Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Greatness of Cooperation

Intro: This post is not meant to ignore those who are single parents and/or who have chosen celibacy over partnership, but to admire the effort of those who had fought to stay in a relationship. In life, all choices are reflective towards a personal journey, and through this post, I reflect mine.


I had the honour to meet a prominent Indonesian scholar living abroad, who visited Jakarta a while with his wife. I asked what her occupation was, and her reply: "Saya sih cuma ibu rumah tangga."

Her words may perhaps be just an effort of humility or a complex response towards an ideological concept, but, I apologise, an 'ibu rumah tangga' is not 'cuma'. When I see their closeness and how far they must have gone together, from raising children to adjusting in a land not their native - it must have been a great deal of cooperation that had successfully led them to staying together.

I have also read of Dahlia Mogahed, Esposito's co-writer for the worldwide success 'Who Speaks for Islam?' and current advisor to Obama's administration, whose doctor husband chose to stay at home for the children after the success of his wife. All I can see is the greatness of their cooperation.

Nobody is 'staying behind' as in their minds they are a team, a unit. They are individuals and yet together they strive for something bigger than the both of them. Without the support of the partner, their achievements (for a lack of a better word) wouldn't have been possible. I remember Arya mentioning that in a relationship, there is no concept of 'ngalah' as a relationship is not a competition with losing and winning, but a cooperation driven by communication, understanding and friendship.

It does make sense my father's words, when he said to me during my teens, "Kalau mau memahami keberhasilan seseorang, lihat dulu pasangannya siapa."

Words of wisdom spoken from his own 33 years of marriage.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Islam and Universal Human Rights

Ever since I had been exposed to the concept 'Universal Human Rights', I always have been reserved to the concept. Elanor Roosevelt was the first person who had realised that in the world, despite different nationality, cultural values, religious inclination, victimisation is a shared phenomenon. And it was with that spirit that she had established the concept.

Coming from a social and cultural studies background, I have always been uncomfortable with the term 'universal', which refers to it being applicable to ALL members of the society - society being those living on earth. So nationality, cultural identity, religion, class all become obsolete within the concept of universality. This is the basic logic that I couldn't fully grasp.

But when I read about honour killing in several societies predominantly Islam, I am realised about my ignorance. In certain contexts, the ensuring of a basic human right, the right to live, to be treated as a human being, as someone with thoughts and hopes and fears and doubts, the right to choose to live, is still ignored. And these victims, victims of the hegemonic ideas in their societies, do deserve protection.

And that these killings are motivated by religion, they say (or their concept thereof), is beyond me. Religion is brought for peace (even the world Islam, salam, relates to the concept of peace. Islamic greets refer to 'peace be upon you'. It is within the particulars and in the generals of Islam).

I read of how Muhammad had always asked advice from his wife, which frequently astounded his companions, as women at that time were not treated with such 'honour'.
I read of how Muhammad washed his own clothes, helped with house chores and cleaned up his own dishes. That domestic work is an honour for him.
I read of how Muhammad protected the rights of women to work.
I read of how Muhammad ensured that, even before Western civilisation did, women are entitled to receive inheritance.

And I cannot fathom, through which part of Islam and how it was practiced by the Prophet, who had communicated the idea, could validate practices such as honour killing. These women were raped and then murdered for having disgraced the family. These women were killed for trying to divorce their husbands for having been beaten up. These women were killed because they refused to be wed to someone they didn't choose.

I believe, based on so little of what I have read, that Islam has always sided with the marginalised. Not only in the cases of how women had been marginalised in the 600s but also Islam's fight against slavery and class divisions. All of which are social marginalisations which had not yet been thought of in Western scholarship.

And it 's painful for me to see that its application in the modern world drifted away, I think, from the fundaments it had been built upon.

I know that belief is subjective to the holder, but when it comes to people who are suffering, I think we all need to try and see the bigger picture. Even if it only comes out in the form of words, without any power to go further than that, it has to start somewhere.

I Love My Job

I have two definite trips to Canberra this year (LDP).
One tentative trip to Malaka (i-Come).
One tentative trip to Adelaide (ASAA).
One tentative trip to Singapore (AMIC).

Trips are short, hopefully not tough on Malik (and his Dad).
I am so loving my job this moment :)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Challenge of Being a Traveling Parent

I am currently overseas for work and it's the first time I've left Malik on his own at home. Well, there's Arya and the nanny and family, so logistically everything should be (and is) alright. But still...

I just realised, through a conversation with a colleague, that almost all flexible career lines (e.g. researcher, lecturer, consultant) requires traveling. In the context of parenting, full time jobs limit the time you spend with your children but at the same time you aren't required to travel that often (well, some full time jobs as well, like my mother. But she rarely works overtime like some people I know who work in the industry). Flexible jobs, like what I'm doing now, allows me to play with Malik in the middle of the day, finish teaching on 2pm and go home, but then I would have to travel more than if I chose a full time job.

Don't get me wrong, I consider myself a traveler, ever since leaving the Jakarta in 2005 I have always enjoyed traveling. I love the feeling of discovery, being exposed to different cultures and customs, going through the airport and meeting new people. I like the feeling of being challenged and at the end be a stronger human being with stronger values. But when you're a mother, it's a challenge to be able to 'compartmentalise' your thoughts in order to perform your roles well (well! Not even excellent) in public and private spaces.

Oh, and how compartmentalising your thoughts, especially if you are a parent (mothers maybe have it harder because we had been physically connected to our children) or have dependants, is the ultimate challenge.

It's one thing to leave your partner, as they are independent individuals able to care for themselves. It's another to leave your son, who somewhat depends on an able adult for his well being. So when I leave, I am taking away part of his support system with him.

I remember that feeling of seeing Malik cry as I left the house and holding back tears until your chest hurts because you know your crying would make him feel more confused. The small voice in the back of your head saying, "Are you nuts? You're his mother and you're abandoning him!"

And then I remembered my first day of work when Malik was one month old. At first I felt guilt for having to leave him for something not of his direct gain. And then I felt guilty for feeling... Hmm, 'saner' for having left the house a couple of hours to teach. When I told Arya this, his response, as always, was logical and calming.

A: Kamu kerja untuk apa dulu? Untung uang? Uangnya untuk siapa? Untuk ngembangin diri? Bagus untuk siapa?

The questions all lead to one person: Malik.

So then I also need to remember another thing. That my aim, at the end, is to raise him to be an independent individual as well. Like my parents had done for me and Arya's parents had done for him. An individual able to find a solution to his problems independently, who is able to care for himself and make tough decisions and take in the consequences. Who is able to survive without his support system.

Training these skills is a process of 'weaning', for Malik as much as it is for me (and Arya).

And you know what, I think all three of us did a good job. We maintain daily (2-3 times a day) communication and Arya seems to be enjoying his quality time with Malik. But most of all, in terms of performing considerably well (no one is stressed hehe) and supporting each other.

That Malik is comfortable, confident even without one of his parents is one step for him to become an independent person. And I felt that I learned something as well.

The thing is, we can never control the chain reactions that may be resulted from our decisions. But we can, however, control the intentions upon which our decisions were based on. And I do believe that if we begin with the best of intentions, even the youngest of souls can understand that.

That I work for his well being, physically and mentally. I would like to give a good example by working hard, both in the public and in the private. That even after a long day, I would still feed him, bathe him and tuck him in. I would still be able to manage my stress and tend to him in any way possible. That by being productive, he too will find a way to be productive. That by learning more, I will too become a better teacher for him.

It goes the same way for my partner. That by feeling his support, I will too, tirelessly, unquestionably, unconditionally support him in any way I know how.

I do believe that life is about learning. And learning is a process of simply being a better person that the day before and knowing you will do better the next day. It's never about the superficial achievements that we are so easily swayed on. It's about the emotional and spiritual growth we are blessed with for knowing what to do. With love, with sincerity and with the best of intentions.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

And Yet Another Tragedy for the Poor

Working on today's UNICEF Daily Report, I stumbled upon an article in Kompas, whose lead said:

Jakarta, Kompas - Sindikat penjahat internasional diduga menculik anak dan anak balita Indonesia untuk kepentingan perdagangan organ tubuh. Seorang bocah Indonesia diketahui saat ini berada di Tokyo, Jepang, dengan keadaan kehilangan satu ginjal dan memiliki luka bedah di pinggang.

I couldn't help thinking and not understanding the logic behind the fact that such acts are only possible should the parties feel their lives and health are worth more than the lives and health of those they took from (masa sih mereka ngga nanya, darimana ginjal mereka diperoleh? My assumption is they choose to turn a blind eye, albeit to save a loved one, at the same time taking a loved one from someone else).

Market-based economy believes that without demand, there will never be supply.

Honestly, who is responsible to protect the poor? If they are the most marginalised in terms of obtaining their basic human rights, due to a system failing them, whose responsibility is it?

When considering this fact, with the amount of problems the country (and the world) is facing, people should be campaigning against their election instead of wanting to be elected for an administrative position. On their shoulders lie a huge burden. I just hope they are reminded every second that this is what they signed up for.

And I will continue to responsibly and consciously pay my taxes in the hope that aside from blabbering insignificantly on my personal blog, I am also doing my part in the process.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Good in All People

I believe in the good in all people

I think it's not that the privilidged don't care
I think it's either they don't know
Or they don't know how to

Feeling helpless and eventually desensitised
At the end accepting unwillingly
That all disparity is an inevitable part of social reality

And that we can't do anything about it

I promise myself
That I would do something real one day
If not soon

To mobilise those who don't know
Including myself

To realise that they, we, have power
To do something more
Something real

Something more
Than just leaving things be

Something more
Than turning a blind eye

Something more
Than sighing to ourselves
And thinking
Kasihan yah

I believe in the good in all people
I believe in the good in all people
I believe in the good in all people

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A Lifetime of Caregiving

"Human beings are the only creatures that allow their children to come home."
- Bill Cosby (1937 - )

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Democracy of Islam

After making peace (for the moment) with my suspicion towards the Orientalism of Western ideology, I think I can see (at least) one thing in common between democracy and Islam.

Lakum dinukum waliyadin (Al Kafirun, 109: 6).
To you your religion; to me mine.

That difference is inevitable and that it is the task of all Moslems to ensure that difference is accompanied with tolerance. It reminds me of Voltaire's "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend (...) your right to say it".

The Quran mentions that absolute truth is God's alone. I argue then that according to Islam (or the little I know of it), human truth is socially constructed - which relates to its relativity. In this sense, postmodernist Walter T. Anderson's neo-romantic notion in which truth 'is found either through attaining harmony with nature and/or spiritual exploration of the inner self' seems like a fine closure.

It is true, that if we look closely enough, there are indeed signs for those who wish to see. Although you cannot rationalise faith, it is possible to use your logic to find something greater than all of us.

Surely, there are signs in this for people who contemplate (Al Mu'min, 40: 54).

Mommies Daily Article #1

The Question Behind Motherhood and Career

Choices, like every other thing in life, are often irreversible and consequential. They do not always allow avoiding mistakes but it almost always results in personal growth. Human error is inevitable. But it comes with the chance to learn.

I came to think about a woman’s choice to domestic life. A good friend of mine, early thirties, Eastern European, career woman, asked me one day, “What do you think of women wanting to become house wives? After all their education, work and self-actualization in society – they consciously choose the role of being a stay-at-home mom?”

Feminism has forced us, the women of the 21st century, to look down on domestic life. Our great grandmothers had clawed and bled to give us the freedom and opportunity to study and compete alongside men, to speak our mind and be respected for our thoughts – it seems only fair for us to revel in self-actualization and avoid domesticating ourselves after marriage (if we marry at all!).

Or is it?

Before marriage (or any other lifetime commitment), we all learned how to stand on our own two feet. My priority is me. I must learn effectively and efficiently the ‘how to-s’ of surviving the competition. To be independent and even dependable financially, professionally, intellectually – all aspects regarded as direct contribution to the social system.

But after marriage, naturally things took a turn.

On those days of scrubbing and paying the bills, I have gained respect to both lives. My life as someone’s companion and my life as someone’s co-worker. It is just as hard to maintain a healthy relationship with food on the table, deep conversations over coffee, who cleans what, when, and which space is whose. That of dreams, wonders, fears, plans, sincerity and sharing is, to me, as hard as, if not harder than, working overtime due to a hardcore deadline and presenting a proposal the next morning in a language not your native.

It is, then, a matter of priority. Priorities shift with time and is relative with each person. Each person possesses different sets of framework and each cannot be imposed on the other. That’s the art of it. A woman letting go of her chances to become productive in society to raise a child 24-7 is not less than those who choose career. She dedicates her life to the betterment of another’s without easily acknowledged personal advantage. Such sincerity and courage is not to be looked down on. A woman letting go of her chances to give birth or raise a child to be useful for hundreds or even thousands of other people is not be looked down by those who choose to raise a family. She dedicates her life to the betterment of others whom she might not gain advantage from. Such sincerity and courage is not to be looked down on.

Then there’s someone like my mother. Who does both and juggles her life as a leader and her life as a mother to a teenager going through what might be the roughest time in his life. A woman who lives with the thought of not being able to give 100% to either roles, regardless of how good the results are, is also not less than either choices. Such sincerity and courage is not to be looked down on.

Neither is less than on the other is just as true as the expressing ‘none the wiser’. They are all equals with trials and errors and learning and failing – strength is too relative to judge with limited indicators. At the end of the day, I think as mothers and mothers-to-be, we need to decide the consequences we can live with. Which choices we can fully embrace, along with is pros and cons, worst case scenarios, and what-have-yous. After all, becoming a mother is about choice. And choices are with but one characteristic.

You can never have it all.


Inaya Rakhmani

PhD candidate, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia
Lecturer, Universitas Indonesia

Mother of Malik, 20 months


The article is a repost. For the original, go here

Desireless Contentment

I can't remember exactly when, but the drive that used to make me move fast in accomplishing things seem to have died down. I can remember my losing all interest in achieving anything during my late pregnancy. I can also remember taking things very easy during my Masters studies. But I know one thing for sure: I am no longer ambitious. I used to be, I can remember feeling very competitive in my early twenties. But now, I no longer have any desire to achieve anything.

I: Do you think that's weird?
A: For you, yes.

In another conversation with a different person;

I: *selesai cerita*
D: I think you're just content.

Maybe. I don't think it matters why. I've come to terms that it's a nice feeling. Not wanting anything more. That whatever I have now is simply... Enough.

I know that more money does not raise my welfare - my state of mind defines that.

I know that a PhD, a stable career, acknowledgments do not define me - my acts and thoughts in personal trials do.

I know that knowledge is useless without the ability to implement it or transfer it to someone else - that I am merely a small part of a larger scheme.

I know that the cause of raising a child is lost without the realisation that our children are not property - they exist as reminders that we are all temporary and in their hands lie the future.


In relation to that, I think I've figured why my relationship with Arya works. We both share the value that social construction means nothing. That what matters is how we think, what we believe in. We could be in the most different fields of work and we would still understand each other as we wear the same glasses with which we see the world. That in each other lie reminders for us to be, simply, better human beings. To whom status, money, knowledge, mean nothing. And through humility, sincerity, selflessness may we find contentment. Not wanting anything more. Knowing that this is enough to be a better person.

I call it faith.