Who Knew What You’d Learn When You Dig A Little Deeper

History is always under appreciated by students at school, don’t you think?

And as I write this down, I’m not at all ashamed to say that I as well never paid much attention to history due to how little meaning it gives to life. History doesn’t change anything. Not now, not the future, not ever. The only lesson that still applies from history is the ideology of how experience is the best teacher. It teaches us how things that failed in the past should not be repeated if we are to avoid the same impact that happened times ago.

So I never pay much attention to it.

Until one day, I was staying at this Ramadhan camp for two weeks in a little village. I had the chance to get to know people around the camping site, and I met this woman in a little shop. She told me and my friends to call her ‘Bu Eli’.

(Bu in Bahasa means Mrs.)

Bu Eli was kind, gentle, and a sincere Muslim woman. She invited two friends of mine and I to her house for a nice evening chat. Introduction was made, and small chit chat was shared.

I remembered her beginning her tale with a simple sentence. She said gently with eyes that went a shade darker as she recalled her past. It was the eyes of someone who’s seen the dark part of life and never entirely made it back to the now.

“I’ve lived here (in this village) for twenty years. You see, I was the victim of the monetary crisis. I used to live in Jakarta back in the day.”

I sure as hell remembered not understanding what it meant. “What monetary crisis?” I asked.

“Is it the monetary crisis like in the movie Di Balik 98?” My friend asked.

“Goodness, you don’t know? It was the monetary crisis that happened back in ‘97 and ‘98, my child,” she said. “You must know, it was when President Soeharto was forced to step down after 30 years in power.”

“Oh, when the inflation happened?” I remembered studying something of some sort.

She nodded, “That’s right. It was when the dollar inflated so high that it reached 17.000 rupiahs from 3.000 rupiahs.”

My friends and I shared a surprised a look. That was a high price, indeed.

“Everything went downhill really quick at that time. You weren’t born back then. You see, many companies struggled to keep on their feet with so many debt the country had, and many prices went up. Many companies fired many of their workers to keep the expenditure at minimum, and many assets were sold.”

We listened to her intently. It was more interesting than the lectures my teachers ever gave. It was a real story from someone who’s lived the history. She was there to see it with the two of her eyes. The way she told the tale, it gave away emotions of one who doesn’t have the intention to repeat what’s happened.

“Scholars rebelled, and buildings were burned down. It was the time when the Trisakti Tragedy happened—”

“—When the students were shot down,” I said, finishing her sentence. 4 students were shot down and became hero of the tragedy. Their names were still remembered to this day.

We finally touched a ground I was familiar of.

She nodded, and it must have been a bitter reminiscent. “My husband and I, we struggled to keep on standing on our feet. We opened a book publishing company, but we couldn’t afford the price of the paper as time went by, and things just never got better.”

She took a breath and exhaled, and I held my breath. She waved her hand around, “So we moved here. We sold our assets and came here to stay.We left the rebellion, the mess, and experienced the rest of it though the news in the TV.”

It must have not been an easy decision to make, I gathered.

“Things were different in this village then. There were very few villagers, just forest and vast crops field. My husband and I started over. I believed that knowledge is a beautiful, never-ending tool that can get us back to our feet. We started a course in this village.”

“With only very few villagers, who’d come and study?” My friend asked.

“Oh, there were many students who were interested,” Bu Eli said vigorously.

“What about daily supply? Where do you get things from?” I asked too. It was a very real life Harvest Moon experience to me. I had to ask before my imagination went wild to the point where villagers trade things to get their need in my head.

Bu Eli chuckled, “It was hard too at first. Being in such a secluded place, it took hours to go back and forth to get what we needed. But as time went by, many mini mart opened up, and many small merchants stayed for good. It was quite a peaceful life after that.”

And Bu Eli is now a headmaster in a local kindergarten, a teacher in a local middle school, and a student counselor in a local high school. She’s a mother to three children, and she owns a farm or two as I recall.

“And you’ve never thought about going back?”

Bu Eli didn’t need time to think about it. It was an immediate response of, “No, never.”

“What about families?”

“The goodbyes were hard,” she adjusted her glasses back on with a fond smile. “But times were hard, and sacrifices had to be made. We still see each other to this day.”

But is this the happy ending you imagined you’d have? Have you ever regretted anything?

There were many questions, many rude questions left in the tip of my tongue. I was so eager to find out what crosses the mind of someone who’s lived the history to tell the tale. I was curious to know what made her survive mentally, what made her still stand up to this day, and what made her find her peace.

Bu Eli took me back to those old history lessons that I’d sleep through at school. I never thought much of those lessons. In fact, I never thought it deserved a penny of my mind, until I heard Bu Eli’s tale, and I realized there was much more to history than old tales and mistakes.

In history, lived the tale of thousands of people who experienced the same one event. There were victims, heroes, or simply spectators, and each of them had their own story to tell. Each and every one of them had their own struggles, and they had their own way of rising back up to face the future that was held before them.

There were many different celebration, and many different grieves. Every teardrops to every pain and every smiles to every new hope. But at the end of the day, history holds not only mere experience, but it also holds beauty of its own. Because behind the pages that were printed in our textbook, now I know the tiny glimpse of what it took to be remembered, to be timeless.

Dear you, who’s lived through your own history and made it to where you are today, raise your glass, here’s to you.

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