Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The mother of all careers

Women and work. It has never been an easy coupling when you throw children into the mix. Those of us choosing to stay at home are now domestic chief executive officers, according to The Sunday Times

Women who handle the family finances, childcare, school schedules, interior design, etc, etc, are no longer content to be called a housewife. I can understand why - it has become a demeaning label. However, to clothe maternal duties in corporate-speak is perhaps a ploy to satisfy our own vanity, or to convince our menfolk that we fulfill a vital role. It smacks of insecurity.

Unlike our mothers, our generation has been brought up to expect and foster a career. I have just finished reading The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe - the 1950s' answer to Sex and the City. What struck me was the tentative idea that women could actually choose a career over waiting for a marriage proposal. The main character Caroline Bender muses:

"It was good to be able to care so much about work. It must be something like the way men feel... except that men have to worry so much about the money. For her the thrill was in the competition and in the achievement."

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Maasai dreams

It is not every day that you open your front door to find a Maasai teacher on your doorstep. About a month ago my friend Janine brought round a guest to meet me: Metui, a visiting teacher from Monduli in northern Tanzania. 
Maasai students at Eluwai Primary school, Tanzania
Metui's students at Eluwai Primary School   Credit: Josi Hollis

It was pouring with rain and Metui, tall and lean against the grey sky, stood wrapped in layers of colourful shuka cloth. He looked overwhelmed by our very British deluge. Juggling our umbrellas, we shook hands and set off to visit a local primary school.

Metui had come to the UK on a grant to learn about British teaching methods. His own school in Tanzania - the Eluwai Primary School - caters to 400 children with a staff of just seven teachers. He and his colleagues drew lots to come on a visit to the UK. Metui won.

So chance brought him to a wet schoolyard in Henley-on-Thames on a Thursday lunchtime. The school secretary showed us around, pointing out elaborate artwork by the children, lunch menus, a bank of computers and a science laboratory. An encounter with some of the children in the library finally broke through Metui's reserve. His eyes alight, he joked with them and answered their stream of questions.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Mummy grows up

Mummies become more confident

I have noticed a new phenomenon over the past few months: the emergence of a woman called Mummy. Everywhere you look online, there are mummies coming out of the closet.

I did a quick scan of my Twitter follows/ers - lots of the women describe themselves as a 'mum', 'mummy' or 'mom'. There is something significant about using the word mummy as opposed to mother - it implies (and publicises) a more intimate relation with your children.

Even those who don't choose to brand themselves as mummies employ descriptions such as 'bedtime-story reader' (again proof of maternal intimacy) or proudly list their children by name. 
In this age of information, Twitter asks us to define ourselves in a capsule and all of these woman see motherhood  - or mummyhood - as an important part of their public identity.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Perspectives on Bali

Bali: Gao Gajah
Gao Gajah: water for purifying yourself before entering the temple
 Back in the late 1970s, when my parents lived in Jakarta, we used to fly to Bali for a bit of R&R. Lush vegetation, clear seawater and hunting turtle eggs on the beach form some of my earliest memories. 

Last week I returned to Bali for the first time in over thirty years. What I found was far more complex and baffling than the childish idyll I had carried around for so long. Bali is an island of contrasts: bikinis versus traditional batik, tourist tat versus Hindu shrines, Seminyak's breeze blocks versus paddy fields and temples deep in the jungle. It seems I can only get a handle on the place by seeing it through a series of juxtapositions.

Bali: Ubud market
Ubud market: a warren of a place, built like a multistorey carpark
Coming from Singapore, with all its slick efficiency and cultivated greenery, my arrival in Denpasar was a culture shock. Just a walk outside our villa involved tripping over uneven paving, dodging motorbikes to cross the street and shrugging off cries to buy t-shirts, sarongs, DVDs and petrol stored in vodka bottles.