personal reflections on human rights...and other stuff

A Letter to My Sons, Part 6: Coming Home

Dear Alexandre, Dear Sam,

I’m coming home. As I write this final letter to you, I am sitting in my room at the Paragon Hotel, which was the first hotel I stayed at in Jakarta seven years ago. I look at my reflection in the mirror and realize that I’m wearing the same shirt I wore back then as well.

Rooftop bath, early morning, Jakarta
The hotel hasn’t changed since my first visit back when you were just a little baby, Sam. The rooms look the same, although the bed sheets are grey now instead of white. There is still at least one cockroach lying on its back to greet me in the morning before I go to the bathroom, and there’s still only one plug in the room that works. I looked out my window as I woke up and noticed two men bathing on top of the building next to me; it looked like no one ever finished constructing the building.

Up until yesterday, I played games from morning until late at night. I know, it’s hard to believe that’s my work, but it’s true. I met a wonderful group of elementary school teachers who work in schools called pesantren. Pesantren are Islamic boarding schools; in other words, they are schools like any other schools but the teachers also teach about the Islamic religion. Bing and I spent three days with the teachers showing them how to play the games from our Play It Fair book. Sam, do you remember when we went to the gym in Vancouver to see Tom and you played a game called Robots and one with Daddy called Squirrel in the Trees? We did the same thing here, only most of the teachers have never seen a squirrel before.

We came all the way here to show them how to play these games with their students because the games help kids like you to learn about important values. Some of these values are helping each other (cooperation), being nice to each other (respect), playing with other children and making them feel like someone cares (inclusion), and a few other ones too. The children play the games and then the teacher sits down and asks them if they liked the game and if they learned anything by playing it. The last game we played yesterday was Bullying. Remember how each of you came home sad because some other kids were pushing you around during recess? Remember how Mommy and I told you to stand up for yourselves and to tell the bullies to just STOP? The last time it happened, I pretended I was you Sam, and you were the bully and you jumped on me. I didn’t like it and used my words to say stop.

With two of the workshop participants.
That’s what we did when we met the teachers: we showed them how to help their students get along better with each other. The games also help everyone to become better listeners. Before playing the always-popular Noisiest Game in the World, I asked the teachers if they’ve ever been in a situation where they try to talk to their students but the students simply don’t listen. One teacher opened her eyes wide and said: “You mean it happens elsewhere? I thought it only happened in Indonesia?” There are a lot of similarities between our lives and the lives of those here in Indonesia.

We played around twenty games over three days, and there’s one clear conclusion: all the teachers love the games and can’t wait to try them out with their students. They are all convinced that the students will love the games. For me, this makes me think that no matter where you are on this planet, children love to play. And if they can learn about helping one another and being kinder while doing it, so much the better. I was really glad that the teachers were happy and had fun – I don’t think I’ve heard so much laughter in a long time. We even talked a lot about SpongeBob.

Once the workshop was over, Bing and I said goodbye to everyone and hopped in a taxi to the other side of town. After checking in to this last hotel, I went downstairs to check my email and that’s when I saw Hendy. Hendy greeted me seven years ago when I arrived in Jakarta for the first time. He’s the one who gave you those World Cup shirts and always helps me find the “poopy coffee” no one back home likes. Last night he drove us to a nice restaurant where I gobbled up a much-needed cheeseburger and guzzled a cold beer. Today he patiently waited as I got my watch fixed and went searching for cool shirts for the two of you. Every time I am in Jakarta and he’s around, he goes out of his way to see me, to help me out, to drive me around. He even showed me a pair of Darth Vader Adidas shoes that you would love, Alexandre.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that as you grow older, you realize that the dozens of friends you had as children trickles down to only a few good friends later in life, and that’s if you’re lucky. And over the years you will make new friends, like I have. Friends are worth holding on to. I miss you, Alexandre and Sam, and I think of you every day and show your photos to everyone to the point where they are probably sick of seeing them. But even though I’m far away, I want you to know that I’m in good hands, because friends like Hendy and Bing and everyone else I’ve been with over the last two weeks take care of me. Your mother always tells me to be careful when I’m away, but in a sense I know I don’t have to be, because there’s always a friend wherever I go.

Je t’aime Alexandre, je t’aime Sam, bonsoir.

Daddy



1 comment :

Banasree said...

Dear Paul,

Don’t know how to start!

In fact every single of your letters took me some 35 years back. I had difficulty in deciding how to respond and express my sentiment.For as long as I can remember, from my childhood to around 1994, I received hundreds of letters from my beloved father, most of which I have with me. My Dad’s letters and words inspired me to become what I am today.He gave us social education in the form of examples in everyday family life. He taught us how we should not discriminate people for class, gender, religion etc. He told my siblings and I about how female education is important, how we should not be biased for any reason whatsoever. We were told to always listen to own consciousness, to raise our voice against injustice and unethical conduct. These teachings instilled strong values and principles within us. When I joined the workforce, I realized that these teachings make up a major part of human rights.
I also realized that the current society directly contradicts my values. It is not ready to treat everyone as equals. Often, if I protest against any injustice, I am the one to suffer, be it in my workplace, be it on the road, everywhere in society for that matter. This frustrates me immensely, but I take it as a challenge. Promoting human values is really a hard task. Gradually, I am becoming more capable to address this challenge.
Look where I started and where I am now. Even though my beloved dad is now nearing 90 and suffering from dementia, there is still a lot more to be learnt from his strong personality.
My family have both enjoyed and been benefitted by your letter, so thank you. You have presented some hard and complicated issues in simple style which is well liked by my son and husband.

I would like to stop now. I love to read all your posts.

With Regards,

Banasree