Strong Women

Bataks women are well-known for their strength and determination. Back in huta (Bataks for "village" or "home"), Bataks women are used to carrying loads of woodchops, or working in the rice fields while their husbands and male companions spent mornings in lapos. Amid the severity of Jakarta, inangs manage to survive, and in many cases they are the breadwinner. And in my own family, I've witnessed the similar degree of courage, though in varying ways. (I have to admit that the males are quite weak, sadly).

When my father was little, my grandma tried to make ends meet (since my grandpa was only an elementary teacher) by merchandizing. She woke up at dawn, went to the market to sell anything she could sell, or some things she'd made (like rattan mats), came home to prepare lunch for the whole family (herself, my grandpa, and their nine boys), did some household things, prepared dinner and took the children to bed ("forced the children" is more like it, actually). After everyone was asleep, she'd still do some things. Her daily routine usually finished after midnight.

No wonder, she was usually healthy and strong. She died of cancer 13 years ago, at the age of 91. But until she was, like, 80 something, she didn't have any domestic helper. Taking care of my grandpa (who was lucky to die in his sleep, at the age of 94), keeping an old, big house, clean by herself, it was only a few years prior to her death that she agreed to get "assistance".

We, the grandchildren, have always remembered her as tenacious, strict, thrifty if not stingy, yet actually very loving. She never demonstratively showed her affection, but somehow we could feel it. Knowing that I love to read, when I was a little girl she usually gave me books on birthdays and Christmas days. When I stayed in her house during school holidays (I spent my childhoond outside Jakarta), she'd take me to bookstores and allowed me to pick any book. Or she'd simply give me some money (that was the best part, hehehehe...).

Several female members of my extended female have had trouble with their marriages. Instead of rushing to the court filing for divorce like many are doing recently, they pulled any efforts to handle things. I am a strong supporter of women's rights and a bit of a feminist myself. But when it comes to marriages, I stick to the principle of "till death do us part". Divorce is a no-no for me, though for some particular cases (domestic violence, for example) I can accept separation, with a view to getting back together again one day (God will help!). When we have our wedding at church, we vow our commitment to GOD. Marriage is therefore not only between the husband and wife, but it involves God as well. We promise "to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish 'till death do us part. And hereto I pledge you my faithfulness". It is so saddening that many forget this part. The unfaithfulness of the other party is by no means a justification for being unfaithful. I should therefore like to reiterate my highest admiration to these female relatives of mine.

My younger sister has also been very tough and bullheaded. When we were children we fought a lot. Both of us got similar "portion" of pinches, but she never, ever cried. Instead she would just flash a hostile look to my mom (er... I sobbed *blushes*). As a grown up, she once crashed with her big boss. She would not stand back, convinced that she was right (and she was). This boss tried to sack her, but she managed to stay. Fortunately, in the end she and the boss got along well. Her current job requires her to travel a lot, many times she has to drive 200 km back and forth, and deal with annoying people in a men's world. And she did it.

She makes a lot of mistakes. Though she's intelligent, fast, and committed to whatever she's doing, she has difficulty in controlling her sharp tongue. This alone had caused her into troubles, not only in her work, but also in her marriage. And this time, it is BIG trouble. It is something that would not only affect her and her husband, but also the whole family, and - even worse - our two clans. This may sound exaggerated, but one should be a Bataks or possess a proper amount of knowledge about Batak tradition to comprehend the situation.

She knew it. And she is willing to fix it, though it would hurt her and her pride. It is a bit too late to do something, the damage is already done.

I looked at her yesterday, sleeping on the couch, her face thin and tired. I had just bombarded her with harsh words for what she had done. It was hard for me not to cry.