Indonesia never fails to surprise me with unexpected encounters. On the trip home from Bali (where I actually met a fellow diver from Basel, Switzerland!), I happened to run into the two Fulbright ETAs (English Teaching Assistants) who will be working in Limboto, a town about 20 minutes away from Gorontalo by car. I had first met Alexa and Sarah during the State Department orientation sessions in Jakarta, where we got into small groups to brainstorm some teaching activities for the coming year. I knew they would be arriving in Limboto sometime in late September but it was quite a surprise to run into them at the Jakarta airport and realize we were on the same flight to Gorontalo.
However, this surprise meeting pales in comparison to the surprise awaiting us at the Gorontalo airport. Unbeknownst to any of us, Alexa and Sarah’s schools had organized a welcoming committee to greet our plane. Immediately after disembarking on the tarmac, we were whisked to the VIP reception area where we were greeted by at least 50 students and teachers. They were holding a big banner welcoming Alexa and Sarah and ceremoniously gave each of them a big flower necklace.
I felt a little out of place since this welcome was definitely not intended for me. I hovered in the background feeling distinctly self-conscious about the fact that I hadn’t showered that morning since I got up at 3:30 to get to the airport. However, to my great dismay, my presence did not escape notice. After the girls had been given their necklaces of flowers, I was pulled into the requisite photo shoot that followed. The teachers and students were all nicely dressed - the women with their coordinating jilbabs and the men in crisp clean shirts. I felt sorely underdressed for the occasion in my dirty jeans and running shoes. Not only that but I was also wearing my new Absolute Scuba t-shirt from the dive shop in Padang Bai, which probably isn’t the most appropriate thing I could have been wearing considering that I am primarily here to teach English and not to scuba dive. Hundreds of photos were taken of us and even some just of me. I am sure that I will be making another newspaper appearance one of these days in what is guaranteed to be another unflattering picture.
Following this friendly ambush, I was also included in the welcoming dinner at a restaurant in Gorontalo. There were about 12 of us there. I had been planning on taking a taxi from the airport and then making a supermarket run when I got home, but being taken out to dinner and then being driven home by fellow teachers was infinitely nicer. But by the end of the meal I was exhausted. It had been a crazy long day – leaving Padang Bai at 4am to drive to the airport in Denpasar, a 3-hour layover plus a 2-hour delay in Jakarta, a brief stop Makassar and then finally arriving in Gorontalo around 6 pm. But I am glad that Sarah and Alexa are here. It’s nice to know that there are some fellow English teachers living only 20 minutes away from me. They are about a decade younger than me and fresh out of college but I think our circumstances will bond us together.