Asia is considered one of the best regions in the world to be an expatriate. The cost of living is relatively low and the lifestyle often allows for certain luxuries that are out of reach in many other regions. When I first arrived and met persons who have lived here for 10, 20 or 40 years I thought they were all smoking crack or marijuana with lizard tail (if you meet a weed head from Jamaica ask them about that formula as I am not particular to weed myself). In the middle of my battle with parasites in my intestines and a distressed liver the thought of even completing our 3 year stint seemed like a task for which I should be given the Nobel prize; no better yet, I thought the Catholic church should make me a Saint. Now that I am parasite free and my liver is healthy I am loving life in Jakarta. I can now join my colleague expats and enjoy having the full entourage of maid, pool person, gardener, driver and 24 hour security guards. It is nice not having to drive myself and it is fantastic never having to worry about who is at the gate or whether we need a babysitter to go out. An added benefit is the fact that Indonesians are genuinely caring and nice people (I am tired of the word nice but have not identified anything that replaces it just right).
Whenever anyone asks what I love about Indonesia I often start with the people and their nature. I have grown accustomed to most of the local cultures and practices. (One thing I still cannot wrap my head around though, is the fact that a husband can come to the work place of his wife and command her to leave and go back to their village with no real reason outside of proving his manhood. No matter that he is unemployed or does not make enough money to feed the family. But that is not my business so I ignore it with fire burning through my nostrils).
Today’s post is not, however, about how nice Indonesians are or how much I love the lazy life that comes with being an expat in Asia. It is about the fact that as foreigners we are always called upon to respect the local culture even to our own discomfort. Anyone who knows me know that I am a big advocate of understanding and respecting differences but when is enough, enough? When are the needs of my family more important and must take precedence? When do I truly become the employer and set the rules and govern my household for all things, not just those that fit within the culture?
Let us look at a practical example: my kids have been lobbying for a pet and I won’t bore you with the tale of my being scared of dogs and them having to back me against the wall with my own words. (My 12 year old said, “Mummy how can you tell us to always face our fears but you refuse to let us have a dog because you fear them?” With that argument I shut my mouth and started searching for a dog). For a little background: Muslims consider dogs to be unclean. I understand that the real problem lies with mouth of the dog which should never touch the body of a Muslim. Due to this lack of engagement with dogs many Indonesian not only consider them unclean but are also afraid of them.
We explained the situation to the children and told them that we would get the dog if the maid and the driver agree to work in our home with the dog being present. Both staff members agreed to continue working with us and everyone was happy (except me). We started the necessary steps to finding the right dog for our girls. Low and behold I come home this evening and our daughter says that one of the guards have stated that he will leave if we get a dog. First thought in my mind is that we cannot get the dog. But after a few seconds I stop myself and think “what am I doing?” Why must my kids be punished because he makes that choice? We did not fire him. We did not ask him to do anything with the dog.
I respect his culture but I also love my kids and respect the fact that they want a pet. Am I wrong? When is enough, enough. When do our needs trump the personal choice and culture of others? I love our guards but am I willing to crush my kids’ desire to have a pet to keep them? No, I do not think so.
What do you think?
Until next time………….One Love!!!!!!