Beat Presser talks about his voyage

MUSLIMS and CHRISTIANS

AMBON, 18 JUNE 2014

Just after disembarking from the Sinabung I meet John. He sees me, alights from his motorcycle and asks: “Anything I can do for you?” I ask him the way to Latu Halat and I leave him my number. The next day my phone rings at 7 in the morning. Would I like to teach English at his school? He’ll zip over right away to fetch me. I put him off to 10. He arrives punctually, hands me a much too small helmet that looks like a plastic bath tub for infants – and wants to take off straightaway. First, however, he shows my companion Antonius his firearms licence and his pistol. He is a Christian, he explains, and teaches at a school for Muslims. In 1999 violent clashes broke out between Christians and Muslims, leaving over 10,000 dead. The conflict has been going on for a long time and he has to be prepared….

We climb aboard the motorcycle and ride to Ambon. A hilly city with lots of dales and fertile green areas. We ride past big flags – German, French, Brazilian, Dutch. “Is there an international conference going on in town?” I ask. To which John replies, “Holland’s going to win the World Cup!” “Wrong,” I retort, “Switzerland’s going to win.” John laughs so hard he almost runs over a chicken and nearly falls off his bike.

The school is small. A little under 40 pupils are taught here, all orphans or half-orphans. They seem quite absorbed and fascinated as they follow my lessons, though they’re probably thinking: “Here’s this guy standing up there talking about a voyage across the sea, about Swiss mountains and geography. He holds a plastic globe in his hand, juggles it in the air and explains the world to us so fast that we end up confusing Switzerland and South America. In the end, when he takes a class picture he’s standing there in the classroom with a red clown nose on!”