The Milk of Human Kindness

Here in Indonesia, my mind keeps getting blown over and over again by people’s genuine kindness.  And every time I realise that my mind has been blown yet again, I wonder at the depth of cynicism that I used to have about people’s motives for being kind.

A week ago last Sunday, I went to the home of a local volunteer who teaches English here at the centre.  She’s actually a professional teacher who volunteers here every week, teaching the kids for free.  In fact, she’s been volunteering here for over a decade.  Come to find out that she also teaches the kids in her neighbourhood for free.

A couple of weeks ago, on a Saturday afternoon when she came to teach her usual class, she invited me to visit her house to meet her neighbours and some of the kids that she teaches.  Of course, I said yes because, as you may know, I’m all about the new experiences right now.  We agreed on which Sunday I would visit her home and she told me that she’d pick me up on her bike.

When I awoke that Sunday morning, it was raining so I snuggled down in bed (as much as one can snuggle into a mattress that’s totally sunken in the middle without breaking one’s back…just saying) and watched a couple of Hallmark Christmas movies.  What?  Don’t judge me – it was already mid-October and I only had 2 months to anticipate Christmas.  Anyway, I spent the morning watching Hallmark movies while the rain came down in buckets outside. As I am Jamaican and prone to snuggling in bed or on a couch when it’s raining, I honestly didn’t feel like going anywhere after all.  But she’s Indonesian and the rain doesn’t faze them so she messaged me that she would pick me up in her husband’s car, no problem.  I pulled myself together, got ready and jumped into her car when she came to get me early that afternoon.  We drove for about 15 minutes to get to her house.  Then she parked and we entered her neighbourhood.

A word on Jakarta neighbourhoods.  As far as I can tell, many of the middle class and working poor of Jakarta live in houses that are built on alleyways so narrow that only bikes and pedestrians can traverse them.  It’s easy to think that these neighbourhoods are ghettos but they aren’t.  The streets are clean and the people are house-proud, like most other working people in the world.

As we exited the car, we entered one of these narrow alleyways and I instantly became the star of the show.  Even as it continued to rain lightly, neighbours who were hanging out outside under the eaves of their houses offered me treats as we walked by.  Yes, I accepted and ate them.  They were delicious!  One was kroket, a fried ball of potato with meat in the middle, and the other was onde-onde, a fried ball of sweet dough sprinkled with sesame seeds.  Yum!


Look at this adorable child…she was kinda my favourite

Her house was near to the front of the neighbourhood so our walk wasn’t far.  When we went inside, there were already 3 students waiting for us.  They were between 7 and 8 years old and, of course, were shy at first.  We all sat on mats on the floor of her small living room as she explained to me that when she has many students over for class she moves her sofa to a leaning position in her kitchen in order to make enough space for everyone.  Soon enough, a few more students arrived.

I sat there on the floor of her small, humble, clean home with the air conditioning keeping me cool, looking around at her space with the narrow stairs leading to the family’s sleeping area up above, and I thought how ungrateful I have been for the privileges that I have had in my life.  I’m pretty sure her entire house could fit into the living room of my house that I sold last year.  My master bathroom alone was bigger than the entire ground floor of her home.  But kindness like I have never known permeates her home and makes it far richer than that house I used to own ever was.

From what I gather, her husband is an office manager for a logistics company and they have 2 children.  Every afternoon after she collects her younger child from school, the neighbourhood kids descend on her house for English classes that last well into the evening.  She teaches them for free every afternoon from Monday to Friday.  On Saturdays she volunteers here at this centre.  And on Sundays she goes out to teach rich people’s kids for pay.  This woman volunteers 6 out of the 7 days of the week, helping kids for free.  She gets nothing out of it except the satisfaction of knowing that she has done her best to provide these children with a skill that gives them a better chance to prosper in life.

There on the floor of her living room, the kids and I passed a sociable couple of hours munching on goodies, with them asking me questions about myself and writing what they could remember of what I said in English, then reading back to me what they had written.


Our little group for the afternoon

Late in the afternoon, the kids’ parents came to collect them, and as we walked back to the car in the drizzle, I promised to return to meet the neighbours who I hadn’t met because of the rain and the kids who she hadn’t been able to invite that afternoon.

My heart was full with the humility and generosity of this woman.  Oh, that we should all be so genuinely kind, with no hidden agenda and no thought of what’s in it for us.  What a wonderful world it would be.

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