar at the end of the day but it’s all part of the experience.  Alcohol is available but it’s expensive and it’s just hassle so we are going to see how long it takes for us to crack! 

After the school trip we left Kumai and it was off to Pangkalan Bun where Jenie had found us another hotel and as a final gesture he wanted to take us on an evening river tour around the town.


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