During our time in Indonesia we were introduced to several people who were kind enough to show us around. One of those experiences was surreal. Lauren and I were taken to an elementary school graduation where the crowd was nothing like I have ever seen before. I would guess that several villages were in attendance- probably in the ballpark of 400-600 people. As soon as my American travel partner and I stepped out of the SUV, we were swarmed. Young children, older children, mothers, grandparents…all wanted a chance to shake our hands or touch us. It was similar to any live footage you’ve seen of Michael Jackson trying to get to a stage to perform. I don’t even believe I’ve seen Beyonce’s fans so aggressive to touch her. And while my comparison to Michael Jackson and Beyonce may seem unreal, I am not exaggerating.
Instantly, several of the guys in the village began to serve as security and helped part the crowd so we could make it to our seats. We were introduced as honored guests and there was a sudden change in the program. Instead of the principal presenting the students with their graduating certificates and giving a short speech, Lauren and I would be doing that.
As a part of the ceremony, five young students performed a traditional dance.
We were able to see a small part of it because people were steadily tip toeing to the front row to snap photos of us.
The guy who was recording the ceremony neglected the children and instead made Lauren and me focal points of the video. Even as the head of the school district and the principal gave speeches, the cameraman didn’t move an inch from recording Lauren and me. The performers and the students all faded into the backdrop.
As the program came to an end, we were rushed to a back gate that led to an unfamiliar route. Down the road was a house where food was waiting for us. Before we could make it there, the crowd swarmed us again. “Keep moving, Jacqueline. Do not shake hands. Push through the crowd!” Agustina, my host teacher told me. I tried but I couldn’t. The women and kids nearly fought over the chance to grab my hand, to shake it, or put it to their face and kiss it. When they couldn’t shake our hands, they pushed through the crowd hoping their babies would be fortunate enough to touch us. It was truly unbelievable. We had to be escorted out down a small alley to a place where the car was waiting for us so we could make a quick escape.
I truly did not understand the crowd’s fixation with us…to touch us…to hear us speak. By their actions, you would have thought Lauren and I were gods. I was deeply troubled by this. Especially because I knew back home, I was just an ordinary person who was no better or any worse than anyone else on this planet.
How is it that European and American cultures have had such a profound influence over the rest of the word that these people would see us as being of such a high statue? Or maybe, as the American, I am the one with the warped view of the world. Maybe because of my easy access to books, TV, and education I have grown numb and uninterested in the rest of the world. Maybe it is I who needs a reality check, not them.