New to the Parish: ‘Ireland is the hardest move I ever made’
For an Indonesian aid worker, the move to Waterford on ‘the sunny side of Ireland’ with her partner and children has been a difficult adjustment
Ewie Anggoro with her partner, John; her son, Ditto (13); and daughter, Axelle (10); at home in Butlerstown, Waterford. Photograph: Patrick Browne
Ewie Anggoro: arrived from Indonesia, 2012
The television in Ewie Anggoro’s family home was switched off the day the tsunami hit Indonesia on St Stephen’s Day 2004. The family were in the middle of their Christmas celebrations when she received a call from her work colleague at a Dutch NGO telling her to check the news. Anggoro’s initial response was, “It’s just another earthquake”.
“Indonesia is widely known as a supermarket of disasters,” she says. You get disasters here every day: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions, floods, droughts and many more.”
Within seconds of receiving the call, she realised this was different. She was sent on the next flight to the Indonesian city of Band Aceh in Sumatra to begin co-ordinating some of the international teams arriving to assist in the rescue effort. She was six months pregnant with her daughter and felt completely overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster in her home country.
More than a decade later, the energetic aid worker sits in her Waterford home sipping a mug of tea as torrential rain falls outside. Her partner, John, is resting upstairs after returning from three weeks working in the Philippines, while a few miles down the road her son, Ditto (13), and daughter, Axelle (10), are finishing school for the day.
Anggoro arrived in Ireland three years ago after John, who is from Bray, decided to move home to be closer to his ageing parents. The couple met in 2004, a few months before the tsunami, when they were both working for aid agencies on the small Indonesian island of Ternate.
She was pregnant with her son from a previous relationship when she first began working in the development sector with an Italian NGO in Indonesia. She had trained as an English teacher but found teaching boring and was searching for opportunities to travel abroad.
“The education system in Indonesia leads you to desk work. It never asks you to think outside the box. Everybody was like, ‘Why would you go and work in a conflict area?’ ”
Pressures of motherhood
Anggoro enjoyed her work in conflict management but struggled under the pressures of being a young, single mother.
“Being pregnant outside of marriage in Indonesia is a problem. The office was completely male, and I was the only female. They were still young and didn’t know anything about parental life.”
She distinctly remembers the Jesuit priest from the NGO where she worked insisting she attend church every week. However, he refused to give communion to the young mother, telling her she had sinned.
Anggoro made the difficult decision to send Ditto to live with his grandparents while she continued her work travelling around southeast Asia. Soon after the tsunami hit, she gave birth to Axelle. However, a year passed before she contacted John, who was then working in Haiti, to tell him about their daughter.
“He was on the other side of the globe, and I’m not the marrying type,” she says. John was eager to get to know his baby daughter, so he applied for a job in the Philippines. After a few months of flying back and forth, Anggoro left her job to join her partner.
“I wasn’t working, and it was hard, because we were adjusting to be a family. But thank God we only stayed there for six months, and then I got a job in Thailand. We all moved, John resigned and he became a consultant.”
After two years in Bangkok, they moved to Indonesia so that Ditto could join the family. Then, when John received news that his parents were unwell, the couple began discussing the possibility of moving to Ireland. “Suddenly the idea of going to Europe became clearer and clearer. Moving is not that difficult for me; settling in is the hard one.”
The couple decided to move to Waterford, because “it’s on the sunny side of Ireland”. Anggoro lets out a deep sigh as she watches the rainwater streaming down the windows.
“Moving to Ireland is the hardest move I ever made. It’s really quiet here. It’s difficult coming from all the adrenalin rush I had in work. Suddenly I’m picking up and dropping off kids from school and to their after-school activities. That’s my conflict now; that’s my disaster management.”
Searching for work
Anggoro has been searching for work for three years. “The thing is Ireland is not big into Asia. They are more interested in Africa, so my expertise is not so useful here. I did some volunteer work but it was completely different.”
She misses travelling and is unable to visit other European countries due to visa restrictions. “My Irish visa doesn’t give me access to any other countries within the European Union. We can’t just pop over to Spain or France for a weekend or midterm break due to paperwork.”
Ditto, who learned English a few years before moving to Ireland, now speaks with a Waterford accent. He refuses to speak Indonesian with his mother.
“Ditto wants to blend in, but Axelle is completely the opposite. She just wants to stand out. Now she is more Indonesian than Irish. Any school project, she’ll say, ‘I’ll do something about Indonesia.’ ”
Axelle has struggled to make friends in her new hometown. “She doesn’t like saying goodbye. It was hard when we left Indonesia; she had to say goodbye to all her friends.”
Anggoro also finds it difficult to develop friendships in Ireland. “I understand people already have their own circle of friendship and activities that they hardly have time or space for somebody new. It’s completely different from communities we’ve been into before.”
She has tried to reach out to the local community by inviting friends over to try some of her Indonesian dishes. “I never cooked before I moved here but apparently people like my cooking. I love spices and I put about 20 chillies in my food. On Fridays I cook Indonesian food and ask some of the parents over.”
She looks forward to travelling with her partner once the children have finished school. “I don’t want to spend my life here,” she says with a chuckle. “But we will probably be here for a while. As long as the kids are happy, I am happy.”
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