16 feb. 2014

An Unforgettable Lesson

Last year I was invited to attend the “International Student Summit 2012” at Bogor, Indonesia. This was a three days seminar starting on Sunday, November 11. The participants were three representatives from each one of the 25 invited universities. We met there to share our experiences studying in Indonesia; experiences such as, overcoming cultural shocks when coming to Indonesia, learning Bahasa Indonesia, the importance of an International Office at the university, and some other. The reason for holding this seminar was that the number of international students in Indonesia is growing every year, and the Indonesian Government is willing to support this growth and facilitate the studies of these international students. The seminar was opened with a speech delivered by the Director General of Higher Education in Indonesia, Prof. Dr. Ir Djoko Santoso MSc.

In that seminar I met people from all over the world; people from Mexico, South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Kenya, Uganda, and some other countries. I had nice talks with most of them, but I will never forget my conversation with a student from Ivory Coast. He looked very elegant because he was wearing a tucked blue striped white shirt, black pants, black rimmed glasses, and was bringing a black suitcase along with him. We started talking about trifling things such as soccer, then I asked him what was he doing in Indonesia, and he told me that he was taking a PhD in law in a University in Sumatra. I asked him about his studies and he told me that he was doing his best; that he was working very hard. I got curious, so I asked him, “What are your plans for the future?”, and he replied, “Well, I’m not very sure, but what I really want to do is to contribute in building up my country again”. Then I realized that Ivory Coast had just finished a Civil War, so I told him, “I understand—well—I’m so sorry for all that has happened in your country”. Then, he started telling me stories about those months of Civil War. Despite the topic, the conversation didn’t have a sad tone, but rather it was optimistic, in the sense that my friend now is not looking backwards, but rather, he is looking to the future. He told me that there are a big number of Ivorian university students who are very committed to change the situation of their country. They are willing to work very hard in order to build up their country again. They are ashamed of those people who led Ivory Coast to war and destruction.

For those who are not very familiar with that Civil War, I summarize it here: The Second Ivorian Civil War, that caused the death of 3,000 people, broke out in March 2011. The reason was that in the 2010 Ivorian presidential election, the candidate Alassane Ouattara was declared the victor, but the President of the Constitutional Council declared that the results were invalid and that Gbagbo, the former president, was the winner—I must mention here that the President of the Constitutional Council was an ally of Gbagbo. As a consequence, both Gbagbo and Ouattara claimed victory and took the presidential oath of office. But, it was Quattara who was internationally recognized as president of Ivory Coast by the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union, the United States, and former colonial power France. They called for Gbagbo to step down, however, negotiations to resolve the dispute failed and hundreds of people were killed in conflicts between pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara. Eventually on April 11, 2011, after much fight Gbagbo was arrested at his residence. During these four months and one week of conflict, a big number of human rights violations took place by both sides, like the Duekoue massacre where 1,000 civilians were killed.

This environment I have just described is the one my friend lived in every single day for four months and one week. He lived in a country where people were killed every day, including civilians. He used to wake up every day with the fear of thinking that maybe that day would be his last; or even worse, thinking that he would lose someone whom he loves very much. As I see it, living in those circumstances requires a big deal of fortitude in order to keep doing everything necessary to survive and protect one’s family. To experience in first person a Civil War is a traumatic experience; it is a wound difficult to heal. My friend suffered very much, however he has forgiven those who hurt him and his family, like Nelson Mandela did, and now his only desire is to build up his country again, especially by bringing justice. To do that, he knows that he must work very hard, but he is willing to do it, and in fact he is already doing it by studying very hard. I haven’t ever met Nelson Mandela, but it was the closest I have ever got.

I was very impressed with this Ivorian man after my first talk with him, because he taught me the lesson of working not for one’s own benefit, but rather for others’ happiness. As we finished I thought that unfortunately, most of the university students I have met so far, have no high ideals in life; they just study, meet their friends, play sports, and maybe at most they work in a student organization, but that’s it. All these people are always thinking in what they themselves need in the present, but they don’t think in what others need; they don’t care about what is happening around them; they are not able to see that there are many people suffering around them. At first I thought this thing about my friends, but eventually I included myself in this group of people. But, after meeting this friend, I have also decided to have high ideals; ideals of making good to other people, especially to those who need it the most. As a conclusion, I think that to have these ideals and to strive to achieve them, is the only way to have a meaningful life, a life worthy to be lived.

14 feb. 2014

The Obliging Indian

My experiences take place in very ordinary circumstances; however some of them are really unforgettable. I would like to share one of them with you today.

A few days ago, I had to travel from Manila to Surabaya. However there was no direct flight, so I had to make a transit in Singapore. Once there, I wanted to go to Novena Church together with my friend Eddie.  We went there all the way from the airport by riding the state-of-the-art MRT. It is excellent and makes travelling within the city very comfortable, however our way to Novena was rather tiring because we brought our luggage along with us; I brought just a trolley bag, but Eddie brought two ones. That physical effort was especially hard for me because I had a cold since a couple of days ago. So, both of us were very tired during our stay at Novena. That’s why we decided to take a snack at the canteen before leaving. We had a nice time there eating some bread that Eddie had bought in Manila on the eve of our trip. Once we finished I needed to blow my nose because of my cold, but I didn’t have tissue paper, so Eddie asked me: “Do you need some tissue paper?” and I replied: “I will just take some in the toilet”. Then a few seconds afterwards, there was an Indian approaching Eddie. Until that time I hadn’t noticed his presence at that canteen, it was like he just appeared suddenly there from somewhere. Frankly speaking, he looked to be a bit poor because he was very thin; in fact all his bones were clearly noticeable. Also because the clothes he was wearing was very simple, it wasn’t fashionable at all. Besides, the Indian looked a bit old, because he just had a few teeth and his face skin was sagging. He was bringing along a little black plastic bag. When he was in front of Eddie he put his right hand in the plastic bag and then he withdrew a green Kleenex pocket pack. Then by using body language he moved his hand holding the green Kleenex pocket pack toward Eddie like offering it to him. Obviously, I thought that he wanted to sell it to Eddie, but then Eddie asked: “Are you giving it to me?”, and the Indian g nodded his head meaning “yes” and he just gave it to Eddie. He never spoke, he just used body language. That man was special; I will never forget his keen ear ready to serve others and his silent generosity. No one asked his help, he just overheard that I needed tissue paper, and he gave it to me without asking anything back, in spite of his poverty. This detail will seem a drop in the bucket to many people, but if everybody acted like this man did, then we would fill that bucket, and many problems will be solved. Probably my friend you are reading me now, so I give you thanks again. Thank you very much.