In about 3 hours I should be taking off to Indonesia. My last official trip for Aim for human rights, to evaluate the work that I’ve been doing there with organisations over the past 1,5 years. I’m sure it will be a learning experience for me, even though officially the work ends after this. The first time I visited Jakarta I had the opportunity to visit one of the many Madrassa’s (Islamic schools). This one was a good example of a mix of regular education and Islamic teachings. During my travels I’ve taken the habit of writing a (very) short story every now and then. I still carry a smile thinking of that visit, so to get in the mood, this is the story I wrote after wards.
Sofi was standing in front of a class of eight year olds. They were reciting the Quran and although she didn’t understand a word, their radiant smiles and enthusiasm almost made her belief that they were reading a lovely fairytale. Behind her stood the teacher, beaming with pride at the success of her class. When the verse was finished the children started talking to each other. Some whispering, some a bit louder and raising their hand to get a turn by the teacher. The teacher spoke softly, but clearly and introduced Sofi. ‘This lady comes from another country, she would like to speak to all of you for a little bit and learn about our school.’
Sofi felt tired, really tired. She loved to travel, but sometimes it was just too much. Still she smiled at the class – suddenly she felt lost for words. All the children looked at her like she had come from a fairytale. Their eyes fixated on the person in front of them. She took a breath and then just asked a simple question, what are your favourite colours? The teacher translated: Red, blue, purple…black. And what is your favourite topic in school? Three girls raised their hands and said ‘mathematics’. Sofi complemented them on their choice and shared with them that she actually never was any good at math. So she was sure they were very smart girls. The girls started to giggle when the teacher had translated her answer.
She couldn’t think of any more questions – what on earth can you ask eight year olds more, she wondered. She wasn’t used to kids. The children were still staring at her and the teacher also looked at her like she wanted to hear more. She decided to do something she hadn’t done in a long time: be a penguin. Although these children most likely never had seen a live penguin, they sure knew what she was imitating. Putting her feet together, shuffling through the class room, arms tight to her body and flapping her hands, it sure looked like a penguin. The children couldn’t stop laughing. They all started moving around as penguins. The whole class was flapping. Next was the flamenco. As graciously as she could, she now lifted one knee high up to make a very big but slow step. At the same time she was spreading her arms wide, moving them up and down with long hauls and stretching her neck high up. This one was a bit harder for the children to guess, but they joined in with the same enthusiasm. So much that they now wanted her to do a monkey, and a cat and then a dog! They could have gone on forever. Sofi was having so much fun.
The teacher proposed a group picture and before she knew it, Sofi had two eight year olds hanging around her neck, others clutching at her legs and grabbing her hands. Sofi hadn’t felt such a warm embrace in ages. Who would have thought she would find so much love in a Quran school so far from home? Suddenly she felt the energy flow start again, all the way from her toes, up to her face where she made the same radiant smile as the children around her.