A sudden pang hit me in the very pit of my stomach just now as a few boxes were delivered to our apartment in the anticipation that we may wish to pack a few belongings ourselves. Reality is sinking in.. we are leaving. And soon. Well, we are leaving in early January after a little holiday but our uplift (i.e., when all of our belongings are removed) is in 3 weeks!
The first pang arose during the property survey conducted by Allied Pickford a few weeks back. The rep walked in created an inventory and provided dates for the uplift.
The second pang hit when we gave our domestic staff notice, provided references and advertised their services widely within the expat and Embassy communities. That was difficult because we know that if they do not secure employment there is no Government assistance in this country and that has implications as both are the breadwinners for their families.
The third happened just now and was accompanied by mixed emotions – sadness, excitement, anxiety, happiness all delivered with these boxes!
The next pang will surely emerge during uplift.. and again when we head off on our holiday.. and for the last time when we return to Indonesia, our current home, before we board our final flight to return to… Now what do I call it when it’s not “home”?
Generally speaking, no one likes change. Change is challenging. It’s a process of upheaval of all that is known and familiar and hurls us into the unknown with lashings of anxiety and trepidation. Some worries that I have include no longer connecting with old friends; experiencing difficulty settling back into my old life easily, or not at all; concerns about work and changes to relationship dynamics with my spouse.
The repatriation process is thought to be more stressful and difficult to navigate than the initial move interestingly. Many people believe that returning to your country of origin from your new home will be a smooth transition as you are returning to your old life. But I have changed and evolved as a result of this experience and these new found beliefs are returning with me. My world view is now different – not better just different. The stages of adjustment are claimed to bite harder with repatriation and repats require a lot of support, patience and understanding from loved ones and work colleagues for up to a year after their return.
So, as the title suggests, reality is setting in and fast!
Indonesian culture has a long history of employing domestic staff within Indonesian and expat homes. The term ‘pembantu’ is derived from the term ‘bantu’ meaning ‘help’ and I tell you that our pembantu (Ibu A) is more than ‘help’ she is a godsend.
Employing domestic staff is quite foreign to many expats as culturally it is not the norm at home. Getting used to having a stranger in our home to begin with was quite uncomfortable and sometimes quite well..awkward for me initially. The loss of privacy, negotiating work hours, conditions and salary in addition to feeling like a lazy westerner were just a few things to overcome personally. Ibu A just got on with doing her job.
With her quiet, non intrusive behaviour we began the dance of getting used to one another, expectations for the household and how to be in a space respectfully together. After 2 years we have developed a mutual affection for one another while maintaining a professional distance. We swap stories about family, our countries, cultural expectations and life in general and this has impacted most positively on my world view. Pembantus become family members – if you allow them.
(image: Machael Fanny via Facebook, October 2016)
And that sentiment leads me to this photo. The sight of a pembantu, often a young woman, sitting at a separate table and sometimes even the same table, watching and waiting for her host family to finish eating is quite common in Jakarta. Often we have dined out and witnessed the family all but ignore the pembantu as they tuck in and enjoy their meal. This disturbs me at a basic human level – these women are not well to do and often come to big cities from rural villages to seek emplyment to support their own families. Quite frankly, what’s one extra mouth to feed? The message is that you’re not of value. You don’t matter. Perhaps this signifies placing my own values and beliefs into another cultural context; the fact that this image has been shared via FB 57,000 times may indicate that it hit a nerve with many Indonesians too. Just be prepared to see this – a lot.
Whilst we pay Ibu A above minimum wage, we often throw in an extra bag of rice when grocery shopping, give her unwanted clothing, household appliances or give her our unused and perfectly fresh fruit and vegetables if we no longer need them. We value her and try to demonstrate this by small acts of gratitude. In return, we have found an honest and loyal employee and friend.