One of the highlights of a Telunas Writers’ Camp in the Riau Islands is the day we go with our students to visit one of the local fishing villages. Telunas staff have established relations with local people and contribute to their neighbours through community development projects, helping to build schools and sport facilities, digging wells or drains, even building a mosque in one village.
Just as important is the cultural exchange. These villages have no tourist industry and see few Westerners, so our arrival always causes great curiosity, some wariness and finally much excitement.
Our Indonesian guides Else, Santi and Agus check that we are appropriately dressed, with shoulders and knees covered, and teach us a few cultural rules. We try to remember to use the right hand when giving or receiving something. We practise pointing with the thumb, shaking hands gently, then bringing the hand to our hearts. We learn how to ask somebody’s name – ‘Siapa nama anda?’ – and to tell them ours.
It’s often a bit awkward at first. Sometimes a welcome has been organised for us, and everyone is rather formal and polite.
But after a while things start to loosen up.
We usually get an opportunity to learn how the villagers work…
Richard Tulloch runs writers’ camps for school students at Telunas Beach Resort on Sugi Island, about two and a half hours by boat from Singapore. For more information on these camps, see www.telunasbeach.com
The villages shown in this post are Moro, Jang and Buluh Patah. Visiting students are from Singapore American School, The Swiss School of Singapore and United World College. Thanks to them all.