Chubby Barry Soetoro in Jakarta, Indonesia – 2.5 years at Santo Fransiskus Asisi (Roman Catholic school) – Gay transvestite nanny “Evie” joins Fantastic Dolls – Obama and Saint Francis
Source: The Washington Post
Catholic school in Indonesia seeks recognition for its role in Obama’s life
By Andrew Higgins
Friday, April 9, 2010
JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Long shadowed in the United States by dark rumors that he attended a radical Muslim school while growing up in Indonesia, President Obama faces pressure from some old school pals to finally come clean about the past.
“The truth is clear,” said Indra Madewa, the president’s childhood neighbor, who played daily with the boy he knew as “Barry,” a chubby American from Hawaii. “We know he’s busy, but we just want to refresh his memory.”
What Madewa and other old friends want to remind Obama about won’t bring any joy to those in the United States who contend that the president is a closet Muslim. The truth, they say, is this: While Obama went to Besuki, a mostly Muslim school, for less than a year, he spent most of his four years in Indonesia studying at Santo Fransiskus Asisi, a Roman Catholic school run at the time by a stern Dutch priest. Classes began and ended each day with Christian prayers.
That Obama went to a Catholic elementary school for a time while living in Jakarta from 1967 to 1971 has long been known. But this part of the presidential biography has largely been reduced to a footnote, thanks to the energetic self-promotion of its rival, Besuki, which is in one of Jakarta’s wealthiest districts.
When the White House made plans for a March presidential trip to the world’s most populous Muslim nation, it scheduled a visit to Besuki, not to the “wrong side of the tracks” Catholic school where Obama spent far more time. “They are very good at marketing” their presidential ties, said Yustina Amirah, principal of the Asisi school.
Despite Obama’s much deeper ties to Asisi, Besuki has garnered most of the attention — not all of it welcome.
During the 2008 campaign, some critics repeatedly asserted that Obama had attended an “Islamic madrassa” as a boy in Indonesia. Since the Catholic school seemed an unlikely place to chant the Koran, the spotlight fell on Besuki, which at least had a mosque.
Appalled by suggestions that their alma mater was a hotbed of hard-line Islam, Besuki’s well-connected and often wealthy alumni rallied to set the record straight — and claim Obama as their own. In the process, Santo Fransiskus Asisi (or Saint Francis of Assisi) mostly got written out of the script.
When Obama won the election, the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, Cameron R. Hume, visited Besuki, not Asisi. When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Indonesia in February 2009, Indonesian officials and the U.S. Embassy arranged for pupils from Besuki to greet her at the Jakarta airport. Besuki’s place on the presidential itinerary for the March trip, which has been postponed until later this year, was the latest slight for Asisi.
Fed up with being airbrushed out of the picture, the Catholic school finally decided to push back. “I said, ‘This is not fair: We have to do something,’ ” recalled Boy Garibaldi Thohir, an Asisi graduate who, in addition to running an energy company, is spearheading a drive to reclaim Obama for St. Francis.
“Facts are facts,” he said. “We want to explain to the world a fact of life: Obama went to Asisi for nearly three years.”
Late last year, Thohir, who didn’t know Obama, teamed with Madewa and others who did in an effort to put Asisi back on the map. They sent letters to the White House, the State Department and the U.S. Embassy and produced a video celebrating Obama’s ties to Asisi. The school recently put up a big board outside his first-grade classroom; it features inspirational quotes from Obama and Saint Francis.
Karen Brooks, an old friend of Thohir’s who served on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush and now works as a consultant, offered tips to the Asisi camp on how to pitch the school’s appeal.
On a recent trip to Jakarta, Brooks said that Asisi deserves recognition as a “microcosm of Indonesian life”: a Catholic school with a student body of Christians, Muslims and children of other faiths. Thohir, for example, is a Muslim.
Besuki boosters insist they never intended to steal Asisi’s thunder. But, said Besuki’s principal, Hasimah, “this school represents Indonesia.”
Unlike Asisi, a private institution with a big church, Besuki is run by the state, has a mosque and, though also attended by Christians, it is more in line with the general orientation of a country with more than 200 million Muslims. At assembly on Monday mornings, the principal broadcasts the national anthem and a song of praise to Obama over loudspeakers in Besuki’s playground.
The two schools are also divided by class. Besuki, located in the upscale Menteng neighborhood, just a short walk from the grand official residence of the U.S. ambassador, was founded under Dutch colonial rule as a school for the elite. It continued this role after independence, educating the children of officials, businessmen, doctors and other well-to-do residents of Menteng.
Asisi is hidden down the windy, narrow streets of the much more downscale Menteng-Dalam neighborhood. Its pupils are not poor; they have to pay modest fees. But, particularly in Obama’s day, they have mostly come from less-privileged families than the kids at Besuki.
Obama has kept his distance from Jakarta’s uptown-downtown wrangling, but he has dropped a few hints. In his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” he wrote of a “joyous time” when he “went to local Indonesia schools and ran the streets with children of farmers, servants, tailors, and clerks.” Asisi activists have taken this as a veiled endorsement of the Catholic school and its more humble clientele.
“They had shoes. We went barefoot or in sandals,” said Madewa, Obama’s boyhood neighbor. Since becoming president, Obama has spoken several times of his fond memories of Menteng-Dalam, a clear sign, Asisi activists think, of his affection for their Catholic school.
But this hasn’t fazed Besuki backers. Ron Muller, an American who runs Mexican restaurants in Jakarta, formed the “Friends of Obama Foundation” and put up a plaque at the entrance to Besuki hailing the school’s links to the president.
Muller, who has never met Obama, last year commissioned a bronze statue of the president as a boy. It was originally put in a Menteng public park but has been relocated to Besuki, after an outcry on Facebook and threats of legal action from critics who complained that only Indonesian heroes deserve such an honor.
Obama moved to Indonesia in 1967 with his mother, American anthropologist Ann Dunham, and his Indonesian stepfather, Lolo Soetoro. They lived in a single-story rented house in Menteng-Dalam.
An old school registry at Asisi records how, under the name “Barry Soetoro,” he entered first grade at the start of the school year on Jan. 1, 1968. He was registered as a Muslim, based on his stepfather’s faith. All students, no matter what their religion, attended Christian services.
Sometime in the third grade, Obama’s mother moved up-market to Menteng. Obama switched schools to Besuki. He returned to the United States less than a year later. Exactly how many months he spent at Besuki is not known; the school’s registration records were destroyed years ago by flooding.
While at Besuki, Obama received instruction in Islam. But, recalled Rully Dasaad, a former classmate, Obama horsed around in class and, during readings of the Koran, got “laughed at because of his funny pronunciation.” Dasaad later converted to Christianity.
Like many Besuki kids, Dasaad came from privilege. In the 1960s, his family owned one of Jakarta’s two Cadillacs. Other well-to-do alumni include the heads of Indonesia’s national airline and the national mint, and members of parliament.
Besuki has another asset Asisi can’t match: photos of Obama at its school. “They can say what they want, but we have pictures,” said Hiramsyah Thaib, head of the Besuki alumni association.
When a Besuki classmate sent several old photos to the White House last year, the president responded with a personal thank-you note. “I enjoyed your photos. It seems like only yesterday I was playing with my classmates in Jakarta,” he wrote.
Nurmaria Sarosa, an Obama classmate at Asisi, said the absence of any photographic record of the president’s time at the Catholic school has merely boosted its status as a righteous underdog: Only rich kids had cameras in the 1960s.
“Nobody had a camera back then at Asisi,” Sarosa said.
Source: The New York Times
Obama Visits a Nation That Knew Him as Barry
President Obama attended Santo Fransiskus Asisi, a Roman Catholic school, as a child. He will visit Jakarta on Tuesday.
by NORIMITSU ONISHI
Published: November 8, 2010
JAKARTA, Indonesia — The two houses where he spent part of his boyhood stand pretty much the way they did when he went back to Hawaii four decades ago. The two schools he attended have grown larger but, in spirit, remain unchanged. Some of his old friends can still be found around the neighborhood.
Near one of his homes here, the same family still runs a wooden stall selling gado-gado, an Indonesian salad covered in peanut sauce. Agus Salam, who took over the business from his mother years ago, played soccer with the American boy everybody here called Barry.
“His house — all the houses around here — haven’t changed,” said Mr. Salam, 56.
When President Obama visits Jakarta on Tuesday, he will find a city that, in some ways, has changed beyond recognition. A city of one luxury hotel and one shopping mall when Mr. Obama lived here between 1967 and 1971, Jakarta is now the overextended and overcrowded capital of the world’s fourth most populous nation. But Jakarta’s neighborhoods, including the two where Mr. Obama lived, retain enough of their former selves that the president would quickly find his bearings.
Jakarta regards Mr. Obama as a local boy made good, and he remains extremely popular throughout Indonesia. But his last-minute postponements of three previously planned visits here have clearly sapped the enthusiasm surrounding his homecoming, even among his most ardent supporters.
“He’s not as popular here as he was before,” Mr. Salam said.
In 1967, Indonesia was still reeling from the aftershocks of an attempted Communist coup that led to the killing of at least 500,000 people. Suharto, the general who would rule Indonesia through the late 1990s, was about to assume power and launch an authoritarian era called the New Order.
Mr. Obama, his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, and his Indonesian stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, moved into a one-story house in a district called Menteng-Dalam. At the time, it was a new neighborhood where natives of Jakarta, known as Betawis, lived with an increasing number of newcomers from different corners of Java and Sumatra, the main islands in Indonesia. The area was connected to the electric grid only a couple of years before Mr. Obama moved in.
“It was a very poor area when the family came here,” said Coenraad Satjakoesoemah, 79, a retired airline manager and a neighborhood leader. “There were still dirt roads, only a few houses and lots of large trees.”
In Mr. Satjakoesoemah’s living room, Mr. Obama’s mother taught English to the neighborhood women, including his wife, Djumiati. While the residents regarded Mr. Obama’s mother as a “free spirit,” Barry, who was chubby, was referred to as the “boy who runs like a duck,” said Mrs. Satjakoesoemah, 69.
Mr. Obama, the couple said, attended school with children who could not afford to buy shoes.
The school — Santo Fransiskus Asisi, a Roman Catholic school that had been founded just in 1967 — is still located a couple of blocks away. When the 6-year-old Barry entered the school, there were only three grades with a total of 150 students. Now, about 1,300 students from kindergarten through high school study there, said the principal, Yustina Amirah. Mr. Obama has spoken about growing up here and hearing the Muslim call to prayer, but Ms. Amirah said that since the school’s founding, everyone had hewed to the institution’s official religion.
“Barry followed church services like everybody else,” Ms. Amirah said.
Sometime in the third grade, after his family moved to a different part of the city, Mr. Obama transferred to Elementary School Menteng 1, possibly the most famous primary school in Indonesia. Founded as a Dutch colonial school in 1934, it has long drawn the children of the country’s ruling class because of its location in Menteng, traditionally the wealthiest residential neighborhood in Jakarta.
Nowadays, though many wealthy Indonesians send their children to international schools here, the Menteng public school still draws the children of the elite, so much so that the principal, Hasimah, said she could “count on one hand” the students, out of a total of 400, who are not driven to school every day by their parents or drivers.
A mosque was built on the school grounds in 2002, a sign of the growing influence of Islam in Indonesia’s public life. But the school four decades ago did not even have a prayer room, in keeping with the state’s secularism at the time, Ms. Hasimah and students from the era said.
During the presidential campaign of 2008, right-wing American groups spread rumors that Mr. Obama had attended a radical madrasa while living here. Though most of the Menteng school’s students have always been Muslim, Rully Dasaad, 49, a former classmate, chuckled at the idea that of all schools in the country, Menteng was equated with a madras.
“I was brought to school in a Cadillac,” Mr. Dasaad said.
But Mr. Obama’s family did not live in the exclusive Menteng district. The family stayed instead in a far humbler neighborhood called Matraman-Dalam, on a short block of single-story, detached houses, a stone’s throw from a traditional Indonesian neighborhood of narrow, winding streets.
Though he lived in that neighborhood for only two years, Mr. Obama left a lasting impression because of his outgoing and sometimes rowdy personality.
“Barry was so naughty that my father even scolded him one time,” said Sonni Gondokusumo, 49, a former neighbor and classmate.
Mr. Obama’s family rented the guest house inside a compound belonging to a prominent physician. There, according to the neighborhood’s longtime residents, the young Obama, who had already experienced differences in class and religion in his short stay in Indonesia, was exposed to another aspect of Jakarta’s diversity.
His nanny was an openly gay man who, in keeping with Indonesia’s relaxed attitudes toward homosexuality, carried on an affair with a local butcher, longtime residents said. The nanny later joined a group of transvestites called Fantastic Dolls, who, like the many transvestites who remain fixtures of Jakarta’s streetscape, entertained people by dancing and playing volleyball.
In the compound, Mr. Obama often played with the two sons of the physician’s driver.
One time, recalled the elder son, Slamet Januadi, now 52, Mr. Obama asked a group of boys whether they wanted to grow up to be president, a soldier or a businessman. A president would own nothing [as in a Franciscan or Jesuit vow of poverty?] while a soldier would possess weapons and a businessman would have money, the young Obama explained.
Mr. Januadi and his younger brother, both of whom later joined the Indonesian military, said they wanted to become soldiers. Another boy, a future banker, said he would become a businessman.
“Then Barry said he would become president and order the soldier to guard him and the businessman to use his money to build him something,” Mr. Januadi said. “We told him, ‘You cheated. You didn’t give us those details.’ ”
“But we all became what we said we would,” he said.