English | Dutch
The girls from Ambon
Banda Naira (Indonesia), April 6th 2009

Sometimes we are lucky to meet local people with whom we can spend a day. It gives us the opportunity to learn a little bit more about the area we are travelling in. In Ambon we were very lucky to meet Synthia and her group of friends. The girls approached us at the local super market because they were looking for foreign travellers who were interested to be interviewed by them. The girls are studying English at the University of Ambon, and they got the assignment to practice their English with English speaking travellers. After the short interview, Synthia offered us to join us for an afternoon to show us some sights of the city. An offer that we couldn’t refuse.

We arranged to meet Synthia today at two o’clock in the afternoon at the same super market as where we met her before. She proposes to visit Fort Victoria in the centre of the city because it is one of the main sights of Ambon. But when we reach the gate of the fort, soldiers tell Synthia that it is not allowed to enter the fort. It is now a military basis and especially during these days just before the parliamentary elections of the ninth of April, they do not want uninvited guests. We suggest bringing a visit to the university where Synthia is studying and she likes the idea a lot. She immediately phones her teacher to ask if we are welcome in the lecture of that afternoon. It seems that they have speaking class, which means that the students use that lecture to practice their English by having conversations with the teacher and each other. We are very welcome and when we enter the lecture room, we are received with some cheering. We take a seat behind a school desk and within minutes, groups of students congregated around us. We chat with them, and at the end of the lecture we make some pictures and say goodbye to the very friendly teacher Ingrid.

The English class of the Pattimura University of Ambon

When we leave the campus again, we are not with the three of us anymore, but with seven persons. It seems that four friends of Synthia also got permission from their teacher to have some hours off, to join us for that afternoon. Their names are Nonnie, Kiki, Emeel and Phoeby, but for us they are from that moment on the girls from Ambon. They are lovely and most of them are still in their puberty. Synthia is the oldest girl of the group and she is also the most mature person. She is the mother hen of the group. The other girls are nineteen year old, giggle all day, and are mainly interested in their mobile phones, talking about boys and of course their looks and image. One of the girls, Nonni, looks a little bit like Byoncé and she is proud about it. Phoeby is a little bit quiet once in a while. She met an English tourist named Andy some days ago, and she is fancy about him. She regularly looks at her mobile phone to see if he sent her a text message. The funniest girl of the group is Kiki. She is a little bit shy because she is afraid to speak English, but despite of that she steals our heart. The last one is Emeel. She is a very quiet and tidy girl from the Kei islands. Together with Synthia she brings the right balance in the group. The special thing about the group is that one of the girls is Muslim. And that is special if you know that Ambon was the epic centre of violent clashes between the Muslim and Christian communities between 1999 and 2004. Now it is peaceful again, but since the end of the clashes, the communities mainly live separated in different areas of the city. But these girls broke with that violent past and respect each other for who they are, and not for their religious background. It is a very homogenous group of girls where religion is inferior to their friendship. And that is a great example and hopefully the first step again to a homogenous Moluccan Archipelago in the future.

Synthia comes up with the idea to bring a visit to a primary school in a small village, where she teaches English most days of the week. The other girls like the idea, so we take a bemo (small public bus) to the village on the other side of the bay. Phoeby is regularly the focus of the teasing of the other girls because she is in love with Andy. When Andy calls her when we are still in the bemo, she can not have a decent conservation with him because the other girls are yelling Andy’s name through the bemo. The other passengers in the bemo look with mixed feeling to this group of noisy teenagers, the way we probably would do it when we had to share a train compartment with such a group in The Netherlands. The visit to the primary school is really great. We have the opportunity to meet the head teacher of the school and talk about the school systems in Indonesia and the Netherlands. For some of the girls it is difficult to sit still for a while and within ten minutes we see some of them running and yelling on the little grass field in front of the classrooms. Some look sweaty because they decided to play volleyball with the local kids. When we leave the school again, a group of people congregated at the gate of the school. The news that two foreigners are visiting the school travelled fast. Some local villagers decided to come and take a look at us.

Ivonne and the head teacher with the girls from Ambon
The last destination of today is the beach village of Natsepa. Ambonese people are not really fond of swimming, but they like to go to the beach to take a rest and to enjoy the views. It can be very busy at the beaches during the weekend, but because we visit the place during the week, we have the place almost to ourselves. Nonni and Kiki put off their flip-flops, roll up their jeans, and run exuberantly through the surf of the sea. We also came to Natsepa to enjoy a very special local delicacy: Rujak. It is a kind of fruit salad in a sweet and sometimes also spicy peanut sauce. It is really great, but not very good for the figure. When Ivonne mentions that too much Rujak will ruin your figure, the girls agree. “It will make you as fat as Phoeby” is what some girls joke, while Phoeby has a figure that is probably admired by most western women. After we finished the Rujak it is already dark. It is time to go back to Ambon.

It takes us approximately fifteen minutes to find a bemo that has seven seats left. Emeel and Phoeby live in the village of Passo, so halfway the ride to Ambon we have to say goodbye to them. With the five of us we travel the last twenty minutes to Ambon, where we decide to eat a little bit at a local restaurant. After the light dinner a great day comes to an end, and we assume that one afternoon with a couple of older western travellers is enough for these girls. But that is not the case. They can’t wait to make a new appointment to do something together. We agree to meet each other again next Saturday, and that we will discuss the details by text message.

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