Which Story Do You Prefer?

Growing up, for a very practical reason, my mother sent me to a catholic school. I spent my first 6 years in formal education in an environment that was new an also alien to me. Being in a Muslim family and live in a country where the majority of its people are moslems, I have never been the minority, but I was in that school. In a class with 40 students, I was the only Muslim and one of the few Javanese. Most of my friends are catholic and Indonesian-Chinese.

I don’t think my mother thought about how environment shapes a child’s personality especially in the early age, the sole-reason she put me there was because the school was famous for its discipline. Thank God for her. I learned the Sign of The Cross, Our Father and Hail Mary before I can read Qur’an and Al-Fatihah. I went inside a church before I stepped inside a mosque and I joined a mass before I did jama’ah. My family has never been a conventional muslim and my father, being smart and always questions thing, was born to be a liberal in any religion. While my mother, she’s so sane and practical that she doesn’t question things but rather does what it’s right by logic.

Logically, she realized that I needed Islamic education so she sent me to a near-by mushola to learn how to read Arabic and then sent a private tutor to teach me how to read Qur’an and basic Islam ed. Religion for me was something really funny back then. They want the same thing but they do it in different ways. I spent 6 years in that Catholic school and I don’t know about discipline that my mother aimed, but I learnt something better. We were clueless at the beginning, each of us. Religion-wise and social-wise. We were shaped by what has been there for hundred of years, by something traditional, by something that even to our parents and great-great grandparents considered ancient and sacred. So we accepted it without further questions.

But how you accept something when you have two inputs and each of it says that they’re the right one? I kept finding things that made no sense at all from both sides. I was a quiet child when I grew up and I let my mind wander about God and religions. My Qur’an mentor said that I shouldn’t be thinking too much about God, because it’s beyond us. But in my school symbols of God were everywhere. It was so strange how little they know of each other and how easy it was to know each other too. They were afraid of each other, I guess.

Now, I have a Catholic boyfriend who questions his own religion with his own way. We were watching Life of Pi after I got back from Jakarta and both of us found it really funny how young Pi questions Gods and religions in a very naive way. Pi did something that was so brave, that maybe most of us were afraid to do. He questioned Gods and religions, openly. He also made a brave choice, he chose to believe in all of them. And then when he was tested, he knew that what mattered most was his faith.

I like the last part when Pi asked the writer, which of the stories of his journey that he chose. The writer said the one with the tiger, because he likes it better. Then Pi said, and so it goes with God.

I guess I realized it too when I was sitting inside the church and when I put my forehead on the floor inside a mosque.

I’ve chosen mine.

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a stolen month

for one full month, I stayed in Jakarta and took CELTA course, a course designed to push people to their limits and asked themselves why did they say yes to this torture – and worse, paid for it. There were 8 of us, came from different backgrounds and were strangers on Day Zero (yes, they do have a ‘day zero). Almost everyday you were put in a state that you weren’t comfortable with. A failed paper that drove me to the edge, Teaching Practices that drove almost everybody crazy, Input Sessions where they gave you brain-food even when your brain was full, pulled an all-nighter almost everyday in our last weeks. All that didn’t include the fact how hard it was to work side by side, to be a team, with someone you didn’t know of.

In that month, I learned so many things. Things that went beyond textbooks and classrooms. I met my nightmares and had to sit face to face with it. I was forced to deal with it because there was just no other ways out. It was horrible. I was afraid and I wasn’t that easily scared, academically speaking.

8 of us came from different background, most of us already had our masters, one had a phd, everybody had experience in teaching, there were 3 Indonesians, but I was the only one who had Indonesian as their first language, the other two had Dutch and Singapore-English/Indonesian. Only one person spoke one language, that was Jodie who speaks English, most of us speak 2 to 5 languages. There’s a guy who worked for UN, another who had theology for his master degree, an international piano teacher, and a principal for a language school. They were smart people.

What happened when smart people were put together and were forced to work together and studied a subject that was an alien to them?

Chaos.

Before they could succeeded in this course, their biggest obstacles was their ego, and please count me in. That month was a slap in the face for each of us. The phd guy said it was harder than phd, the international piano teacher said she was never been this tired her whole life, and my friend Jodie considered that  hit by a bus had a better prospect than walked into the center building.

I think at that time, everybody was facing their own enemy. It wasn’t graded nor had a textbook with it.

Stepping out of that course, I was a bit traumatized. It wasn’t a life-changing moment, but more like a slap to wake me up.

There are so many things I have to learn, so many frontiers I have to break, so many nightmares I have to face. It feels that my journey doesn’t end there. It feels that it has just begun.

A month was stolen from my life, in return, I had a lesson I’ll never forget.