by Phun H
I analyzed my reflection in the dusty mirror, my unsatisfied face staring back at me. I have failed to ever wear yellow and this particular yellow polo shirt emblazoned with my name and the Learning Farm logo was a testament to the absence of yellow in my wardrobe. From my peripheral vision, I could see Maleeha, fellow volunteer and friend, inspect her apparel with equal lamentation. Maleeha and I had undoubtedly accumulated positive qualities teaching English side by side for the last two months at the Learning Farm (Karang Widya) but it was difficult to abandon our vanity, particularly on this very important occasion. Today was graduation day for the 35 students of Batch 24, which meant a celebration of successes but also a mourning of memories shared.
I turned around, and my vision grazed over the three mattresses laid upon the ground against the beige-grey walls covered with drawings and notes I hung to dilute the emptiness. It would be my final night with Maleeha and Nani, who were both leaving the farm in pursuit of other things. Nani, my honorary Indonesian mother and roommate, left her bed made neatly with folded blankets and tidy sheets while my bed lay in disarray with a beige blanket sprawled across. I promised to make it later, since Emily and Nona, PR and executive director respectively, were spending the night over as they did weekly. I swiftly walked across the room past a portion of the floor that made me consider the possibility of the ground collapsing beneath me. I removed the pencil that kept the doors of the balcony securely shut and allowed the fresh air to invade the space.
My usual morning routine consisted of being greeted by the enthusiastic chants of the students. This morning, the front yard lay uncharistically vacant with the exception of the Indonesian flag swaying from a bamboo pole. It was a truly beautiful morning in Maleber with few clouds placed about and the sun breaking between and through the fluff. To the right lay the farm where the students had dedicated hours and hours of their time towards caring and nurturing their plants for the past three months. It served as a classroom for them, reinforcing responsibility and teamwork. Off in the distance stood a perfect set of mountains creating an honest, postcard worthy background. To the left, cars filled with family members and partners of Karang Widya slowly began to arrive for the event.
Maleeha and I headed downstairs to help with any last mintute preparations for graduation. We passed the musollah where the Muslim students prayed and the upstairs bathroom that we had somehow developed an odd fondness for despite the constant lingering odor. We walked through the double doors that led to the computer room and the boys’ dormitory. The computer room was filled with light that seeped through the windows, contrasting with the harsh metal of the desktops that lined the room. Just before Maleeha and I reached the stairs that seperated the two rooms, we peeked into the boy’s dormitory to see who was still upstairs.
We were greeted with high fives, good mornings as well as compliments and the ongoing joke about our showering habits. The boys’ dormitory was its usual level of cleanliness despite the boxes, backpacks, and suitcases that held artifacts from the last three months. The boys looked handsome in their freshly ironed royal blue shirts emblazoned with their names, Learning Farm logo, and Indonesian flag. Just as the staff was dressed in their yellow shirts, the 31 boys and four girls that formed Batch 24 wore their customized batch shirts.
We continued down the stairs and went past the dining room to the living room which was slowly being transformed into a buffet line for the food that was to appear after graduation. Looking about the room, I could feel my mind falling into deep nostalgia. This room epitomized my time at the Learning Farm. Maleeha and I taught our lessons in this room Monday through Friday and were both audience members and contestants of TLF Idol (basically karaoke night) that happened every Saturday night. The room morphed from classroom, to concert hall, to craft room, movie theater, and the occasional casino when card games were brought out. Nights playing Bullshit and Spoons were spent on the carpet, and impromptu jam sessions would echo through the halls.
Maleeha and I slipped out to the porch and terrace, neatly lined with wooden seats for guests and students. Handmade decorations for the event were thoughtfully placed about. Gorgeous little flowers created from egg carton remnants outlined a board that read “Pelepasan Angkatan 24” (Batch 24 Graduation). I inhaled a steady breath, readying myself for the emotionally draining hours ahead.
It was then time for the morning ceremony and obligatory group photos. The students and staff formed military style positions and sang Indonesia Raya, the national anthem, as Maleeha and I mumbled the words to feel included. Once we concluded, an exorbitant amount of photos were taken.
Before a numbing pain began to settle in my cheeks from smiling, we were called in for the formal ceremony. Maleeha and I sat next to each other and watched as Nona introduced partners and staff involved with the Learning Farm and sheepishly stood and waved at the audience as we were introduced. As the introductions subsided, a group of students performed a dance from Maluku that they had been practicing weeks before, and then a host of boys sang “Semua Tentang Kita” (All About Us), their voices blending beautifully, and the song flawlessly capturing the mood. All of the graduating students, including those from the advanced program, STL, were ushered to the front of the room where they were pinned with delicate little badges.
The students stood uniformly at the front for audience members to acknowledge and reflect on. I was proud of all of them. My students, my friends, had achieved amazing successes in the three months they stayed at the farm. We learned, ate, sang, laughed, farmed- did everything together for three months. I had so much love for all of them, and I still couldn’t fathom the fact that we would be separated within the next hour. My mind was still unable to wrap around the thought of not being able to see some of them again.
Little 15-year-old Nandi, who became everyone’s little brother, would be going home to his indigenous village in Sulawesi. He was one of the few who would be able to leave Java. Those from Flores, Kupang, and other far off places would have to stay in Java and work until they could afford to go home and see family. Despite the hurdle, all of them held incomparable strength and so much light and happiness within.
Maleeha and I were called up to speak, and, in between the tears that fell, I wanted to thank my friends for the happiness that they brought to my life for the last three months. I thought about where they were going and what they would be doing. The Learning Farm gave them a place to develop and grow safely and provided for them- they had mentors and friends and three meals a day. Would they be in similar circumstances with their next transition? I wanted nothing more than to know that they would be safe and okay as they embarked on their new adventures.
The graduation commenced and before long, everyone was in tears. Those that I thought held the greatest emotional strength fell vulnerable to the melancholy that dictated the atmosphere. I found myself comforting someone while also being comforted. Although I felt immense sadness, I understood that my emotions were incomparable to those of the students. Some of them, especially the boys, became so close to each other, they were practically siblings and would refer to each other as “brothers” and “sisters.”
But that’s what Karang Widya was composed of, we were a family for three months, and the arrival of this fateful day meant separation. I understood the implications of graduation and that separation was inevitable from the start, but it didn’t soften the blow of friends leaving. I was overwhelmed with despair, but I was grateful for the genuine friendships that blossomed and the memories that we shared together, the inside jokes that only Batch 24 would understand (kamu belum mandi? Kemoh… Phun strong!).
I couldn’t trace the steps to how I even ended up in Indonesia or how these amazing, special people became so important to me, but I comprehended the gratitude I had for the higher power that was controlling all of this. I could have ended at any organization, in any part of the world, but somehow Learning Farm found me. It was a challenge to understand how I might never have met Sanan or Ivander, Eben and Angel, that our paths could have easily never crossed.
If there’s one undeniable thing that I’ve learned on my gap year, it’s to appreciate the moments and where you are with the people you’re with. Too often it slips my mind how amazing and privileged my current position in life is. I am in Indonesia, a country that I initially knew very little about but has now become a home for me. Moving on will always be difficult, and I think about how I felt when I left Thailand, how much it hurt to say goodbye; but Indonesia found me and took my vulnerability and fashioned a home of my emotions. Even though Batch 24 was difficult to walk away from, Batch 25 has welcomed me with such open arms, and I’m only looking forward.