That particular day, we set off rather late from our hostel in Labuan Bajo. This might either be because by some blissful ignorance or that good of a sleep (I was top bunk but man that 4 hour slumber was actually one of the best I’ve had), all 70 of us forgot that there ain’t gonna be a cute little shuttle bus waiting to pick us up to go to the harbor! So, I took that well-loved Eiger backpack on my shoulders and we walked through the chilly 6 o’clock seaside morning. Countless diving centres were opening, the owners greeted each other and I saw one tourist with her tousled hair sipping some tea outside one of the centres that were also a hostel. Despite the weight on my back, it was such a calming walk, and I wished that I could’ve stayed longer.
So, I took that well-loved Eiger backpack on my shoulders and we walked through the chilly 6 o’clock seaside morning. Countless diving centres were opening, the owners greeted each other and I saw one tourist with her tousled hair sipping some tea outside one of the centres that were also a hostel.
There were 7 boats in total, and I had lucky number 5 with 9 other people that were pre-assigned. The boat was very much like the ones I used to go on for diving trips years ago, and it was going to be our home for the next 2 and a half days! So, there we were, just a bunch of happy kids sailing across the Flores sea en route to Nanga Boleng elementary school. At around 8 o’clock, we were preparing for dock, as I saw the principal and his schoolteachers happily waving at us from the bridge. However, we heard the engine stop and the man told us that we would have to climb on a wooden canoe to get there because of the low-tide, as well as minimizing the risk of damage to the engine propeller.
A few minutes letter, we took 2 turns hopping on the small canoe, and boy oh boy was that a nerve-wracking experience despite how close we really are to the bottom. I laughed so hard at myself, my jeans and the bum area because there were little holes on the canoe! That also became a quite the challenge because I was holding a canvas bag with a handful of our paper teaching material…
Anywho, we got off the canoe a little later and we walked to the bridge. We greeted the school principals, the teachers, and their genuine smiles and I felt like the luckiest girl standing because I was about to give back, however little it may be. When came upon the school, my heart stopped. Not because of pity, but because of wonder at the strength and passion that resonated in and out of the makeshift bamboo walls and partitions that were big enough for you to see through. It was not a sore sight, but a liberating one because despite all kinds limitations and reasons to not build a school in Nanga Boleng, there is an understanding that no, these children deserve their universal right to learn as far as their curious minds can take them.
When I shook their hands, I squeezed in some prayers that those hands grow up to build, nurture and comfort those around them. When I heard them sing at the top of their lungs, I knew the one Above listened and I prayed He will continue to bless them.
Then, after games outside class, sore post-laughter stomachs and cheeks later, we had to go back, and I left a little piece of my heart. The tide was slowly rising by the time we reached the bridge, but we still needed the canoe to reach our boats. So, we stood there with our rolled up pants waiting for our turns as the tide creeped up our legs by the minute. That wasn’t a problem though because one of us had a guitar so we sang nostalgias of the early 2000’s Indonesian hits to pass time and reduce any panic, haha.
You see, I wasn’t a teacher that day…Far from it.
For every second in Nanga Boleng, I was the one learning about gratitude, and how important it is to hold on to dreams. Dreams that may change as we grow up, no matter how much crazier or even simpler they end up being. And more than anything, I hope they will grow up feeling the utmost love and pride of being in this country.