Farewell — Starting Out in Rote

Kristia Davina Sianipar 24 Agustus 2012


I shall begin this with a farewell.

Friday, 29 June 2012 was probably one of the saddest days I’ve had for months. It was a day of farewell, goodbyes, and tremendous fear.

At that time, I’d been in Rote Ndao, the southernmost point of this archipelago, for almost two weeks.I had come to this island with eight others, on a mission with quite a dose of idealism. We were welcomed by a group of strangers, who on our first encounter did, well, strange things. But this group of strangers soon enough became our guides, mentors, and even pillars of strength.

These strangers had come a year before us and had been elementary school teachers at village schools here in Rote. We came to replace them, to continue what they had done until another group comes and replaces us next year.

They introduced us to the school, the village, the people, the culture, everything. Seeing how they related to people, talked to them (and talked like them too!) and blended so well with the locals, it made us wonder if we could ever be what they had been to the people here: a dear friend, a loved teacher, a cherised family, and to a certain extent, a part of them.

Now I am writing this from my own personal experience, but I believe many of my friends who had come with me felt this way. I have used my predecessor as a shield. I walked behind him and let him did all the talking, the relating, the introduction, the small talks. He was like a gate, a bridge, information center, dictionary, and probably the whole village itself. 

As Friday, 29 June came nearer, a certain form of fear grew within me; the same kind of fear that was shared by most in my group. It was probably the same kind of fear that children have when they are about to be left by their parents on the first day of school. What are we going to do without them? How am I going to survive with complete strangers on my own? How am I going to ride a motorbike pass that vast savannah in the dark of the night on my own?

That day at the harbour, when the ship whistled, the small bridge between the ship and the platform was lifted, the ship sailed away—steady and steadfast on its destination, away from us— and finally was lost from sight, I turned around and looked at this island. Rote, it’s me and you now.

“Man, I felt sadder now than I did when we left Jakarta,” a friend said as we watched the ship sailed away. I agreed.

That night as I laid on my bed, I thought, Here I am in a village of complete strangers. Funny, come to think of it, my predecessor is actually no more of a complete stranger than the family I’m living with now; I’ve had known him only a day earlier than this whole village.

That night I SMS-ed my friends, the eight brave people who had come with me. As I received their replies, their empathy and their fears, their encouragement and their hopes, I realized that I am not on my own. After a few days on my own in this village without my predecessor, I realized that I can actually live here.

For many days since then, even until tonight, the villagers and I talked about my predecessor. What he had done at school, what he had been like with the children, the stories he had shared with the kids and the villagers, how he stood up to others to defend what he thought was right,  how he rode that old motorbike, the story of how he walked on foot to town at dawn (I had tried to assure them that this story is a myth, as the subject of the story itself had confirmed with me, though to no avail; well, there’s a reason why myths prevail), and how he is now in Jakarta.

During training, before I left Jakarta to come to this island, we had been warned of the possibility of being compared with our predecessors. Sometimes, this comparison can be a heavy burden to us. Funny enough, now that I’m here, I don’t mind the comparison. I like it well enough if the spotlight is not on me. And funny enough too, I use him and the memory of him as a bridge to the people here. The villagers and I have probably nothing in common, but the both of us have the memory of the same person, my predecessor. And I know, for many, many days, until I have built a bridge of my own, he will be a constant subject of many of our conversations.

We talk of him like he were a dearly departed. In a way, he really has departed; he has left Rote. And from the way he answered when asked if he would ever return, I have doubts that he would ever; ten or twenty years from now sounds almost like never to me. The sigh when they said “Oh, he is now in Jakarta, isn’t he?” is like what people would do when talking about those in heaven. I know, soon enough that memory would remain as that, memory.  One day, we would not talk with much sadness anymore but with fondness of the things that have passed. And one day, we would be able to accept that things move on and the world is still spinning and that we are still here, breathing. I know. I’ve been there.

Before I left the big city to this southern island, my friend asked me, “Are you ready?” I told her, I’ve been ready for two years. Yesterday is the mark of that two years.

As usual, this I dedicate to her. She, who will not see her “ten and twenty years from now”. She, who will never be 24. She, one of the few who managed to make me cry my worst. She, who will not be able to laugh at the story of how I cut my finger cutting celery in Rote. She, who will never hear the stories of my little school on the prairie, of Rote’s bright stars and shining full moon and blue sea and white sand, of the endless savannah, and of my little adventure. She, who should be celebrating her birthday in two weeks’ time. She, who taught me that life could be so, so short. I’m sorry I didn’t lay any flower on you yesterday.

You’re still one of the biggest reasons why I am where I am now.

Rote, it’s you and me now. It’s us. And God. :)

PM2, sampai jumpa di Indonesia yang lebih baik. PM4, Semangat! Juleha!  

In memory of 10 July 2010 andforthe start of this little adventure, Rote Ndao, 11 July 2012

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