By Enda Balina
Many women have to choose between their career or their family at some points of their life. My time to choose came right after I just completed my advanced study abroad. I joined my then-new husband who was deployed to Argentina.
Switching my life from a humanitarian worker to become a housewife was not as easy as I initially thought. I imagined it would not be hard to adapt to a new city. After all, I have been living in different places over the few years and I survived. I was wrong.
Not only that the Latin’s culture is very different from Indonesian, my being unemployed often pierced my self esteem & confidence. I think one of my hardest challenge at that time was transitioning to not having work and become dependent to my husband. I have never out of job in my life, it took me a while to make peace with my new status as ama de casa (housewife).
Wherever I go, “What do you do for a living?” is often the third question being asked by the people I meet after my name & where I came from. Before moving, I completed my Masters in Development Studies where the main focus was on gender issues. I also worked for eight years in the humanitarian industry that embraced gender equality. When I made this move, some people that I know questioned my decision to give up my job and independence.
Isn’t it strange that the society does not appreciate someone who is choosing a family over work? People often belittle the important role of a mother and a wife, stereotyping a housewife as a domestic task even if it is a full-time job. Often people ask me what I do everyday to make myself busy.
I took this as a challenge to change some mindsets, conscious that even I myself used to have it. I took Spanish courses to enable me to speak faster. I got involved in various social charity activities to support our embassy leading an Indonesian women’s association and joined the diplomatic spouses’ group enabling me to meet new friends from different countries. I also signed up in many random courses like free Spanish conversation clubs, pottery class, yoga and even French class!
Still, I often found it difficult when I had to introduce myself to new acquaintances. Answering questions where I work was the toughest of all. Indeed we live in a world where a job determines your identity and are judged by work and professional engagement. I found this harsh.
In reality, being a housewife brought me lots of wonderful experiences and opportunities to meet people, something that I would probably have missed out if I moved to Buenos Aires for a job.
I met lots of people from around the world with amazing stories. I have time to listen! Some of them are refugees from Syria, Americans who left their life back home for their love of tango and lots of western women who settled in Argentina in the name of love. Since I managed my own schedule, I was able to invest more time in people and building relations. An anthropologist by heart, I love listening to people’s stories and learn the social and cultural contexts. Casual encounters turned into friendships who became our family away from home.
I fell in love with the warmth of the Latino’s culture: one kiss on the right cheek every time you meet people and another one when you leave them – the warm and sincere hugs from friends. An old lady called me amor when I helped her got off from a bus. All these were a bit awkward to me at the first time (coming from a culture that is more reserved and conservative) but at the end, I appreciated the genuine connection.
One of the best benefits of being a housewife is that I could travel a lot. Anytime. I love traveling and going to new places. During our time there, my husband and I were able to tick some places in our bucket list: trekking in Macchu Picchu in Peru, climbing the glaciers in Calafate, exploring the northern salt desert of Argentina and exploring the beauty of Patagonia. On our last year, we were blessed with a beautiful baby boy.
At the end of our journey in Argentina, it was difficult to say goodbye. The place has taught me many things, the biggest lesson of which was self-acceptance of who I truly was and not letting anything determine my identity. I realized they are all superficial and temporary. Becoming a housewife was my personal independent choice. Choosing a family more than a career is something that every woman should not be ashamed of.
It became my campaign for women to stop putting label on ourselves. Often, the stereotyping even came from women who were supposed to understand and support this. A lady once asked me why I bothered to take a Masters degree when I would end up in the kitchen as a housewife. It is sad to hear but it is totally untrue! Having the best education is a great qualification for raising a family.
Are you ‘standing at the intersection’ of your life as a woman and are about to make a drastic swift? You are not alone. I’ve been there and I am sharing my tips so we can walk together.
1. Do not be afraid to take a leap! Going to an unknown land and leaving our comfort zone can be scary. Brace yourself and take the risk! We can always learn something from the experience. It is way better than to sit still and not give ourselves a chance to take up the challenge.
2. Close your ears to everything negative. Or even better, use them to motivate you in a positive way. People always have opinions about others, but so little about themselves. Don’t let all the negativity defines who you are and what you want to do.
3. Prepare yourself in advance. My biggest mistake was not preparing myself adequately before moving to Argentina. If I learned Spanish and the culture prior to moving to Buenos Aires, my early days in the city would be much easier. But then it was part of the journey and I learned from what I did not do.
4. Be flexible and ready to adapt. According to a survey, physically getting ourselves out of our comfort zone will widen our horizon and self-confidence. This is very true to me. If I did not move out of my comfort zone, I would never learn new things, a new language, cooking and organising skills, entrepreneurship or even the art of diplomacy.
Living in Argentina has definitely improved my cooking skills & creativity. Since good Asian restaurants were limited in Buenos Aires, I often had to cook my own food from scratch.
Learning new language for me was tough. The first three months were the most difficult as there were not many Argentinians who can habla Ingles (speak English). At first, I could only communicate with the lady cleaner at our apartment using Google translate from my Ipad. We literally had to type every words in order to communicate!
It has been a year that we are back in Jakarta and I love being closer to my family. But I also miss Argentina and the friends we left behind. Two months after we arrived, I went back to work making a career switch from Disaster Management to Grants. The new job is now giving me a lot of windows to learn.
Life is, indeed, a wheel. Our experiences are precious – if we give ourselves the chance to learn and explore.
Enda Balina is back as a humanitarian worker but stronger and prouder as a mom and wife. She lives with her family in Jakarta.