Earlier this month, I mentioned how slow things had become here at site. I started teaching again last week, but that was short lived. Two days were cancelled due to another round of practice testing for the 12th graders and nearly two full days were cancelled because the vice-leader of the Jombang Regency (like a county) was coming to our school last Friday.
This sparked a flurry of activity. Classes on Thursday were cut short in order to clean the school in preparation for his visit. I think I’ve written before that schools here do not employ janitorial staffs. Classrooms and grounds are cleaned mostly by students—and usually just by the girls as the boys are well practiced in escaping their cleaning duties.
The rumors for why he was coming rivaled the number of boys sneaking out of school to avoid wielding a mop or broom: it was purely a campaign stop in advance of the election in May to win over the 12th graders who would be new voters, he was here to participate in a “greening” of the school that had never been mentioned previously, he was making the rounds to all schools, he was only visiting one school and our’s was seen as the best, etc. I think it was a combination of these, but it definitely appeared to be a campaign event. What seemed to win the crowd over the most was that students and teachers were rewarded by being allowed to wear our “sport uniforms” — polo shirts and slacks for teachers, jump suits for students.
Friday morning, students and teachers were instructed to be at school at 6:30am for the event. Despite knowing full well that nothing in Indonesia starts within one hour of its scheduled time, I dutifully arrived at 6:30am to wait…and wait…and wait. Around 7:30am, I was instructed to join the teachers outside. Seeing that students and teachers were in their usual military formations, I assumed we were beginning. Nope, just rehearsing for the part of the program when the vice-leader would congratulate our volleyball team on its recent 3rd place finish in a tournament.
Around 8:30am, a motorcade wound its way into our school. Joined by members of the military and police, teachers from different local schools, representatives of various local government agencies and an ambulance, the vice-leader had arrived. The teachers all lined up across from the students and the program began. The vice-leader addressed the 100 or so teachers and government officials and the 600 students in a long-winded speech that seemed somewhat entertaining to the students.
Usually during these things, I zone out. I can understand snippets and general ideas of speeches, but after 10 minutes my brain can no longer keep up. I usually spend the rest of the time counting the number of students being carried out of the yard after fainting, or the number of feral cats running across the yard.
Following the speech, the students went to their classrooms and the teachers ate nasi pecel, which is a wonderful rice, vegetable and peanut sauce dish that is, for some reason, considered breakfast food. After eating breakfast, we went to one of my school’s large rooms where the vice-leader addressed a select group of about 40 local leaders and teachers. Mid-way through this second speech, I realized that the vice-leader was making a lot more eye-contact with me than other crowd members. Was it because I was the only person paying polite attention? Was he shocked to see a white guy sitting in this rural school? Or, was he about to completely leave his speech in order to have a one-on-one conversation with me in front of this group?
Yep, it was the latter. This conversation was then carried out in front of everyone:
Vice-leader: Hello! Mr…
Me: Mr. Will
Vice-leader: Mr. Will! From America, yeah? How long have you been here?
Will: Yeah, from America. I’ve been here about a year.
Vice-leader: That’s great! Are you married?
Will: Uhhh…huh? (bewilderment over this question)
[Crowd is dying laughing]
Vice-leader: Are you already married?
Will: Yes, I’m already married. My wife teaches at the Madrassah.
Vice-leader: Too bad. You should have married a local girl. They are all very beautiful. Everywhere you go, the girls are beautiful.
[Vice-leader then makes a series of hand motions like he’s taking turns down different roads, while naming various villages in our regency]
Vice-leader: And here, beautiful. And here [local village]! And here [local village]! And here [local village]!
He ended his short interview and finished his speech. He then greeted those of us near the front. We shook hands, shared a laugh and then he left.