Friday, 16 October 2009

About Batak...

Last Tuesday, I had to go to the insurance company. Since I left the house after rush hour, I decided that taking the bus would be fine. So I did.

It was quite a nice day, so after I finished what I had to do at the insurance company (which was not far from my husband's office), I called my husband to ask if he had time to have lunch with me and he did.

The challenge of the trip finally happened after the lunch!

As soon as I got on the bus to the interchange, a heavy rain started to fall. It continued until the bus reached the interchange. Gladly all the stops were well covered so I didn't get wet.

As soon as I was on the platform, waiting for the bus home to arrive, I could see the bus, at the far end (entry side) of the platform, not moving! The Transportation Dept. personnel who was supervising the platform quickly approached the bus to see if it was having problems.

When I saw the man waving and pointing firmly to the driver, I knew that the driver was just taking his time, trying to wait for more people before departing. With drivers like this, my trip would not be as comfortable as I hoped, but waiting for another bus could take a long time, especially in a heavy rain like that! (normal buses in Indonesia only have routes with no time schedules).

So, I decided (reluctantly) to get on the bus.. Sure enough, the true-selves of the driver and conductor quickly showed..

Not far from the interchange, an elderly woman asked to get off. The driver, however, was too busy trying to overtake other buses which were on the same route.

I knocked repeatedly on the window and some other passengers shouted to the driver and the conductor to pull over and make a stop, but the driver was far too busy to listen to any of us. He finally made a stop at the intersection which was probably about 200m away from where the elderly woman asked the first time!

The elderly woman said to the the driver, "I kept asking you to stop, why didn't you do it?"

The driver looked at her harshly without answering her question and just said to her, "Quick, quick, quick!"

The elderly woman turned to the conductor, "Help me, take these first!" She spoke as she was handing her belonging, a handbag and a plastic bag, while she was standing at the bus door with her walking stick.

Unexpected by any of us, the conductor swore at her, which she quickly replied to, "Why are you swearing at me? I only asked to be let off and helped while getting off!"

A street musician, who was getting ready to start singing, quickly grabbed the elderly lady's hand and handed her belonging to the conductor. The conductor couldn't refuse anymore, for the street musician was a guy about his size. The street musician helped the elderly woman until she was safely off the bus and received her belongings back.

A little later, the driver and the conductor talked to each other in their native language, which I recognised as my own from my dad's side (Batak -an ethnic group from North Sumatra). I sighed heavily...

It was the moment in my life, when I really regretted that I didn't speak the language almost at all..

I understand the culture of the ethnic group enough to know what I could've said to the driver and the conductor to make them feel sorry of what they have done. However, since I was younger, every time I asked my father to teach me his ethnic language, he always refused because he didn't speak the polite form of the language, which means, if he taught me the language, it would only be the form which I could use to friends and rough workers (not the language to be used to speak to older people).

Batak culture places parents and elders above almost anything else in life, and my father once told me that the worst insult (while children were playing) was to pick a leaf from the tree and let it fall to the ground while saying to the person to be insulted, "This is your father!" Then, stepped on the leaf. This kind of insult was the one known to cause kids to fight the most.

On that bus, I knew the perfect line to say to the driver and the conductor to make them behave better towards the elderly lady, "Imagine if someone does that to your mother!"

The only problem was, if I said it in Indonesian, they wouldn't associate it with their native culture, also, it might cause unneccessary outrage on the bus (from other passengers who witnessed the scene). However, if I said it in their ethnic language, they would be able to see straight away that the person who was saying it understood perfectly where the line was coming from (culturally), and it would have a different/much better effect. Plus, other passengers would not understand what I was saying..

Maybe some of you are thinking why I didn't want people to know what I was saying at those guys.. Again, it is something about Batak people..

People from Sumatra, especially the Northerners (Batak), are known as straight forward people in Indonesia. They are also known to be hard workers and not afraid of being rough workers. The Southeners, which are closer to West Sumatra, are slightly softer in character, although not as reserved as Javanese people.

The good points of these people are hints (especially bad ones) don't get to them. The way they speak is rough and loud, but they don't stay angry for a long time.

In real life, some occupations in Indonesia where Batak people are generally found are; education (as teachers) and; law practice (as lawyers).. Despite what you might think, not that many Batak people are interested in becoming armed-forces or police officers..

The bad points (according to other people), they are known to be bus drivers, bus conductors and sometimes.. bus pickpockets!

In general, no Batak peole takes real offense of these generalisations, but still, Batak people are proud people. They might not care about what people talk about them behind their back (meaning they won't take any drastic measure against it), but when someone non-Batak says something to their face, especially in public, they have to answer accordingly.

At a glance, I don't really look like a Batak person, plus I'm a muslim wearing a headcover, while most Batak people are Protestants. The only way people recognised me as a Batak is when they ask for my name or hear me talking in the language. This was why I held myself from saying the line in Indonesian in front of all other passengers. I was looking for remorse, not a bus brawl!

My father used to tell me that in the past, Batak peole came to Java to study or find work without bringing any money or belonging from their villages. They hid on ships on the mercy of the crew. Therefore, as soon as they reached Java island, they would work in whatever field they could find (my father himself used to be a bus conductor and later on a gardener, while doing his landscape degree).

Javanese people are calm, polite and reserved. Standing on the bus door while shouting to attract passengers were not their best points, while Batak people never have any problem with shouting!

As time goes by, more and more Batak people got married with Javanese people. Maybe they finally found that the combination would somehow bring some balance in general life in Indonesia.. and I happened to be one of the children of these mixed marriages.. My father is Batak and my mother is mix Javanese-Sundanese (Sundanese is West Javanese).

I still think about what happened on the bus yesterday, and wish that I could have said something.. something to bring remorse to the driver and the conductor.. but time cannot be reversed, I just hope that Batak people can teach themselves that roughness does not mean rudeness.. not being afraid does not mean disrespect.. and being strong does not mean being heartless..

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