Ghana, First Impression…

By an Indonesian who thought she has seen it all.

It was right in the middle of a very hot summer in Belgium that we found ourselves frantically packing our apartment down to move to Ghana. The decision came suddenly, but all we needed to do was look forward to another adventure. That was exactly what we did, and got.

August 2009, smooth touchdown at Ghana International Airport. The hot climate of Ghana was easy to cope with since we came from a painful hot summer in Belgium 🙂 We had done some Googling research about Ghana but still we were feeling nervous apprehensive about it all. I tried hard to see the goodness of this new place. But I must say that the first impression was not impressive at all, well there’s no impression 🙂 . It is sad to say, but Ghana International Airport is the worst airport I have ever seen. Not only that we must ride on a tatty bus to get on and off the plane, the hassle of baggage claim and custom check seems to be endlessly chaotic very challenging.

But once we were in the car and on the road, my heart began to light up. I saw so many similarities between Ghana and Indonesia -my mother land 🙂 The banana trees by the road, the bougainvillea blossom everywhere, the street sellers, the shape of the houses, the big billboards everywhere and oh… the not so immaculate roads and streets. They even sell Indomie (= instant noodle) in Ghana! I was happy but not for long. The Indomie they sell in Africa tastes terrible different. 😀

It didn’t take me long to find out that Ghana is nothing like Indonesia. In fact they couldn’t have been more different from each other. 😦 The first time I asked my driver where I could go shopping, he informed me that he could take me to Accra Shopping Mall. 😀 He described it as something huge and beautiful, and he used his hands gestures by waving them around to illustrate how big it is, and his sense of pride was infecting me with excitement. 😀 Shopping Mall…!! I like that…!! Coming from Asia where the best shopping malls are reigning the world, I am into shopping mall baby…! 😀

I proudly stuffed my wallet with some USD 100, a whopping amount for a developing country’s standard. So off we went to this shopping mall. Woohoo…!! 😀 I was celebrating Ghana until my driver parked our car in a parking lot of something that looks like an old warehouse, I stayed quiet. Then he showed me into this building. Still confused, I wondered if he misunderstood me and took me somewhere else instead. After a while of finding our way inside this building, I asked my driver “Can we just go to the shopping mall?” He replied innocently, “Madam, this is the Accra shopping mall.”

* Gasp* I felt like my heart skipped a beat, my mouth went dry, and my back started sweating. I bowed my head down and looked at the floor. It was not shiny, nor reflective. I tilted my head back and looked at the ceiling… there was no void nor mezzanine. Oh My Gordon Brown…! It is not a 10 storey, nor a 5 storey, but a one story building…! I looked around and saw some few small shops. “Are you kidding me?” The whole setting looks more like a shopping arcade rather than a shopping mall.

Accra Shopping Mall

But it’s ok, I propped myself up and continued with my mission: my first ever grocery shopping in Ghana! It is all just a part of the big adventure, isn’t it? I looked around this medium sized supermarket (=Shoprite), clutching my wallet nervously, excited and scared at the same time, I decided not to worry. I had enough money or so I thought. In Indonesia, USD 100 can buy a month worth of groceries, and in Belgium that amount would provide about 2 weeks’ worth of groceries. So what is there to worry about? I started to fill my shopping cart with one thing after another. All the basic stuff we needed like detergent, coat hangers, towels, disinfectant, etc.

But that was not all my dear friends… The biggest surprise came to me when we were at the cashier, paying for all the stuff we thought we were buying. A whopping amount of over USD 300 for the most mundane stuff I had in my cart. I thought I was speechless when I was proposed by my husband, but this experience gave me a new meaning to speechlessness. 😀 I had no choice but to cancel most stuff I had wanted to buy. I was left with some detergent, fabric softener, coat hangers, clothes peg, shower gel, cup noodles, and baby cereal. That came down to just over USD 100. I shamelessly asked my driver to pay the “just over” bit of the USD 100.

plastic coat hangerGob-smacked, we drove back home and I didn’t say a thing. Being a developing country that is not any better than like Indonesia, I thought everything in Ghana would be good value. But I couldn’t be more wrong. Ghana is simply the most expensive country we have ever been to. Even more expensive than Belgium, more expensive than UK! (I wouldn’t even start comparing it with America) I paid one US dollar for one stupid plastic coat hanger. One dollar! For something that normally wouldn’t have cost me no more than 20 cent.

On our way back, my driver asked me if we have a shopping mall this big in Indonesia. I said: “with all due respect to all Ghanaians, that thing is not a shopping mall. In Indonesia, just the parking space for a shopping mall would be bigger than this entire thing”. “Yes, we do. It is nice”

When I thought I have seen it all, just a week later my maid pissed her pants in my car! Yes, she literally pissed herself whilst sitting in our clean and shiny Land Cruiser, and left the car smelling like an ugly public toilet. Curious? I’ll tell you about it later. 😀 Just keep reading…!

Cheers,

Dian Retno Wulandari. Going Ghanaian!

PS: To be fair to this country, I will also post about some good things in Ghana. It is, however, where our home is at the moment. 🙂

Is Wishing Merry Christmas Haram for Muslims?

My answer to that question above is: No, it is not haram. To be quite frank, I couldn’t care less when (some) people tell me it is haram and that I should not do it. I can’t help but wonder, however, have those people done the reasoning, the searching, and the learning about the matter themselves, or do they just do what others have told them to do?

I know this is a sensitive subject to bring up especially there are so many narrow-minded-easily-provoked people wandering-about on this earth. But I am -as a good, faithful, devout Muslim- have the right to comment on this matter.

It is sad and hard enough for a good Muslim like me to have my religion ‘rebranded’ by those terrorists with their big guns and big bombs, I also have to deal with fellow-good-Muslims telling me not to do things for vague reasons.

My whole life, I have heard and known Muslims arguing and debating endlessly on the matter. Some say it is haram, but thank God, most say it is not.

I personally have met fellow Muslims from Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Egypt, Belgium, UK, Norway, etc… And what I found interesting is, those who are most fanatic and most extreme about Islam are those who read less of the Qur’an (=the Islamic holy book), and listen more to what their imams (=religious leaders) have to say about this religion.

In the Islamic teaching, the whole book of Qur’an contains words that came straight from God himself through His prophet. Not a single word was added or reduced by any human, not even Muhammad the prophet himself. We as Muslim should live our lives in goodness following the teaching in this holy book. God, as mentioned in His Qur’an, has been quite clear about many many things, like what are considered haram, and what are not. When something is haram, God made it clear by saying it is haram, and no question about it. For example: Eating pork is haram. Killing is haram. Not fasting during Ramadhan is haram. Etc. If God had wanted something to be haram, it is easy for him to say something is haram. Period.

I, as a good well educated Muslim, have read the Qur’an from cover to cover many times. Several times in Arabic, several times in English, several times in Indonesian. I am no muslim scholar, but I can definitely say I know what it is all about. Islam is about believing in God, one God only. It is also about believing that Muhammad was his messenger, that he was a mere human who was chosen to spread the word, and that we must not worship Muhammad since he is not God. It is also about being grateful with your life. It is also importantly about living a good peaceful life with others in this world. It is also about –surprisingly– not damaging mother earth.

Some argue it is haram to say Merry Christmas because it is considered to be haram to give well wishes to Christian’s religious festival because they are kuffaar/kafir (=disbelievers/infidels/heathen), this consideration however, is by consensus. Human consensus.

I argue, this religion, Islam, my faith, is not about what human say it is, but what God say it is, and what I believe it is. Moreover, to quote from the Qur’an:

The Muslim believers, the Jews, the Christians, and the monotheistic religious community –all those who believe in God and the Last Day and do good– will have their rewards with Lord. No fear for them, nor will they grieve.” [Al Qur’an. 2:62]

How much clearer can it be, that Christians are not kuffaar/kafir. And since wishing well is part of doing good, I jolly well say it is NOT haram.

Have a very happy Christmas everyone…! I am sorry I am a little bit late, but we have been busy baking, lunching, dining, drinking, and being merry. 🙂 🙂

Cheers,

Dian Retno Wulandari. A faithful at heart, an open minded soul.

PS: The definition of haram (in short) is: Something that one must NOT do, otherwise one will sin.

PPS: If any of my Muslim readers would like to argue, please quote something that God has said, not what other people have thought.

PPPS: I am currently living in a devout Christian society. Most of my closest friends are Buddhists, but some are Christians, some are atheists, and none is Muslim. Everything is doing great!

Indonesian Mother’s Day: Better Than The Western Mother’s Day

As some of us know very well, mother’s day falls on different dates for different countries. In Indonesia, it falls on the 22 Dec every year. That is today.

As an Indonesian, I have said “happy mother’s day” many times since I was a little girl. To be quite honest, I couldn’t wait for the day to come where I would be the one receiving the mother’s day wishes, and that day was 22 Dec 2007. I was pregnant for the first time, and I received a text from my sister saying: “Happy mother’s day!”  and then another one from my bff. Yes I got 2 wishes that day, not as many as I have wanted it to be, but it was great. After all I was only 3 months pregnant, therefore not many people knew I deserved mother’s day wishes. Although to be even more honest, I told my husband, early December that year, that Indonesian mother’s day falls on 22 Dec, and I had hoped for him to say happy mother’s day to me, but he didn’t. For 2 reasons: he forgot (typical men!), and he didn’t feel the need to say it.

But as time unraveled itself, I had a miscarriage just 1 week after my very first mother’s day. At late March 2008, we were in UK, and the mother’s day in UK was also late March, but I was not pregnant and I didn’t have any child either, therefore I didn’t deserve to receive mother’s day wishes. As sad as it was for me, I tried to still celebrate motherhood for those who were mothers.

So during that particular mother’s day in UK, we went out to do some shopping.  Every single time I saw or interacted with a woman with child(ren), I always said “Happy mother’s day!” with a big smile on my face. But the reactions I got from those women were not quite as I expected. They all looked at me as if I just asked them to give me a bag full of gold coins. Rather like a horror look or a “you are strange” look. I was bemused. “What is going on in this world…?”

I got pregnant again in June 2008, and so my 2nd mother’s day finally came. It was 22 Dec 2008. I was 8 months pregnant, we were living in Belgium. A week before the date, I told my husband that Indonesian mother’s day would come soon, to which he responded casually “Oh really?”. I waited for the day expectantly. But 22 Dec came and went without any single person wishing me happy mother’s day. This time, I confronted my husband “It was mother’s day yesterday! But you didn’t give me any wishes!”. With a confused look on his face he flatly said “But you are not my mother”. I gave him a horrified look. “What is going on in this world…?”

For Chirstmas that year, we drove from Belgium to UK, to celebrate it with Bryn (my in law) and Sam (my husband’s son from his prev marriage). Christmas morning I told Sam that it was mother’s day in Indonesia 3 days ago (hoping I would get some belated happy mother’s day wishes from him). Sam said… “Oh nice, did your baby get you a nice greeting card?”. Haha… I laughed to that. It was a joke, you see… my baby was still inside my belly! But still… “Am I missing something here…?”

Later on… in 2009… I learned that within the western custom one says “happy mother’s day” to one’s mother, in Indonesia we say “happy mother’s day” to all mothers. Major difference! Then I knew why those women looked at me funny when I said happy mother’s day to them. I am not their child! Then I realized why my husband never understood it when I gave hints to him that I wanted him to wish me happy mother’s day. He is not my child! And for the same reason, Sam made the joke about the baby who was still inside my tummy! Duuuuhhh…..!!!

The western people since a long time ago made it specific that the apostrophe (=tanda petik atas) in mother’s day should be before the S, and not after the S (as in mothers’), to signify that the day was dedicated for singular mother, your own mother, not for plural mothers which is all mothers in the world.

Still, I don’t quite understand this idea. Why only to your own mother? Is the quality of the sentiment reduced when you wish a happy mother’s day to not only your mother but also to all mothers in the world? Does it mean less for our mothers if we also celebrate other’s mothers? I don’t think so… Then I can conclude that the way Indonesians deal with mother’s day is better than those of the western societies.

Happy mother’s day to all Indonesian mothers…! And for mothers of the western world, you should wait to get it from your child(ren) on the appropriate date. 🙂

Lot’s of love.

Dian Retno Wulandari. A child to my mother, and a mother to my child.

PS: For the first time ever, my husband remembers that it’s Indonesian mother’s day today (without any cue from me). He and Alix even made a mother’s day card for me. Oh… bless them. He said if he’s not too busy with work or study, he would take me out to movie and dinner this evening. I hope we can watch Tangled (animation, Mandy Moore), but I know he wants to watch Unstoppable (Denzel Washington).

PPS: Most countries (like USA, Ghana, Japan, Belgium, Malaysia, Turkey, etc…) celebrate mother’s day on the 2nd Sunday of May. UK celebrates mother’s day on the 4th Sunday of Lent

My Disastrous Blogging Plan

I sometimes don’t understand the way people think… Like when I see a beggar reaching out to me with his dirty hands, showing his dirty teeth off to me through his pitiable smile, and at the same time he is smoking, and sitting next to a few empty beer bottles. How can he think that I will think that he deserves my pennies? I don’t understand the way he thinks. Another example is… I don’t understand it why some people like to gamble. Isn’t it so obvious that they are just throwing money down the drain? Well, people say it is actually the thrill that they are going for, not the money. Still I don’t understand it… how can it be thrilling to do something where you have to give up money for nothing? But it’s for the thrill…! But it’s for nothing…! A vicious circle… I totally don’t understand it…

messy dining table

A revelation came to me this weekend… After spending a whole night long of just thinking… (no intelligent thoughts mind you) I realize that I don’t even understand the way I think. Why do I think in a certain way? Why do I think that I shouldn’t change the pillow cases if I were not to change the whole bedding set? Why do I think that it is better to buy fresh vegetables and not use them and then throw them into the bin rather than freezing them in the first place?

I started this blog just over 2 weeks ago. At that time, I thought… I would post at least once every 4 days, and believe me… I think about it every day.  I have so much going on in my head that I knew I could do it, and yet… here we are… well over 14 days and not a single post is published since I started. See… this is also how I don’t understand myself.  Somewhere deep inside, I don’t feel like I deserve to be blogging. The whole notion of just sitting and writing what I have in my head is like a luxury. Like the kind of thing only Michelle Obama has the right to do… or Taylor Swift. 🙂

I kept saying to myself that I would claim this luxurious time (=write blog) when I am done with my duties and don’t have anything else to do. Anything at all…! Rather like having a long hot bubbly aromatic bath in the evening…  You deserve it only after you have done everything else needs doing in a day. So what is it needs doing in my simple life as a housewife and a stay-at-home-mother? To name a few: I need to clean up the mess on the dining table that has been sitting there for weeks, I need to brush the rug with dry foam, I need to be a good-well-informed-discussion-mate for the master degree my husband is taking, I need to scrub the toilets, I need to call the plumber, I need to organize my hand bags, I need to put the suitcases away, oh I don’t know… I lost track of what needs doing. What I do know is… writing a blog is last in the list. Oh I forgot to mention that I also need to look after my little son. That alone can feel like a space and time continuum. The whole feeding, bathing, playing, reading, napping, sleeping, toilet training, nappy changing, blah blah blah… I don’t even know when one ends and the next begins. Just this one duty (mothering) is time consuming, let alone the cooking, toilet scrubbing, reading, organizing, paying the bills… Oh how endless.

Look… I am not complaining here. Ok? I am just illustrating how I think where I don’t understand my own thinking. What makes things more and more chaotic is the vicious circle (=lingkaran setan) I get myself into. Example: “Oh I have a great thought about something! I should write it in my blog!” The thing is, I immediately think that I should not write my blog before I brush the rug with dry foam, or before I finish reading the modules from my husband’s master degree course, or before I clean the mess on the dining table… and since I cannot do it, or don’t want to do it, I decided to just watch Teletubbies on TV with my son.

To make it simple it is like this:

I want to blog. — But I should do things before I can blog. — But I don’t want to do those things. — So I watch TV instead.

How does that make sense? Well, it doesn’t. That is why I say I don’t understand the way I think.

The next question arises… What brought me here? Writing away for my blog? Have I finished all things need doing? No… my friends… Not at all… This is a result of a whole night worth of thinking… I have failed my husband in being a good class mate for him. See… he is taking a master degree in Technology Management, and it is an online course from a renowned university in England. But since it is online, and we are in Ghana, it is impossible for him to attend study groups or students meetings, so I offered myself to be a class mate, whom he can discuss things with, who knows what is going on in the course. To be a good class mate (even though I will not earn any qualification at the end of it) I should read everything he is reading in order for us to embark on a quality discussion regarding the course. But I haven’t been doing it well. In fact, I failed miserably.

I let my husband down… I know for sure he won’t say I have…, but I know better. My own vicious circle… my own brain… my own thinking… and yet I don’t understand it… In the end I get nothing done in my life. Since I don’t want to scrub the toilets, I don’t want to clean the dining table, I don’t want to brush the carpet, I might as well do what I want… instead of what I need.

And I… want to blog! Here it is… one thing done. I know this ain’t no Taj Mahal. 🙂 But am I allowed to feel a little proud of myself…? I finally break the vicious circle!

Yours Faithfully,

Dian Retno Wulandari. A confused young woman.

PS: I need to understand myself more.

PPS: I will clean the dining table right after I post this

Update:

tidy dining table

Inaugural Post From A Good Procrastinator

(judul di atas dalam bahasa Indonesia:  Postingan perdana dari orang yang suka menunda-nunda)

So here it is… 6 long years since I registered an account with Blogger to start blogging, I finally make my first post and guess what! It is not even on Blogger.

Like most stories in the world, it is actually quite a boring one… 2004 was the first time I learned about blogging (or Weblog as it was defined in those days), being a self-proclaimed techie that I was, I immediately signed up to do one. After about 5 minutes staring into the freshly made account, it dawned on me that I had no desire in telling people what was going on in my head. So I left that old dusty monitor, with the old noisy CPU behind, paid Rp. 2800 for using it, hopped onto my old bike, and I said to myself never to look back. Yes, it was in a small internet café, and in those days, most Indonesians wouldn’t even know whether Blog was a Chinese food, or some kind of construction material. So what was the big deal with this blog thing anyway?

Trinity House

I do however, enjoy reading blogs… It is rather like gossiping, where the gossipee is actually the gossiper. Sick, isn’t it??? Anyhow… in mid 2007 I was living in a remote part of Canada (called Trinity) all on my own, in a 6 bedrooms 200 years old big wooden house that used to be a BnB (picture attached). With the hard Canadian winter coming on, and no company, not much to do, and a semi-reliable dial-up internet connection,  all I did was surfing the net or blog walking (or cooking or housekeeping). And then there’s a hit. A revelation. 3 years of reading blogs after blogs… one particular blog really sparked an interest in me. The very blog that can actually inspire me to really start blogging is out there!!! It was by a bloke named Tasa Nugraza Barley, and the particular piece I read was called “Umat Islam adalah Umat yang Bodoh” (Muslim People are Stupid People).

A brilliant blogger, he was. With very over the top opinions and yet still familiar-at-heart way of thinking.  I followed his blog ever since. Note the past tense though… He (like so many other notable bloggers out there) seems to have lost interest in blogging. I don’t know why this is… Perhaps because they realize that life is a one way journey with so little time and so many things to do and blogging therefore appears to be a waste of time… Or perhaps, because they, as time goes on, grow into something else, someplace different, and somehow they rise above blogging and never look back or set foot on the blogosphere any more. Who can tell?

Anyhow…, later that year (still 2007) back in Indonesia I decided that starting a blog would be my 2008 new year’s resolution. So then 2008 came and went… “start a blog” made its way to my 2009 new year’s resolution list. Then shamelessly it included itself in my 2010 new year’s resolution. Luckily ladies and gentlemen… we are still in 2010. Cheers!!! It is coming to an end, I know… and it is tempting to just slip it through to 2011 new year’s resolution… But no…! I have made a vow that I will get this blog started this very year.  So I took my apron off, passed my screaming little boy to his nanny, switched off the Oprah Winfrey Show, have Chinese take-away for dinner… and plough my way through this ever-so-complicated-wordpress-page that was never made for housewives like me anyway… So that I can look at myself in the mirror and say: “I’ve done it, bitch!”, and for the first time ever I would’ve done something from my new year’s resolution lists (yes I am that pathetic).

So… It took 6 long years for me to take action, so long that even Mr. Barley –my inspiration– has stopped blogging in the mean time…. I, a gossiper who will gossip about my self-centered life.  Here I finally am… Keep reading folks! See you sometimes 🙂

Yours  Faithfully, Dian Retno Wulandari. 2 December 2010

PS: Now then…, I think it is fair to shift “complete tennis lesson” to 2011 new year’s resolution… (I always do this… Oh, don’t we all…?)

PPS: I would love to know how you start your blog and what motivates you. Please do share. 🙂