Sunday, May 20, 2007

My Grade 4 Memory in Papua

by Charles Roring
In 1983, I was on the fourth grade of SD Padma elementary school. My classroom was an old mouldering building located exactly twenty meters behind the Cathedral Church of St. Agustine. It was the largest Roman Catholic church in Manokwari. In contrast with the church, my classroom was the worst school building in the Missi complex.
Its walls were made of wooden planks nailed together in overlapping joints. They were painted with diesel oil on both inner and outer sides to prevent them from termite and rainy water.
Its roof was of rusty corrugated iron sheets with many small holes scattered throughout its surface. It did not have ceiling, so the students could see its decaying wooden frame construction easily. At around eleven or twelve a.m., sun rays penetrated through the small holes on the roof. They created many circle spotlights on our desks. When it rained, I and my friends had to move our tables or chairs to avoid water drops leaking from the roof. Around 15 meters across from the room’s door, there were two school toilets. On the afternoons, especially when the weather was hot, the smell of these toilets spreaded over the surrounding areas and entered the surrounding classrooms.
My teacher was a Papuan. His name was Kabes. He was tall and disipline and he had dark skin.. His mouth was decorated with thick moustache. His hair was always short. Many children would be afraid of him when he was angry. Sometimes he beat us with a wooden or rattan stick. There were a lot of sticks in my classrooms at that time. We used them in morning exercises every Tuesday and Friday morning. Although Mr. Kabes was originally from Fak-fak in the south of Papuan island, he liked singing Bataknese songs. One of his favorites was Tilo-tilo tara tilo-tilo tara tilo-tilo tara tilo- tilo. One day he wrote it on the blackboard and asked us to practice singing with that song.
After practicing the song for a few times one of my classmates asked Mr. Kabes.“Pa Guru, kitorang pulang sudah” (“Teacher, how about if we go home now”).“Kitorang tunggu sampe bell bunyi baru bole pulang.” (“We have to wait until the bell rings and then we can go home”). “Pa Guru, lagu ini dari manakah?” (“Teacher, where is the song from?”).“Dari Batak, Sumatra Utara” (“From Batak, North Sumatra”).“What does Tilo-tilo tara tilo-tilo tara tilo-tilo tara tilo- tilo mean?”“Pak Guru tidak tau” (I don’t know).“Bah, masak kitorang menyanyi lagu yang kitorang tidak tau de pu arti?” (Ugh, why do we have to sing the song which we don’t know its meaning?)Mr. Kabes answered, “Tidak apa-apa, lagunya kedengarannya bagus.” (Its O.K. The song sounds good) “Why should we sing it,” my friend asked him again.“Kitorang menyanyi supaya kasi habis waktu sebelum pulang.” (We sing it to spend the remaining time before we go home)
On the other side of the classroom, there was a big mango tree. During its harvest season, the tree would bring a lot of trouble to us especially during the break time. Many students stoned the tree to get the mango. Sometimes they did it when we were still studying in the classroom. If the stones missed the fruits, they would land on our roof. If it happened, Mr. Kabes would be very angry about this. He would go out and chased the students who had stoned the mango tree. We always claimed the tree as the grade 4’s tree. But students from higher grades didn’t care about our claim. Every morning we had to sweep the mango leaves which had fallen to the grass over the previous night.
Because it’s behind the church, grade 4 students were not allowed to make big noise. Sometimes, the priest did special baptism ceremony in the church for new born babies.
Every month, the school students attended monthly mass. The priest who conducted the mass was Father Van Der Kraan. He was very old. His hair was white and his skin was white like paper. Many wrinkles covered his face and his hands. He wore thick glasses. But he could speak Malay fluently. The priest’s house was next to the church. It was a big house. It had star fruit tree in its inner park. The park was quite small. I used to ask the priest to give me the star fruit. Then he asked somebody to pick the fruit and gave it to me. He knew my father very well. He liked to come to my father’s house and ask him to do some construction jobs for the church.
My classroom was located a little bit isolated from the main school building. It was around one hundred fifty meters. I and my grade 4 friends belong to SD Padma 1. Two or three years before, the school administrator split the school into two schools, SD Padma 1 and SD Padma 2 because the number of the students was getting higher. Now, there are not many students studying in those schools anymore. When our teacher Mr. Kabes was called by our headmaster for a teachers meeting, he would be there for quite a long time. Then, all of the students were playing in and outside the classroom.
One day, Mr. Kabes went to the school office and stayed there for more than one hour. We played and played until we were tired. Without thinking of anything, I told my friends that all of us could go home. I didn’t receive any order from my teacher. Then all of my friends returned home. Some boys and girls who were afraid of our teacher stayed until Mr. Kabes came. When he returned to the classroom, he could only saw the empty desk. He asked the remaining students about that. All of them told him that it was I who had told all the students to go home.
The next day, my teacher was very angry at me. “Charles, siapa yang suru ko kasi pulang ana-ana, heh!” (Charles, who ordered you to tell your classmates go home, huh!) Mr. Kabes interrogated me, “Ko kira ko ini siapa heh!” (Who do you think you are, huh?)
I was very afraid and didn’t want to see his eyes. I didn’t know what to say so, I only scratched my hair many times and bent down my neck. After beating my pants with a long wooden ruler, he told me to kneel down in front of the classroom. The whole lower part of wall was open for ventilation. So, when I kneeled down for around one hour my body received the breeze for more than one hour. He also instructed me to put a wooden stick on my knee. Because of the wind, I got hungry easily. My whole body was shaking like a vibrating engine, and I couldn’t bear it anymore. I could not speak easily and my lips were turning into blue. I looked pale. It was twelve and the school bell rang. I was saved by the bell. I knew that Mr. Kabes was also afraid about that. He asked me to return to my seat. When the school over, I could not walk home by myself. My friend Paul Warere carried me on his back and brought me to my home. My mother always asked him to peel off nutmeg fruits. My mother would process them to be candied fruits and sell them in our small kiosk in front of my house.Since that time, Mr. Kabes never told me to kneel down in front of the classroom anymore.
During my time in the grade four I also made many mistakes with my friends. They considered me to be one of the naughtiest boys at school. One incident that I could still remember was a kicking incident. It happened while we were playing football at the church’s yard. I liked football very much. One day, I and my grade 4A friends played versus grade 4B. It was the time for physical education. And we were running and kicking the ball, laughing, and shouting one to another. We just didn’t care about other classes that were still studying. After playing for several minutes, I chased one of the grade 4B players in order to get the ball from his feet. His name was Roy. When he was running to our area about some meters from the goal posts, under the mango tree, with all of my strength I kicked the ball at his feet. Unfortunately, I missed the ball and my shoe hit his leg. Suddenly, he screamed, and fell down to the ground. He began to cry loudly. He even couldn’t walk. Because of that incident we had to stop the football match and return to our classroom. The poor Roy was taken by his classmates to a military hospital in KOREM base next to Missi Complex. It was around two hundred meters from school.
While waiting for Mr. Kabes to come into our classroom to teach the next school lesson, all of my classmates gathered around my desk and began intimidating me.“Aiii, Charles, ko yang tanggung jawab eeee,” my friend Herman was blustering me, “Hey, you are the one who has to take the responsibility.”I answered, “Ah, sa tidak sengaja.” (“I did it unintentionally”)“Tapi, ko tendang dia sampe dia tidak bisa jalan itu.” (“But you kicked him until he couldn’t walk, didn’t you”) “Aiii, Charles, de pu bapa tentara,” my other friend added (“Listen, Charles, his father is a soldier”).“Nanti dia kas tau de pu bapa untuk datang tangkap ko” (“He will tell his father to come and arrest you”). “Biar too! Kalau de panggil de pu bapa nanti sa panggil sa pu bapa juga.” (Let him do it! If he calls his father, I will call my father too.)“Tapi ko pu bapa tidada pistol.” (But your father doesn’t have a pistol)“Nanti sabapa deng sabapa pu teman-teman dorang datang deng pana-pana” (Then my father and his friends will come with bows and arrows)Suddenly, Mr. Kabes came. My friends returned to their seats again. We continued that day’s lessons as usual.I just knew that his father was an army officer. It made me feel more uncomfortable and afraid about that. After the studying for several minutes, in a green uniform, Roy’s father came to our school. He knocked the classroom door. My teacher Mr. Kabes stopped his teaching and went to the door to meet him. He opened it and greeted Roy’s father. They talked outside the door. I was very afraid at that time. I thought his father would take me and send me to jail. After talking for a few minutes, he left us and my teacher returned to the front and continued his teaching. I feel relieved. He didn’t even look at me. Maybe he tried not to make me feel more afraid about that. He didn’t discuss about this in the classroom either. For this thing, I think that my teacher was also a very kind teacher.
In the afternoon, the bell rang again, the school time was over. “Horeeey! All the students scream” We went home together. Along the way, I often looked back just to make sure that no one was following me from behind.
Roy didn’t come to school for three days. When we met again, I came to him asking if he was fine. He nodded his face. Then I asked for apologize. He smiled at me and we shook hands and became friends again.