Michael Jackson is the Capital of Mississippi

SMPN 3 is the middle school that hosted Lauren and me while we were in Indonesia. The school is located in a small rural village in Ogan Ilir.

My host school, SMPN 3.

During our time there, it was very refreshing to interact with students who were extremely grateful to be at school. Each morning, they lined up one by one to greet their teacher with a traditional gesture of respect- kissing the teacher’s hand and then placing the teacher’s hand to their forehand.

Students also swept outside, in front of the classroom.

The students, who arrived to school early, prepared the classroom by ensuring the desks were in order and the floors were swept. This was done each morning before the teachers arrived. The students’ shoes were always lined up along the exterior of the building. It is Muslim tradition to refrain from wearing shoes in houses, mosques, and parts of some buildings. I asked my host how would we know when to take our shoes off and when to leave them on. She said, “If the floor is tiled, you must take your shoes off. If the floor is concrete, you can leave your shoes on.” The teacher was the only one allowed to wear her shoes on the tiled classroom floors.

During our first day at the school, Lauren and I observed a seventh grade math class and a sixth grade class that was learning to speak English. Because it is rare to have a native English speaker in that part of the country, the students were excited to practice their English with us. The children excitedly asked about our favorite foods, sports, colors and questions about American culture.

Afterwards, we played traditional games. If someone lost the game, they had to do something silly such as dance with the teacher or sing a song. I lost one of the games and had to sing a song. I struggled to think of a song that the students would know, so I ended up singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat.

We played another traditional game with the older students in the next class. One of the girls lost and instead of dancing or singing, she had to answer the question, “What is the capital of the United States?” She did not know the answer so Lauren told her. I told her the capital cities of New York and Mississippi. We continued playing traditional games and enjoying each other’s company.

When it was time to leave, their teacher, Agustina, reviewed all the things the students learned in class that day. As any good teacher would, she called on the same student who lost the game earlier. Agustina asked the girl what was the capital city of Mississippi. The student thought really hard for a minute and said, “ Oh, I know… Michael Jackson is the capital of Mississippi.”