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The Courage to Break Tradition

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In this very moving talk, Made Julia Utami pays tribute to her mother, and asks Balinese women to stand up for themselves. She explains the reason why her father left despite her mother doing everything to please him. Julia describes the anguish she felt when her mom also left, and touchingly recalls later finding out why she left. Her amusing account of the attributes she wants in her dream man will leave you smiling. But you’ll find it hard not to shed a tear when she recalls a conversation with her mother, “I had to make sure you got an education and not end up like me.”

2005. I'd never seen my father so happy like that before. His eyes were bright, sparkling. He said, "Finally, I have a son in my life." In Bali, we use the patriarchy system. It means the son is like a king. A son can do everything. Everything.

My mom only had daughters. She wasn't able to give my father a son. That's why he married again. He married another woman. A Balinese man can marry another woman at the same time. My mom did everything for my dad. As a wife, she was the best wife. A Balinese woman is Wonder Woman. They can do everything. They can do cooking, washing, working, offerings, take care of the children, take care of the husband. They even have to take care of the husband's family. Even with all of that, my dad still left.

I was ten years old. My mom said, "I have to go. I have to go to Timor-Leste." I'm like, "What? Timor-Leste? Where is Timor-Leste? And why?" Timor-Leste is a small country. Before, they were part of Indonesia. Right now, they are an independent country.

She left quickly. My mom left. My dad left. I only stayed with my sister and my grandma. I looked at all of that. It was not for me. I had to grow up quickly. I had to take care of my sister. And when I had to go to my sister's school, I had to sign her report records. People around me were like, "Hey, what are you doing here? Where is your mom? Where is your dad?" I was like, hell, a little girl. I was like, "Shut up. None of your business." They're like, "Hey, what are you doing here? Where are your parents?" "They're working." And "None of your business. Shut up." I was so mad. I was so mad because why did this happen to my life? Why me? Why? I looked at all of them. It's not for me. I'm not destined to have a life like that. It wasn't for me because of my comment to not become my parents.

I went to university. I had a scholarship because I was the national champion of shortboard. Even though I had a scholarship, I still had to pay for my college—for my books, living costs, and gas. And do you know who paid for that? It was my mom. She paid for me and my sister's college to make sure we got an education.

In college, I started learning English. I read English books even though I didn't understand. English books, listening to music, watching YouTube because I wanted to improve my English. I even signed up to Tinder. Oh my God! How can I improve my English? How can I speak English very well? Because I just want to. Okay, I didn't learn anything on Tinder! Because of my comment to become an entrepreneur, I'm a modern woman who will marry with modern man. I started writing it down into my dream book. Oh my God. Excited. Modern man will come to my life soon. He's from a different country, from another country. He's tall—180. I know exactly what I want! Sorry. He has a beard and glasses. Oh my God. He's older than me. (Hi!) Why not? He's ten years older than me. I'm twenty-four. And he's sweet and will treat me like a queen. Oh my God. And then the most important thing is he's not stingy. Hell no. Please. No, he will treat me like a queen, right? Not stingy. And I believe he will come to my life soon. He will find me here in Bali and say, "Julia, will you marry me?" Oh my God. So excited. Woo-hoo!

I'm a university graduate. My mom had to come home because of COVID-19. And then, for the first time, I looked in her eyes, and I asked her, "Hey, why did you leave me? Why? Why did you leave me like this?" She just held my hand. She started crying. "Darling," she said, "darling, I always knew there was something about you. I always knew you were different. I always knew you are a leader. I had to go to Timor-Leste. In Timor-Leste, they have US dollars so I could make money for you and your sister. And I had to make sure you got an education and not end up like me. I want you to be a strong woman, a smart woman—not like me. I just accepted everything that my husband did. My husband tried to kill me. My husband threw a knife. My husband hit me, punched me in front of you. I don't want you to end up like me. You deserve to have a great life. That's why I had to go to Timor-Leste for fifteen years."

And I was crying. Oh my God, I used to judge my mom. I used to just think, Why did you leave me like this? I used to judge her. And then for me, she made a hard decision to leave me, to leave her family for fifteen years just so me and my sister got an education.

And I just realized the best part of me is because of my mom. The independent woman that you see in front of you is because of my mom. This is the best gift that she has given to me. I just wanna say to you guys, Balinese women, we are strong. We are like Wonder Woman. Please. It's not time to be silent anymore. You have to say something. Please say no. If you are not safe, or don't feel safe anymore, or don't feel comfortable, say, "I wanna divorce." Say it like that. This hard decision might break the culture, but can you stay in a jail for a long time? No. Hell no.

And because of that, I don't want a Balinese woman to have a life like my mom, because I saw my mom cry every night and then had to leave me and make a hard decision because she just wanna do the best for me—for my future. You have to do something. A hard decision might break the culture. But it's now or never. Today isn't too late.

My mom sits here. I invited my mom. I never said I was going to speak in public. No, I just said, "I just wanna invite you for dinner, Mom." Sorry, Mom. Sorry. I don't wanna cry. I don't wanna mess up my makeup. Sorry. She is here right now. Hi Mom, and my sister. Thank you so much for everything. I will do everything to make you happy. I'm a woman, but I'm more strong than ten men. I am, please! I'm your daughter. I'm your honor. I love you so much, Mom. I love you so much, Sister. Don't cry. Don't cry.

if you're looking for something to transform your life then they should do FABx. ~ Hoda Monika Agah
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