Indonesians get southern hospitality

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By John Barnhart

    A delegation of high school students and teachers from the world’s third largest democracy are spending some time in the world’s second largest democracy.

    The students and teachers are from Indonesia, virtually on the other side of the earth from Virginia. Indonesia has a population of 237 million people. Geographically, Indonesia consists of an archipelago of more than 15,000 islands that stretch from Malaysia to the Philippines and Australia. A majority of Indonesians are Muslims and this gives Indonesia the largest Muslim population of any country in the world.

    After centuries of rule as a Dutch colony, occupation by Japanese troops during World War II and decades of dictatorship, Indonesia has emerged as a young democracy. This month, it held its second free, fair presidential election in a row.

    The delegation came here under the auspices of Legacy International, based in Bedford County, the Center for Civic Education (CEE), based in Indonesia,  and the United States Department of State. They stay with host families while here. Those staying with Bedford County families got together at a potluck dinner at the home of Sam and Pearl Broesamle last week. The Broesamles are hosting two visitors, Rizqi Khoirunnisa, an English teacher and Indri Hermawaty, who teaches economics at the high school level.

    Communication among Indonesians can be a challenge. There are multiple local languages. Hermawaty notes that some islands can have more than one spoken language. She said the national language is Bahasa and everybody learns this. Every school teaches Bahasa, English, the local language and an optional language.

    Everybody has to learn English.

    “It’s compulsory,” said  Khoirunnisa.

     Khoirunnisa teaches in a city called Palembang, in the southern part of Sumatra. Sumatra, one of Indonesia’s largest islands, is 300 miles long and 50 miles wide.  Hermawaty teaches in Jakarta, the nation’s capital, located on Java, another of the large islands.

     It’s a hot, tropical country.  Hermawaty said that temperatures get up to around 32 or 33 degrees Celsius. That’s about 94 degrees Fahrenheit, like a hot July day in a normal Bedford County summer. Indonesia, however, has no winter.  Hermawaty said they have a dry season and a rainy season, which is very rainy. Each lasts about six months.

    Indonesia is close to the equator, which means the days are close to 12 hours long, all year long. Virginia’s long summer days are something new to the Indonesian delegation. A group of them, sitting at a table on the Broesamles’ deck at 7 p.m., enjoying their potluck dinner, noted that it would already be dark in Indonesia at that time of day.

    Istasadhya, from Jakarta, was the group’s chaperone. Like some Indonesians, she has only one name. Istasadhya works for CCE and her job is to watch over the group, which consists of 17 teens and three teachers. She notes that teens can be a challenge because they are changing from a child into an adult, but want to be treated like adults.

    The group arrived in the United States on July 14, after spending 20 hours on airplanes. They return to Indonesia on Aug. 11. While here, they have learned about America’s system of government and education. They also were involved in cross cultural understanding.

    All speak fluent English, so there was no language barrier. Part of the process of being selected for this program was a phone interview, conducted in English. There were some challenges, however, as American culture is different.

    One challenge is the food. In Indonesia, rice is the basis of the main dish at meals and is mixed with sauces and spices. Here, if it’s served, its a side dish and usually very plain.

    “The portions here are too big,”  said Istasadhya, mentioning another challenge. American restaurants serve food in much larger portions than these ladies were used to back home.

    The trip to the United States was a great learning experience, especially the opportunity to stay with American families.

    “America is near in our minds,” said  Istasadhya.

    American music is everywhere in Indonesia.

    “We have MTV,”  Istasadhya commented.

    They also have lots of American movies.

    “Most are American movies,” said Khoirunnisa, who noted that the America they’ve seen on this trip is very different from what they’ve seen in movies.

    The movies are usually in English, with Indonesian subtitles.

    “We need the subtitles,” said Hermawaty. The actors sometimes talk fast and even Indonesians like  Hermawaty, who speak English well, get tripped up on slang.

     Hermawaty has picked a little new vocabulary locally. She can now greet people with “Howdy, y’all.”