Wednesday, September 17, 2008

This Is Where I Began


Newy Tri Istanti, Jonatan Luis Huliselan.
Those are two full names that I could recall very clearly tonight. Today is the anniversary of the Indonesian Red Cross Society, and those names were the anchor to my memories about my old life, back when I was a teenage girl.

After 13 years, my memories on the names have been drifted away, but there is a favorite story that I always want to share about that day, September 17, 1995. It was the milestone of a life turn, after it felt dull and sad for so long, and after I lost my faith that life could look beautiful again after my father passed away four years before that day.

I was 16 year-old. I was skinny, with 158 cm at my height and only 39 kgs at my weight. I was invisible in any social life, I didn't have a boyfriend, I was not the first rank student in my class, I wasn't at all good at sport, and sounds that those were not enough, my first crush, whom I got crushed with since I was 13, has just made his relationship with a cute girl named Mariana, public. Yes, they were gorgeous, they were popular. My first crush was a local catwalk and photo model, while I was an ugly girl with unmanagable curly hair - that some people called me "lion" to refer to its bushy texture.

Some other girls called me "flat", referring to my 32A bust size and the non-existence of my bum. I had nothing cool to wear. I had only two pairs of cheap shoes, 1 new school uniforms - and the rest were the "heritage" from my elder sister. I worn the same bag day by day and my socks were already loose as they lost the elasticicy that I had to tie them with rubber band. The idea was, as long as what I worn were not torn or stained, I would keep on wearing it til the end. I had no accessories to decorate my look, so basically I looked boring. I was not invited to birthday parties except the ones related to my only 8 good friends, and even my voice was okay, I didn't dare to dream of proposing myself to sing in a band.

OK, now you can imagine how my life as a teenager looked like.

One reason to explain my miserable look was that I belong to that category of economically-disadvantaged group. With my mom as the only bread seeker while she was nothing in her office's echelon, I had to think twice before I decided to spoil my appetite in school cafetaria. One main reason why I studied in that Senior High School was that I didn't need to take public transport, thus it would save significantly.

Until that time, even there had been three big shopping centers in my hometown, I have never dared to go there. First, because I didn't have enough pocket money to ride the public transport, and second, because I felt inferior. I felt excluded from the ring of "magnet" that pulled people to come and to have good times there. The boys and girls in my school who liked to spend their after school hours were those from rich families, so I believed that those places were just NOT FOR ME. Since I was 10-year-old until that time, I have never been to any movie theatre, I didn't read teenage magazine, and I had no idea about who Anjasmara or Dian Nitami was, until Aden, my classmate fainted after reading a magazine covering the story that Anjas and Dian were couple. :)
*By the way, Anjas and Dian were top celebrity couple in my teenagehood era. They have been married for couple of years now - and so has Aden, who was head-over-heel falling in love to Anjas.:D *

I was so not into the mainstream of teenagerhood. I was off the road, out of the conversation, clueless, nerd. Yet, I had a beautiful sanctuary: The Indonesian Red Cross Branch. YES, I mean it. When other teenagers would play the games at the game centers or watch movies, I spent my time at the Red Cross Office!

What did I do there?
Hm, let me recall my memories again.
I liked to talk to the nice ladies in logistical section. I always felt amazed to see huge kitchen utensils and boxes of clothes or instant foods that were ready to be sent off whenever emergencies called.I remembered how many ambulances at the parking lot when they were not on the road. I liked to read books on humanitarian services. I liked to watch the photos of the activities. I liked to sit on the roof of ambulance garage, and when I was lucky, I could pick some good mangos right from the tree and ate them fresh. Sometimes I helped the logistical section to stamp thousands of Red Cross Charity Coupons, and I always, until today, feel that the noodle soup in that office is the best Indomie (it's a very famous noodle brand in Indonesia) soup I could have. Above all, my favorite thing was, spending hours and hours with Lucky, my Junior Red Cross Coach... talking about LIFE.

He was the very first person who said that I was beautiful when I had the opposite concept of self. He was the very first person who said that he saw the diamond in me, that was waiting to sparkle after an artisan made his best cut to reveal the shine. "You are a diamond, yet people, and you still see yourself as an ordinary stone covered with mud. But I do see that sparks in you that is waiting to reveal... and when that time comes, you might be surprised to see how far you can become." He always encouraged me, he always managed to do little things that made me feel happy. He taught me many things about life, communication theory, public speaking, that very often I felt too hard to comprehend, but he kept on saying that I was a great learner. He was the first person who BELIEVED IN ME.

Those days at the humble Red Cross office were the days that shaped who I am today.

People who met me within the last eight years generally thought that I was raised in rich family, with all the chances to learn anything I want, with great confidence that I brought since I was born. But NO, my teenage friends absolutely had different picture of me.

From those "universe-sity" where I learned about life and my self-esteem, my minutes in the Red Cross office started to bring changes in me. I learned to talk in public. I overcame my lack of confidence. I learned that when my hair is tidy I could actually look better. I learned many modules as time to time I would look at Jean-Henry Dunant's painting on the wall (and I remember that I always smiled to him!), thinking that one day I would be in great humanitarian mission, jump to the war, disaster after math, doing cool humanitarian works.

Lucky sent me, and my friends to various competitions. He worked so hard to coach us to raise the funding to make sure that we had enough logistical needs (and very often he would use his own money). Lucky was only 26, he wasn't rich as well, in fact he worked three different jobs while he tried to finish his Public Relations studies. He didn't only give me words, but also showed me how hard work looked like. At the same time we had so much good times, from night rides in the ambulance, mountain camps, rock climbing... those cool experiences colored up my days. He built strong sisterhood within our Red Cross group, that until today, my friends remain good friends I have ever had.

"Be prepared to laugh for your victory, but don't forget to bring a big handkerchief, in case you would cry." That was his advice before every competitions, and shortly, after only one "big handkerchief" time, I finally made my competition results to the "laugh". Gradually I won competitions at the local level, then at provincial level, until then, in September 1995, I was sent to join a national competition, representing Central Java, as the candidate of the Best Junior Red Cross Member.

It was a huge program. The Chairperson of the Indonesian Red Cross Society was Mbak Tutut, our president's daughter. I couldn't believe myself when I arrived at Cibubur Youth Camp. In Indonesia, that spot is the most prestigious spot for youth achievement. When you are there, it means that you have leaped to a NATIONAL STATUS, and you met the best youth from other provinces. It was the first time in my life that I lived a mini-Indonesia. We had 27 provinces at that time, including East Timor, that now become a different country.

One thing I learned so much during that week in Cibubur was about the reality of Indonesian's Unity in Diversity. I fell in love to the fact that my country really consists of different tribes and cultures. I'm overwhelmed to see the facts that we did speak in different languages, looked different, yet we are one nation.

There, in between the competition, we shared good times, different culture, and for the very first time I realized that I was not a nerd. I was cool, I was not alone, and I was special in the middle of those awesome youth. We shared the same dream of doing social works, being in the places in need, we were all good in doing the first aid, and the best thing was, we were friends!

There, the first time after my first crush to a boy, my heart beat again as I saw a handsome dark skinned boy playing his guitar and sang. He was humble, he was cool and quiet, but from his eyes I knew he was smart. His voice and his guitar play were awesome. He was that John Louis Huliselan, the contingent from Mollucas Islands.

I was still the same shy girl when it dealt with feeling. I got panic attack everytime I needed to communicate with the boys. So, my story about John ended with me taking so much photograph of him playing on the stage, with very minimum conversation that consisted of only "good morning", "hi" and "good night". Pathetic, eh? :) Well, that was me... :))

Finally, after a week of comprehensive competitions, we all went to the Indonesian Red Cross Headquarter in Jakarta. It was a bright morning, September 17, 1995, when I stood up in line with more than a hundred other Junior Red Cross members from all over Indonesia.

I couldn't believe my ear when I heard my name was called as the first runner up. I thought that I was already so much blessed to experience that National Competition, after my zero state of self-esteem, and wait... really? I won? After Newy, that very smart and nice girl? WOW.

I cried, my first happy cry after long painful years, and I did the sujjud syukur, the bow to kiss the ground, to express my gratitude to Allah.

I remember how I looked that day, with my cheap black sneaker shoes, a little loose uniform that my mom invented from my dad's old shirt (as we didn't have money to buy the new one) that flared with the wind as my skinny figure was too small to shape the curves, I walked to the podium. I felt that the whole world cheered on me. I couldn't believe it. I felt that I was flying as I received the trophy right from the hands of Mbak Tutut - the elite figure that I saw only in TV and magazines... then some state ministers shook my little hands to congratulate me...

I couldn't stop crying, and, with the trophy in my hand, I watched John playing Mollucas Traditional Folk Songs with his guitar there at the corner of the stage in that courtessy reception, to celebrate the golden anniversary of the Indonesian Red Cross Society. I saw Ibu Hatta, the wife of the belated Indonesian Independence Hero - who was also the Father of Indonesian Red Cross... It was amazing.

I felt like a butterfly, ending up my days of ugly caterpillar, flying out of
the darkness of my coccoon...
And, that was the day, when I built my belief on the entity of my nation, when I promised myself to do the best thing that I can, and to start believing again, that I should dare to dream on the beautiful possibilities...

Thank You, Red Cross, Jean-Henry Dunant, Bung Hatta, Mas Lucky, and all my friends!

Siamo Tutti Frately Inter Arma Caritas. Always. Happy 63th Anniversary, PMI! :*

  • I went to International Exchange Program for Junior Red Cross and Red Cross Youth Volunteers in Japan the next year with Newy. It was my very first trip abroad, and my very first call to international events. It took me to different stages of motivation, that now I have experienced 5 International Exchange Programs, and today, I live a new experience in USA as a graduate student funded by Fulbright Scholarship. Life is GREAT.
  • I improved myself from a "hi", "good morning" and "goodnight" girl into a warmer personality. Don't ask me about how many bf I have listed ever since... hahaha...
  • I don't know where my bushy curls go. You can see my look today, and what I can say is, maybe those curls were part of my growing pain exercise?
  • Lucky got married in 1997, and I lost contact with him since 2006 as we kept on changing our mobile phone no. From recent Googling I found that he is now running for 2009 legislative election in Jogja, Indonesia, while at the same time he runs a business-consulting firm. He is still the same charitable man, as most of the news covered how he provided the aid for small business and to build village roads.
  • I lost contact with John after the riots in Mollucas took place in 1999. Wondering where he is now...
  • I spent pretty long time exchanging mails with Isye Latuihamallo, John's friend in Mollucas' contingent, but also lostt the contact after the riot. Ah...
  • I was in grieve when I heard about more and more civil war took place in East Timor. I lost contact with my friends there, and I just could pray that they would be fine during the referendum, during the exodus period, and after the independence of East Timor...
  • This program that I joined in 1995 built my strong entity as an Indonesian, who is dreaming of my country as a better place for everyone, where we can stay together again as a whole undivided nation of brotherhood.

1 comment:

  1. Damn!!!
    aku suka banget cerita kamu... :D) So details, yet persistence.
    Yang aku suka banget adalah tulisan2 kecil di akhir kisahmu. seperti melihat sebuah film yang diambil dari kehidupan nyata.
    Oiya,belum kenalan yah...
    namaku cahyo,sobat-sobatku memberikan nama panggilan sinyo,acong,cahyok,yoyok hehehehe...
    aku link blog kamu dari friendster seorang teman...
    "And, that was the day, when I built my belief on the entity of my nation, when I promised myself to do the best thing that I can, and to start believing again, that I should dare to dream on the beautiful possibilities..."
    from feeling that u're nothing, became a thing and then u've become have everything.... :D)
    So,gimana kabar kupu-kupu ini di negeri orang? aku juga suka simbolistic tentang kamu "buterfly..." dan ijinkan aku untuk menamai simbol itu dengan "Beauty..." :D)
    udah ah... what a beautiful coincidence for me,which is there is no coincidence in the world, right?
    if u gonna contact me u can add my profile or u can see my blog
    nice to meet u...