The lack of over-the-top rules and regulations in primary school in Jakarta, Indonesia, is refreshing to say the least.
Unlike Ireland where having a child in national school suddenly heightens your awareness / paranoia of child abuse to mania level. The teacher cannot tend to a sick child without there being a witness. The teacher cannot bring the child home in her car without their being another child accompanying, and furthermore a third to accompany the second for when you drop the sick one off. Swimming lessons require parent participation. Uncles shy away from nappy changing for fear that someone, somewhere would misinterpret his humanness to rid the child of a dirty nappy.
And hats off to the poor males that take it upon themselves to train football, camogie, soccer or karate, often fathers themselves, these proactive community members stand ten paces back from the children to avoid being tarred a sex-offender.
Western society seems obsessed with the probability of endangering their children, of course an active awareness is necessary when we hear of abduction and abuse cases, but are we taking it too far?
Having first-hand experience of travelling from east to west with three children , I can confirm that in Dubai airport, all is relaxed, trips the bathroom are done by turn taking, the suitcases can rest outside undisturbed, the children can go to the airport shop to buy a magazine once the designated meeting point is agreed, all is fine. Once we hit Heathrow, it’s a different story, we go to the bathroom en mass, suitcases never leave our side and the temptation to swallow passports, money, credit cards, seems the only way of keeping them safe. And then home to Ireland, where they’re kept under house arrest, the reality being that a walk to the local shop to buy sweets is out of the question for kids today.
Here in Indonesia, male drivers take young expat children to school, helping them inside, setting their lunchboxes aside and ensuring that they are settled in class, as if they were their own. Young children start swimming lessons at school (all schools have swimming pools) with no parental supervision.
How admirable that in a country like Indonesia, with such an overexposed sex industry and a child trafficking trade to boot, they are able to maintain an open mind. No aspersions, no over-the-top precautions, no paranoia. Many Australian, American and European expats trusting their male drivers as much as they would their female nannies.
I am proud that my son is growing up in this liberal, fair-minded society devoid of that dreadful paranoia that follows us around in Ireland. I am re-born.
Until yesterday. I was sitting in a small café, minding my own business and that of my young son, not yet 3, who asked about washing his hands before he tucked into his muffin, (I will point out that these displays of table manners are sporadic). Given that the restrooms were behind a beaded curtain and just off the concrete floored kitchen, I made the call that the germs currently on his hands were of a better calibre that that which would undoubted be contracted inside the ambitiously named ‘restroom’.
Evidently, overhearing the pestering, the waiter, c. 40, Indonesian, 5’8’ dark brown hair, brown eyes, blue jeans, scar on left cheek, proceeded to make towards the table and lift my young son up and make down a corridor with him. Stunned into rigidity, and I stiffened and felt the old paranoia jump up and slap me hard across the face, my new found fair-mindedness gone. This would never happen in Ireland, I thought as I raced after the pair, no way would a stranger lift a young child, I ran, they couldn’t be gone far in 15 seconds, surely. Just around the corner I met the waiter and my son, walking amicably back, my son showing no signs of abduction and the waiter showing no intention of same.
I left the café ashamed. Guilt rose up to meet with my paranoia and the two snuggled up together for the rest of the day.
The question: is Indonesia 2014, what Ireland was in 1974, or is it what Ireland will be, in 2054?