I’m pretty sure I’ll never have a birthday 🎂 like this one. At this point in life, birthdays aren’t nearly what they used to be. Waking up in a far away country with no one you care about nearby presents an odd feeling. Similar to if a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? If I celebrate a birthday and know one is with me, did it really happen? In some aspects, the time change has extended my birthday to 36 hours of well wishes through Facebook and texts. The third day of school visits in Purwokerto with Rudhi started as any other day. We sat in the teacher’s lounge and were greeted with many “Selemat Pagi”. My Bahasa greeting is always met with a wide smile of appreciation for my effort to speak the native tongue. After the principal’s announcement, we are asked to attend another class, hopefully to finally observe a room. Once again I was asked to present my same lesson on Michigan instead. This time though the young smiles on the kid’s faces brought a sense of warmth and appreciation to the lesson. The students were in 7th grade and hung on to every word, while also giving much needed head nods of understanding when I spoke. Playing the videos to the kids was again helpful. They also were more inclined to take pictures and smile for the camera at the end. Afterwards, we headed back for another break. I felt refreshed to have the kids enjoy the presentation, much more than the older grades did. After updating my Facebook and Twitter, I decided to hang around in the courtyard. Unbeknownst to me, Doug and Rudhi left, and I had no idea where they were at. Not worried at their absence, I saw in the courtyard the students from 9H, who I taught the previous day, playing soccer. Knowing how reluctant students have been at SMPN 8 with taking pictures, I crept inconspicuously to the corner to snap some photos. In reality I was hoping to play. Any exercise and movement was needed after sitting through long sessions on the hardwood chairs in the teacher’s lounge. Getting some jeers and cheers from the kids as they played, they didn’t seem to mind me taking pictures. Eventually the game came to a halt and they signaled their acknowledgement of my presence in half broken English, seemingly joking about me watching. One student who I remember well from sitting in the back of the class when I taught who would chime in and had a wonderful smile, offered for me to play. Without hesitation, I joined the kids by taking off my shoes and my socks in order to fit in. There was massive jubilation that the tall white man was going to play. Thankfully with soccer being a universal sport that everyone understands, it was great to interact with the kids. All the kids were in their matching blue gym uniform, which looked similar to the blue Under Armor collared shirt I was wearing. It seemed both teams wanted me on their team, not knowing how uncoordinated and technically deficient at soccer I was. Signaling that I be goal keeper, the opposing team headed towards my goal. Here I thought, this will be quick before I’m booted from the team. Miraculously I made a save, which was more due to the fact that I was a large target standing at the right spot. Excitement was abound on both teams, as I took credit for the lucky save by laughing. Holding the ball, I realized that it was actually much lighter and flimsier than a normal ball, providing more lift when kicked. The kids playing were to my surprise actually very talented with fancy footwork and technical mastery. Also I noticed how much teamwork and passing they used. Not knowing who was on what team, a student called for me to pass the ball, but he was on the other team. He scored on a weak kick right between my legs. I was sure I would be ousted, but everyone laughed and got right back in the game. When a penalty kick was earned, they wanted me to kick it, even though I was goalie. Mind you, all communication is in another language. My hope was that it would at least not whiff wide of the posts, and thankfully it at least made it in the goal area, only to be stopped. I made one more stop as goalie, before avoiding pressing my luck. I switched to infield, for which they generously kept kicking the ball to me. I wasn’t able to do anything nearly as finesse as they could, but I managed to not lose the ball when I had it. After ten more minutes, the words of “break, break” echoed from the students. They bought me a bottle of ice water, but I went and grabbed mine instead from the teacher’s room. The students rushed towards me and said, “Selfie, selfie!” Happy to oblige their request, we posed. I had some extra pencils I could pass out to them, which they were happy to receive. After, they looked at me and said, “Instagram?” Of course! Handing over to them my handle, I wrote down a couple of their’s. Next, they wanted my signature on their ball, so I wrote @vhmcottone. Pleasantries abound, we parted ways with smiles on our faces. This was an uplifting and memorable part of my trip, that I was happy to partake in. Meeting back up with Rudhi, we headed back to the hotel for another hour break. He picked us up along with two coworkers who would continue to talk to us, even though I’d tell them in Bahasa, I don’t speak the language. Heading to a Purwokerto museum, which featured traditional puppetry, a guide explained to the group the significance of each item. At the end, a group of students came in haphazardly and played the traditional instruments which were at the center of the museum. After this, we headed to the Batik Production House, which housed craftsmen who worked daily creating Batik apparel. To actually see the Batik being created made me appreciate even more the hard work that was put into their craft. The time intensive process required absolute concentration. Men and women of all ages participated in the activity. Finishing at the museum, we entered the small shop where an employee stood 4 feet from me as I browsed the Batik items. Looking for some souvenirs, the prices were amazingly affordable. Picking up 6 different items for the cost of my birthday meal tonight amazed me. After purchasing the souvenirs, we headed back to the hotel. Shutting the hotel room door, a huge surprise awaited me, a birthday cake! I was shocked and didn’t know who to thank for this (the hotel, someone calling it in?). Reversing my meals, a candle was lit and the cake was consumed before “splurging” and getting a steak for dinner. Checking my Facebook birthday wishes and trying to contact home ended my strange birthday night.
About Matthew Cottone
Experience the World! This is my creed I bring to my classroom and my life. I'm a World Studies teacher at Van Hoosen Middle School and I have a passion for learning and experiencing the world.