For example, the ojek (motorbike taxis) drivers next to my apartment confided to my friend and colleague Jess that they would never give her an unfair price for fear that she would report to me, her senior. When she pressed them a bit more, they leaned in to whisper that they all knew I worked for INTERPOL. Wink wink, nudge nudge.
At times, it works against me. Like directly after my unfortunate run in with coral and sea urchins (see last blog entry), my fellow triathletes puzzled, "I thought the agency trained you for stuff like this?" Wink wink, nudge nudge.
I could go on.
Don't get me wrong, I adore the attention. But I'm just not that cool...yet. Wink wink, nudge nudge. I do, however, get to work everyday with people who are that cool.
Most days, I'm in the classroom working with officers from all parts of Indonesia. They work in narcotics, criminal investigation, traffic, patrol, and more. In the past three years, I've worked with nearly 600 police officers. They each brought their own experiences to the classroom; stories of guerrilla warfare, undercover sting operations, and post-disaster search and rescue missions. I came to Indonesia with zero knowledge of law enforcement lingo or operations, so there was often a role reversal of teacher and student in the classroom. We worked out a nice exchange, though. They supplied the stories, and Jess and I supplied the language.
Just this year, Jess and I started making connections with the Indonesian military as well. We befriended, Colm Downes, a man from the British Council who is tasked with prepping soldiers before they embark on their own UN Mission in Lebanon. This connection to Colm is how I recently found myself with a microphone standing in front of 925 military personnel.
When Colm mentioned that he would be teaching in the less-than-ideal environment of 925 students to one teacher, I offered to even up the ratio a bit to 2 on 426.5. This seemed much more reasonable.
I showed up with my teaching tot bag and followed Colm through the BDU-wearing soldiers who were lounging around the dining hall-cum-classroom while waiting for class to start. I was led to a table at the front where I could take in the whole scene. After I politely asked for the handgun to be removed from my chair, I settled in for what would promise to be an interesting 50 minutes. The soldiers all filtered in and we eventually got down to business, and by 'we', I mean 'Colm.' I snuck to the back of the room where I could observe quietly between the soldiers and their rucksacks - each piled neatly with a blue UN helmet and automatic rifle. I tried to do my part by circulating around and offering to help various groups of soldiers practice beginner introductions, and by 'helping' I mean 'creating an absolute ruckus.' I offered to help with their English, and they asked for photos.
It was from my quasi-inconspicuous position at the back of the dining hall that I heard Colm wrapping up the class - and introducing me to 925 of his closest friends. He told them that I was an American teaching English for the police. He then told them that I spoke way more Bahasa Indonesia than he did, so perhaps they would want me to come up and say a few words. They agreed.
That's how this happened.
I'd like to say that after three years of learning language and working with very impressive police officers, that addressing a room full of soldiers would be easy, but I can't. I can say that my heart was beating out of my chest and sweat beads were covering my forehead as I was handed the microphone. My brain wanted to say really inspirational things like, "Go get 'em" and "Be all that you can be," etc. But it came out like this:
"Um...saya....Jackie. Saya....dari....(wipes sweat from forehead)...Amerika." And so on.
Wink wink, nudge nudge.