In an exclusive interview, NOW! Jakarta spoke to Rachel Malik about her role as spouse of the British Ambassador to Indonesia as well as communities that have become part of her life in Indonesia.
How would you describe the role of the spouse of a tier one ambassador?
I have never thought of this role as a ‘tier one’ embassy. My job is simply to support my partner as ambassador. But also, I am a private citizen here with a private life. I would never think about this role as ‘tier one’.
Is this a role you enjoy and thrive in or do you feel you always have to be “on parade” or worse “on guard”?
I don’t think that at all. This is our first diplomatic posting and we arrived with a lot of energy and excitement. As the wife of The British Ambassador, I can link people together, but not for myself. The aim is to benefit my contacts.
Even before we came here, Moazzam told me “as long as we are true to what we are, we will be okay”. Embrace what is there—don’t pretend to be what we are not. I hope that we have managed to share some warmth and friendship along the way.
You have taken on the role of patron and supporter of a number of foundations and organisations. What attracted you to them?
Personally, I am interested in education, female employment, maternal health—both pre- and post-natal, refugees, and disabilities. I took my time to meet different people and evaluate how I could help. I feel that I belong to many different communities: SHOM (Spouses of Heads of Mission), BWA (British Women’s Association), and many Indonesian organisations. I have tried to link these different communities together. Looking back, I believe I have gained more than I have given to these communities. I am humbled by the people I’ve met. I have to thank everyone else, not the other way around.
Which have given you the greatest satisfaction?
I have been 100% engaged the whole time I’ve been here, and going back to the communities, the more I’ve done, the more I feel I belong. Honestly, I can’t pick one out, they have all been so special to me.
You have also been a very active Patron of the British Women’s Association. How would you describe them and your role?
BWA is a group not only of British women but a whole mixture of nationalities, including Indonesian. I have seen the group flourishing and contributing to Indonesia, and I have shared my links with other communities with them. They now have a shared house with the American and Spanish-speaking women bringing together even more communities.
The BWA has just held a big fund raising Gala Dinner. We also have big bazaars twice a year with over 200 stalls selling a huge range of goods and handicrafts. All the money raised goes into charities working with Indonesians as well as refugees stranded in Indonesia.
I can see the huge benefit that BWA makes alongside their many partner organisations. I am very lucky to have been the Honorary Patron, and feel proud to be part of that community.
Tell us what your top memories of Indonesia will be?
We have managed to do a lot of traveling which will be a huge memory for us: a road trip across Flores (not just flying!); sleeping on top of a boat in the jungle to see orangutans; and walking up the side of live volcano at Bromo. They were all amazing experiences.
The Indonesian smile will be my best memory; smiles are everywhere, when you get out of the car at hotel, when you walk into a kampung. Everywhere.
When we first went back to Europe, it was my daughter, Amaala, who noticed: “Mum,” she said “no one is smiling!”
Any regrets or things you think you are leaving undone?
There is so much more that I could have done, but thanks to modern technology, if people still need my help after we have left, I can do so. I have no regrets. I can truthfully say I have loved the experience.
And your plans for the future?
London is the next stop. Our children will all be there. We are really excited. Our oldest, Rizwaan was in his second year at Oxford when we left, and it was perhaps harder for him to see us disappear than we realised, so it will be good to be closer again. Maleeha is in her third year studying medicine at UCL, so she will be able to come home for a cup of tea. And our youngest will be enjoying a gap year, perhaps visiting Indonesia again.
I will miss all my Indonesian and international friends who really do understand what I’m feeling. I was working as a midwife in a hospital before but I am not yet sure what I will do when I return. I will miss Indonesia very much.
This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine May 2019 issue “Can Jakarta Really Change?”. Available at selected bookstore or SUBSCRIBE here.