Our 4 days in Medan are a bit of a blur for me when I try to think back on what we did. This was largely due to heat exhaustion quickly followed by a 2 day virus for which the main symptoms were a blinding migraine and extreme hyper sensitivity to noise and light.
Our departure to Medan was delayed 6 hours. Citilink claimed the delay was due to engine problems but when we saw the passenger numbers on the later flight we joined, we guessed that the true cause for the delay was ensuring that the flight was financially viable!!
We were met at the airport by the principal of our Bridge Partnership School, Ibu Erna Julia together with the kepala dinas. The airport has changed significantly since our last visit to Medan and the front entrance into the airport is now dominated by a huge train terminal which we later discovered ends almost in front of our hotel. Had we travelled by train, we would’ve reached the hotel considerably faster than it took both Ibu Erna Julia and the kepala Dinas to drive us, even though part of the journey was on the newly built toll road.
Our first full day in Medan was Easter Sunday and the PE teacher, Pak Ramses, happily met us at a nearby Catholic Cathedral so that Marg could experience an Indonesian Catholic Easter service. The service had begun by the time we were delivered to Pak Ramses by Ibu Erna Julia’s son- in -law. The church was absolutely packed and our enterance thankfully was during the singing of the first hymn. Before the singing finished, red plastic chairs were provided and we sat in the aisle, one behind the other near Pak Ramses’ wife. The sound of the congregation singing the Easter hymns was like listening to an enormous choir and it sounded heavenly. The service lasted a couple of hours and included communion. We had been handed a copy of the written service which I followed intently, enjoying the formal Indonesian. I wished that I could have inderlined unfamiliar words/ phrases for later perusal but considering our position in the middle aisle, where we already were under intense curious scrutiny, decided the lack of a pen in my bag was probably a blessing! The pews were arranged into 4 groups of 16 pews with about 8 people on each – therefore communion thankfully was streamlined and provided simultaneously to each bank of 16 pews. Very smooth operation. After the service, the congregation headed outside while wishing those nearby, Selamat Hari Paskah (Happy Easter). The exodus from the church moved very slowly passed a trestle table supporting boxes of water, cakes and a box of boiled eggs. As each person passed, they were handed one of each and then greeted again with, ‘Selamat Hari Paskah!’
The church building itself is absolutely beautiful and perfectly designed for the Indonesian climate. The cross ventilation was impressive with many well positioned windows and doors and I only began to feel uncomfortable towards the end of the service. The marquee structure you can see in front of the church was set up for children which allowed them to chat amongst themselves without disturbing the adults.
The following day we headed into school. Being Monday, the first thing on the agenda was the flag raising ceremony. While we stood in the shade, many students stood in the hot sun for the hour long regimented ceremony that includes hoisting the Indonesian flag, listening to the choir sing the national anthem, repeating the 5 principles of the national Pancasila before finally promising to be diligent students.
We were then ushered into the principals office to have a break before heading off to Pak Pahot’s year 6 class to teach them ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ song. They all did such an awesome job singing the various verses that we gave each group a packet of stickers to share.
After this we returned to the slightly cooler principals office, where the poor air conditioner was struggling overtime to cool a room where not only was the door constantly open but the walls were a couple of feet lower than the ceiling!! By this time we were melting in the heat and the cold water we were provided with was greatly appreciated yet the beautiful traditional cake could not tempt me beyond a taste of the soft red jelly pieces. It was delicious, but I was too hot and dehydrated and had absolutely no appetite.
We headed off afterwards with Elizawati to her year 2 class. Her students are so little and were very overawed with our presence. Encouraging them to sing ‘Old MacDonald’ with us was hard work as they were sooo timid and shy. On top of this, her classroom ventilation was non existent. All the middle level windows were closed and covered with instructional posters. With the increasing midday heat, I deteriorated so quickly that we were taken back to our hotel early afternoon where a quick dip in the pool and a short nap revived me enough for us to join Pak Pahot and his family for an evening jaunt to the PRSU (expo celebrating the establishment of the city of Medan). All ethnic groups from North Sumatra were invited to showcase their traditional foods, costumes and dances at this expo. As this was the final evening of the month long event, groups were gathering in front of their pavilions preparing demonstrations of a significant aspect from their culture. We enjoyed the Batak pavilion and had our photos taken here wearing traditional ulos making the traditional hand gesture which accompanies a well known Batak dance. This group below are from Nias island which is famous for its rock jumpers who can launch themselves 3 metres over rock walls.
The following day, I felt considerably better thankfully, as Pak Pahot had arranged for us to spend a day with another of the Medan Bridge Partnership Schools. This school could not be more different to ours. It is actually 2 small schools occupying a single site and operating separately yet simultaneously. The 2 principals work in the same office which is devided right down the middle by a row of cupboards. Both were extremely professional and respectful towards each other which created a friendly and welcoming atmosphere throughout the entire school.
The principal and staff of the Bridge school welcomed us with a student drum band and we were then each presented with an ulos (red Batak shoulder shawl) representing our now close connection to their school.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time there with the staff and students. We taught classes a few new verses for a song they knew extremely well – ‘If You’re Happy & You Know It’ and one class had a quick lesson on the Madison!! Our final class was without a doubt our most challenging. It was a double class of year 2’s working in the same room!! Boy, were they loud & chatty!! We sang ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ to get them out of their seats and active! Imagine 40+ active year 2’s in one tiny room, desks all squished in cheek by jowl!!
From here, we were returned to our Bridge School where we were collected by the amazing chairperson of the parent committee and his gorgeous wife, Ibu Siti, as well as Ibu Carin (also a parent rep) who drove us and Pak Pahot and another teacher out to a man made lake for rujak and es doger. The lake is the result of a huge earthmoving exercise carried out when sourcing fill for the new toll road!
Our final day in Medan was spent firstly at the school with a low key yet thoroughly enjoyable farewell that included a very talented student singing a few well known songs including a Batak number that requires everyone to stand and gently bounce while shaking hands slowly in the air simultaneously. We exchanged gifts of appreciation before heading out for lunch. I felt terrible for the afternoon teaching staff who were very disappointed that once again they could not join our excursion due to teaching commitments.
We ended up at a river mouth where 2 restaurants were situated one on each side of the river. Next to the one on our side of the river, was a small market selling seafood. A couple of the women from our group gathered to select and bargain for the seafood needed for our lunch. Laden with several bags of seafood including prawns, squid, fish and crab, we crossed the river by boat to the restaurant on the other side where there were many groups already seated and enjoying listening to a man up on the central stage singing karaoke very loudly. My heart dropped while around me, the Indonesians clapped their hands with joy and started dancing along. Unfortunately my head felt like it was going to split open with the noise, so I followed the Ibu-Ibu giving instructions to the kitchen staff about the preparation of our seafood. I then crept through the kitchen and joined the group who thankfully had chosen a spot not too close to the stage. Our coconut drinks were delivered first and then our dishes arrived thick and fast. What a feast. We sat down around with our backs against the outside of the compartment, lesehan style (cross legged on the ground) helping ourselves to the food we wanted and then eating it with our fingers! The best way to eat Indonesian food! There was so much food, yet somehow we got through it all!
Afterwards Ibu Mei kindly gave me a massage and while she pinched my scalp and loosened my shoulder and neck muscles, we listened to the others from our group singing karaoke up in the stage. Margaret was invited to sing but she graciously declined and merely joined the backup singers/ dancers swaying in the background. The Restuarant Terapung Percut was such a fun way to finish up our visit to our partner school and an outing we will definitely include should a group of staff and/ or families ever decide to join us one day to a trip to Medan.
A huge thankyou to the staff, parents and students of both the Medan schools (080643 & 080623) who helped to make this visit so enjoyable. We were spoilt rotten as usual and once again ate so much delicious food! Terima kasih banyak!!