IndoConnect has worked closely over the years with Ibu Mahaswi Swajaya, the wife of the Ambassador of Indonesia to Singapore HE Ngurah Swajaya. As they prepare to leave to their next posting, she shares some of her experiences and plans for the future with Editor-in-Chief, Nomita Dhar in this pre-COVID-19 interview
DEAR Ibu, you’ve had a very engaging tenure in the last few years as the wife of the Indonesian ambassador in Singapore. Please share with us your experience with Dharma Wanita, which is part of the Indonesian MFA. How was your experience representing women and the diplomatic spouses?
I’ve spent the last 4 years here in Singapore and they’ve definitely been fulfilling for me. As the leader of Dharma Wanita, I had a wonderful time but it also was challenging. The ladies I worked with weren’t just from MFA, but also from other ministries. So it was a challenge for me to coordinate all the activities with them and ensure everything ran smoothly. Thankfully, I trusted myself and it’s turned out great.
What are some of the favourite engagements you’ve had with the ladies?
Every Ramadan, during the fasting month, we have a program where we watch Indonesian movies together. So that project has always been great fun. We’ve watched all kinds of movies from comedies to romance flicks and I always looked forward to them.
During the last few years, President Jokowi came often to Singapore for official visits and you have hosted his wife, the First Lady, all those times. How has that experience been and what would you like to pass on to future diplomatic wives?
It’s always been a real honour for me to host the First Lady. From my experience, there isn’t a manual to being the ambassador’s wife. I’ve had to learn about all the diplomatic processes and workings all by myself all these years. One thing I do is ask my husband whenever I’m unsure. So, communicating with my husband
has always helped.
You’ve been accompanying your husband to many diplomatic receptions and official engagements. And on top of that, you have your own events and functions that you organize through the diplomatic wives association. What are the highlights from these events? Do you prefer the diplomatic receptions or your own functions?
Undoubtedly, I’ve met many people from the diplomatic corps and made a lot of friends from the official receptions that I attended. Of course, I always meet you at those events as well. They’ve been special, but the events that I organize have always been closest to my heart, especially Coffee Morning. I’ve met many members of the Indonesian community and friends through my own events and I’ve loved reaching out to my own community.
During the ambassador’s term, he introduced lots of new things including “Rising Fashion”, which you were a part of as well. How was your experience promoting Indonesian fashion to Singaporeans?
It was very brave of my husband to even initiate such a project. I would never have thought of doing something like that. I think promoting Indonesian fashion has been do-able mainly because the community here is open minded, and the population isn’t very large.
What are some of your favourite places in Singapore?
We love Orchard Road because we can do all our walking and shopping and eating there. Apart from that, we try to go on walks at least three times a week at the Botanic Gardens as well.
Is it easy to be the ambassador’s spouse? You’ve been to so many countries with your husband and were even in the same university. And as Bapak told me, you got more marks than him. So, how has your journey with the ambassador been?
Well, when we were at the university, I influenced him a lot. But now it’s the other way round. People always tell me how it must be lovely to be the ambassador’s wife. How great it must be to be treated like a VVIP and all. But frankly, being the ambassador’s wife is a job in itself. There are many protocols to follow and procedures to know and you have to learn all of it on your own. You have to put your heart in it and thankfully I had my husband to support me through it all.
Are you excited to go back to Jakarta?
Of course, Jakarta is my home. I can’t wait to meet my children and my family. I also have a grandchild that’s coming later this year so I can’t wait to be back.
Congratulations! So this term has been especially successful because your son also got married. Definitely. One of my favourite memories here in Singapore was my son’s wedding. I think as mothers, memories like those will always be special. What do you think are the challenges for Indonesian women or women in general these days?
Now a woman can receive the highest education possible and can go on to work in top positions in every kind of field as well. So the challenge in the long run will be taking care of children at home and to ensure that they receive the right kind of education. So balancing a career as well as family is a challenge that women are facing nowadays.
So, after spending a few years here, what is your message to Singaporeans about Indonesia?
Come to Indonesia! I feel like Singaporeans know very little about Indonesia and they should visit more places in the archipelago. So, I’d like to urge people here to venture and explore more of what Indonesia has to offer.
You and Bapak are both from the most beautiful and well known-island of Indonesia, Bali. Bali needs no introduction but is there more to the island that you’d like to share?
Personally, I’m very proud of being Balinese. It is a very special place and I’m proud that we’ve preserved our culture and traditions till this day. Another reason that makes Bali special for me is that I met my husband there.
So, will you miss the diplomatic spouses you’ve met here?
It’s common for the first few friends you make to become your best friends. So a few of my best friends have left already and I miss them dearly. I’m still in contact with them and message them regularly. I’m not very close to the new diplomatic spouses that are here, especially because there haven’t been events or receptions where we can interact.