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– by Edith Koesoemawiria
Many Indonesians believe a woman cannot cope on her own.
“Oh my God, that rich old man is going to ask the girl to marry him in exchange for paying her family’s debt,” Ida says watching a popular Indonesian soap opera with a few friends. As it turns out the man does ask for the girl’s hand in marriage – but for his just graduated grandson, not himself. Canvassing the college for someone suitable, the matchmaking grandfather had seen the girl help an elderly vendor sell food. He later learned that the vendor was the girl’s grandmother, who had single-handedly raised her orphan grandchild, often with funds from a loan shark. Sighs are audible at the end of the serial when things work out well for the girl, with Ida commenting that her second husband was her personal choice.
Ida works as a cook and had two children with her first husband. The third child’s father is her second husband. Ida wanted the divorce because she was bearing responsibility for their extended family alone, even though they were living with her husband’s family. She sometimes got help from her mother-in-law, but her first husband neither contributed financially to the household, nor did he take part in their children’s education. Moreover, he had married a second wife.
Ida’s first marriage had been an arranged marriage. She was 14 years old at the time. When her eldest child turned 12 years old, she wanted to ensure that he could go to secondary school. This would only be possible if she could save some of her money spent for the extended family. So she asked her boss if she could live in with her children, and then Ida moved out from her in-laws. After a three year long tug of war, her husband agreed to divorce and stated talak (an Islamic norm for men to divorce their spouse) at the local Office of Religious Affairs. Several years later, Ida remarried a man of her choice.
Living at her employer’s home gave Ida respite from accusations levelled by her husband’s family as well as her parents, that she was an incapable wife and having an affair. It took her a year to convince her father to come from the village to visit her and explain her intentions. Her boss, an elderly woman with community standing, vouched for her.
However, Ida was quite isolated for a long time. She neither visited her parents nor socialised in the new neighbourhood. The first visit back to her village was fraught with questions of when she would remarry. Her father and brother had organised a slew of suitors in the belief that she could not survive on her own. Ida proved them wrong.
Ida then only returned to the village whenever one of her parents fell ill. It was during one of these trips that she met her current husband, a day labourer who now works on another island.