Wednesday, May 31, 2017

All The Single Ladies

Do you know that Ally McBeal is depicted as a 28 year old single woman? 28! This will come as a shock to those of you who are born 1987 below. Yes, we are older than Ally McBeal.

From pride and prejudice, to sex and the city, to bridget jones, the story about single women in her 30s is somehow fascinating, funny, sad, a perfect romantic comedy background story. Sometimes though, unfortunately, it feels like a disease. Like, when you are with your extended family and they started saying "this is why women shouldn't pursue a too high of education.. don't tell me you are pursuing a phd now?" or "don't be too picky.. just use your logic".. disease.. now, i don't mean to belittle anyone with this point of view, i do get where that view comes from.

First of all, and perhaps i am speaking only for myself, I DO want to get married and have kids. I am not "avoiding" it, I am somehow just not there yet. I DO open myself to people, meeting new friends, have an open mind etc etc, but as life sometimes is, it's just not clicking yet.  And unfortunately I feel surrounded by a culture of it's better to be unhappily married than happily single.

Second, human beings have been known to connect things that are in fact have no connections (Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and The Righteous Mind - Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt). For example, if your parents do not agree of your relationship with your spouse, and you get married, if something bad happens and you get a divorce, people will automatically say, think, and even believe that the divorce is imminent and even guaranteed. Yet when your parents agreed to your marriage AND you get a divorce, then it's just "wasn't meant to be". Now I come from the culture of parent's blessing is very important and you cant even marry someone without their blessings, but i also came from a divorced parents who had a bad marriage and thus really hard to get their blessings so you see my predicament.

I had an interesting conversation with a female friend of mine, she's happily married, have 2 kids and is half way through her phd. I thought she wouldn't have to handle all that questions, but as it turns out, her family asked her when she was in applying her phd: "what would your husband feel?" and as we were talking, we were like thinking: mmm,, i dunno, proud? no?. So apparently a "too high education" doesn't only strike us single ladies, even married ones have them too.

I really can't help but wonder, why do we teach men they have to be superior to women in everything? money, education, wisdom? does superior mean you are a better human being? one of the default answer I hear often in Indonesia is: it's to protect women. Protect us from what? from trying to contribute to society? from trying to do some good in this world before we are dead? from trying to help our family by doing good in our jobs?  It's very unfortunate that men's sense of self worth is from comparing yourself to somebody else. Shouldn't you be comfortable in your own skin that you can lift up and support another human being? I really do wonder..

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tangible Love


Aaron and I met in Karlsruhe, Germany, in 2010. We were classmates in our master’s program of environmental engineering.  We didn’t even actually get to be boyfriend/girlfriend until about a year into our course. We started out as best friends. We clicked. I get his jokes, he got mine. He likes hanging out in small groups, so did I. He’s German, I’m Indonesian, he’s protestant I am a Muslim, but we clicked.
One of our flat-mate was a Muslim too, but a bit on the dark side. He was always giving lecture on how Islam is the right religion and everything else was “wrong”, he even gave flyers. Long story short, everyone hated him and started alienating him. So one day our neighbor got sick, we think pretty bad to an extent that his mother came to take care of him. So when Aaron and I wanted to go to the supermarket, Aaron asked me that we should go to our neighbor’s and asked him what he needed (food, medicine, etc) and we should buy it for him.  And at first I objected, I told him that he has his mother and he got what he deserves. And Aaron reminded me that he is still a human being and more importantly he’s our neighbor who lives close by and we cannot just neglect him. This reminds me of a story of Muhammad SAW who in a similar story had taken care of an ill neighbor. I was shocked, ashamed and happy that he reminded me to be a good person to everyone. And you guessed right, our Muslim neighbor respected Aaron ever since that day.
When Aaron came to Jakarta back in October 2013, he was "randomly" checked by the immigration at Soekarno-Hatta Airport for a good 45 minutes. I wanted him to stay at my parents’ house, but when I asked my parents whether he could stay in our house, they said no, so he stayed at a hotel. When we were going out to see Jakarta, I asked my family (mom and sisters) whether they would like to join us, they said no. To which I might add, when I went out with Aaron to see Jakarta, I was berated by my sister saying I was not acting “appropriate” going alone with my boyfriend, picking him up at his hotel and going around town to hang out. Again, this is after I asked her everyday whether she would like to join me and Aaron sightseeing in Jakarta. When Aaron finally had to go home, I asked whether he could come by our house to meet the family and my mom said no.
In case you are wondering why my family disapproves of Aaron, I lied, Aaron is not German, he is a black African. Unfortunately I can imagine most of you now “understands” why my parents didn’t want to meet him, why they didn’t approve of him and why he was checked at the immigration; well of course, he’s from Africa, not Germany! Note that what you know about this person so far is only his nationality. 
So what do we know about Africa? That it consist of 54 countries. What do we know about Uganda? I myself haven’t been there so instead of talking let me show you some pictures of Uganda. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so let me show you the pictures which I took from google earth

Google earth, a search engine that anyone of you can use and very easily so. But did we think of those pictures when we first heard of Uganda? Maybe yes, maybe not. For those who choose “not”, maybe these following pictures were more similar to what you had in mind:

Now this is just me searching in google images, nothing fancy, no big research. So to be fair, I searched also the good and bad pictures of our beloved country, Indonesia and here is what I found:

By now you probably get the idea. To be fair, your first thought of Uganda (or Africa in general), is something you cannot control, something that just pops up in your mind. So why is it, that when it comes to Uganda, ONLY the bad pictures were the ones that quickly pop into our minds? I am not saying hunger in Africa doesn’t exist, or that we shouldn’t make it big news, it is. But it seems when it comes to Africa, that’s the ONLY news.
Let us put the pictures side by side, just for a bit of perspective:
The good: (left is Uganda, right in Indonesia)

The Bad: (left is Uganda, right in Indonesia)

Now I am not a news reporter,I am not a researcher, I have never actually been to Africa, I am just a simple girl with a simple mind, and this is my story having a Ugandan boyfriend.
I have wanted to go to Uganda to meet Aaron and his family, the way he came to Jakarta to meet me and my family. But my mom said I cannot go to Uganda. And I cried to Aaron and said at this rate I will probably NEVER go to Uganda and I probably should just go there. I mean, I’m 31; I don’t need my mom's permission anymore. And do you know what he said? He said no. He said I have to respect my mom's wishes and don’t go behind her back and never ever lie to my mom. He said this when I wanted us to get married in Germany, he said this when my mom didn’t want to meet him when he came to Jakarta, he said this when I wanted to go to Uganda and lied to my mom saying I have a business trip to Bangkok. It is ironic to me that he was the one who always stood by my family and my mom's side, no matter what, from the very beginning, and yet my family didn’t even want to meet him let alone get to know him.
I was about to undergo my own research which may add to a string of researches on subconscious bias (read: blink by Malcolm Gladwell or Thinking Slow and Fast by Daniel Kahneman). The research would be: I pretend to broke up with Aaron. And after 6 months or so I would tell my family that my new boyfriend is Australian (I even have the person ready, and he was ready to be my fake boyfriend!). That’s all my family and friends needed to know about him: Australian. Nothing more nothing less... just like they "knew" Aaron, that he's Ugandan. And see what will be their reaction... and I was close of actually doing my so-called “research” but I called it off because what if they ARE happy?? What if they wanted to meet my "Australian boyfriend"? Although that IS the whole point of my "research", but I just couldn’t do it because it involved the bitter truth. Now I understand that Australia is a developed country whereas Uganda is obviously not. But keep in mind, the only thing you know about my Australian boyfriend is just that. His nationality. This brings me to my puzzlement about how people define love by tangible things when love itself is intangible. People define the perfect partner to be one who has money, one who is from your own kind (race, religion). I read once that humans are in a way narcissistic that they want to be friends/marry a person who is most like them.
Some people said matter-of-factly that Aaron should know or at least be aware that a lot of black people who came to Indonesia are drug dealers/drug smugglers, so that he should not be as shocked when he is checked by the immigration. Now think about this, yes this is a fact. And sometimes we cover ourselves in facts to judge people who have nothing to do with that fact. What I mean by this is: it is a fact that some black African who came to Indonesia are drug smugglers. So think about this: what does the drug smugglers and Aaron have in common? 1. Their skin color 2. They come from the same continent. You do realize that is like saying I am linked to Khmer Rouge Regime, because I have the same skin color and I come from the same continent: Asia. It is also a fact that famine still happen in Africa (and also in Indonesia), but the thing is, that's not the ONLY fact, and we seem to think it is. If I may quote from Daniel Kahnemann, What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI).
To make an analogy, since I am born in Indonesia, does that mean I am corrupt? Let’s consider this: will we like it if it we were judged as corrupt people (because Indonesia is the number 2 most corrupt country)? What if we go to Europe for instance and we were "randomly" selected because we are Indonesians and were forced to show immigration our bank accounts, our work and letter from our employer that we actually work there, our salary slips, only because of the bias of "Indonesians are corrupt"? some of you would probably say: we wouldn’t mind, it's just to show our bank accounts, and if we are not corrupt, go ahead and prove it, all the better. Sure, I can give you that. But what if this happens not only in Europe? But in USA? Japan? ASEAN? Latin America? The world? Would we then be forever in hatred because we were born in the wrong country? Something that we in fact cannot choose? So for black Africans, they HAVE to know that the other black Africans who came to Indonesia are drug smugglers and therefore since you are black African, you should be okay if you are checked at immigration because you should be aware that some black Africans are drug smugglers (fact: population of Africa is 1.1 billion). And do you know what links the African drug dealer and Aaron? They are both from Africa; a continent with 54 countries. So why is it that the same does not happen to us with corruption? Why not? Are we not at fault because most of Indonesians are corrupt? No? Then what about the black Africans? Aren’t they at fault because some of their country mates are drug smugglers? It is a fact, isn’t it? That we are a country with number 2 ranks in the world of corruption? So why aren’t we treated the way black Africans are treated? 
Think about this, why don’t we put the same logic of prejudice to other races? We know that the person who shot innocent people in the movie theater in Colorado was white American, who shot and killed 20 children is a white American (Adam Lanza), the Unabomber is a Harvard-graduate white American, who shot teenagers in an island called Utoya in Norway, killing 67 people and injuring 33 others is a white Norwegian, do I really need to put Hitler in this list? Do we for 1 second, put the prejudice towards them? No. Now what boggles my mind is: why? why do we have this perception towards ALL black Africans because of a few black African, but when it comes to the other race, we simply don’t.
Another example, my little sister works at an animal clinic, the head doctor and who own the place is Indonesian with Chinese heritage ( I don’t like saying chinese-indonesian as I don’t like the word african-american, because how may family lineage would you have to go through to be just an "American"? and how come there are no british-american, german-american? it seems like it doesn’t matter where you were born and raised, or where you think "home" is.. if you don’t look like us, you will never be us. even the Indians who were there first is now called native-American.. why can't they all be "American"?). So back to the doctor, so my dad thinks what my little sister is a "slave" in that clinic, because she worked for 72 hours per week. And his comment was "of course, the head doctor is Chinese"... so I replied: "so if the head doctor is Javanese, he/she won’t do the same thing" and what surprised me was he answered yes with a conviction so strong he practically believed Javanese person won’t do a horrible thing. So I continued, so you are saying a Javanese person won’t do that? He again answered yes.
Before we start claiming we are not racist, let’s look again of what that word mean. According to Google search, it is "the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races." or "prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior." . I hate to break it to you, but what my dad did, believing with his might that a Javanese head doctor will do so much good/ at least better than the Chinese doctor, is in fact, and by definition is racism. 

Now usually, we claim we do not hold prejudice when we are in our comfort zone. WE admit to ourselves that we always act fair and square when it comes to another race. But do we? My mom, who flinched when she saw "12 years a slave" movie and demanded why slavery was legal (back then), do not want to meet my black African boyfriend. It puzzles me. When it comes to her daughter, is she racist? At first I denied it, the word racism feels so negative to me; it is too degenerating for my mother who loves Oprah Winfrey. But alas, for me to marry a black African is wrong. Now, let’s look at the fact. Why is it wrong?
This brings me back to "tangible love". My mother feels safe knowing that I will marry a Javanese (preferably with a Javanese name to further proof he is in fact Javanese), a Muslim, with a steady job. The fact that she is divorced with my dad who is in fact a Javanese, a Muslim with a steady job, doesn’t for a minute, deter her conviction that those 3 things will make me happy, that those 3 tangible things are ground for a good and safe marriage. Again, I am at awe and frustrated how this works. Let’s take another example of a friend of mine, who married an Indonesian Muslim, came from a wealthy family, yet he cheats on her and they live in separate houses though still married, wants me and even prays for me to marry a Muslim man. Or another friend of mine who commented that why on earth I would want to be with an African where considering I am pretty (her words, not mine), I could snatch an Indonesian guy. Or one of my best friend who said she understood how my mom feels because she would cry (again, her words, not mine) if her daughter married a black African.  Not a drug dealer, a wife-beater, a cheater, but an African! It’s like a nationality can tell you what the person is like.  The thing that bothers me so much is that it didn’t matter to her if this African is a good person, a loving father, a responsible husband, perception just blocks it out and all you see is “African” (What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI)).
It is most unfortunate that I still have anger within me to my family and friends (and the world) and I’m going to explain why. I’m not angry that Aaron and I broke up and I’m not blaming you (we just weren’t meant to be, and it’s really hard finding a job in another country, I will blame on logistics =D). I’m angry that they did not even take a CHANCE by getting to know him and then say no. And I feel sad and disappointed that they did not meet and know this wonderful human being. 
I don’t like seeing the world through his eyes, and I want to change that, starting with those closest to me. Because whether you like it or not, you are judging this wonderful human being by something he cannot choose: his skin color and where he was born. This reminds me of what Aaron said, he said don’t blame them for thinking that, they are accustomed to thinking Africa as a poor, corrupt, war continent. It is not their fault they watched TV that showed Africa in a negative way. And it is not their fault thinking their beautiful daughter/niece/friend is too good to marry an African (kind of like I “married down” whereas marrying an American/German/Australian I would “married up”). It is sad to me that he is accustomed to this kind of treatment, this kind of bias, when I think he shouldn’t be.
Did you know that most CEOs are tall (source: Blink-Malcolm Gladwell)? Yes, because of subconscious bias, we think that short people aren’t CEO material. Of course short and brain has little connection but that's the bias we make and we have to STOP making. And the point here is not whether the tall or short person can/cannot be a CEO, the point is that they BOTH should have the same CHANCES. But until now, the short one has to work harder than the tall one, to prove he is CEO worthy. And in my case, Aaron couldn’t even prove he was worthy. He didn’t even get that chance. 

Malcolm Gladwell on Oprah:
Malcolm decided to put himself to the test about his feelings toward African-Americans. He was shocked by his results.
The test told him he had a moderate preference for white people. "In other words, I was biased—slightly biased—against black people … which horrified me because my mom's Jamaican," he says. "The person in my life who [I] … love almost more than anyone else is black, and here I was taking a test, which said, frankly, I wasn't too crazy about black people."
Malcolm took the test again. He found he couldn't "cheat the test" and got the same results. "Those kinds of snap decisions that make up so much discrimination or … our thoughts and feelings, they're a product of the worlds we live in," Malcolm says. "And if you live in a world, as we do, where you … turn on the television and you see a TV show and the crack dealer's always a black guy and the judge is always a white person … those images start to matter. They start to change the way the software in your head works. And that's regardless of what race you are."
Read more:
For the test mentioned above, go to:
And take the “Race – IAT” Test