On September 2nd 2007 I flew out Indonesia for the first time. I was 17 yo and spoke very little English, yet I took the opportunity to spend my two amazing year in United World Colleges Costa Rica aka (UWCCR). A week prior to my departure I was staring at the calendar that hanged on the wall of a small room in Wisma Makara UI, Depok. I circled the 2nd of September and thought “I should arrive there on the 3rd.” When I finished that sentence something very strong came out of my woman intuition, “No, you’ll arrive there on the 4th!” I wondered why, but could not answer it right away.
Right at the dawn I got into the taxi and went straight to the Soekarno Hatta Airport. Toll JORR did not exist that time, so the driver took me through the Jakarta Inner Ring road. When I checked in the airport, the lady behind the desk pronounced San Jose like how Portuguese speakers do. I got a big green pin as a sign for first time traveller so I could have some kind of “assistant” in every airport I transited. My feeling was ok when the plane took off and headed to Hong Kong. This bad feeling of something wrong was going to happen started to kick in when the plane took off from Hong Kong. And when the plane landed in LAX at 2pm, the “drama” then played.
I got confuse whenever checking on the on boarding screen. Because my flight number clearly written to go to San Jose, California. I thought it was a mistake but I kept on going to the gate, and that’s when I realized that I missed my phone during the TSA screening. I jumped on the bus that carried the passengers to the plane and thankfully before it departed, I had the courage to ask the TSA lady whether this plane went to California or Costa Rica. Knowing that it was not my destination, I then jumped out of the bus and started to think what to do next and kept telling myself not to cry because it did not solve the problem.
It was probably too early to call it fall season, yet people looked at me with a weird look for wearing a brown winter jacket I got from my cousin. The weather of LA was so chilly for me who had been living near the equator line all my life.
I asked the first security guy I encountered and told them that I got a wrong ticket and he suggested me to call Indonesian embassy. I got no phone so I tossed the idea aside. I checked the one way ticket from LAX to SJO and it cost around $280.
I only had $240 that my mom gave me on my wallet. I then went to the airline counter which carried me earlier to the States and told my situation, one of the ladies then told me that I had to pay a new round trip ticket around $3000.
There was an Indian man who was travelling back to his hometown in India, stood behind me and noticed the hell I was going through. He encouraged me to speak to the manager of that airline but that person never came out after we wait more than half an hour. By the time when he had to go, I asked him to lend me $40 and wrote down the detail of his bank account and email address. And he was generous to trust me as a stranger he just met.
By this time I was so happy that I could finally buy the ticket, however I was so new to the ticketing price, I thought it would have steady price the whole day, yet it fluctuated within minutes. So I was shocked when the ticket now priced to around $290. Where was I going to get the extra ten bucks? I had a little argument with the lady on the counter and at the same time the people behind were in a hurry and told me to wrap it up. I tried on the different counter, he told me he could give me that price in an hour. So I went out of the line again and wondering and thinking how to get the extra money.
I then hang around the sitting area nearby that airline counter. I spoke to several people and explained them my situation and none of them care. But one of them explained to me about the price fluctuation of airplane ticket.
I decided to sit and chat with a man from Philippines who was attending an IT conference and a woman who seemed indifferent. I had zero expectation that they’d help me. Yet when I saw the green cover of Indonesian passport of that woman, I felt like I saw the one way ticket to Costa Rica was achievable. I asked her right away and our conversation somehow went like this.
“Ibu, saya bolehkan pinjam uang seratus ribu?” Ma’am, can I borrow hundred thousand rupiahs from you?
“Oh? Untuk apa?” Oh? What for?
“Saya dapat salah tiket dan saya mau ke Costa Rica, mau sekolah. Saya cuma punya dua ratus delapan puluh dolar, dan tiketnya tadi dua ratus sembilan puluh bu.” I got a wrong ticket and I’m going to Costa Rica, to study. I have two hundred and eighty dollars and the ticket costs two hundred ninety.
She then opened her wallet and handed me a piece of hundred thousand rupiahs and she did not ask me to returned it. I asked her if she was sure with it and she responded to me,”When we are far away from home, Indonesians are just one big family.” I then rushed to the money changer located in the upper floor and got eight dollars in return. When I got back, she shared that she was travelling to Dallas to meet his son who has a career as a doctor there. She also warned me not to leave my luggages unattended.
After that I went back to the counter, this time I was sure that I would get that ticket and no more drama. Guess what? The climax of the story was about to happen. The ticket price went up again and I held my ground debating the lady behind the counter that the cost was more than $290 and why now it kept on changing, it was not fair for me. She kept on repeating, “Ma’am, I cannot help you, I’m sorry.” It crushed me.
A man who stood besides me asked, “What happen?” after hearing my voice raised. Suddenly a hand tapped on my left shoulder and when I turned around, there were two women who looked Latina and one of them asked, “Are you the student who’s going to Costa Rica to learn Spanish?” Well, more than that, but my mouth could only say, “Yes, that’s me!” “Can we please look at your documents, so we can help you to get the ticket?” I then pulled out a document holder that held all my files. They quickly read through and one of them went behind the counter to speak with the lady and showed my documents. During this time I asked them if I could travel with the bus instead of the plane, and one of them said it could take three months to get to Costa Rica. And so, the lady finally gave me the price that I could afford. The man who stood besides me donated some coins too.
It was around 1 am before he left, he introduced himself as Ahmed from Egypt and he asked,”Do you need anything before I go?” I hesitated at first but then I said, “Ahmed, I have no money left on my pocket.” He then pulled out a pile of cash from the left pocket of his short. I thought if he gave me twenty, I’d be very happy and super thankful. It turned out that he pulled out two pieces of hundred dollar bill and handed them to me as well as his name card. After more than twenty hours without food, I finally ate a $6 croissant while waiting for my flight to Miami at 7 am.
When I arrived in San Jose — finally the Costa Rica one — I went first to the baggage claim because my stuffs were in California.
Then I went out of the airport and found my second year from Israel who held a UWC logo on a paper. I stood right in front of her and smiled. “Where are you from?” “Indonesia” A warm and tight hug wrapped my body right away. “We thought we lost you!” And when the bus that carried all of us entered the gate of our campus, one of the second years opened the window and started to yell, “The Indonesian girl is here!” and I could hear it echoing down the hill as other second years running towards our bus to greet their first years.