Monday, July 9, 2012

A Borneo teenager's life

I wasn’t sure if she was having any fun. This shy 15-year-old girl from a small village interior had come to stay with us for a few days, at her parents’ request. It would be a good experience, they thought. Fun for her to come to the “big city” for her school break. Get to know American culture that is subplanted into Indonesian culture.

So, I took her to the beach, to the mall, to our MAF July 4th celebration. But was her silence just shyness, or was she overwhelmed with all the cultural differences, hungry from not eating rice for every meal, annoyed at my kids’ screams?

Who knows?  But what I do know now is that it isn’t easy being a teenager in Borneo. Though this quiet girl was silent as she ate my strange food, quiet when I was trying to straighten out my kids, she was ready to share her story whenever I had a chance to ask.

The daughter of an underpaid, Indonesian pastor, she has spent her life moving from tiny village to tiny village while her parents serve some of the region’s poorest jungle people. Sometimes she understands the language of the other kids. Sometimes she doesn’t. 

And since she was 13, she has lived apart from her parents, boarding with teachers, so she can attend middle school, and now high school. The village where her parents work now has only a small elementary school.

So, off she goes, on a boat ride down the river to yet another place where the kids don’t speak her language.

Though her school has less than 100 students, they party like kids from the big city. Drinking, drugs, unplanned teenage pregnancies—all the norm. One girl from her school got married at age 14, after learning she was pregnant. Their parents are working from sunup to sundown—in their rice fields. They think their kids are big enough to take care of themselves now. My young friend sees otherwise.

Despite the distance from her own parents, they seem to keep good tabs on her. Checking in on her, visiting her, giving her boundaries and encouragement and advice.

In many ways, her life is so foreign to my own teenage life. She won't be spending her 16th year learning to drive a car on paved roads. No SATs or proms or hanging with friends at the local mall or movie theater or coffee shop. She does hope to go to college--she wants to be a nurse so she can help people. But can her parents afford it? Who knows.

But in some ways, I can relate to her life. The constant moving around. The feeling of never really fitting in. And the desire to someday help people.

On Thursday, we sent her off on an MAF airplane, back to a small town interior, from where she’ll take a three-hour car ride on muddy, rocky jungle roads back to her high school. Back to her own so-called teenage life that is both foreign and familiar.

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