Just A Daily Life in Rote Island

Rian Ernest Tanudjaja 18 November 2011

It’s been more than 5 months since I first step my foot on this island, Roti Island, locally mentioned as ‘Rote’.

It is speculated that the name Rote came from the time when the Portugese merchant came. When they arrived on this island, they ask someone on the beach about the name of this island. Guessing that the white caucasian is asking about his name, then he mentioned his name – Rote. And the rest is history.

I live in a higher area on this island, with cooler air and less-population, compared with my 9 other friends from Indonesia Mengajar (that is ‘Teaching Indonesia’in Indonesian language). I’m living with a family of 6 people, inside a nice and clean house made of bricks and woods. I eat and drink every food that they are having. And they are a very kind family. From what I see, the rural people have something that have been gone from the heart of urban people: sincerety. You should have seen my Rote father’s face when I ask them how much should I pay for his generous accomodation. Until this day, I have to play hide-and-seek just to give my Rote mother some extra money for Friday-street-market shopping. 

I still remember the first time when the head of education service office pick me up near the port and took me to my school on his scooter –about 15 minutes from my current house by vehicle or 40 minutes by foot. We were riding about 1 hour and already crossing through small rural road when we were on the last 200 metres from my school.

Our left and right side are pure bushes and trees. No houses whatsoever. Within 1 kilometre radius, there are no other houses. I can still remember how excited I am when we were approaching the school. I can still remember the voice from my heart I said, “Just like what I imagined, a school in the middle of nowhere...”

The name of that school is Daepapan. The name came from the battle that occured before 1950 between Keka (place where I live) people and Lole people (neighboring district). It is believed that the large plain area where I school erected is the place where the clash and bloodshed happen. ‘Daepapan’ means the moment where both sides stomping their foot to the ground as a sign to start the battle. Last conflicts was happened on the 1980s. From the stories, usually after someone killed its enemy, he will cut the poor person’s heart open and eat it. They believe that it will gain more courage in battle. Thank God now the instant noodle is easy to find here!

Just to let you know, this place is not too remote or too uncivilized. One group from Indonesia Mengajar stationed in Sangihe Island, nothernmost of Indonesia is sooo remote, they don’t have any signal, electricity, and the only ship that can take them to nearest civilization will come every 2 months. A friend of mine there can just have rice for meal, and sometimes served with sweet tea and top of it, just to give it an extra flavour. Can you imagine how hard that can be? I raised my hat for them, the brave.

From my place, we can reach the port and main district in about 30 minutes (only with my trail motorcycle of course, I rent it from a very kind lady-priest near my house). I have electricity, phone signal 24/7, so I can still make a phone call to my mom, sister and Jakarta family. Water is scarce during this summertime, and my well is dried, so every 2 days I take my bike with 8 water container tied up, and go to nearby watersource. Full water supply can be reached after 2 pickups. That is 16 water container times 5litres = 80 litres. Such small amount for all 6 peoples in this house.

For shower, I must go to the river just behind my house, just 5 minutes of walk. I just go wearing my shorts and a bucket (usually used for pig feeding. Don’t worry, I always wash it before use). Never before in my life that I have to spent that personal activity in the public area like that. And you know what, it is better than any bathtub or hot shower I ever have. The river is so clean and quiet. I also wash my laundry there. I just have to be careful not to spill any detergent there. The locals used to smile everytime I have to lift my heavy bucket full of detergent wastewater and throw it somewhere safe. Generally they are still inconsiderate for this, so I just trying to give them an example. Hope that it will works. 

I mentioned to you before that my place is quite modern. Modernization is quite known here. Every wedding party will have this giant speaker about 3 metres tall, and will play any techno song that you can find in Jakarta hypest club, from night till morning. Usually accompanied by some fights and brawls from poor drunk teenager. The people in this island sees local drinks called sopi as part of their daily life. I often go to school or back from school and meet some guys sitting in circle on the asphalt road and having a good time. Or when I look after the store in my house (yes, I am so lucky that a member of my family is running small store in the terrace, I can get any instant noodle whenever I want!!) late on the evening, some drunk old guys will come and buy a pack or two of cigarrete.

So, maybe after you recently read all previous 9 paragraphs, you will be asking yourself, “This boy is in no remote place after all. So where’s the challenge?” Let me tell you this, the biggest challenge is the human quality and mentality. Even though every school here granted about 200 books for their library (if they have one), the literacy rate in this island is still low. On average, after discussing with my other 9 friends, about 30 percent of kids on the 5th grade still can not read properly. In my class, about 40 percent (I am teaching 5th grade, 28 students). First day I came, just 2 kids can answer 8+4 correctly. And they should be mastering factor tree by now! As result, I have to go back to basic and teach them each mathematics concept --step by step.

It is true when duringIndonesia Mengajar prep camp,a tutor said that, “When you are out there and see how much the Indonesian education is left behind, do not expect too much. It will be likely that your teaching target will just as simple as teaching those kids reading, writing, and calculating skills”. And yes, such a prophet she is. I am afraid that I am in ‘that’ condition.

Just a few of kids, less than 5, that can speaks correct Indonesian. The others will speak Indonesian combined with their local language and dialect. They are very afraid to speak their opinion and ask questions. They are familiar with violence commited by teachers. I can still remember that the first time I called a kid to speak with him personally, other students whispered, “Hey look, Pak Rian will beat him!”

After telling you about the students state and condition, now is the time to tell about the teachers. My school has the most teachers in this district. It has 9 teachers. And I still can not remember a day where all of them are present. The first month, their attendance is so bad. I have to teach 2 or 3 classes at the same time. I even remembered when one day, I have to teach English to all students because there are teachers at all! So when I said the human quality and mentality, I think now you can get the picture.  

But now I have stopped doing other teachers a favor. Usually when no teacher for such class, I will come to the students and tell them to tell their teacher how sad they are when they can not meet their teacher --after 50 minutes walk in average. Some kids even have to cross the woods, and from my child-eye perspective, Yes - it is quite scary to cross that woods.

The Rote people is not accustomed with breakfast. Usually they will just drink water mixed with local liquid sugar made from lontar palm tree. Every morning I wake up, make my own breakfast, a bowl of instant oatmeal, make my lesson plan, wash my clothes if necessary and still got the time. By the way, lontar palm tree is sooooooo useful. You can harvest its juice and from there produce liquid sugar, sugar blocks, vinegar, even sopi—the local alchohol from lontar palm tree. And yes, housewall are made from it too. And no one in this island harvest its juice without using their bare hands and feet; yes, they climb it. Sometimes as high as 20 metres. Just like ape! I never want to imagine the scene everytime a person tells about any treefall that just happened nearby.

After prepared everything, I will go to school using my cool (other word for ‘Old’) trail motorcycle. Still in shape, runs slow at first, and after a few repair here and there, she’s back on fire. There will be some months where I won’t take motorcycle to school. On January-March, fuel sold will be scarce. Due to fierce wave on Pukuafu Strait separating this island and Kupang, the city that supplying fuel on that months, no ship will dare to cross that strait, and hence, the fuel price will go up 100% until IDR15,000/litre. Compared the price with IDR4,500/litre in Jakarta. To anticipate that, I have find a new way to go by foot crossing the woods. Took me about 40 minutes.

I teach from 10.00 until 17.00. My school does not have any canteen. It does not have any water, electricity. So everyday I have lunch at a house, part of school building, lived by a teacher. His wife cooks for me everyday, she cooks well, one time I ate a horse meat there. Feels like rubber, but it tastes nice.

Living here has its ups and downs. That’s life and I enjoyed every second of it. I still have a long way ahead to improve things in this island. I hope that this story will give you a glimpse of what wonderful things that I'm experienced here!

That’s all for now. Thanks for listening to my story! Please pray for me, pray for us, the Indonesia Mengajar Movement!

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