I could see a Middle Eastern tent standing proudly from afar. People crowded around the tent, trying the variety of titbits the Embassy of the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia offered that evening. This was my 7th diplomatic reception I’ve been to in this two months. One thing for sure, every country tried their best to showcase their uniqueness. The tent erected inside the grand ballroom of Sedona Hotel in Yangon reminded me of my last trip to Dubai for a meeting.
Every reception is an opportunity to meet people both new or I knew already. I felt I was in a mission to satisfy my thirst in finding out how diplomatic spouses spend their days (because I am already bored to death and feel useless). My eyes found someone familiar, she is the Deputy Chief of Mission to the Embassy of the United States of America. Yup….a SHE, and her husband is following her everywhere she’s posted. She introduced me to the acting Head of Mission for the USAID, another lady. Maria was her name. She is based in Kyiv and her mission in Yangon is only temporary, to set up USAID here. Being new to Kyiv, she asked a lot of questions about Kyiv, and being familiar with the place I told her everything I know.
While we were talking, a couple of diplomats approached us. Two ladies, from Brunei and Thailand. I suddenly realise that the number of female diplomats that evening was almost equal to the number of male diplomats. Something very unique in my opinion because the reception is held by an embassy of a country where women cannot even drive or work and here were all these super women almost dominating the whole evening. So instead of finding out how the spouses spend their days, my mind wonder off to another context: the glass ceiling.
Is this a living proof that an article I read when I was still a student at a university 18 years ago about how women were then trapped under the glass ceiling. They could see where they could be in their career, but they could not reach their destination because back then societal or traditional customs still strongly rooted and practiced in many societies even the modern ones such as Australia or the United States of America. The case was even worst in Indonesia. It was difficult for women to reach beyond the glass ceiling and when they did, they put twice or even triple the efforts of their male counterparts despite the fact that they were twice as smart, twice as tough, twice as diligent and twice in so many other positive things.
I remember my mother back then. She was smart, with master degrees in Demographic Studies and Health Management and was having a good career. Because of her expertise, she is well-known not only within her own organisation but also outside of her organisation. For years she was functioning as a deputy (a 1st echelon position, a director level) – hence she was ‘acting’ deputy. I could see how she struggled to get the approval of being the real deputy from her boss. While others both within and outside of the organisation approved of her qualities, her own boss did not until a year before her retirement. The reasons? Simply because she was a woman, who like me was a wife of a diplomat. Mom was lucky because dad refused to conform to the normal practices at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Dad never demanded mom to follow him, in fact it was the other way around so that mom can pursue her career.
Nowadays, there are so many women sitting at the very top of so many institutions be it in a public sector or a private sector. I once dream of reaching the top position, but I realised that even if I want to I may not be able to reach it, realistically speaking. I didn’t dare to dream too high, because I am not sure when we would dare to negotiate the status and the rights of spouses of diplomats to have a career while they follow their diplomat spouse around. We are not like some who have been successful in negotiating the rights of the spouse to actualise themselves beyond the domestic front. However, I must be thankful because I am a woman. Traditionally it is my role to follow my husband, but those men who follow their wives….. I really don’t know how they feel. In the course of my life, I have met 4 Indonesian men who were married to Indonesian diplomats. 1 was a heart surgeon who owned his own practice and is still happily married until now. 1 was pure house-husband but claimed himself as an artist (he never painted a thing when he was in Sydney with his wife) – he is now divorced from his diplomat wife. The other two were also house-husbands who still to this day follow their wives. These men must really lower their ego to successfully stand where they are, and I envy them.
But being who I am, I am struggling to lower my ego, my expectation and change my routines. My brain is too active to sit still, and stop thinking of things around me. I am finding ways to actualise myself within the boundaries that I am facing now.