We are Not Baboe

There was a hot issue discussed yesterday on one of the Facebook groups I followed. A Netherlands man with Indonesian background went on air in a television show complaining about his ex-girlfriend (he found via a dating site) who never lifted a finger to help him doing the house chores while he lived a very busy life earning money. The man was reported to have ‘imported’ the girl from Indonesia with the hope that he would have someone to be with, and to take care of the house while he works.

Not entirely an innocent motive, I know. But the fact that the woman refused to take part in taking care of the house she lived in and spent her days for her instagram, refusing the man’s offer to work outside the house, and hoped to be treated as a princess didn’t help at all in this case. The woman ended up full with disappointment because the man’s life was not as well as she had thought – she thought she would live in luxury once she lived in the Netherlands. The couple had big arguments and the woman fled away.

What ticked me off was not this story but the comments came from many women in the group, “Haha, what a silly man. He expected to get a woman as his baboe, but we Indonesian women are not like what we used to be, domestic and obedient. We are far too smart now to follow man’s order.” (Baboe is a Dutch word used in the Dutch colonialism era for women who helped in the house and helped attend to the children).


Then what is the meaning of being ‘smart women’ here? What are actually the characteristics of ‘Modern Indonesian Women’? Being a Celebgram? Posting Tiktok non stoply? Never touch the kitchen? Are they the definitions of modern women?

I realize that we’re now in the age of equalization of rights and opportunities. Women organize rallies to defend women’s rights, to have equality against men, and get to every spot and opportunities that were previously denied from them. But I’m afraid many of us don’t even know what this is all about, and blindly use this term to justify many actions that don’t even belong to the women’s rights themselves.

Many women think that because we’re equal with men, we’re not going to do the house chores. We’re not baboe!

“Wash your own dishes! Cook your own food! Clean the house! I’m not your baboe!”

Or we housewives often complain, “I feel like a servant/helper in this house, I have to do every single thing. While my man never helps me because he’s a man or he’s busy with his work. I have to cook, I have to clean the house, I have to take care of the children, I have to scrub the toilet. Why should I do these dirty things? I’m not a baboe!”

Many Indonesian families in the past used the help of a helper who basically lived in their house. The access to the help was almost 24 hours per day, the helper had to do many things for almost all members of the family. She would be responsible for the cleanliness of the house, serving the meal, taking care of the children, while the mothers worked outside the house, or stayed at home being the manager of her works.

The funny thing is – looking at the history, I guess the helper concept was somehow passed down from the lifestyle of Dutch colonialism, but here in The Netherlands, the concept of baboe itself is non-existent. Only people with strong financial ability could afford a helper, but even if they could, it would only be for several hours per week, like 3 or 4 hours maximum. Mostly the helper will cover vacuuming and mopping, cleaning the kitchen and the bathroom. That’s all. But the rest of the work – every daily chores should be done by the house owner by themselves – man, or woman. 

Many Indonesian girls find it difficult to adjust when they come here for the first time. The fact that everything is expensive and no helper available at home, the obligation to take part in taking care of the house often takes a toll to the life of many newcomers. Many never even knew how to cook, let alone clean the toilet. It sounds extreme but it’s the reality. How do I know, because I was one of them 😅

When I moved out from my parents house to live by myself in Singapore, it was the first time when I realized many things were actually my own responsibility. I was responsible to provide food for myself, clean clothes, clean room, everything – unless I had money to pay someone else to do them for me. Which I unfortunately didn’t have, because Singapore’s helper rate was very high compared to what we had in Indonesia.

So I spent 4 years adjusting to this situation, and by the time I moved to the Netherlands and lived with my husband and later became a stay at home mom, these things were not completely new anymore for me, although they didn’t become entirely easy.

But as I ponder about the role of a wife (working outside or not), and the role of a helper, I can’t help to be intrigued how crooked our values have been in the terms of the role and obligation. We’d like to think some sort of tasks belong to a certain group of people (people of lower class) and other tasks belong to people with more dignity. We classify classes of things, and unbelievably we classify the classes of people’s worthiness.

These people we call of lower class are named based on their level of education or income. But often without us realizing, we often as well lower their value by thinking they only belong to do ‘dirty’ jobs. And while doing that, we think many jobs are too low to be done for us – people with more importance. And with this kind of mindset we decide that there’s no way we can do these dirty things that are associated with people of lower class. We’d lost all our dignity if we had to set our hands on that toilet – the one dirtied by our own poop! How disgusting!

On the night before His death, Jesus took the basin and started to wash His disciples feet, one by one, including the one who would later betray Him and deliver Him to His enemies. Not only He didn’t have to do this, but He has lowered Himself to do this! The foot washing was not only a job of a servant, it was a job of a slave. And later He taught His disciples, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13: 14-15, NIV)

In another part Jesus taught His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the non-Jewish people love to show their power over the people. And their important leaders love to use all their authority over the people. But it should not be that way with you. If one of you wants to become great, then he must serve you like a servant.” (Matthew 20: 25-26 NLT). 

We are taught to not only not value others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3), but we are called to be servants among the others!

I’m not saying that we have to offer ourselves to clean the toilet of everyone we know (we ought to though, if they really need that). But we’re not supposed to think highly of ourselves and regard others lowly based on their occupation or things they do.

What I learn while living here in the Netherlands, people honor every occupation Society requires everyone to do their best in their job, whatever their occupation is. And we respect each other, even if our job holds more ‘value’ than others because we know that one person is a professional in his field. A university professor wouldn’t act arrogantly towards a repairman of a bicycle shop just because he holds a lesser degree. He would consider every advice from the repairman respectfully because he knows he’s an expert in this field, and he – as a biology professor, knows less than the repairman about bicycles.

The least we can do in reflecting the live the teaching of servantship is respecting other people, whatever their occupation, financial or social status are. And by respecting every task, even the ones we don’t find pleasing to do, we are reflecting our respect for everyone who might do those tasks as their life. The End.

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