December 30, 2007

The nuns in my life

For most of my childhood to teenage years I have been surrounded by Sisters (nuns), seeing their familiar faces in their long white gowns and long white head-dresses. They were the ones who were taking care of me and my other siblings---mom had 8 children; 5 girls, 3 boys ... 6 of them born at the same Catholic hospital at the small village run by a Dutch nun. Unlike other mothers, after giving birth my mom trusted our care to the nuns at the hospital and visiting the baby once a week and took us home when we were already 2 years old.

Many of you may have been wondering and asked what kind of mother was she, and where on earth there's a maternity hospital that would house a baby until they were able to walk??? My parents had an explainable reasons for that. First off, they both run a coffee bean trading (buying from farmers and selling them to the bigger buyers), and since our house was used both for business and living, they were worried it would be bad for the baby's health. My mom then had a talk with Sister Joseph and was granted a privilege to leave her babies there. Of course mom had to pay for all of that but it was justifiable and she did not have to worry about us knowing that she had found the best child care provider in the world. The maternity hospital lies under the base of a mountain, next to that was a convent, an elementary school and a church. It was such a beautiful place.

My fondness memories of Sister Joseph (the Dutch nun) was her very fair complexion, her angelic smiles combined with the stern gentleness toward everyone. Being a small kid, I remember I had to look up to be able to see her face and she would lowering her head so she could hear me when I talked to her. Over the years, after we all grew up we always took time to visit her whenever we returned to our home town. Just seeing her wrinkled face, and her humble smile, afforded us the opportunity to recall some of the best memories of our childhood. Today, Sister Joseph is in heaven and my family will never forget how she touched our life.

Later I attended elementary school where Sister Lucia is my school principal. Sister Lucia was patient, kind and loving. She was at times quite stern keeping us in line but you could feel the love she gave each one of us. Then there's Sister Imelda, Sister Herma, and Sister Redempta. The last one I mentioned, Sister Redempta, is one of the Sisters I disliked because of one small incident. Back then the kids got their vaccination in school and I felt uncomfortable seeing the long needle going to my skin. So I ran away but Sister Redempta was able to catch me, and since I fought with all I could, she had a hard time giving the vaccination to me. So she asked the other teacher to hold me and sticked the needle on top of my thigh. Within a few seconds she was finished and let me go. Until today I still have that coin size circle on my left top thigh, courtesy of Sister Redempta...hehehe! On our recent trip to Sumatra, we had the chance to visit the elementary school and met Sister Redempta there. She was so happy to see her girls and could not stop laughing when I told her about that coin size scar!

When I finished my elementary school, like my older sisters, my mom decided that I had to stay in dormitory. The reason is because our Junior High School was far from home and it would tire me to travel back and forth. The school was across the dormitory, convent and a church (it was all a walking distant). I remember Sister Domenica, the head of the dormitory. She was a middle age nun and always demanded obedience and is remembered by everyone for that clicker. She was tough and would not compromise if you broke the regulations etc. In today's world she would have been considered a dictator but I learned about discipline and many other things from living under her dictatorship...LOL!

Our daily routine was to wake up at 4:30am sharp (she made sure the bell was loud enough for all of us to hear), then we would rush to the bathrooms, after we groomed ourselves we had to go to the church for a morning mass. That was at 6:00am sharp. Even if there was no morning mass we still had to go to church for rosary prayer. We had to recite Our Father and Hail Mary with the exact words, all of the beatitudes etc. and made sure you did not chat in between or tried to get some sleep because her eyes were so sharp like an eagle eyes. After church, we would head to the dining room and being a Catholic dormitory, again you had to say a prayer before you eat. Sometimes I tested Sister Domenica's patience by doing a cross sign as fast as I could. She was unhappy and asked me to come forward and in front of everybody I had to repeat how to do the cross sign. Of course, I did that perfectly knowing she's in front of me with her wicked eyes.

I created a lot of troubles that made her so mad and she grounded me for breaking the order. I was locked inside the book room because I skipped church and hid behind the book shelves, I was forced to eat the young jambu air when she caught me and my friends throwing the fruits with our slippers. I was grounded for buying snacks outside because we were not allow to buy foods from outside when food inside the dormitory was so untasteful. I was scolded for did not wearing a layer under my white skirt, gosh...she got so many excuses to give me a punishment. Well not only me, but a bunch of rebels that shared the same juvenile delinquencies like yours truly.

Looking back on it now, I realize how fortunate I was to spend my childhood and teenage years with them. I think of their kindness and compassion and I thank my parents for entrusting me to them. They truly were/are my other mothers in heart.
Late Sister Joseph
The nuns at the convent.
Sister Domenica and Elyani.
Xaverius Elementary School today
Teacher and her students (this lady is my eldest sister classmate).
Sister Redempta, the teachers and my eldest sister.
The church next to Xaverius Elementary School.
One of the alley in my dormitory.
The old well inside the dormitory.
Sister Lauren in charged for Kitchen during my dormitory school time.
The church next to the dormitory.
Xaverius Junior High School which is just across from the dormitory (back then the building was not this grand).


Lewi Tanjung said...

Mbak El, dulu suka nimba air juga ga? U got a very unique life story here.

Anita said...

I went to a private-all girl-Catholic school from primary to junior high, where the school is a huge complex and has the dorm for the nuns (or nuns-to be) and a small chapel where we had to attend a weekly mass. Being a moslem I found everything is interesting, especially when the chosen students could perform in front of all nuns during end of school year, because I got to peek their life inside the dorm. I had fond memories too with the school headmasters. Our junior high library had a great collection (which I never realized until I was in the 20s) so when I was 13 I already read Hobbit, Jules Verne's 20 Thousands Leagues Under The Sea, and Moby Dick without realizing those are the greatest fiction in the mankind. The Catholic school was very tolerant too, during high school they let us form an Islamic Student Organization and had an open discussion about the history of Muhammad and Jesus...
Ah Elyani, now you make me miss them, hopefully I could visit my school someoday :)

Great post, girl!

Belle said...

i only had a chance to read this now because i was so busy last Christmas with the festivities and my job.

wow, beautiful story of your childhood. entrusting you and your siblings to a group of nuns from birth to 2 years old is no different than entrusting you to a nannies. at least, in the convent, your mother was sure that you were getting the best care possible.

and you were not juvenile delinquent...hehe. you were just a smart inquisitive kid trying out other possibilities outside the convent. i would have probably done the same thing.

good post, elyani!

elyani said...

@Anita : As I write this, all I can think about is how I wish I were still in high school and in my dormitory. Like you, I also had a lot of Moslem friends from elementary thru senior high school time. I even had a few friends whose fathers would pick them up by bicycle after the Friday prayer (in Stella Duce, Yogyakarta). I really miss the little things and wished I could turn the clock back for the sake of the memory.

@Belle : thanks Belle, one of my unfulfilled wishes is to visit the head of the dormitory, Sister Domenica. I heard she has been moved to another convent for elderly nuns but still strong just as I remember her many years ago.

@Lewi : nimba cuma sekali2 kalau air gak jalan aja. Dulu yang lebih sering malah disuruh ambil bekicot untuk pakan ayam. Bukan satu buah tapi satu ember!