Last year, me and the photographers of Edward Suhadi Productions went to the remote areas in Indonesia to shoot Pengajar Muda, the brave young men and women that participate in Indonesia Mengajar. You can read all about it here.
To my surprise, last week I saw a tweet from one of the Pengajar Muda, Pak Rusdi was in town for some training from the Department of Education!
Pak Rusdi is the principal of the school in Desa Pelita, one of the most remote places I’ve ever been to. He’s this brawny dark man, who smokes endlessly and seldom smiles. Doesn’t speak much with his deep voice, usually resort to just a couple of words at a time. It was almost like an attitude of high ego, but hey, in the simple hierarcy of a remote village, who doesn’t have one?
I was welcomed to sleep at his home for two nights. And while he didn’t talk much, I know he made sure I was well taken care of.
I am glad I can return the favor by offering him to stay at my house for the weekend.
I picked him up in Stasiun Kalideres, and to my surprise, this quiet, almost scary, dark man instantly hugged me so tight while smiling so wide displaying his yellow and dark teeth. Here, in the grandness of the capital, this brute man I knew had turned into a soft, wide-smiled, child-like boy.
I told him then while pointing at my little Jazz car, “Pak Rusdi, this is my katinting.” He did not stop laughing. (Katinting is a 3 person small boat powered by a motored propeller owned by most of the people in Halmahera. It is their basic way of getting around.)
He called all sorts of people while sitting beside me in the car. He called his wife, almost all the elders of Pelita, and families that are in Java. This is his first time setting foot in Java soil you see, and for people from that village it is almost an unthinkable feat.
I took him to as much as place as I can. I took him to the highway, ate pempek for the first time, watched Spiderman on an IMAX 3D theatre, see the Grand Istiqlal Mosque, brought him to the 28th floor of Wisma Nusantara to see Bundaran HI at night, and took him for a stroll in Pacific Place.
I thought that I would never meet a man that never ride an elevator in Jakarta, but Pak Rusdi never rode one. When he felt the gravity pulling him downward, he whispered, “Allahuakbar…” (God is great) while holding the wall.
He never been in a higher ground other than a 2nd floor. So as he watched the little cars and beauty that is Bundaran HI from the height of 28th floor, he just keep whispering, “Ampong…” (Ampun = my God)
One of the other highlights was also when he saw that little sailboat floating in Y&Y Pacific Place. He was quiet for a full 10 seconds, trying to grasp the concept of there’s a boat above water inside this high building.
“Ampong…” then he took a picture with his little Nokia phone.
Basically that’s what he did most of the time. See something, stare at it, then whispered “Ampong…”, then take a picture of it.
Where am I going with this? Certainly not writing this long just to make fun Pak Rusdi.
Because if we travel, really travel, live and talk and hear the people, and not just watching the city from behind the hotel and car windows, we can understand the concept of ‘This is a vast world. There’s so many people in it. Different customs, different beliefs, different principle, different joys, different fears. How can I think they would all like what I like, fear what I fear, believe what I believe?’
For me, that is a great character to have in life: seeing things from other people’s eyes. To understand that in conflicts, people involved have different lives and ways of seeing things. To be a better leader, making wiser decisions, and understand what happened when things didn’t work out.
Personally I felt I’ve changed since in my recent years as a person. A lot of it comes from all that real travel. I stayed at people’s homes. Had long talks with the locals. Take journeys with them. Ask them what they think about various topics. See what upsets them, see what makes them laugh.
I am not saying that we all better become generalists, accepting all things under the sun. On the contrary, what you believe will be challenged, and if you can make it through, they came out stronger.
Strong beliefs and principles are not made when you are in a room with the same people, but when you go out and hear what others have to say and still you stand by them. Now that’s character.
Seeing Pak Rusdi behaving how he behaved again reminded me: ‘The world is full of people. And they are not like you.’
The juvenile me will be so embarrased to be related to this guy that is taking picture of himself in the middle of a crowded Pacific Place plaza.
I took a picture with him, a man that has made me see so many things.