Today’s guest blogger is a dear friend of mine from MIDDLE SCHOOL. Also a sociology major, she did several years teaching in the Peace Corps in Indonesia (you can read about her travels at Relentless Pursuit of Tikkun Olam) before marrying and becoming permanently fixed in Indonesia – and she’s having a baby! She kindly shares her experiences with pregnancy in a non-Western culture.
I am Sarah, one of Lizzy’s friends from middle school. It baffles me that we have only seen each other maybe once since 2003 (at a Noodles & Co. in Minneapolis, MN in college, and a skype lecture in TX), but the internet is an amazing thing. We have managed to keep in touch over the last…15 years. Wow. We are getting old!
Quick background of who I am and why I have been invited to blog today: Like Lizzy, I graduated in 2011 with a teaching license. Like Lizzy, my major was Sociology. Like Lizzy, I now teach Sociology and English at the high school level. While I could blog about my experience as a teacher, she has asked me to blog about my experiences as a first-time mom. The twist? I live in Indonesia. 🙂
I ended up in Indonesia with the Peace Corps from 2012-2014, teaching English in a village in East Java. Wtih 10 weeks to go in Peace Corps, I met a wonderful Javanese man, Vallen. Despite a whirlwind romance for those 10 weeks, I returned to the US in July 2014 because I had already accepted an AmeriCorps position in Colorado. In 2015, I returned to Surabaya, Indonesia, where I have spent the last 3 years teaching English and Sociology at a normal, private Christian high school. Vallen and I married in July 2017 in Minocqua, Wisconsin. We returned to Surabaya less than a week after the wedding because we had to get back to work!
10 months later, I find myself entering my 9th month of pregnancy here in Indonesia and facing many unique challenges. This is due to many cultural differences that we face as a married couple.
It is fascinating to study Sociology and Anthropology. Sometimes when you live a culture, it is a different story. It can be frustrating to feel the constraints of a different culture’s beliefs in such a sensitive time as pregnancy.
Thus, I give you…
Javanese/Indonesian beliefs surrounding pregnancy and childbirth
It is hard to separate whether or not the beliefs are Javanese or Indonesian in the same way that religious practices are hard to separate as being, let’s say, a purely Catholic tradition or an American Catholic tradition. So please read the following blog with a sense that what I share could be a Javanese belief or it may be a belief held by other Indonesian ethnic groups as well.
Thou shall not kill
Both the expectant mother and father are not allowed to kill anything. The idea is that in order for our baby to be healthy and safe, we too must keep the creatures around us safe. This doesn’t sound so bad, except my 40-year old rented house has a plethora of bugs.
Mosquitoes? I usually zap them with an electric tennis racket and they die on the spot.
Ants near my kitchen table? I swipe them off with a tissue.
For the first few days of pregnancy, I simply waited until my husband left for work and then ran around the house, frantically swiping my electric racket. This secret bug killing mission was fine until rainy season began with a deluge in late November. I walked out of my room (in the near dark) for pregnancy night bathroom break number 1, and I thought I saw something. I flipped on the light and there were about 7 cockroaches crawling out of a hole in my bathroom door frame. The water-filled pipes from the rain had them running for safety. Bursting into tears, I ran back to my room.
Thou shall not rip bags
When eating almost any meal, many Indonesians love kerupuk. It’s a type of crunchy, airy cracker usually made of rice flour. The mixture is piped into these whirly shapes, dried in the sun, and then fried. It tastes nothing like a Quaker Oat rice cake. It can be flavored like garlic, fish, or shrimp, to name a few flavors. One day we were casually eating lunch with my in-laws, and I reached over to open a bag of kerupuk. Some context: you can eat many meals directly with your right hand (the clean hand) here in Indonesia, including a rice-based meal. My hand right hand was covered in sauce, so I was going to rip open the bag with my left hand. Vallen, whose hand was also covered in sauce, stopped me in my tracks and asked our sister-in-law, who still had 2 clean hands, to untie it for me.
I felt that this was a bit extreme. Why should she be bothered to untie this bag for us when I was perfectly capable of ripping it open? Turns out, expectant parents should not rip open bags if they can be untied instead.
Thou shall not climb stairs
Thou shall not drive
Thou shall not wear a seat-belt
Thou shall not cut thy hair
Thou shall not leave the house/village for 40 days
Thou shall not eat pineapple
Guessing the baby’s gender
Bathing the baby
Baby’s sleeping place