Simply put, it was the trip of a lifetime. In the months leading up to our trip, we did our best to be thoroughly prepared. We meticulously packed our suitcases, skimmed the English-Indonesian Dictionary, purchased gifts to distribute, and collected books and lessons to teach once we arrived. But nothing prepared us for what we found in Takengon.
It took us one full day of travel on planes to finally arrive in Indonesia, the trip ending with a bumpy 12-hour car ride on narrow, windy roads leading to Takengon. We arrived around Fajr time and fell asleep, only to be awoken by the pitter patter of little hands knocking on our door and the singing of sweet little voices: “Sis….Sis, It’s lunch time.” When we opened the door, we were met with a handful of wide-eyed, pint-sized girls and boys who grabbed our hands and led us to the dining hall. This is our first memory of our little friends, our dear brothers and sisters in Takengon. We did not realize then, how in the next four weeks, they would impact our lives in so many ways.
We taught the kids how to play a game called Ninja and we would play each night for half an hour or longer before bedtime. We would watch Bollywood movies since the kids were more obsessed with them than we were. We hosted a chicken dinner– made fried chicken and pasta for the kids—they loved it. We spent time with Mama (Dian’s Aunt) who always smelled of sweet flowers and PaChi (Dian’s Uncle) who would take us to the market. We also took a day-long road trip around the local lake, went to an Indonesian hot spring/bathhouse, attended a traditional Indonesian wedding, and took a few hiking and canoeing trips. Towards the end of our stay, Ma and PaChi took us aside to make dua for us as we left for our journey back home. All experiences that we will not soon forget.
We practiced Arabic letters with the younger kids, and read Qur’an with the older kids. We played Monopoly, practiced reading, speaking, and English comprehension skills with all of them. We help the children with their homework, speeches, and accompanied them to competitions at school. We also took them with us to the market to shop and treated them to AFC (American Fried Chicken) and meatballs in a noodle soup.
While we remember so much of our time spent getting to know our friends, what we will remember most is NOT what we did for them, but rather what they did for us. These children – most of whom had lost one or both parents – reminded us of the importance of family. Despite their hardships, they found the strength to band together to form a beautiful group of brothers and sisters. Our little friends reminded us also of the importance of gratitude. They had lost their homes, and all their possessions but were content with their lives and thanked Allah in all moments. We were also reminded that Allah is the best of all planners. It was on that fateful day in 2004 when their lives were forever altered. Their attitude toward that fateful day was that everyone lost someone and that’s what Allah had planned. These were words we had heard many times before but the words never really sank in until that moment. Their utter reverence of Allah and His remembrance was the foundation of their strength and their happiness. They were grateful for what Allah had given them. They were happy and they were loved. Hearing their stories, playing, praying, laughing, singing, and dancing with them, we were reminded of love, brotherhood, and the resilience of the human spirit.