An American In Jakarta

By Stephen Ewashkiw | June 16, 2014

14,966 km so far.

I had an idea in my head, no doubt subtly planted there by Republican commentators, that the school we were going to visit today would be a small, rundown place teaching a strict version of Islam. The students would all be boys. If girls were allowed they would all be wearing the hijab and be separated from the boys. The teachers would be teaching nothing but the Koran.

I also imagined it to be in the midst of a slum, serving the impoverished kids of Jakarta.

I'd much rather have a caravan in the hills.

I’d much rather have a caravan in the hills.

The reality was extremely different.

The Power Of Dreams

The future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams. Eleanor Roosevelt

State Elementary School Menteng 01 is the elementary school that Barack Obama attended for his fourth year of schooling. He and his mother had moved to Jakarta to live with Barry’s step-father, who was Indonesian.

A far cry from the school in my mind, Menteng 01 was filled with boys and girls in short sleeves and short pants, a basketball game was in full swing when visited, and the school was solidly middle-to-upper class.

boys play basketball obama school indonesia

Boys at the hoops, Obama’s old school, Jakarta.

In fact, the research I did before we went there told me that the children of Indonesia’s elite go to school there, and have since it opened in 1934. It sits not in the slums, but in the midst of a neighbourhood of mansions that would not be out of place in the elite sections of Chicago or Toronto.

There were some teachers and mothers wearing headscarves, and a few of the young students as well, but for the most part the girls were dressed like girls at any private school in Canada.

There was an onion dome within the school grounds, presumably above the on-site mosque, but this would be standard in the world’s largest Muslim nation. It is nothing like the madrasas of Pakistan that teach the Koran at the expense of a well-rounded education, or the Charedi Jewish Yeshivas and Kollel where men only learn the Torrah and Talmud. This was clearly a place of well-rounded, open-minded study for students from different backgrounds, and different religions.

Power to the people, no delay, Jakarta.

Power to the people, no delay, Jakarta.

Outside the school there is a plaque with Obama’s picture on it and a statue portraying a young Barry as he looked when he was a student here, along with inspirational quotes to motivate the students to be their best and reach for the stars.

barack obama statue in jakarta indonesia

The statue of a young Barry Obama, Jakarta.

When we arrived, we hovered around the school gates, assuming that strangers would not be welcome in an elementary school. On the contrary, we were ushered in by a teacher and greeted by teachers, parents, and students in the main hall.

Inside the school were pictures of the President on the wall. The pride they feel at having helped raise this young boy who would go on to become the 44th President Of The United States is clear. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt their enrolment figures and the collection of hefty school fees either.

One Sight Per Day

This being the crazy busy city that it is, this was the only touristy thing we had time for today. The rest of the day was spent going for food, doing a bit of blogging and other work in the air-conditioned comfort of Djournal Café, and picking up dinner to take back to our hotel.

woman making coffee in jakarta indonesia

The cold brew apparatus at Djournal.

With our alarm set for 6am, and the BlueBird taxi coming to collect us at 7 tomorrow we had some packing to do to get us ready for the 8-hour train ride to Yogyakarta. We have allowed a lot of time to get to the train station, but you never know how long even a 3 km taxi ride will take in this town. Here’s hoping the morning traffic isn’t too bad.  

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