The following is a journal entry from Madi that merges reflections from her experience in Indonesia, focused on cultural immersion and conservation studies, with her teaching engagement in Mamelodi, South Africa. Thank you to those who supported the youth in Mamelodi through the Madibanani Mission for Mamelodi. The Initiative is still accepting donations here.
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“Di America, punya ini?” my sister asked. “In America, do you have this?” She pointed to an object on the floor. More questions came like rapid fire, one after another. It was early afternoon in Indonesia, and I was sitting on the bamboo floor of our humble home with my host family; at the moment that consisted of my nine and twelve year-old sisters, Mama, and several others who I’m still not entirely sure were related. That’s traditional Sampela style: children and homes are more or less communal, as became my flip flops the first day I arrived in the small village of 400 Bajau people living on the sea. Literally, the community is built on dried coral and stilts above the ocean.
After forty-five minutes of speaking in Indonesian, our conversation had turned into an inquisition of American life. First it was snow, then baseball. Now they wanted to know about more serious topics—like money. So far, I was as intrigued by their reactions as they were by my words. When I handed my sister a mechanical pencil to write something down, her eyes widened with interest, then confusion. Her face silently spoke the next question: What? In a manner I hoped didn’t give away my surprise, I took the pencil, clicked it a few times, then handed it back. This time she clicked it, giggled, then pushed the lead back in. Click, push back in. Click, push back in. Click click click click click cliiiiiiiiiiick, push back in. Everyone erupted in laughter. She was fascinated and I was equally fascinated by her fascination.
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I wouldn’t have known it then, but my experience in South Africa this summer revealed the word that captured that moment with my host sister in Indonesia: ubuntu. Ubuntu comes from the Bantu language, spoken in South Africa during Apartheid. While it has no direct English translation, Desmond Tutu gave the translation “I am who I am because of you.” Ubuntu is the deepest sense of humanism. I embrace it as a tribute to the people and experiences who have helped me become who I am today.
I am who I am because of the many people that have influenced my life journey and the wisdom they have bestowed upon me—whether it has been my host sister in Indonesia teaching me the significance of education or my own brother at home exemplifying the hidden blessings of sacrifice. Ultimately, I believe no experience is worthless, no friendship unintentional, no dream coincidence.
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