Visiting 2 Very Different Bridge Partner Schools in Medan. 

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!! 

Our visit to Erin and Mel’s Bridge partner School finished with a relaxed lunch of nasi pecel – lonton with green vegetables covered in spicy peanut sauce! Delicious! 

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!! 


The Sights of Medan City

Each afernoon, Pak Pahot, Ibu Erna, Ibu Ana & one of the superintendents. would take us to see various obyek parawisata – places of interest to tourists- in Medan and each evening we accepted an invitation from a different staff member to visit their house for dinner. Our week in Medan was a whirlwind of activities, all thoroughly enjoyable. Here is our schedule as created by Pak Pahot first thing Monday morning, the only time that week  when it felt that a week would be long enough to achieve our intended goals. 

In fact our schedule was so busy that each day, there was at least one thing that we missed because we ran out of time! 

Enjoy this taste of Medan:

Istana Maimun – The Maimun Palace

The Istana was built from 1887 – 1891 for the Sultan and his family and they still live here today! It is a mixture of Malay, Spanish, Italian and Indian architecture. 


Outside the palace was a  place of significance and the source of a local legend. Apparently the brother of a past Sultan turned himself into a cannon during an important battle. During the battle, the cannon fired constantly, so much so, that the metal began to glow red hot and eventually split in half.  The remaining section is housed in a small out building. There is a hole on the canon and we were all encourageed to put our ear to it. While Marg & I could hear the sea, Ibu Ana heard a river!! 


The Medan Mesjid Raya  – The main mosque in Medan

Built in 1906 and took only 3 years to build. While designed by a Saudi architect, the materials used in the build were sourced from all over the world and include Italian marble and German glass for the windows. From the back verandah of the mosque, we looked out over the various graves of past and present Sultan’s family members. 


Pasar Medan – The Medan Market

In the heart of Medan is an enormous market divided into 2 sections.  On one side is the older traditional market and on the other side, the more recently built addition. We only had time to briefly visit the older part and that was amazing.Definitely somewhere I could spend hours pottering around. We began by looking at the tables piled high with large bags of various items in bulk that could be used for oleh oleh (souvenirs) or  as the thankyou gifts I’ve seen handed out to guests on their arrival at a wedding reception. There were fans, pens, purses and keyrings just to mention a few. We toyed with getting a bag of cute pens that folded up into a large capsule shape but in the end didn’t because nothing on the tables were specifically from Medan.  

Here are the only 2 photos I took! Once I got engrossed, I forgot to take anymore! The first shows bowls of freshly made spice mixes. Thje idea of being able to buy the spices already measured and prepared appeals to me greatly. Imagine being able to buy spices for an Indonesian dinner party!! The second photo show the many different grades of small fish (ikan teri) available. The range in size was astounding. 

For the other sights, read the earlier post about our first day in Medan. 

SDN Medan 060843 – Our Partner School – Teaching Experiences

On the Monday morning, we arrived at school a little late as we had slept the night before with Ibu Elizawati who lives in Binjai, a nearby city & considered by locals, to be a long way from Medan. At 7am, while still on the road, Ibu Elizawati rang the school and told them to wait a bit longer for us!! Thus, when we arrived 30 minutes later, the entire school was waiting for us. They were all lined up in classes out on the asphalt in the sun facing the flag pole. The ceremony began the minute we stepped out of the car. The  flag raising ceremony is conducted in all Indonesian schools every Monday morning and is extremely formal. While not as polished nor as regimented as is done by high school students, the students at SDN Medan 060843 were still very impressive.  

 After the ceremony, all classes were dismissed, yet one of the junior teachers asked her students to line up and present their hands to her for a nail inspection. Once checked, they would kasih salam to her – take her hand and touch it gently to their forehead or cheek – to show/confirm their respect towards her. It is such a lovely gesture and one I’ve seen throughout Indonesia in schools and at home. One day I’m going to discover the understanding behind it.

Our days at SDN 608043 were largely spent observing teachers in their classrooms. Due to the number of classes at SDN Medan 608043, Pak Pahot put a timetable together for us to ensure that as many teachers and students as possible were given the opportunity to work with us.  

 We observed in a range of classes however the timetable often changed, sometimes with minor alterations and once with a significant change due to a public holiday  – Wednesday’s timetable was almost entirely abandoned due to the Muslim festival of Idhul Adha – which was both a relief and a disappoinment. The cancellation of lessons, meant we could get away to Danau Toba 2-3 hours earlier but it also meant over 100 students missed sharing a lesson with us – mutually disappointing. 

In each lesson, we were introduced to the class by the teacher and then greeted by the students. We would then make our way to the back of the class where inevitably there were spare chairs. This also allowed us to sit with students and chat with them while they were working. In most classes, desks were arranged into groups of 4-6 students; the back groups dominated by one or two vocal and confident students while the other group members preferred to chat &/or day dream whereas the table groups towards the front of the class had 100% student participation and involvement. Fascinating  that high achieving, capable students were seated closer to the teacher than those who obviously struggle academically and are less engaged.

Most lessons we observed were largely teacher centric. The teacher stood out the front, talked and then handed out worksheets to be completed by the students. 

Lesson blocks always began with a prayer.  

 In some classes this is lead by the teacher and in others, the ketua kelas leads. While acknowledging that some students may not be Moslem, the prayer was always Islamic.  

Then the lesson began. Here are some year 2 students demonstrating they understand the task of hefting classroom objects before working in pairs to complete a worksheet:

 One lesson we observed, the teacher instructed her student groups to collaboratively write questions about a picture representing the Indonesian motto; unity in diversity. Groups then, one by one, were instructed to share their questions with the rest of the class. Strangely, the questions were never answered, instead the teacher distributed a teacher generated comprehension sheet – complete with a passage of text and questions!

The junior primary lessons were fascinating because it demonstrated to us clearly how structured their new curriculum is. Each half semester, junior primary teachers are provided with a teacher handbook containing detailed instructions for every lesson to be taught that semester, including complete lesson plans which had to be rewritten out by hand!! Pak Pahot was questioned once because he had typed his on his lap top!! The junior primary curriculum is thematic.   


On Tuesday morning, we observed several JP lessons and each lesson followed on from the last, even though we were visiting different classes.   While visiting one classroom, we could hear the class next door doing the exact same lesson – right down to the songs!! The only difference being teacher delivery. It was fascinating.  


 Each teacher talked about the pressure of covering the content and how difficult it is given the time and the constant interruptions. 

The lesson I enjoyed the most was delivered by Ibu Ana to her year 3 class because it gave us the opportunity to interact with students while they were working. The lesson’s focus was animal features.  Ibu Ana introduced the topic, gave several examples before distributing to students a piece of paper with the picture of a different animal glued at the top. Because each animal was different, there was no copying yet students still worked collaboratively. Lovely to see capable students assisting less accademic students. Students had to identify the characteristics of their animal. One student had the picture of a bird of paradise. Only one leg could be seen so she thought that they must only have one leg!! When asked how would it walk, the penny dropped. 

I enjoyed asking individual students to tell me what features their animal had and then writing exactly what they told me before posting it on Facebook. They too got a huge kick out of it! The power of the internet!! 

 To be a successful junior primary teacher in Indonesia, it seems essential to have a powerful voice. Students are encouraged to contribute at the top of their lungs and the louder the better!! Songs were bellowed by the students with the teacher valiantly singing along too attempting to set the pace. The noise level was deafening which must be so overwhelming for students who are sensitive to noise, let alone teachers! 

After each lesson we observed, the teacher would approach us and ask for our opinion and for suggestions on how the lesson could be improved.  It was tricky being diplomatic. Marg excelled here. She acknowledged that the lessons incorporated aspects like collaboration and group discussion and then would add suggestions on how to increase student participation. Our partner school is recognised provincially as being very progressive and indeed it is yet there is still a huge reluctance by teachers to surrender control to the students. We observed an English lesson where all the language games were controlled by the teacher. Small groups of students were selected to come out the front and play the game  while the rest of the class were supposed to watch. After the lesson Marg suggested to the teacher that the games be played by students in pairs so that not only are all students participating, it saves her voice!! This teacher had the most impressive classroom management techniques. Unlike other teachers, her voice was soft and quiet and she used the teacher glare very successfully on students who weren’t istening! 

We also observed the PE teacher teach Pak Pahot’s year 5 class. He began in the classroom by explaining that they were going to learn forward rolls. They then went outside and did a warmup lap of the asphalt and some stretches before he dragged out the gym mats.  


 One by one, students were called out to do a forward roll. If a student completed a smooth forward roll, oother students cheered and if a student had difficulty, the rest of the class hooted with laughter which attracted students from a nearby class who joined the audience!! It was hot and dirty out on the asphalt and I did not envy the students! Most students sat orderly while watching, probably because sitting quietly was preferable to racing around in the hot midday heat and humidity on the asphalt!  


Lunch times at school were always spent in Ibu Erna’s office where we would be served a beautiful lunch, sometimes cooked for us by various generous staff! The food we were served was always delicious and never the same.  


In fact, towards the end of our stay, we could not do the lunches justice because the constant stream of food pressed upon us was overwhelming. Some days, we were encouraged to order for the following day!! One day a teacher approached us and announced that she wanted to coook fish for us for lunch the next day and then asked us how we wanted it cooked! 

Each morning, straight after the first bell, the school day begins with a whole school focus. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the students grab a sheet of newspaper and a book and sit out on the asphalt  to read for about 30 minutes. Most students chose one of their school text books 

and a few brought ttheir own book from home.


The whole morning contingent of the students (there are so many students that 2 school days run consecutively – a morning shift and an afternon shift) sat on the asphalt except for the year 1’s. They stood because “they don’t know how to read yet.”   

 The supervising staff  consisted of a few class teachers, on of whom stood out the front with a microphone and several support staff. Other class teachers were either doing last minute lesson preparation or had yet to arrive to school. 

While most students were out reading, small groups of rostered students were in their classrooms cleaning. The floors were swept and mopped, the teachers desk tidied and dusted and the bins emptied.


Marg also taught. We both came prepared to teach but for several reasons this only happened formally once. Firstly their teachers were very keen to be observed and secondly we were constricted by my lack of voice. My laryngitis was very frustrating. The more I used my voice the worse it got. Luckily when Marg taught her lesson about Australian animals, the English teacher was in the room and helped with translations. Marg was also given a few minutes at the end of an  English lesson after helping to lead in the singing of 

Marg then led them in her choice of song – heads & shoulders. 


Danau Toba – Lake Toba

How beautiful is this view?? This is what greeted us this morning upon waking!! As usual, after arriving somewhere after dark, the morning view appears even more spectacular. 

Our journey began yesterday in Medan after school which finished early due to Hari Raya Idul Adha starting a day earlier for the Mohomedian Muslims. We got away from school after lunch around 11:30 which was a bonus. We dropped by Pak Pahot’s house so he & his wife could pick up their bag, have a mandi and collect their adored son, Michael. Definitely not in that order! Michael is 18 months old and the apple of their eyes. It is so lovely watching them savouring every minute with him and in particular, his very close relationship with his father. 

We left their house around 2pm and from there began our very long drive to Danau Toba. We stopped briefly at a warung close to Pak Pahot’s house to meet a friend of his who would be our driver. Being a very long and demanding drive, it was an excellent decision. The traffic out of Medan was quite congested with the beginning of Idul Adha, the second most important date in the Islamic calendar. It involves animal sacrificing and over the last week we have seen many people selling goats and cows along the side of the road. Today as we drove, we passed many mosques with temporary butchering sites set up out the front.Men were squatting around large tarpaulins cutting up lumps of meat into 1kg portions which will then be distributed to the needy who were sitting on chairs under marquees waiting patiently. 

Once we cleared Medan, the traffic improved , yet the roads didn’t. It seemed the closer we got to Danau Toba the narrower and deeper the potholes  in the roads! We stopped at various places along the way to enjoy the view. Our first stop was soon after we started the climb up to the edge of the crater in which Danau  Toba is situated. There were a bunch of warungs clinging to the side of the cliff looking out over uncleared jungle. Absolutely beautiful yet freezing cold with a brisk wind blowing. Such a shock after the heat of Medan!! Our next stop was Berastagi known as the fuit and vegetable bowl. We dropped into the market briefly and bought a selection of fruit including salak, oranges, mango and mangosteen. With the drop in temperature, while we were buying fruit, Ibu bought Michael a gorgeous red jacket! 

Soon after leaving Berastagi, the police presence along the road increased because Jokowi was visiting the area today to visit Mt Sinubung, the volcano that has been erupting and was responsible for the cancelled Bali flights. Suddenly a police car with lights flashing overtook us and waved us off the road. Following behind him was a convoy of vehicles, half police and half government, all with lights flashing or hazard lights on, and that was as close as I got to Jokowi yesterday! How exciting!

Our penultimate stop was again to a bunch of warungs clinging to the side of a cliff. This stop was especially welcome because it was 6pm and my backside was feeling quite numb after the many hours of sitting. It was a beautiful sight looking out over the trees and seeing Danau Toba for the first time while enjoying a hot cup of tea!  

 On the tables were bowls of boiled dduck eggs which must be a popular snack as there were many egg shells scattered over the floor! 

No sooner had we resumed driving, it was dusk and within minutes it was pitch black. In some ways this made driving easier because the lights of oncoming vehicles could be seen from afar yet that assumed all vehicles had working lights! The road was so narrow in parts that it was barely wide enough for 2 cars to pass each other. Therefore our driver upon seeing an oncoming vehicle would put his left indicator on to tell themto move over to their left as far as they could. I’m glad I wasn’t driving because I flinched each time we passed trucks and large cars. 

What an epic drive! There are two ways to get to Samosir isalnd – by ferry or across a small bridge. Pak Pahot chose the later in case the ferry was held up with Idul Adha committments. Also his sister lives close to the bridge and she had been ringing since mid afternoon tracking our progress. She was cooking dinner for us. Can you imagine in Australia arriving at your sisters home at 11pm and being greeted warmly and then being provided with a meal, even though she has been waiting for over 5 hours? His sister is a year 6 teacher and filmed us eating and chatting so that she could share the experience of hosting us both with her class! Funnily enough, Marg was taking photos for her class! The meal she provided for us was absolutley delicious! Deep fried fish cutlets fresh from Lake Toba and the yummiest sambal and rice. Quite bizarre to be eating so late at night and even though by that time we weren’t hungry, we each had about 3-4 servings! Enak sekali.

Sunday in Medan & Binjai

Our second day in Medan was thankfully a Sunday, so we enjoyed a very lazy start which was just as well as I awoke to discover I’d lost my voice. After a refreshing mandi, a delicious breakfast of fried fish, tempeh and tofu with a spicy kecap manis sauce and a vegetable dish containing broccoli and tiny prawns delivered again by Ibu Erna Julia’s sister and husband who then sat patiently in the sitting room behind us and waited till we had finished eating before collecting up the plates, putting the left overs in the cupboard and taking the containers containing the left overs from the previous evenings meal home with them! Ibu Ana arrived about 8:30, slightly earlier than planned and Pak Pahot, running late after church commitments, arrived around 9:30. Instead of leaving straight away as we would have done in Australia, he was immediately pressed to eat something. He ate some fried tempeh dipped in sambal and then a butter sandwich! Ibu Erna then made a few more butter sandwiches and put them in a plastic container should anyone get peckish on the road. We have been constantly offered bread, bread rolls and buns and everyone is constantly amazed that we have preferred rice over bread! Hopefully we have been blowing the myth of westerners living largely on a diet of bread right out of the water. 

We all piled into Pak Pahots car for a tour of Medan’s icons. Our first stop was Cemara, to see the herons, cranes and other migratory birds which apparently come all  the way from India to nest and raise their chicks before flying off to Australia.  

 As we have yet to have any access to the internet, we haven’t been able to discover anything more about this phenomena. Being Sunday morning, there were several families with young children looking out at the birds in the trees, feeding the huge catfish  

 and carp in the swamp at the base of the trees or enjoying the scary thrill of looking at enormous pythons in cages.  

 It was a beautifully calm place to be in with the bonus was that being beneath huge tree canopies, it was very cool. We were watching a boy feeding the pigeons when suddenly 2 enormous buckets of writhing baby catfish were lugged down to a ramp and then released by a Buddhist family into the water. They then bought several packets of food which the younger members of the family scattered into the water and a few fish young fish braved the competition to eat. 

This bird sanctuary fortunately is situated right next door to an enormous Buddhist Temple 

  and across the road from an absolutely enormous brand new school which has only just opened. We walked up the stairs out of Medan’s heat and humidity into a beautifully cool and calm atmosphere. Lots of people of all religions were inside enjoying the peace and quiet.  


 Some were sitting, some were walking around and out the front were families with young children enjoying a safe & open space for youngsters to play or ride their bikes in. It was a space that I would use constantly if I lived in Medan. It was a true oasis in a frantic city. We reluctantly left the calm and coolness to head back to the car. 

Our next destination was the crocodile farm where there were hundreds of crocodiles in small concrete pens. 

It was a bit of a shock and I was happy we were only there a short time. Towards the back were more cages similar to the ones found at the Animal Welfare League. In one was a friendly golden retriever who wagged his tail hopefully while lying with his nose resting on the horizontal bars of his cage. Next to him was another dog curled up in the back of the cage. The next cages had huge pythons and the final cage was the one that brought tears to my eyes. A distressed monkey who was so miserable he was biting his feet. He looked so sad, I had to walk away. I’ve found that to speak to Indonesians about my distress only draws attention to the animal so I’ve learnt to walk away and say nothing.

Our next stop was Ibu Elizawati’s house for lunch. What a feast we were served yet the highlight was the rujak.  

 This was made from grated mango, grated pineapple, shaved ice and chili. It was so refreshing that we each had seconds. The main meal was delicious – her urap was in particular was yummy. Unlike the urap I’ve had previously enjoyed, the coconut topping was quite brown. To finish up after lunch, we enjoyed another glass of teh kawat – a tea made from leaves picked recently. It was one of the nicest cups of tea I’ve ever tasted. 

As were all sitting around the table feeling the lethargy that comes after eating a large midday meal, saying how nice it was that we could rest when suddenly Ibu Eliza’s husband was called to the door. We learned later that the governing council had arranged an outing for us to learn from the two gentlemen below  about a variety of jambu that is cultivated and maintained by a co-op.  

 While we moved slowly to get in the car, it was an outing that we all thoroughly enjoyed. The jambu are known locally as jambu madu (honey jambu) because they are as sweet as honey when ripe however as the word ‘madu’ relates directly to bees, they had to choose another name to market the fruit. The chose jambu deli hijau. ‘Deli’ because they are grown in an area which many years ago was the kingdom of Deli and ‘hijau’ because when ripe, they are a lovely shade of green. Learning about the horticultural aspects related to this variety of fruit was fascinating. All trees were heavily pruned to keep the height of the trees low so that harvesting is manageable. Each tree is potted so that watering and fertilizing can be monitored. ; 

 Trees are watered by hand twice a day and each tree receives 3-4 litres of water each time. The fruit is covered in a plastic bag to protect the fruit from what sounded like a variety of fruit fly As they fruit all year round and fruit prolifically, they are a good cash crop. We were also invited to try one and it was delicious. Very sweet, crunchy like a pear, and shaped like one too.

After this we were invited to look at the garden of one of gentlemen. It was the most amazing garden I have ever seen. As neighbours sold their land, he bought it and now his garden is enormous and includes a huge glass house in which were hundreds of jambu cuttings growing in perfectly controlled conditions. He also has a huge collection of birds, both in sheds and outside in cages including turkeys and chooks. Towards the back of the garden was an area for creating goat food. The grass was sliced thinly and then put in large plastic barrels with probiotics and vitamins to ferment down to mush similar to silage. As we were heading back to the car, the owner of this amazing garden asked if we were also interested in visiting a local primary school and learning about their recycling program.We jumped at the chance and so we all piled into the cars and headed off. On the way, a group of young men were weighing palm oil bunches. We stopped so that Marg and I could photograph the bunches. 



  I wanted to hold one up but thankfully was warned in time not to touch the bunches as they had huge spikes amongst the berries. It was brilliant being able to photograph bunches of palm berries up close. They are a brilliant colour aren’t they!

The drive to the primary school was a long one but well worth it. Waiting for us were several staff members who had come in at short notice on a Sunday (their only day off) to meet us and explain about the programs they run. Can’t imagine this happening in Australia! What an amazing school! Because of the connection with the man who grows jambu trees, the school has many trees and plants growing around the buildings and it was so cool under the trees. Quite a contrast to other schools we have visited here which are largely asphalt and concrete. We were taken into the staff room where we were shown various items all made from recycled materials. There were beautiful large containers made from rolled newspaper strips, aprons and bags made from coffee packets as well as key rings made from bottle tops. Impressive isn’t it!  

Then it was home to Ibu Eliza’s for a snack – durian!!  


 Margaret was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to try it and not surprisingly loved it. 

Dinner that night was mie rebus at the pasar malam. Mie rebus was a plate of noodles in a peanut sauce with a thin swirl of tomato sauce and a large dollop of green sambal.  


   It was an interesting combination of flavours. After eating, we headed home straight away as it was already quite late and we had an early start the next morning to get to school as Ibu Elizawati lives in Binjai, a city located east of Medan. 


Welcome to Sekolah Dasar 060843 Medan

From the airport to Pak & Ibu’s school, it took Pak Pahot 1 hour to drive. Just before we arrived, Ibu Eliza phoned to update the principal of our imminent arrival. We drove into the school grounds and ready waiting for us was a group of about 6 girls dressed in traditional clothing complete with makeup. They looked gorgeous and each was holding a piece of beautiful length of material identical to the one Pak Pahot & Ibu Eliza presented out school with. No sooner than we had got out of the car, than hundreds of students streamed out into the school yard from their classrooms laughing and chattering excitedly to greet us. Pak Pahot insisted that they kasih salam as we were inundated with the throng of youngsters. They all clamored for our attention and held out their right hand to us while we one by one offered our right hand to each in turn so that they could place it on their forehead or cheek. 


The welcome dance then began which we thoroughly enjoyed and tried to take photos which would do it justice.    

We were then ushered into the staff room and invited to sit in the chairs out the front while the staff and invited guests sat in chairs in front of us. Seated with us out the front were various people from the education department, 2 representatives from their parent committee, the principal and staff. 

Once everyone had sat down, bottles of water were handed out  

 and special guests were also offered a plate of lupis – a local cake made from glutinous rice which was boiled in a banana leaf and then a brown sugar syrup was drizzled before sprinkling grated fresh coconut over the top. It was absolutely delicious and just what we needed as all we’d eaten that day was a tiny packet of peanuts. While not hungry, we appreciated it as it put something in our stomachs!  
 Ibu Elizawati began the welcome ceremony by explaining about the Bridge Project and then invited Masrul Badry, (kepala bidang pendidikan dasar, dinas pendidikan kota Medan) to speak. He spoke about the new curriculum which is currently only being used by a few schools while the other schools are still using the old 2004 curriculum. The new curriculum is only being implemented by schools who have chosen to do so and schools like Ibu Eliza’s who have been nominated to trial it by department; an honor they are reluctant to refuse! Pak Masrul then spoke about the importance of ICT in education and how we are living in a global world now where we are all connected by the internet. Once he was finished talking, the microphone was passed to me and I introduced both Ibu Margaret and myself and spoke briefly about our school before inviting questions! The silence that greeted this offer made me suddenly doubt the wisdom of asking for questions, but then one of the governing council members asked me about the ages of our students and once that question was asked, more followed in quick succession. They were fascinated learning about the specialist subjects, our timetable, the fact we have no canteen, the new curriculum, 

Once there were no more questions, the microphone was handed back to Ibu Elizawati and she introduced the entertainment. We first watched a performance by 3 drama students reciting a very nationalistic poem about Indonesia’s independence, then next was an ‘orchestra‘ of 50 students who played a cool song with angklungs, air organs and a group of boys played drum on the desk top. It was a fabulous performance

The final performance was also entertaining. A young boy told a kancil story via wayang made from cardboard. It was excellent, especially as we are learning a kancil story next term with the junior primary students. 

Once the performances were finished, we were invited to have lunch in the principals office. It was a very fancy and very delicious nasi bungkus in a box. It included urap (vegetables in spicy coconut), fried chicken, spicy sweet tempeh, a cup of water, a potato pergedel, a banana and a tiny bag of delicious stock which I poured over my rice.  

 After lunch Pak Pahot took us on a tour of the afternoon classrooms. Most junior classes consist of over 30 students!! Just about all the classes we dropped in to visit were year 3’s. Some classes were well behaved and polite and others were so excited to see us we were once again mobbed. One class was without their teacher and quite unruly. Some were in the classroom and some were out on the verandah. They wanted to follow us but Pak Pahot told them to return to class and wait for their teacher. The very next class we visited, we met their teacher who was unabashedly enjoying a chinwag. Pak Pahot informed her that her students were misbehaving so she left briefly to tell them to get back in the classroom and then quickly returned to resume her conversation!!

Soon afterwards, school finished so we too headed off. Pak Pahot informed us that we would be staying the first night with the principal, Ibu Erna Julia. As it was still early afternoon, they decided to show us a few local sights before dropping us at her house. We firstly went to the port, a popular destination for locals on a Sunday. A section of the port has been set up as an entertainment area with a huge eating area looking out towards a stage built out over the water and protected by a breakwater. Beyond the break water were several fishing ships anchored side by side so closely together the crew could walk from one to the other easily.  

 Soon after we arrived, the boats separated and motored off to sea for the nights catch. The breeze here was welcome after the still hot humidity at the school which is situated in a built up area on a busy main road. From here we visited a nearby school where Pak Pahot taught many years ago. We parked by the side of a very rocky dusty road in the process of being steamrolled. Even the steam roller struggled on this road!  

 As we walked to the school, Pak Pahot was greeted warmly by both teenagers and adults who recognised him. All were delighted to see him again. He loved catching up with past students and hearing what they’ve been up to. His school was up a narrow road which ran alongside remnants of a mangrove with several large wooden boats in various stages of disrepair moored in the mud.  


 The houses were all made from planks of wood and on stilts yet the school was built from bricks however it too was looking very shabby and neglected. While it was much smaller than Pak Pahot’s current school, he said there are over 1000 students and they have classes of 60 students! He also told us that at high tide, the sea comes into the school and that students once had to stand on their tables, it was so deep!  

 Nearby was a place selling ‘fresh’ seafood. It was tucked at the back of another narrow road in a large wooden building backing onto the mangroves. Inside were several young men relaxing who happily showed us all tubs of various sized prawns, crabs and a few squid kept fresh with a huge block of ice in each tub. Goodness only knows when they were caught! After bargaining a price, Pak Pahot bought 2 kilos of prawns  

 and then we returned to the car before heading to Ibu Erna Julia’s house with a brief stop along the way to buy crabs sold by people standing on the side of the road. Apparently the crabs had been caught in the river behind them! While the crabs were still alive, I wondered how long it had been since they were caught. 

We arrived at Ibu Erna Julia’s house,  

 our bags unloaded and shortly afterwards, Pak Pahot headed home. 

Ibu Erna Julia and her 2 daughters live in a tiny compact house consisting of 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, a sitting room and a kitchen.  

 A tiny outside area out the back (just visible towards the back of the kitchen area) fits in their washing machine!! 

The first thing we did after Pak Pahot left was enjoy a mandi with freezing water that was very refreshing before lying down briefly in the air conditioned bedroom. So lovely to finally have a chance to enjoy a quiet rest before a delicious dinner which was delivered by a younger sister!

Stay Tuned – Heading off again soon….

In 4 weeks, I will be heading off again to Indonesia and I am sooooo looking forward to it. As usual, this trip will include visiting a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar Indonesian cities.  My travel partner will be Ibu Margaret and we will be traveling to Medan, (Sumatra Utara), Jakarta & Yogyakarta with the Bridge Project.

We plan to fly to Medan via Kuala Lumpur, which will be a totally new point of entry into Indonesia for both of us.  Our time in Medan is to provide us with an opportunity to visit our partner school so that we can meet the staff & students. We also will be able to evaluate the completed student projects and plan for new ones. We met Pak Pahot and Ibu Elizawati, from our partner school,  earlier in the year when they enjoyed a visit to our school and were able to meet our staff and students.



After Medan (will we have enough time to ‘pop’ down and see Danau Toba??), we fly to Jakarta where we join up with a group of Australian teachers for a study tour. The study tour includes visiting places of significance both in Jakarta & Jogyakarta. The tour finishes in Yogya, so Ibu Margaret and I will remain there for a few days where we will have hopefully enough time to complete any last minute planning with Pak Pahot & Ibu Elizawati while still in Indonesia (Skype & cultural exchange projects) as well as joining one or two Via Via cultural tours.

At this stage we hope to return to Jakarta by train!!

What do you think???