Chapter 2

In our land, village primary school was usually called sikola metmet (metmet = little). This school was for three years and went on to sikola panonga (middle school), but the level of instruction was really about the same as that of a “Gouvernements Vervolgschool” [a government continuation school]. This also required three years of study. Then there was sikola tinggi (high school), also called sikola guru (teacher’s school), for four years. The name of this school was “Zendings-Seminarie,” and its level of instruction was the same as that of the government-run Institute for Village Schoolteachers (the O.V.V.O.). The Mission School actually took a little longer to complete because the teachers who graduated from it had to be trained for the additional task of being Bible teachers in the local churches.

We had two teachers in village school. One of them, the head teacher, was a graduate of the Sipoholon Seminary.[1] The other, his assistant, was a middle school graduate. This particular assistant teacher still sported a hole in his earlobe, like a woman. In our village there were still lots of men who wore gold earrings; that way, when there was an adat feast they could show that they came from a rich family.[2] The earrings were so heavy that most of the older people had big holes in their earlobes, big enough to stick an index finger through. To tell the truth, I hated the sight of my


teacher’s ear, with that hole in it. If he happened to be nearby I would stare at his ear, but when he looked at me I turned the other way.

This teacher with the hole in his ear taught us in second grade. Frankly, he was much smarter than the teacher who replaced him later on, but he certainly was not as smart as the head teacher. My estimation of him dropped considerably when I saw him and some other people plowing a rice paddy to prepare it for planting. In those days I considered teachers to be among society’s elite, and expected that they would live like salaried workers.

The head teacher of the school was streng , or as Jakarta people would say, very “traditional” and a stickler for obeying the rules.[3] Sometimes we would be ordered to collect firewood for him. We were not allowed to stop until we had gathered a whole armful. Once he even ordered several of my friends to cart some of his pigs to market. They were paid only 2 1/2 cents apiece, even though the market was a whole kilometer from our village and they had to wait almost half a day for the pigs to sell.

Every Monday when I was in the third grade, as a matter of course we would be asked who had not gone to church the day before (Marminggu ,[4] as we called it). Anyone who had not gone would be given a punishment. I wasn’t really antichurch, and from the time I was very small I normally attended whatever the case, but there was something about that punishment that brought out the stubbornness in me. Once I did not attend church for months, so each and every Monday I would be given a punishment equal to my sin—and it really was a sin, too, my teacher said—and I was called names like “Red Devil” or “Horned Devil” and so on. On Mondays whoever hadn’t gone to church would be separated from the others and given various punishments: for example, our palms would be rapped hard three times with a cane. Became this did not seem to work, another punishment would be tried: we would be ordered to stand on one foot for half an hour. Whoever dared to put a leg down to rest would have it smacked three times.

I rose in status, what with my Red Devil nickname. People said that my friends just copied whatever I did. As the “leader,” my portion of the punishment “gifts” was larger. I should be setting a good example for the other children, my teacher said. After all, wasn’t I a church elder’s son? One time my friends and I had to balance a school bench on our heads as punishment. This bench was long enough for six children to sit on, and four of us held it on our heads. When we got tired or our heads began to hurt, we were allowed to balance it on our shoulders. My shoulder was exhausted, my head ached, and my face got red, but I did not whine or complain. Stubbornly, even angrily, I would say to myself: I will not give in, I can take it!

Even though my teacher punished me severely, I was still his favorite in


our daily lessons. Every week we would be asked to do sums and say our tables out loud (Maretong di roha , to count by heart). Whoever was the best would be allowed to sit way in back. I sat on the farthest bench.

One time I asked permission to be absent for several days (actually, with my Dad’s help) because our whole household was going to visit my uncle in Sibolga. My father had sold his cart by this time and had gone in with someone to buy an automobile on installment. This was the car we took to Sibolga. We stayed about two weeks. When I returned to class and took the usual arithmetic test, my score dropped to an 8; the student who had been number two, a child who was always scheming to force me off my “throne,” got a 9, and I was forced to surrender my championship to him. So I sat in the next-to-last row, because the last one was packed with kids who had scores of 9 and 8 1/2. I pretended not to care, and sat in my place without protest, but inside I was burning with shame. I had wanted to hide all this, but the other children kept tormenting me with their victory and finally I could not stand it any longer. First one tear and then another fell from my eyes. A kid cried out to the teacher, “Djohanis is crying,” intending to embarrass me further. But the teacher came up to us and said, “That’s just a sign that Djohanis is a good child. By crying he shows that he is sad about the slip in his grades. Doubtless he will improve them by next week.” The other kids just kept quiet.

My teacher was extremely frightened whenever the school inspector came, and for several days before the arrival of the “school police” he would show signs of anxiety and jumpiness. We would rehearse over and over again the way we were supposed to stand up and greet the inspector, sit in our seats, answer questions, and so on. The smartest children were instructed to stick their hands up high in the air when the school inspector asked a question. They were allowed to sit up front, while the dummies sat near the back. All of this was arranged beforehand. I was surprised. Why was our teacher so scared of this schoolopziener ? But then aren’t people everywhere always frightened of the police?

In addition to the school inspector, Tuan Preacher[5] (the German minister) would also pay us an occasional visit (these schools were run by the mission). Our teacher was not as afraid of the clergyman as he was of the school inspector or examiner. One time, after a class period, I deliberately hit a friend of mine in the presence of the visiting German minister. When he saw me do this he looked at me furiously and said—in Batak, of course, but with a German cadence—”Now, aren’t you ashamed to do such a thing?” He told me to say I was sorry. My face reddened but I did it. My aim of making myself known to him had been achieved; earlier in class he had paid no attention to me even though I had raised my hand when he asked a question.




Me and Toba




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