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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Indonesia Without Orchids

Behind a high green wall on Ulitsa Novokuznetskaya, young girls are learning Balinese dance and boys practice haunting bamboo gamelan instruments. More than 16,000 kilometers from their native Indonesia, the children in the three-room schoolhouse are studying the same subjects in the same way they would at home. Ami Yarmani would not have it any other way. As principal of the tiny Indonesian school, Yarmani is trying hard to supply an education that can seamlessly flow into the local system. While many foreign diplomats opt for a cosmopolitan English-language education at international schools, the Indonesians have been running their own show -- in their native language, Bahasa -- since 1968. The result is that the embassy children suffer very little culture shock when they arrive here or return home, she said. Fewer orchids grow in Moscow, and there's no midday nap, but overall, they can make themselves at home. "All of Indonesia is here," said the principal, from her small office tucked behind the embassy building. "In another country, without our own school, it would be harder." That doesn't mean the children are "closed to other cultures," Yarmani was quick to point out -- they compete against the Indian school in sports events and venture out into the city on field trips. Students learn Russian. But for the most part, the school's curriculum is dictated by Jakarta, right down to the grading system (10 is the highest, 0 the lowest). Yarmani has traveled a long way from her last port of call, the east Javanese city of Surabaya, and farther still from the Balinese village where her family traces its roots. Karangasem is an inland village famous for the line of sultans who lived there for centuries, and the prized harvest of salak -- a fruit similar to the lychee, with a spiny mahogany skin. An enclave of mystical Hindu in an enormous Moslem nation, Bali has enchanted generations of travelers into settling down. Over the past 50 years, Bali's reputation as an unspoiled tropical paradise has drawn waves of tourists from all over the world, and the island has gone through massive changes. But the economic benefits of a lively tourist business compensate abundantly for its drawbacks, Yarmani said. "Some of the culture might change because of the influence," she continued. "There is some regret, but also not, because we have so many tourists now." And generally, the Westernization of Indonesia -- where oil and gas resources have set off an economic boom -- has improved the standard of living in the country, she said. Yarmani's last position was in Surabaya, where she directed a school of 900 students. She took the Moscow position for a change of scenery -- which her 28-student school has supplied. "I love my job, and everywhere is more or less the same," she said. "As far as difficulty goes, it's the same, but we are much closer because of the small number of students." One of the most central aspects of an Indonesian education is the pancasila, the code of ethics and politics introduced by President Sukarno soon after the country attained independence in 1945. The principles of the pancasila -- religion, humanism, solidarity and unity -- outline "the way we run our lives," Yarmani said. Pancasila occupies the gray area between religion and citizenship, and neglecting that area of instruction would set Indonesian children starkly apart from their peers at home, she said. And since many well-to-do parents send their children to college in the West, early education must train children as patriots. The dance and music programs are an important method of assimilating native culture, Yarmani said. A diplomat carried over the gamelan orchestra piece by piece by air years ago, and only recently has the school had an expert available to instruct children on how to play it. "It's for the love of our culture, and to keep it from fading out," she said. "On one hand, the grades help us when we go back," said Dessy Noor, 17, a student at the school. "But on the other hand, it's not easy to be in your own group all the time, this Indonesian group."