Written by Yohanes Berchmans Rosaryanto
Translated into English by Thomas Kristiatmo
My bicycle gave me a lot of life lessons. Not only did I learn about myself and how to persevere in all my endeavors, I also learned about humility and respect towards others despite differences (see First Memory: Bicycle). As a matter of fact, there are a lot of lessons that I learned from events in my life and I call them informal lessons. Even until now I am still continuously learning. Surely, there were also formal lessons which I got from school. For me, school is a place where a new civilized culture is built. At least that is how it is supposed to be! And, without doubt, memories of my school years have also given me a lot of inspirations, giving my life colors in dealing with cultures in general. These indeed are interesting stories to tell!
My first formal education was in a Kindergarten run by nuns in Klaten, a small town in Central Java, Indonesia. In that same year, two of my cousins started school in the same Kindergarten and, being the only boy, it seemed like I was the bravest among the three, at least to me. The truth was I was actually the shyest. I remember a handful of embarrassing events that I experienced during those years. Had they not been too embarrassing, I would be writing about them too ☺.
My timid personality came with a price; I was slow to adopt the new culture and habit of “school life.” It was never easy for me to relate to the teachers, let alone make friends, especially when it came to compromising. Following school rules made things even harder for me to adapt to school life.
I can clearly remember how nervous I was sitting in class among my classmates. One hour felt like a whole day. Being accustomed to roaming around freely and observing life as it passed by, I found it challenging to follow all the rules. I had to sit in class listening to my teacher every day. I had to follow the rules of when to sit and when to stand. Everything was rigidly organized and I felt like I had lost everything that I enjoyed about my life. Crying, then, would be my only solution to my seemingly grave problems at that time. What can I say? I was just a kid back then. It was not until later that I found out how I disliked being in a classroom. I did not have any choice, though, as I had to study. I had to be educated at school. My parents, as well as other adults in my life, said, “What do you expect to be if you don’t go to school!” They might be right. What I wanted was to be smart in my own ways, using my own methods. But was it possible? I had never tried.. and I don’t think I would have had the courage! Hahahaha…
The only things that helped me relate better with my school mates were singing and playing. That, too, came with a condition: I was never to have a solo performance in front of an audience. Although my voice was soft – me being timid played a role in this, I suppose – I was always very enthusiastic when singing together with my friends. This might be the reason why the teachers put me in the Kindergarten choir to be aired in Klaten RPD (Radio Pemerintah Daerah). I was so excited! From then on, I always tried my hardest to sing with all my might. My parents, especially my mother, diligently taught me how to sing. That was the first time I got acquainted with ‘good singing techniques.’ Quite understandably, as my parents were singing instructors back then and hearing that my voice was not exactly angelic, they wanted their son to live up to people’s expectations. “Ngisin-isini ta wong anake guru nyanyi kok suarane blero…” (the child of a singing instructor was not supposed to sing badly). Later I also found out that the teachers picked me for my enthusiasm; most probably not for my not-so-angelic voice. But I did not mind; part of it was because I did not know. I was just too happy to be able to sing in the choir! Hahaha… It was such a satisfying and memorable experience especially because I got a present: a painted tin plate that I used at every meal for almost three years.
When it came to games, I was a champ since I was a fast runner. I was surely not the fastest, but in many occasions my friends would rely on me to help win a game. My most favorite game was ‘Cat and Mouse.’ To play this game, one player would be the cat and the other the mouse. The mouse had to save himself from the cat running after him. Meanwhile, the other players had to make a big circle by holding hands with one another. In the beginning, the cat would stay outside and the mouse would be safely inside. The circle was supposed to protect the mouse from the cat. When the cat managed to get into the circle, the ‘human barricades’ would give way for the mouse to go outside and at the same time preventing the cat from getting out of the circle. This game was really interesting. I was always challenged to win, either as a cat or a mouse. The deafening cheers from my friends were like fuel to fire, burning my sole motivation to win. The game did not always run smoothly, though. Although there was always a teacher acting as a judge, sometimes some of us tried to cheat and we ended up fighting. It made me somewhat uneasy. Such games were only fun and enjoyable when everybody followed the rules. And when rules were ignored, the excitement was gone. It’s interesting to see how I was that serious even in games.
I have a lot of stories from the time when I was in Primary School. I was, indeed, improving. Interestingly enough, the improvements were not in the academic area. Classrooms were still not my favorite place to spend time in. I enjoyed practical assignments like crafting and building. I used to spend a lot of time perfecting my prowess by making my own toys. At the age of ten, I could even make my own toy train from gelagah, the flowers of cane trees. I could also make my own kites. I even designed a weapon from bamboo stems. Wow! I also insisted on doing a lot of things by myself. It was probably normal for boys that age: being Mr Know-It-All!
There was this incident when I got a school assignment to make a miniature house. It did not take long for me to start with the project. I designed it myself and, using bamboo, I built the house from scratch, just like the time when I built a ‘bamboo house’ for my pet crickets. I spent days building the miniature house and was adamant about finishing it by myself. Feeling sorry that I had to work that hard, my parents offered to help. That, too, I refused, confidently saying, “No! This is my assignment. I have to finish it myself.” At times like this, I can be stern and unstirred.
Finally, the miniature house was completely done and it was time for me to present it to my teacher. “Not bad,” I said proudly said to myself. I confidently submitted my finished project and, upon examining my work, my teacher asked, “Yus, who made this?” And to that, of course, I said, “I did, Ma’am.” She took a closer look and said, “Somebody made it for you, didn’t they?” Knowing for sure that I singlehandedly finished the house, I insistently said, “No, Ma’am I finished it all by myself.” Without even bothering to listen, she concluded, “This can’t be yours. Somebody must have made it for you!” I was lost for words, speechless. I couldn’t say anything for fear that she would find me disrespectful. She handed my work back to me. My score had been decided and what was written could not be undone. No further discussions. There was nothing I could do. It was indeed disappointing. “It hurt like hell,” so people would say. And the pain from such a big disappointment may have been the reason it became so memorable.
I did not have so many unpleasant experiences, though. I even feel that I have more pleasant memories than unpleasant ones. But pleasant memories seem to slip away more easily than painful ones. At least that is what happens to me. I often take pleasant experiences for granted so my heart is not profoundly touched by them. Maybe that is just human.
I can’t remember when it all started but among us, Primary School students, it was customary to play match-making; macokke so we say in Javanese. This ‘game’ was actually intended to tease each other. Anyone could be the doers as well as the victims, including me. However, I always had a way to get away from this game. Every time someone teased me, I would say, “Ah.. sorry.. I have decided to stay single, unmarried. So you can stop this matching game with me!” This seemed to work perfectly well. They would stop almost immediately. And every time someone started to tease me again, there were always other friends to defend me by restating my line. In the course of time, I did like quite a number of girls, though, but I never had any romantic relationship with any of them. And in the end, what I declared back then has indeed come true. I am not married, at least until now. I am enjoying my life now, but I never thought that my words would become an answered prayer… (So, always mind what you say).
My dislike towards classrooms turned out to stay with me until I entered Junior High School. Sitting at a desk learning was never my priority. I enjoyed extracurricular activities more than formal learning in class. Being a boyscout (Pramuka or Praja Muda Karana) had always been very memorable. I remember this one time when my friends and I were appointed as representatives in the three-day event of jamboree attended by all High Schools from Karesidenan Surakarta.
On that particular Sunday, we gathered at school before departing for the event. We were killing time waiting for the car that would take us to Waduk Gajah Mungkur, a man-made lake in Wonogiri, when one of our peers suddenly called to us from a classroom. It turned out that, seeing that the door was open, he entered and saw that in the room were pillows. “Hey, there are pillows here. They may have prepared them for us!” All of us ran into the room and, feeling rather confused to find an unlocked classroom on a Sunday, grabbed the pillows. Each of us got one pillow and we could not help thinking how generous it was of our scoutmaster. “How nice of our scoutmaster to prepare the pillows for us!” said our leader. As a matter of fact, I did not quite understand why they would prepare pillows for us. “Scouts are supposed to be independent, live a simple life instead of seeking comforts, work hard and be creative. Why on earth would they allow us to take pillows to camp?” I wondered. Nevertheless, we happily left for Waduk Gajah Mungkur with the pillows. The event went really well. We could perform our tasks perfectly. On our arrival back to school on Tuesday afternoon, these exhausted boys were welcomed by the wrath of our school caretaker. “Where did you take all our pillows? Those pillows were supposed to be for our guests. What kind of boyscouts are you?” We couldn’t say anything. We knew we were wrong. To make matters worse, the pillows were dirty and it would not be appropriate to return them in such condition. All of us apologized and our leader promised to compensate for the pillows. The next day, we chipped in and gave whatever money we could collect to the school caretaker. I had to sacrifice my savings for my holiday to pay for the pillows. “It was so silly!”
After graduating from Junior High School, I chose to go to a Senior High School that provided a dorm for students. To do this, I had to move to another town: Magelang, 60 km from my hometown, Klaten. The well-known Merapi , an active Volcano, separates Magelang and Klaten; thus, separating me from my hometown. It was a single-sex school but the students came from all over Indonesia. It was challenging for me to adapt to the new surroundings, especially relating to friends from outside Central Java. It was not only the language, but the cultures were completely different. But the great things that I got from making friends with people from different backgrounds outweighed the challenges that I had to face. The experience of sharing a life together with my friends brought a new color to my daily life. We slept under one roof, in a big hall, on a plank of wood each of us was assigned to; we had meals in one room; we learned in one room. There was this one time when one of my friends talked in his dream. Well, he did more than just talking; he screamed so loud that the friend sleeping next to him also screamed out of shock. Understandably enough, in no time at all, the whole room was in chaos. Everybody was woken up and some of us couldn’t stop screaming until somebody turned on the light. Well, that was the ‘perk’ of sleeping together.
It was in this school that I learned to sit quietly and study at my desk. The challenges that I faced in this school were far higher than in my previous schools. Luckily, my friends were supportive. Here, I came face to face with loads of knowledge (thoughts) that I had never imagined before. I learned of a new term that sounded so sweet in my ears and it made quite an impression in my mind: humaniora. Never in my life had I ever heard that word. That word still rings sweetly in my head even until now. Being human, humanizing humans, nurturing men, being humane, and many more became my references for my thoughts and decisions in the future. In one of his public talks, the late priest Romo Mangun mentioned an idea that would forever be imprinted in my mind: “This school is supposed to educate the young people into becoming fighters for humanism.” I was impressed. I was contented.
Our school had non-negotiable rules. One of the rules was ‘no cheating.’ I could not see how serious that rule was until one of my friends was expelled from the school for breaking this rule. He did get a warning the first time he got caught. He was asked to find another school the second time he got caught. Wow! I had never witnessed such a thing elsewhere. I kept all these memories and impressions in my heart.
Yohanes Berchmans Rosaryanto, OSC is originally from Klaten, Central Java, Indonesia. He is now living in Rome, Italy.
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Scout picture is uploaded from Google Images.