Hi, this is an interview I recently did for BlogExpat.com. You can find it here. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
My name is Ana Gaby, short for Ana Gabriela. With a telenovela name like that you can probably tell I come from somewhere in Latin America. I was born and raised in Mexico but by the timeI was 23 I had already lived in 5 different countries due to my studies and for work. I married another global nomad and after 4 wonderful years of marriage, 3 different countries and 2 beautiful boys we currently call The Big Durian (Jakarta, Indonesia) our home.
1. Why did you move abroad?
Love. Sound cheesy? It is, and it’s awesome. I was already living “abroad” working in Washington D.C. at an international organization while my better half was living in Frankfurt, Germany for work. After a few months of traveling back and forth across the Atlantic, he realized he couldn’t live without me ;), we got engaged, tied the knot and I became a trailing spouse after I quit my job and moved to Germany. My husband’s work has us moving every two to three years, so after two years in Frankfurt, and two in Bangkok we are expecting to stay in Jakarta until the summer of 2014. Then, who knows? We might go back to the US, or start a new adventure in a new continent.
2. How do you make a living?
By being a professional traveler and shopper. I don’t earn any money but my husband says I save him so much money by hitting all the sales. Just kidding, I quit my job to become a stay at home mom, although I never stay put. My husband has graciously provided me with a bank account additional to his. However, I do volunteer work as the Secretary for an Association that supports different charities throughout Indonesia. My two little boys and the different associations I belong to keep me very busy.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Constantly. I talk to my family and friends almost on a daily basis thru skype, our voip phone, Imessage, BBM, whatsapp, etc! We play online games or if I’m stuck in traffic I instant message them from my phone. I’m so glad I live in this century. My blog has become another mean to share with them about our daily adventures and our experiences in Indonesia.
4. What’s your favorite thing about being an expat in Jakarta?
Just like being an expat anywhere, I love the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a culture. I enjoy getting to know a country not just by reading books but by living and breathing it. In Jakarta, there is a very tight expat community and I love being part of it. I have made many good friends and I will truly miss them. A nice perk of living here is the access to nice beaches not to far away, amazing UNESCO world heritage sites and delicious coffee and spices. I can’t complain about being able to afford help at home and having the flexibility to participate in many activities by myself and with the kids. I love taking my kids to the different indoor playgrounds around the city and I can say that Jakarta has some of the nicest malls I’ve ever seen.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Jakarta?
Traffic and pollution. Our quality of life is greatly diminished by these factors as it can take up to two hours to travel 3 KM and the lack of clean sidewalks and the bad air quality do not allow for alternate modes of transportation. When I first moved here I was pregnant and the pungent smell of the city (there’s a reason behind that nickname) was too much for me to bear. Another big frustration for me is miscommunication. Not being able to understand what the locals really think and not because a language barrier but the importance of “saving face” and a lack of honesty.
6. What do you miss most?
My family and friends. I wish my kids would be able to grow up with their grandparents and our dear friends nearby. I also miss having access to outdoor activities, being able to walk on the sidewalks and being able to take the kids to nice green parks. I miss things that taste like home, such as authentic Mexican and American food (vs. spaghetti with ketchup instead of marinara sauce), mango with sticky rice, Riesling wine and good cheese. I miss being able to go to a store and finding exactly what I need every time.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
For me making our house feel like a home is a big priority. I try to make it feel cozy and ours soon after we get there and this motivates us to start throwing parties and meeting new people in our apartment building and my husband’s office. As soon as I got here I started learning about the different associations available to expats. I tried to get involved right away and I started meeting many new people. My kids have been a strong tool and motivation to meet new people. I’ve gotten involved in several playgroups and kids classes and have met other fantastic moms along the way. Furthermore, my two-year-old son Evan is a huge flirt and he has been the reason (on occasions very embarrassing reason) I’ve met many people. Funny enough, I have also met really cool people thru my blog.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Since I lived in Thailand before here, many of the things I found strange about SE Asia didn’t surprise me anymore. By now I was used to seeing workers taking a break and sleeping on the sidewalks or on the floors by the elevators in our apartment building or completely disregarding queuing in line when wanting go in somewhere or buying something. I find very funny how many Indonesians like to take pictures of our kids everywhere we go. I just don’t like it when the pinch their cheeks and wake them up from napping in their strollers. I recently had a strange encounter where a pregnant lady started touching my youngest son Joshua’s belly and cheeks and then rubbing her belly, as to pass on his cheeks, or chubbiness or who knows what.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
To tell you the truth, I didn’t know much about Indonesia before we moved here. I knew it’s location but hadn’t heard many good or bad things about Indonesia and it’s people. The one bad thing I had heard is that it was a dangerous place for Christians, but I knew not to believe that since the few terrorist attacks that had taken place before where isolated and not directed at Christians in particular. Before moving here, we came to visit for about a month and it was until then that I truly learned about Indonesia. I didn’t have any misconceptions or even conceptions about Indonesia and its people and I’m so glad I got here with a clean slate.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Well, it depends. Comparing to Bangkok, food seems more expensive, but labor is much cheaper so we are able to afford more helpers at home. Fresh tropical produce is very cheap and I love being able to eat as many mangosteens and lyches as I want but I certainly miss not paying 20 USD for a little box of cherries or raspberries. We’ve had to change our eating habits a bit but we always find local things we enjoy. The lack of reliable public transportation causes us to use the car much more and we tend to think twice before deciding to go somewhere.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and tap your heels three times and think there’s no place like home. Still in the same place? It’s ok, this is your new home! Just relax take it easy and take advantage of all the things it has to offer. Take in all the good and have patience. Be grateful every day for the opportunity to learn about a new culture, a new people and think how enriching this is for you and your family. Try to make your house feel like home soon after you get there and always put yourself out there, You are not the only person trying to connect and find a community. You will be surprised of how many lasting friendships you can build that will survive thru time and distance.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog at the End of January 2012. I had just gotten back to Jakarta after giving birth to Joshua and seeing friends and family who asked about what our life was like, I decided to start writing to “keep them in the loop” and share with them our daily lives. I also wanted to document our family adventures in hopes my two boys would someday be interested in reading about what their life was like when they lived abroad. If this is not the case, at least I’m accumulating precious material to embarrass them when they are teenagers or when I give a toast at their wedding.
I read your interview this morning, nicely done!
Hi Jennifer! Thanks! I loved your blog and reading aboot you and your adventures! 😉
Great post!! I think your boys will love to go back and read about their childhood! You are writing recent, first-hand accounts which are much more accurate than pieces of stories that you remember. Wonderful!
Thanks! I just hope they don’t hate me for it… =P I’m not that good at keeping a memory book or scrapbooking so I think this is a good alternative… I might not remember the first time Evan ate sweet potatoes or had his first haircut but I definitely remember the first time he rode an elephant…