PP16 - Running a business in Indonesia...as a woman


I am not sure whether I ended up writing this because of International Women's day (yes we still need a day apparently) or because of the recent turmoil in France at the Cesars ceremony and the subsequent opinion papers everywhere, but here goes.


We are faced daily with two challenges running a business here:

First, we are foreigner, white faces, “bule” as people say here. So we don’t know all the tricks and ropes, we don’t have a perfect command of the language, and most people all assume we have money trees in our garden (which believe me, right now we don’t. I don’t think I have been that broke since I was a student).


And second, we are women. So most people assume that we know nothing, like Jon Snow.

I know nothing, that is why I look puzzled.

Some days, I feel like I am taken 15 years back in time, in the automotive industry, where I would walk into a conference room and people automatically assumed I was the intern or the assistant and just here to pour coffee. Sorry, I am actually running this meeting, why don’t you take a seat after you go get your coffee yourself?

It was a VERY male dominated industry. I was constantly challenged, doubted, undermined. Most guys would assume I didn’t know what I was talking about until proven wrong over and over again, calling me “doll” or "sweetheart" or something else undermining, or talking to my boss pretending I wasn’t in the room.


I didn’t expect that wearing a wetsuit. And to be honest, for years here I had little issues with how people were treating me as a woman. There are always the shocked eyes when I tell local people I am not married nor have kids (in a country when pretty much every woman is married with children before 23), but otherwise mainly no problem aside than the usual random twat. These are found everywhere, not more here than anywhere else in the world I suppose.

Until this last year.


Remember when I was trying to buy a truck and before meeting me everybody was answering calling me Pak (sir)? Yeah so that happened a bunch of other times, about various other topics. And if it was only that, well, I wouldn’t be even bothering to write about it here.

But there are all the other times.


Take our neighbour: for the first month of operation, he saw Julia and us every morning at the crack of dawn setting up gear, loading it onto the truck and driving said truck off in the sunrise ready for another day of diving. Being polite and all, first name basis, because as per usual Julia is friendly so he is too. The day where Antoine showed up one morning to give us a hand, he called him “boss”. Ah here you are boss, to supervise the female. The idea of knocking his teeth off did cross my mind.


Take the guy who we rent the boat from, let’s call him Komang: he provided us with an initial boat captain, remember? Captain Twat. But Captain Twat was not going to take instructions from women, no no no. So everything I asked for he only did reluctantly, sometimes not at all. Assuming probably I had no idea was I was talking about. Too bad buddy, I’ve been been diving around here for a good while now, so if I say you move the boat, then you move the boat.

We asked Komang, multiple times, to talk to him and eventually to get rid of him. It wasn’t until we said we were getting another boat the next day that Komang realised we were not whining just for the sake of it. So he finally got rid of the captain.


Komang is also very good at taking credit for stuff we do. Like when Julia organised a meeting about coral bleaching with the dive shops and some NGO here. Then he invited all his friends and took the credit for it.


When Antoine is around, 99% of the people automatically address him with a question, ignoring either of us.


So, that’s a thing. Not only here mind, if you haven’t heard about these coworkers swapping names, it’s worth a read.


Our staff doesn’t seem to mind that much, bless them. I wonder how it went the first day when they went home and told their wife: the bosses, they’re bule…and they are women. But hey, we pay their wages every month so surely that gives us a little extra credit.


On the other end of the spectrum, the first time I drove into the mechanic with Sharon the truck, the girl at the counter talked to me during five minutes about how she was so impressed that I was driving a truck. The guys working there didn’t say much at first, but now a few visits down the line, I walk in there and they drop whatever they are doing to ask me what I need. They might be calling me ‘the crazy white chick with the truck’, mind. But not to my face.


So I guess what I am getting at here is that I am frustrated, more so as years go by. It doesn't seem to matter how much work or life experience I have, how much of the language I can speak, how much I have accomplished already. I don't spend my days complaining about it or feeling sorry for myself.


But some days, it's INFURIATING.


For the last year or so, this is how I feel at the end of most days. Minus the fancy hair obviously.




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