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Students in a long tail boat in Indonesia. Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Indonesia Semester.

Tough Love

Love is an emotion we all share but can show differently. I, along with most of my readers, are most likely familiar with kind words, touch and attention as acts of love. “Tough love” (a term I will later elaborate on) has been the most common form of care here in Sampela. Something that has greatly occupied my mind while sitting on my bamboo porch sipping sweet tea.

“Tough love” is not an uncommon form of affection in my family, unlike most of my friends’. Praise, hugs and close guidance don’t make a daily appearance in my home. I never felt a lacking, actually I think we all took a certain level of pride in it. “Builds character” we say. The nature of “tough love” in Sampela has gone to a whole different level, but I think merits some attention.

People have to work for everything here, and this is taught to you at an early age. My cousin and her little two year old boy spend a lot of time sitting on my bamboo porch sipping sweet tea with me. Cookies make an hourly appearance and one must be quick to snatch one from the packet and hold on tight. Being only two, my cousin is sometimes careless and does not secure a good enough grip and the cookie is snatched from his hand by an older relative. Light smacks to the bottom and harsh shouts are administered when he interrupts conversation. Sometimes he is left alone struggling to open a water bottle or to keep up with his Mama strolling down the board walk. In the end he manages just fine, sometimes with a scrape or two. He doesn’t let a grain of rice fall from his spoon when he eats and never drops his blue marbles as they will fall through the bamboo porch floor into the sea below. He has learned the harder way via “tough love”, but has learned it better.

Love, as we know it in the West, was handed out to every passing person in Langa (last homestay, the one in the mountains in Flores). A kind word and hand to hold were always close by. Prior to Sampela we were warned that things might be different, and they were for me. There was no cheering crowd to meet us when we land (by boat because we’re living on water). There were no introductions made when arriving at my homestay, only nods and casual “hellos”. My family rarely inquires where I’m going or what I’m doing. But yesterday I made my Bapak laugh, and today my Ibu called me by name. I feel as though I worked for these moments, I accomplished something. The love I felt seemed more genuine and deserving. The people of Sampela are not cold or uncaring. They give “tough love”, because that stuff makes you stronger and as my family would say “builds character”.