Little Afghanistan

June 24, 2017 § 1 Comment

Kabul, January 2017. It was the last week of my two-months travel in Afghanistan. The sky was in its perpetual grey, the air was thick with pollution from traffic and coal heating, and the streets were wet from melting snow. Although wearing two layers of socks, my tropical feet were freezing from the cold. I tried to walk faster to reach my destination sooner. But my stiff legs made walking felt a bit awkward.

The streets of Kabul seemed as if it was in everlasting chaos and hustle bustle despite the heavy snow. The bazaar was crowded with sellers with their carts of various items; fruits, vegetables, second hand clothes, shoes, kitchenware, cosmetics, and tools. Intersections were swarmed with halting taxis and soldiers with Kalashnikovs casually patrolling the streets. Afghanistan. I was not ready to leave, but my visa could no longer be extended. I opened my eyes wide, inhaled the piercing cold greedily to my lungs, trying to absorb as many impressions as I could, to add to the collections I have, of people, of places, of scent and stories.

*  *  *

Behind the nondescript gate in an area north west of Kabul, stands the House of Flowers, a home for a number of children who had lost either or both of their parents to war or disease. Founded by a couple, Mostafa Vaziri and Allison Lide in 2002, the orphanage is run on Montessori principles.

Having worked in few Montessori schools for the past six years, I recall always speaking to the children about peace. We invite the children to think and tell us their thoughts when they hear the word ‘peace’. Indeed, Montessori education is laden with Peace lessons as the founder, Maria Montessori, developed the thinking circa 1910s when World War I was about to unfold. In 1930s, after giving a lecture on peace and education, she was placed under political surveillance under Mussolini’s rule. With such intense situation in Europe and the rest of the world, Peace Education becomes one of the key components in Montessori classrooms.

Despite living in a relatively peaceful country, Indonesia, teaching peace to the children is nonetheless relevant. As Montessori said, peace is not only the absence of fighting. It is an environment which works under an umbrella of respect, where people can freely share concerns, be productive, be creative, without punitive or violent results. As cliche as it may sound to those having peace for granted, we tell the children that peace starts from the heart. We expose them to arts and nature. We teach them conflict resolutions, how to be angry without being hurtful -because, it is okay to be angry-, and do a lot of role plays to model peaceful behaviors.

However, it is in a place like Afghanistan where the word peace serves far more than a platitude. It is a longing, a dream, or a nostalgia for some. The word always evokes a sweet feeling imbued with sadness. Here in the orphanage, I understood that peace shouldn’t be just sentimental, but a work to be done.

After being welcomed by the orphanage manager, we went upstairs to the classrooms. The door on the left led to Ms.Fatima’s class. A class was in session and about a dozen children were sitting on the floor along the long table across the room. Ms.Fatima introduced herself and served hot tea with sweets. Finally, I felt warm and so did my poor feet. Everybody was smiling and excited at the sight of foreign visitor. I told Ms.Fatima that I was a teacher in a Montessori school in Jakarta and shared some pictures of the school and the children in Jakarta. Ms.Fatima then showed the pictures to the children who were all curious to have a look.

The children in the classroom seemed to be in mixed age groups. Boys and girls of different skin and hair colors were mingling and learning together. Teacher Fatima said that the children come from different provinces and not only they are friends, they also teach each other the language of their tribe. A little girl in the classroom now speaks astonishingly four languages (including English).

The class was having a silent reading session, but each child proudly read aloud to me to show off their English reading skill, which was impressive. One child immediately pointed ‘Indonesia’ on the map on the wall to his friends when I told them I am from Indonesia. It made me smile, for even adults in Iran and Afghanistan often don’t know where Indonesia is. It is obvious that the children are happy there. As a teacher myself, I could make quite an informed observation that the children were relaxed, confident, and cheerful.

Behind the door across Ms.Fatima’s classroom, is Ms.Razia’s and Ms.Basira’s class for the younger children. When I entered, they were learning mathematics with Montessori colorful beads. The children’s curious smiles were as bright as the sunlight that nicely lit this small room through the window. Ms.Razia showed the Montessori learning materials the teachers had made for children to use.

Just as Ms.Fatima’s class, the children here are also of mixed gender, tribes, and age. A poster on the wall shows a hand drawn map of Afghanistan with lines dividing the provinces, and the photos of children were placed according to where they come from. Here the children also teach each other languages of the tribe they belong to. “This place is a little Afghanistan”, one of the teachers said proudly. I couldn’t have agreed more, this is how it should be.

Sadly in Afghanistan, the (adults) society is fragmented based on tribes. Past tragedies between different tribes have planted distrust and paranoia, and it segregates people to even the most superficial level of interaction. But here in the orphanage, little children not only coexist, but benefit each other by learning from differences and diversities. Everything here before my eyes is a testament of love and what needs to be done in times of trouble. The laughter, the friendship, the drawings on the wall, the furniture. Somebody had cut the papers, drew, colored them, and stuck them to the wall. Somebody had bought the carpet and the racks, and arranged the books. Somebody keeps this space clean and tidy. The founders that work tirelessly to find donors, the staff that keep things together, the teachers that have built such a strong connection with the children that must be central to their emotional well-being. 

The naivete of the children made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. When they introduced themselves (in English, of course), they told me their favorite colors (basically each mentioned ALL the colors -maybe to show off their vocabulary :-D) and favorite dish (many of them said “steak”). At the end of their introduction, they’d say that their father had died. Each of them had different stories to tell.

It is unthinkable for many of us, to imagine a child denied from basic needs in a poverty stricken country, but is also affected directly from the atrocities of war. A war that is perpetrated by adults that are supposed to be their role model.

Children of war may experience a profound sadness since their childhood, some innocence taken away when they learn that a family member has been killed by another. They grow up in a place where killings, use of guns, mortars and bombs are the norm. They may carry a pain that many of us will never understand.

At the same time, these children, I imagine, carry an immense potential. With such an early understanding of the fragility thus preciousness of life, they could be the ones who will appreciate and embrace time and opportunity they have, like many other people I met across Afghanistan who are consciously trying to make lives better in Afghanistan through wonderful projects and initiatives. My friends, two bright young Hazara women become mentors for underprivileged children under an amazing grassroot initiative called ROYA. A 17-year old girl in Bamiyan whose house I was staying in, holding free English class for little children in the neighborhood during winter holiday. Another friend, an amazing young woman pioneered a cycling club for girls, despite being condemned by mullahs. And many, many more.

House of Flowers and many other individuals or institutions serve as a reminder why is it important to press on, even when things seem hopeless at times, especially when things seem hopeless. Afghanistan is no doubt an extremely difficult place to live. Reading articles, analysis, and talking with many Afghans had many sadly projecting that the situation in Afghanistan is only going to get worse. The security is in its worst since 2001 and attacks are more frequently launched by militants. But people are resilient. Or they simply can’t afford not to be resilient. Men can’t stop to get up at sun rise and go to work, no matter how little they make. My friend a Sikh guy in Kabul, just has to continue selling his herbs at the bazaar, despite being targeted as a religious minority. And it certainly is all the more reasons for the women of House of Flowers to love and educate the children, and create an environment where they feel safe to just be.

For the opportunity I had been blessed visiting a very vulnerable country, to learn from the people I have met throughout my journey, to be welcomed with such kindness and open heart, I am grateful and ever more certain that especially here, the beauty lies in the paradox, in which the real strength is one that springs from weakness. For now I have to say goodbye to Afghanistan. But all the impressions are to stay. I know, some day somehow, I will find my way back.


R0003895Along with Kitchen, Health, Order, Educational and Control Committee, the children also have a Peace Committee, to help resolve conflict between each other.

R0003908The most adorable bank of House of Flowers :D

R0003889Learning about other places and cultures is the best way to fight hate and prejudice :)

R0003897Learning materials, some were hand made by the teachers

R0003900Peace above Afghanistan. One day..

Learn more about House of Flowers’ work here and here :)


The Artists

May 24, 2015 § 2 Comments

After a semester-long learning about art (What is art? What constitutes as art? Why art?), studying famous artists and their styles -not as means to reproduce the artist’s work, but to recognize and experiment with techniques-, using correct terminologies as a way to expand art lexicon, and of course, expressing ideas through making own art, it finally culminated in the children’s art exhibition that was held yesterday.

I was absolutely thrilled about the event, not only because we got to showcase the children’s endeavor in art throughout the year, but was pleasantly surprised to see parents’ enthusiasm in participating in the event.


Children helping to set up the classroom to be the exhibition venue the day prior to the event. My girl was seen trying hard to pull the heavy shelf while the boys were “helping” to move the chairs aside.. by playing “bus”.


Shelves were turned around against the wall. Artworks displayed. Classroom turned to gallery!


Still life painting of fruits. Media: acrylic on canvas.

The objective, of course, is not to paint fruits with perfect resemblance, but to observe and discover shades of colors, contours, light and shadow that falls. Art is not about the end product, but a process.

still life

Painting 1] by a 5 year old, 2] by a 6 year old, 3] by a 4 year old. Click to see the beautiful detail of their work :)


Self portrait of a 4 year old. Media: pencil and watercolor on paper. The process in making the artwork was done while observing self with a hand mirror. Children were invited to analyze their facial features shape, move their eyes/lips/chin to see how the lines could change, change facial expressions, etc..


Self portrait of a 6 (top) and a 4 year old (bottom). Media: pencil and watercolor on paper.


Matisse inspired cut-out art.


Families coming to view and we also provided parents’ art station (sketching, watercolor painting, and clay moulding). So the event would not turn out only to be a social gathering of parents chit chatting, but also to “experience” the art.


[Pic 1] Child explaining work to the parents [Pic 2] At the parents’ busy art station. We initially expected hesitation from parents if invited to make own art, but they actually spent almost an hour trying to perfect their drawings! Some made more than one.



Drawing by a 4 year old who is obsessed with skeletons and mummies. Media: white crayon on black paper.


Mondrian inspired art by a 5 year old. Media: Square shaped metal inset, marker and crayon on paper.


Mix media art by a 5 year old.


We refrain from asking the children “what is it?” about their sculpting or drawing. Art does not always have to be a representation of an object, they could just be experimenting with forms or expressing a feeling/emotion. When we ask them “What shape is this or what drawing is this?” they would start to think of the most similar object, and it could also do damage when they think art has to look like something. I have met a discouraged three year old boy, due to a friend called his work a”coret2” or mere scribbling. So ask description rather than interpretation. Ask them to describe the process, so it becomes more deliberate.


Wire art

parents work

Display of parents’ work. After spending hours trying to perfect his clay masterpiece, let’s not forget to take picture.


[Pic 1] by a Dad, who wished he had five hours to make his car more elaborate – [Pic 2] by an Uncle – [Pic 3] “Satay” by a 2 year old sister

The Flood

January 26, 2013 § 5 Comments

When I landed in Jakarta after working and living conveniently in Melbourne for the whole one year, I thought I was going to be slightly gloomy for the first few days. Little did I know, how much I missed Jakarta and all the craziness.

The flood was visible from above when the airplane was descending. Only the top half of the houses and roofs could be seen. Surreal, it was literally a drowning city seen from the sky. Dad and sister had to cancel picking me up from the airport because of the traffic congestion caused by the flood. Taking a taxi, however, reminded me of how much I loved the conversations I have with Jakartans. Knowing that I just came back from working in Australia, the taxi driver told me how he used to work in ‘travel agents’ (euphemism for) forging documents for people migrating to US illegally. He told me, “Nah, they don’t bother to check if the bank statement was real because they receive so many applications. A lot of people overstayed their visit and rarely get caught, you know. What’s the worst could happen? Get deported maybe, and not being able to come back to that country forever…

“well, unless…

“we change name and identity” he said as he giggled

Haha. See, that’s what I love about Indonesian spirit. There’s never a dead end. We are rule benders with sense of humour ; )

Then he told me about his experience as taxi driver in the flood. An out of town passenger thought that he was tricking him when he said they should take another route because of the flood. The passenger insisted that they take the ‘usual’ road. That road has three elevations and demotes. So what happens is cars wait at the peak and watched other cars go. And if similar cars could get through, then they would go too. When it is stuck, they probably would laugh at the driver’s guts but help to push the car. And you can imagine how it caused massive traffic jam. After smoke coming out from the car machine, the taxi driver pulled over and with the passenger (who finally believed that it really flooded!), standing there and watching cars go for 1 hour.

There’s always a story in every inch of this city, isn’t it?

So what else happens during flood? Yes, it is a devastating situation. But like my grandmother said, when you have rheumatic in your arms, what do you do, you’re not going to cut your arm, are you? You’re going to do something about that arm, and learn to live your life happily with the rheumatic in your arm.


economy rolls during flood (this is a ‘taxi’ cart)


locals help to push car during flood


people help each other during flood



sweet moments happen during flood


and the not so sweet ones..


children help each other during flood


people help animals during flood


people share during flood

Banjir Mulai Surut, Warga Panen Ikan

men fish during flood

banjir Istana kepresidenan

president’s palace was strike too during flood.

What, it’s good news, isn’t it?


children put up sign: “VISIT SWIMMING POOL – FREE – AS LONG AS YOU LIKE”


children help each other going to school with invented transportation system during flood! (The carriers are either helpful locals, or the students as well, keeping the dry cloths inside their bags)


children play…


and invent games during flood


these expat guys intentionally skipped work to play in the flood! you don’t have flood in your country eh?


mermaid appears during flood!

Seriously, how can you not love this city?


Image source: various (google: keyword: banjir jakarta 2013)


August 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

Living in Melbourne in the past six months, and working with Australian children since the last four months, I could not help but compare a lot of things with the lives of Indonesian children. When I say ‘Australian’ children, or ‘Indonesian’ children, I am, of course, making generalization that may not ring true for every one of them. In my post, Australian children refer to the ones that I work with (I would say middle class economy). Indonesian refers to the children in the preschool that I worked with (middle-upper class economy, and the slum children (lower class economy), or poor children. This observation is only based on my personal experience.

What fascinates me is the varying degree of how ‘free’ are children ‘allowed’ to play in this different groups (excuse the oxymoron), and how it contributes to personalities and character development. Children of middle-upper class economy in Indonesia, I perceive, to be more inhibited in their play and exploration, compared to the other two groups; middle class Australians and lower class Indonesians.

From my own experience as a child (a middle class economy, female, to be precise), I get some “don’t”s. Don’t go too far. Don’t go to the mall without adult, you’ll be kidnapped. Many of my friends get more “don’t”s; Don’t buy ice cream kampung. Don’t buy that meatball, that’s made from rat’s meat! Don’t buy any snacks from the street. Don’t take public transport. And not just buses, but don’t take taxi as well! Don’t ride motorcycle. Don’t look some people in the eye, don’t stare! Don’t touch it, it’s filthy! It’s drizzling, come on inside!! Don’t be too friendly to some people, etc. And how much do we realize that they all have internalized to our habit or belief system? The likely explanation of highly untrusting atmosphere might spring from the great economy disparities in the society. The rich, that separates themselves from the poor, sometimes live in the very same area with the poor. They have to make sure they stay clean and ‘dignified’, always (un)consciously confirming, ‘we are the civilized ones’. In big cities like Jakarta, the sight of poor people are unavoidable wherever you go. Is it justifiable, however, to instill this suspicion in children, in order to protect?

The city of Jakarta houses ten million people. With such density, houses crammed with one another, poor transportation system, and mad traffic, the government has long ignored people’s need for public space. There are barely public parks and playground for children. Nada. You might wonder how could we live this way, but this has become the norm for us.

If you live in a decent housing complex, you might have a playground, however deficient and unsatisfactory. If you don’t, however, whether you are from middle or upper class economy, you might find yourself staying at home, playing with your toys or your siblings. Naturally, these types of play, pretend play, role play, construction, are also of great value for development. But as I worked with the poor Indonesians and the Australian children, I realize the significant loss that the middle class Indonesians are suffering, they are missing out some kind of “adventures” like what the other two groups experience, finding secret pathways, catching insect, playing in the rain, which I’m going to talk more about later.

It is also in the big cities like Jakarta, where playgrounds are very scarce, children of the middle/upper class economy physical exploration are restricted, unless they go to the playground in the malls, by paying ridiculous ticket fee, with extravagant rides that are not always imaginative; that serve to entertain, not to stimulate. When I ask my students to share about their weekends, many would answer going to the mall. I find it regrettable, but where else could they bring their children to a playground? Some upper class families now live in apartment buildings in Jakarta, and they do have playgrounds, but they are only tiny fractions of society. Existing playgrounds in housing complex are in great deficit (if not almost totally LOST), small, with inadequate provisions, with poor maintenance, often abandoned. Put a swing, seesaw, and slide, in a small space, bam, you have a playground. Even though I’d like that statement to serve as sarcasm, but if we have at least that three things, it is still much better than having none. The condition, or the absence of playgrounds in Indonesia is a portrayal of how play is overlooked as an important part of development, but seen merely as leisure that serves nothing for thinking or learning dispositions. In schools, recess in the playground often only happens for approximately 15-30 minutes, out of 4-5 hours formal and traditional learning in the classroom, where children are forced to be quiet and listen passively to the teacher.

In the preschool that I worked at in Jakarta, the playground is not challenging enough for the children. It seems like it is built without much thought put into it, like most preschools. With such small outdoor area that had to be compromised in an expensive land in the heart of the city, the playground is overcrowded. They had playtime after school (at 12), and some (not all) parents and nannies would watch carefully and say, “Be careful! Hold on to the bar.” out of need for protection from fall, sometimes due to overcrowding. Some are assisted and held constantly. The children that fell are often treated with such care and sympathy, they would be helped to get up, cuddled, and some carers would even take it further by ‘hitting’ the object that cause the fall (for example, a swing), to cheer up the child, saying that the swing is ‘naughty’. To be fair, not all carers would behave this way, however the former consist of considerable amount, to the point that I gather it to be somewhat cultural. All my students are kept clean and smell good all day even in the hot and humid weather.

Naturally, bigger boys still play and run around wildly, but again, are they missing out some things that the other two groups experience? Or do children compensate with existing conditions and find their own ways to make things more exciting?

(Western) theories in the past century have been elucidating how important play is, how it contributes to ‘thinking’, your imagination, problem solving, creativity, flexibility and so on. Therefore in developed Western countries, experiences for young children have been (attempted to be) provided in a way to accommodate those developments.

In Australia early childhood framework, instead of ‘teaching’ (traditional teaching), the educators are there to ‘provide experience’, and so the learning comes from the children themselves, not being a passive subject of ‘teaching’. Educators facilitate, challenge, and the children are always the active participants of their own learning. Just how Indonesians are more inhibited in their play correlates to the crippling education system, where they are also expected to sit quietly and passively listen to the teacher, in Australia, their learning, as well as their play, are also more unrestrained. They are supported, in their play and their education, to be (at least more) active.

There are plenty of examples that I encounter everyday in my workplace that shows how many of the parents here that I deal with are more understanding and lenient of dirtiness, wildness, and whole lot of craziness that are often regarded as an important element of being a child. Once two children under my care were fighting over a toy. A tiny little toddler girl (who is a vicious little biter), bit a boy on the face, which left a very bad bite mark on his cheek. Based on my experience with Jakarta preschool, where parents often seem upset when an incident happen to their child, I became nervous when this bite-victim parent came to pick him up, only to find him laughing and saying, “Yeah, it’s bound to happen sooner or later”. Then he teased his little boy, “So somebody gave you a big kiss huh”. And it didn’t only happen to one parent in case you’re wondering if it’s coincidental. We got the similar reactions from parents when children fell and got swollen on their forehead, grazed on their chin, who bled on their hand, bit on the thigh. In my centre, when children fall, they are not treated with as much concern, but rather with a kind but assertive remark that he/she is fine and needs to get up and try again. They are rarely helped and assisted to stand up again, unless, of course, it is a bad accident, one with injury, or very vulnerable child. This manner also stems from Australian culture of ‘independence’ and ‘self reliant’, which are deliberately instilled in children, in contrast (but not superior to) to Indonesian culture that values ‘helping each other’ more.

In the childcare I work in, the children are excited to hold a big insect in their hands to investigate it, run around bare feet, and when it’s ice-chilly, drizzling (yes, 1 and 2 year olds are allowed to play when it’s drizzling! in contrast to Indonesians who are always told to go in when it drizzles), and when I feel the wind is about to blow me away, the children still play excitedly outside. In the city, on the hilly greenery area in front of a library, I see children rolling themselves down the little hills and parents just let them be without anxiously supervising, neither for the child’s safety from fall, or for the protection of strangers. There seem to be more sense of security and ‘trust’ in public space.

In our yard, we become fascinated by lights and shadows, sound of machine that cut the grass, rain, we found a little hole in our fence which become our peephole to a garden with beautiful flowers. We have picnic in our yard frequently with birds chirping on our roof. I personally feel indulged with pleasant sensory experience. There are many resources (natural and manufactured goods) for children to play with in the yard; plastic toys, big sandpit, twigs, leaves, steel, chalk, and we incessantly record their exploration. We even plan for dirt play. “Getting dirty is good for immune system” they say. We constantly observe, analyze, supply and change supply, we plan their exploration. Discoveries, despite come from within, are also planned, everything is based on careful measure and documentation. And their play is also always supervised.

Australians put much more effort for outdoor play as much as indoor play. Slides or climb equipment are not simply put but additional materials are there to improvise the play. Wooden board used for balancing beam, for sliding, combined with tyres, climbing frames, blocks, or net. The wooden board for slide is sometimes put higher, without the ‘safety’ curve on the side.

I then took sometime to learn about playgrounds in Melbourne (by visit and research on the internet), which I find much more challenging on every level. They are also designed based on calculated risk and in accordance to the safety policy.

I am very intrigued, however, by how slum or poor children play. In the world that don’t bother providing them with playgrounds, the world is their playground. They appropriate existing objects, furnitures, roads, and stairs, for their play. Raw, spontaneous, without safety measure, but also without anticipated exploration. They are allowed to ‘get dirty’, to ‘take risk’ instinctively and without intellectualization. In a very narrow alley in the slum where it is barely enough for one adult to walk, boys gather to play marble. They may not have climbing frames or balancing beam but they do climb walls and trees and walk on the very high pole to cross the river. They may not have a football field but they play in the parking lots of a bank office after work-hours, or play on the road where cars rarely pass by. They may never play gokarts but they get up on the top of the trains. They get on a huge leave in rain, to be pulled around and swung around by their friend and thrown to the mud. They may not be able to buy remote controlled cars or buy video games but they make their own games using tyres, bottles, stick and stones. They develop “toughness” naturally. I once saw a toddler examining a motorbike parked in front of his house. He scrutinized it and at one point he tried to get ON it. He obviously fell down and cried. Was he comforted? I waited but all I could hear was the mother yelleing from inside, “Makanya jangan manjat2. Nangis kan sekarang!” (“Told you not to climb. Now you’re crying”) The boy still got up and tried it again, with no one watching.

My point is, if play is indeed crucial to cognitive development, to trigger you to explore, investigate, invent, discover, if it develops your flexible thinking and problem solving skill, if it helps you to socialize, to negotiate, to humour, to spark curiosity and sense of fascination, if all the playgrounds in the developed countries are designed for the children to have leisure, for them to take risk, to practice, fail, and try again, to develop courage, resilience, to develop creativity..

then the poor children, have met many of the aims that all the ‘play designers’ make for the rich and protected

then they are, supposed to be, more creative, than those two groups of children

Unfortunately, the Indonesian education system does not value these qualities, the qualities glorified by the western theories, that they gain through chaos. It only cares if the children can memorize facts. It cares for the children to shut up, listen, and magically understand. It conflicts the ‘child’ within them. The poors’ academic performance are reflective of the economic condition, and without outstanding academic performance they would likely to end up in menial jobs where they don’t have a say in most of the things. With minimum access and opportunity to shine. I wonder what happens to the ‘creative child’ in them.. does it fade? is it asleep? is it buried? will it die?

I’m not trying to make poor people look numb or desperate (in fact, play-wise, the middle/upper class play are more numbing in my opinion). I know for a fact that they are very resilient and creative in coping up with adversities in life; such as finding ideas to deal with flood, to deal with disability (in a busy road I saw a man in a ‘wheelchair’ made out of strip board on wheels. And he did not only sit there on the board but he put old cushion-y car seat on top, for comfort). I find that very creative. I’m just dumbfounded to see how much potential and intelligence wasted in a vast ocean, drifting ceaselessly

half dead

Wouldn’t you be unhappy in life if you are made to become less than you’re capable of?

Image source: various (google: keyword: children playing, village children playing, etc).

The Last Day

January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is my last day teaching in the slum. I woke up at 4am in Bandung and leave for Jakarta at 5.30 am. I reached the slum at 8am. It is a sunny day, the lights are coming down through narrow spots from in between the house roofs. In the front area, some doors are still closed, few are outside, sitting, cooking, sweeping, or just getting out from the public shower. The wet market however, is already crowded. While walking and halted every few seconds, I realized that within 50cm radius, there are many activities happening. On my left, the vegetable seller is negotiating with potential buyer in front of me, so I had to wait, because, on my right, there’s an old man with his bicycle, who is stopped because of the narrow space where there’s a musician with a guitar, who is singing for three ladies, who are drinking jamu*, from the seller at the right side. Underwears are sold next to vegetables and dirts are swept next to a frying pan. Is it weird that I find this place so fascinating?

I can feel my sweat flowing from my forehead down my cheek.

I walk to the back to the centre. The door is still locked. The old lady who lives at the side was sweeping the floor, I asked if I could sit on their bench while waiting. She welcomes me.

“Kak Arian!”, Naya greets me cheerfully, with Zahra they both sit with me on the bench. Their legs are hanging and swaying. Zahra looks pretty and fresh, apparently she showered this morning, unlike the usual, where she always shows up with tangled hair and swollen sleepy eyes. Naya bragged about the perfect score she got for her group work at school. I asked her why hasn’t Ali been coming. She told me because his mom is “gone”. What do you mean gone? I asked her. “Gone, never return”, she answers me. This information is later confirmed by the tutor. Ironically these things commonly happen here for various reason. Somebody said that this slum is a “children depot”, I can understand why it’s called that, since wherever you go, you will see children in every corner. People have sexual intercourse without contraception, sometimes for the sole pleasure. Sometimes that’s how people are called “husband and wife”, because they already make a family, without marriage or a legal paper. Sometimes one of the spouse just simply go away. Sometimes it’s the teenagers that start the family. For Ali’s case, it was money that cause the problem and the separation. “Gone, never return”. I was appalled by how familiar that concept is to these children. “And why hasn’t he been coming? Is he supposed to help his father work or taking care of younger sister or something?” I asked Naya again. “I think he misses his mom”, she told me. Ali comes today, he’s acting playful but rude towards his friends. He made Naya cried. Kak Eja thinks that he’s been acting out since mom left. I shudder thinking how hard it is for a child like him to be able to understand and express his feelings.


The kids are happy with the materials I made. “Cakep ye kak?”, they commented. They immediately play with it, but… uh-oh….!! When you attach the tags to the pictures, and when you try to detach it again, the velcro is off!! So I am not only giving them materials, but also I’m giving kak Eja an obligation to fix all the tags to re-glue it with better glue. I used ‘Fox’ glue instead of UHU because it was cheaper. Kak Eja told the kids that they may look at them and find the answers but don’t use the tags for now.

And so they did…

Naya likes the transportation board while Ali likes the occupation board, he takes it again and again and again.



For this picture, which supposedly to be “journalist”, Kak Eja thinks the children in La’i will say this is a busker x) As this is how some buskers in Indonesia are, they carry their own speaker and microphone, they usually sing dangdut.


Our final lesson


Niar and Amel, discussing the rainforest. They say, the monkey is Ipeh’s brother. And Ipeh’s perfectily happy with it.


Syarif asks me, “When will you come back?”

“A year from now”

He nods.

Kak Eja asks, “Do you understand? So how long is one year?”

He shrugs, “Until we become old”, he said. Kak Eja laughs and said, “One year is 12 months. This is January 2012, Kak Arian will be back in January 2013”. But Syarif still looks confused.

I told him, “Okay, how bout this. You’re in second grade. I’ll be back when you’re in third”.

“So you mean once I got my report card and then you’ll be there right after?”

We laugh again and told him, “Well, not exactly. In January. During..hmm..second semester of third grade” I told him, as our Indonesian education system starts in July.

“Check the calendar”, kak Eja told him. Syarif and Kiki walk towards our 2012 calendar and they point and “discussed” it. Kak Eja found another comparison and asks him, “Okay how about this, when will you be circumcised?”

He told kak Eja, “When I’m in 5th grade”.

“Well Kak Arian will surely be back by then. Nevermind” Kak Eja said.

Then, as if Kiki has found a brilliant idea, he told Syarif, “Oh, I know! Why don’t you get circumcised tomorrow so Kak Arian will be back tomorrow?”

I feel so humbled that the kids have accepted me, even Kiki, who was quite resistant and cold at first. How much I have learned from the children, from this little room where there is never enough space.


bye bye place..

The Overdue

January 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

Okay, since I resigned my job last week, I finally have the time to make the materials that I’ve been meaning to do since months. These are for the kids to ‘play’ while waiting for their friends to arrive, things that they can work on and on repeatedly now that I’ll be gone for a year. Basically the work is to match the tags (attached with Velcro) to the pictures. Nothing spectacular but hopefully they’ll like to work with it, since it’s very easy to forget a bunch of new taught vocabulary. I dragged my two little sisters (and my sisters’ boyfriend) to help with some cutting and gluing. And since I’m very obsessed with perfect cutting (machine quality!) I nagged them at first. But the third day at midnight I got so tired, I messed few cuttings myself.

So here they are.. We did…

..drawing and cutting..


…and printing and lots and lots of cutting…
…lots of laminating (and cutting again)…
…and lots and lots of gluing.
And here they are
Got to play with the paint!
Now they are ready to be played. I’ll carry them as the ‘replacement’ of myself tomorrow for my last day at the slum.


December 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Just some old rainforest preschool thematic materials that I made for college assignment.

What animal lives in which strata?
Help the squirrel to get the fruits with some counting!
What is there inside a rainforest?
Let’s find the correct answers!
Learn division from the fair mama monkey..
Wait.. Can you guess what tree is that?
Enough with maths! Let’s make some mess with art&crafts!
See, I love making things, but I don’t always have the time (and diligence) to do it. So when this became assignment, that I was ‘required’ to do this, I told myself, yippie!
Materials made with Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, felt, some weird texture paper, glue, scissors, tissue rolls, cardboard.
There’s more but I can’t find ’em. Let me re-print them and I’ll post some more later.. Ciao~~