Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Learning Curve

I feel like the last two months I have been living way outside of my previous experiences and yet I feel oddly at ease living in Jakarta. But when I come up against a learning experience that requires me to give myself a little grace I toss the situation into a file I call Lainie's learning curve. We are new to Jakarta, new to serving abroad with the Foreign Service, therefore grace is required as we figure these things out, this is what I tell myself probably 10 times a day.

 Many kind people have inquired, "How is the transition going for you?"  I do a quick mood diagnostic and most of the time I can say "I think I am hanging in there pretty good." I've had a few frustrating situations that had me in tears but I think we are all doing really well for the most part. 

  One of our family members has yet to arrive and oh how we are missing our beloved old Molly dog. We are still working on her import requirements. It's not easy being a FS dog. 

So, here's the Learning Curve list as it stands so far. It is in no particular order.

Clean water vs non-potable water, learning what I can and can't use tap water for. I thought I would present myself as a real world traveler and use local tap water to brush my teeth. I have since learned that is not a good idea. Maybe one day I will have steel plated expat guts but not at this point.

EFM (family member of an officer) Embassy Jobs,  Picture this: 25 over qualified people all want a shot at the four mostly clerical or managerial jobs currently listed (reason for this is that our diplomatic status prevents us from working within the local economy).  Here is a hint: If you are applying don't say a word to anyone. If you do let it slip that you interviewed for a job do your level best to make sure you let it go and are not bothered by the fact someone you know and like well got the job and you didn't. It's just part of life at post, apparently.
Secondly, the interview panel may ask you, "What are your career goals as an EFM?" and it may not be to your advantage to express that you feel that the question is a just a bit condescending. When asked I found myself struggling with the expected (interviewer wants to hear) answer and what I felt was a more honest answer. So, I went with my gut and suggested that a better question would be, "What are my hopes for my career as an EFM?" instead of "goals." And, while it seemed to generate a few nods and smiles at that very moment I don't actually know if they got it. With that brave (and ironically prophetic) moment behind me, I do not regret being true to myself and explaining that I feel my wisest plan for being successful at EFMhood is not to have clearly defined personal career goals (which does suck pretty darn bad). Bottom line, we EFM's are basically powerless in the career dept. There are possibilities but they are not the same at every post and it is rare to find a job in our particular career field or skill set waiting for us at post. EFM's need to have a built in flexibility that allows us to reinvent ourselves at each new location. How do you do that and answer the question, "What are your goals as an EFM?"  I would love for some wiser more experienced EFM's out there to chime in here.

Post Housing. When you do go into your post housing the first time go alone, or at least do not enter it with anyone who has not promised to love and cherish you until death do you part no matter what you say or how immaturely you react to ugly bathroom tiles. I do love our location and I've decided
the house is actually nice. Our house is growing on me all the time, however, my ridiculously minuscule closet space rash may act up again when our HHE (7k lb. of our personal items) arrives. On an amazingly happy note: we were given permission to paint the walls!
And paint we did! 

Driving Bu Lainie. I knew we would have to buy a car and hire a driver when we arrived at post, all of it out of our pockets of course (mentioned just in case some readers thought otherwise). Though I had anticipated a feeling of "lack of independence" before we arrived I had no idea how truly odd having a driver drive me around all day would actually be. Initially, every time I climbed in the 2nd row I felt sort of ridiculous, it's a very used '04 Toyota Kijang, not a limo, it's not a taxi, it's my own vehicle. Then, there are the logistics, was my driver sitting out in the hot car as I grocery shopped? As I had lunch with friends? I hoped not- so therefore- I hurried and worried as if my dad, my husband or my son was outside impatiently waiting for me. I have since learned that the drivers usually have nice sitting areas where they play cards, get a drink of cool water and just hang out- so that burden has lifted somewhat. When we are home, between errands, my driver literally sits at a table under my car port and waits for me to need to go someplace or to send him for something. I really wrestled with all of this at first. I wondered, "Was it my job to keep him busy the whole time he was on the clock?" It felt odd, him waiting outside to be asked to drive me someplace while I was inside reading a book on my couch with no intentions of going anywhere. Dare I say I might have even resented it just a bit because I felt guilty that he was constantly waiting for me. Learning not to feel bad when our driver is driving me/not driving me has been/is one of the major items on my learning curve.
The day I took this photo my car was full of people, which is rare. Usually me and the Pak, our driver. 

Managing Home Staff. Oh, I gotta tell ya... I didn't realize how amazing it is to have a clean house, like a really clean house, and beautifully ironed shirts ready for Sean each day. I am realizing how unwired I am to do those things now that I have seen domestic masters at work. Wow! However, this situation is pretty much the peak of my learning curve here. I am still struggling to learn how this home staff thing works. As a modern American in 2013 I have always believed that it is my duty to undo classism. I still do. But, I have hit a cultural wall. I believe the American ideals of personal empowerment and advancement are the best but- they live here. I am just a visitor. If I raise expectations while I'm here what happens when I leave? It's tough. This type of employee/employer relationship is difficult for me on a lot of levels. These dedicated, kind people are in my house all day. The job we pay them well to do is to take care of us. They work hard and seem to care about us. How can I not care about them? I genuinely want to know about them and about their ideas, thoughts and concerns. I am grateful they are here with me. That's just me, I am this way with everyone. I constantly have to hold myself back from asking them personal questions. Then there is the privacy issue- with our maid in particular, I felt like I had lost all rights to privacy and control over the stuff I had managed alone for years. Though I love not doing dishes as much, it has not been easy for me to give up my territory, ie... the kitchen. I had no idea I felt that way about my kitchen until I had help managing and cooking the meals. Also, for a while, I would not put my own dirty clothes in the hamper. I didn't mind her washing everyone else's underwear but I wanted to maintain my own laundry after she went home each evening. Which brings us to another prickly issue, "How do you say it?" Is it better to be direct from moment one or ease into it all? The answer, be DIRECT and write out a detailed list! I'll spare readers all of the things I've learned on this one topic but suffice to say managing skilled, experienced domestic employees who are in/around my house all day has taken up most of the real-estate on my learning curve.

Things on my "Loving Life" curve are the amazing fun people I've met so far, some are ex-pats and some are local. So far, I really like Jakarta. I think we totally lucked out having this as our first post. 



  1. Thank you my sweet Delaina.. What a great posting! When we lived in Spain, we could have hired a maid, but I know I would have felt like I would have had to clean the house before the maid arrived... I forgot to ask you how many years will you all be at this post? Love you so very much .. Smooch

    1. Thank you Rake family for all the love over all the years, and miles!

  2. Thank you for sharing. I love the way you have embraced your "learning curve". I look forward to hearing how you create community. How and where do you and your family find and make friends.

    selamat tinggal

    1. Thank you dividingby10! I appreciate the encouragement. It's not always easy but my golden rule for finding and meeting friends is to BE THE GREETER! Go first, say "Hello" first, smile first and be open to people. Also, be the hostess.