My mother grew up in a small community in southern California. Every day she walked to school, went to the diner for a donut or a coca-cola, and then walked home. Life was simple and safe, and children played under the cooperative supervision of an entire village.I grew up in a decrepit outskirt of a bustling city, unable to safely walk around alone and consistently a witness to disrespect and deceit. My mother’s stories seemed impossible, unrealistic, and part of a fairy tale world that I imagined certainly no longer existed. Living in Gowang has brought me full circle. Here, my fantasies of a childhood surrounded by the guidance and protection of a caring community come true. Here, everyone appears somehow related, and even when they are not, they act as though they were. Sundays at Anak Tangguh really brought to light the amazing coherence in our town. On those days, it appeared every child and parent flocked into our school for fun-filled activities and the entertainment of extremely hyper kids. I remember sitting on the ground with a young boy on my lap, watching the girls rehearse their dances. To my right was a parent of two students. Through the course of the dance session, five little boys (not his own) came to sit on his lap, and he treated each of them as his own son. Meanwhile, a local artist, Raka, playfully performed the entire dance routine behind twenty eight year-old girls, pleased to act juvenile and join in on the fun. It felt as if I was witnessing some sort of extended family reunion, with aunts, uncles, and cousins that know and love each other inside out; however, in this case, the family was absolutely enormous, and blood relation was unimportant. After five weeks of living here, the village feels like family to me too. Makala and I leave class in the afternoon for our five-minute walk home, and we run into at least ten of our students. They line up at local warungs, getting bags of iced tea and Kropok, and they scream greetings as we walk by, regardless of the fact we saw them mere minutes ago. The Ibus that run the warungs watch over the children as they casually jalan-jalan around town, nothing to be afraid of and no one to avoid. As soon as the children knew who we were, the whole village came to know who we were. As such, what I appreciated most about our integration into the community was that the approval of parents or administration was unimportant in the wake of the children’s impressions of us. As soon as we gained their trust, we gained everyone’s trust, and it felt extremely appropriate that way. Soon, my homestay sister D’ka told me comments shifted from “Who are those buleh you’re always with? Why are they here?” to “Why haven’t the buleh been to my warung in a while?” We started off as strangers, alien and perhaps not entirely welcome, and we became members of a town, people with an acknowledged and accepted presence. I am extremely fortunate to have lived in Gowang. Now I know there are communities like this left in the world, and thanks to this village I’ve gotten to experience some of my mother’s lucky childhood. As Gillian puts it, it feels great to be adopted—and what better place to have that happen than right here, in the heart of the jungle?
Kelly ‘KL’ Bonney-Ache