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In the Sumatran jungle, lessons on the river to school

Children in the Indonesian jungle navigate a mighty river with plenty to entice and scare modern-day Huck Finns: giant barges, invisible logs and deep currents. And crocodiles and poisonous snakes.

October 31, 2009|John M. Glionna

Push. Lift. Wait. Repeat.

Along the way, the brothers often talk about their day or the games they play at home. But when the rowing gets tough, the boat goes silent. They try to stay near shore but often have to venture out into the open river where the currents are stronger.

A weary Fandi sometimes hands the oars over to his brother. Secretly, Alfan would like to row more, but he knows his place.

Yet when the need arises, he said, "I'm ready."

Sometimes, when his older brother is running late, Alfan leaves school without him, knowing his brother will catch a ride with someone. The younger boy takes the sturdy little boat by himself and rows alongside a friend, like a kid trying out a new bike in the neighborhood without supervision.

Many days, the boys arrive at school tired and sweaty after a hard row. But on this afternoon, even with the temperature in the 90s and the humidity stifling, the river was easygoing for the return journey. The boat was mirrored in the calm waters.

Even when the new bridge is finished, Fandi said, he isn't sure he wants to give up his daily row. The trip is quicker on water. The river is what he knows.

The boat pushed on, carrying these two river boys back home. Today, at least, there would be no lighting out for the territory. --

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