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Book Review: She Smells of Turmeric

Bravo to Natasha Sondakh, the young Indonesian author for this lovely book. I came across She Smells of Turmeric when my book club (Mad Tea Book Club) invited Natasha as one of the guest speakers. The Indonesian-books talk was back in August 2021, and you can find the discussion here. I was glad to finally be able to read the book – and what a ride!


The author interspersed sections of this book with some great poems. At first hand they might not seem directly related to the prose, especially if you’re not into poetry. I’ve always loved poetry, and for me, the pieces emitted moods and emotions in a way which complimented the narrative. I’m so glad the author decided on this structure. It really added something special to the reading experience.


I definitely got Crazy Rich Asians vibes with this book. Since it takes place in Jakarta, it hits home even more. Being someone who has also lived in the United States and Indonesia, I can relate a lot to Cecelia (our main character’s) cultural experiences. Of course, Cece lives the life of the 0,01% of Indonesians, so if there was ever a sequel I’d be very curious to see what happens when Cece experiences more of Indonesia.

Traumas (potential spoiler)

Somethings happen to Cece which is sadly and unfairly common (1 in 3 women globally experience sexual violence), though I wasn’t expecting it at all in this book. It sounds weird, but I’m glad that section was included in She Smells of Turmeric. It shows that sexual assault, domestic violence, and abuse isn’t just rampant in lower economy societies – it happens in middle and higher up strata too. As a survivor myself, I think the author handled writing Cece’s emotions and reactions carefully and responsibly. It was not simplistic but rather fleshed out and empowering at the same time.

I finished She Smells of Turmeric in a day. Bravo to the author and I am looking forward to read more books from her in the future!

PS : Episode 13 of my podcast is going to be an in-depth conversation with Natasha, so stay tuned!

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Groped at work? Me too.

Here we go, another one of my #metoo stories. It makes me so angry, and yet by this time I’m so calloused to it. Isn’t it horrible? This time, I was groped at work. Well, my kind of work which is fundraising for the arts.

I was having a dinner meeting with a well-known patron of the arts in Jakarta. I presented a proposal on behalf of the Bandung Philharmonic, and he was talking about a festival he was interested to fund. After dinner, he offered me a ride back to where I was staying in Jakarta (in an artist residence in the well-known Senopati area). I agreed.

Inside the car, he sat in front next to the driver, and I sat in the back. There was a traffic jam, so what should have been a 5-minute ride turned out to be a nightmare 25-minute ride. It was a nightmare because, during the ride, he leaned his arm back and groped my thighs. I couldn’t believe it. I pushed his hand away. He put his hand back with more force. I pushed it away again. I almost considered getting out of the car right then and there, which I should have done. Why the HELL was the driver silent in all of this?

Of course, he was the enabler. There is always the silent enabler, scared of the power the perpetrator holds over him or her.

I stayed in the car, and he did not grope me anymore. But when he dropped me off in front of the artist residency, he tried to kiss me right then and there. I moved away from him, panicked that he would try anything further on the street. I wondered why the satpam took so long in opening the door. 

He said, “Look, how about a threesome then?” and rattled off some huge name artists in Jakarta that he would invite to have a threesome with me. I was so upset. Luckily the satpam came out then and opened the door. I hurried inside. 

The next day I directly told some other important patrons, so there would be witnesses if I ever decided to report. Who am I kidding? I know he is too powerful for me to take down without proper evidence. Fine. But I have my cards. And I will always keep them for when the time is right-when the ground swells with all the other women I know he has harassed.

When that time comes, I’ll be playing my cards for sure.

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Belakang Panggung, the Musical

For International Women’s Day last year in 2020, my colleagues and I initiated Belakang Panggung the Musical as part of Lentera Sintas Indonesia‘s campaign of awareness towards sexual harassment. We staged 5 shows (plus an open dress rehearsal) on the weekend of 6-8th March at the French Institute Auditorium in Jakarta. The next day, Indonesia went into lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

I’m so glad we were able to “get away” with it, as it was a project I had been working on since 2017 after I met Sophia Hage.

The show gathered a huge amount of press recognition. Our main actress Mian Tiara, came out with harassment that was done to her in one of her recent films: Perempuan Tanah Jahanam.


A theatre company is staging the epic Ramayana. During rehearsals, sexual abuse issues surface and threatens the show and the reputation of its director. What happens when the main actress speaks up on the opening night?

Belakang Panggung was our critique of a society that judges, shames, and punishes survivors who speak up. At the same time, it was our plea to leaders in Indonesia to acknowledge this issue. They can start with approving RUU PKS, the proposed bill to eliminate sexual violence and support survivors.

We thank all patrons and individuals that supported us financially for the project. If you are interested to watch a recording of the musical, please contact me. It’s in Indonesian with English subtitles.

This year, I did a small campaign on my personal social media channels from the 1st of March until today, the 8th of March. It’s been a wonderful week of speaking up and advocating awareness surrounding an issue that is so personal to me. I thank all of you who have joined me with your voice, internet bandwidth, time, and resources.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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My #metoo Story

I am putting this down in writing so that there is a written record somewhere of the atrocious things that happened to me in 2014. In case I or anyone should forget.

There are two types of abusers: the stupid stranger on the street, and the brilliant psychopath who takes his time to groom his prey. I have survived both types. But this post is about the second type. (Trigger warnings for this post.)

When I moved back to Indonesia

I moved back from Fort Worth, Texas to Bandung, Indonesia in December 2011 after receiving my graduate degree. Upon my return, I worked in my church in Bandung as a music director. This was the church in which I grew up, so I had many childhood friends. One of them was a guy with the initials AH, who was the son of a respected leader in the church. To understand the whole picture, my father was the senior pastor of this church.

This church has many amazing people who supported me so much throughout my musical career, and also in the tragedies of my life. And yet, I do not attend this church anymore-I do not attend any church now. There are several reasons, the main one was having almost been raped by AH.


He and his wife M were very friendly to me from the years 2011-2014. They picked me up, gave me rides, basically really went out of their way to help me run errands. Almost as if they didn’t have anything to do themselves. Back then, my back hurt a lot because I practiced piano for almost 6 hours every day in addition to my work in the church. I was not taking care of my body well and did not exercise regularly.

AH, and his wife M suggested for me to try ice therapy (also known as cryotherapy). They suggested for me to fill my bathtub with ice cubes and dunk myself in it, then get out and take a hot water shower. I told them that perhaps it might work, but there was no way I would be bothered to freeze that many ice cubes and then put them in my bathtub.

They said they would do it for me, at their house.

This might set off all kinds of alarms for someone who is thinking straight, but I was deep into the mental trap they had set out for me. They had invited me previously to their home several times- to have dinner, to just chill, even to practice aikido. AH claimed himself to be a certified aikido master. Plus this whole time, they were almost always together. The wife M was the enabler. Her presence made me feel safe-surely he wouldn’t try anything odd with his wife right there.

Testing the waters

That night M prepared all the ice cubes, and towels, while AH picked me up from my parents’ house. Upon arriving at their house, they told me everything was set up. They showed me to the bathroom and said I had to take off my clothes to dip in the tub. I hesitated. At this point, even the prey (me) knew enough to not feel comfortable. They assured me they had done this several times before, and to enjoy the full benefits of the ice therapy, I had to be naked. I thought that if that was the case, why was that information left out beforehand so I could at least have worn a swimsuit.

Seeing my reserves, AH suggested for me to keep a shirt on. And so I did. With a shirt on, I stepped into the ice-cold bathtub. A couple of minutes after, they gave me a hot shower. After that, they took me to their bedroom.

Then, they said I would need a body massage. M went off to make tea, while AH proceeded to give me a massage in his bedroom. I was not wearing the wet shirt anymore. After the massage was over, M served me the tea. Then they took me home.

This was the first time.

Several days after, they asked me how my body was feeling. I told them honestly it did feel a little better. To which they said, you should do it again. They would prepare everything. I agreed because I felt somehow indebted to them for all their “kindness”.

The second time

The second time, right I arrived in their house (picked up by AH), his wife M said that she had to help her parents do some errands, but she would be back soon. She had prepared everything. And so she left the two of us.

We repeated the whole process, except this time I went stark naked. I was in a mental limbo. Everything felt fuzzy and unreal, and yet it was real. I dipped myself in the ice and took a hot shower. Then AH massaged me in his bedroom. He touched and massaged everything, from back to the stomach to breasts to genitals. My mind was frozen, and I remembered I thought I would go crazy, so I played a song over and over in my head. I couldn’t (wouldn’t) acknowledge what was happening to me, and instead clung to the music playing in my mind. Later, some psychologists call this self-defense.

All during the massage, he told me that it’s better not to tell anyone, especially anyone in the church. Because I was the pastor’s daughter, and I had a boyfriend at the time, no one would understand this kind of “liberal” therapy.

I noticed that he was turned on, and I became even more afraid. I was already barely breathing and moving. If he tried intercourse, I would not have been able to move a muscle. For some reason unknown to me, he instead did push-ups. Looking back, it could be that he was holding himself back on purpose until the 3rd time. Or he changed his mind? I don’t know. I can’t tell you what’s in a psychopath’s mind. I can only tell you what happened to me.

After the push-ups, he suggested another shower. He helped me get up and proceeded to give me a warm shower. As in: he got into the bathtub and showered with me. Afterwards he helped me dry up and put my clothes on. Then he served me tea. Shortly after, his wife M returned and they both took me back to my house.

How the spell was broken

Upon entering my house, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something weird, really weird, had just happened. At that moment I texted two of the people I trusted most in the world: JHL and KVC. I explained to them roughly what happened, and asked them if they thought it was normal.

JHL said she didn’t know what was happening, but she told me NEVER to go near them again.

KVC is a registered nurse in California. She asked me some more questions and warned me that I sound like someone who had just been raped. She asked me if there was any authority that I could report this to. I said I didn’t think so, precisely because my father is the senior pastor.

And so, I swept it under the carpet for two years until 2016, when the movie Spotlight came out. Note that after contacting JHL and KVC, I actively avoided AH and M. I stopped hanging out with them, and eventually stopped responding to their messages. After a while, they stopped contacting also.

Spotlight is a movie about sexual harassment happening in the Catholic church. Watching it 2 years after my experience, all the memories flooded in. I was in the theater, watching it with a date. This guy turned out to be a real asshole. When I confided in him, he told me it was my fault. Classic.

Speaking up

I then spoke out on my Facebook, leading to a conversation with several female church leaders. Through one of them, I found out that AH had preyed on someone else after me. Another girl in the church, in the year 2015. I spoke to her and found out we went through the same “process” of grooming, testing the waters, and being molested. So he was a serial. The brilliant, psychopathic type, because he knew that even if I reported, what he did would not be considered illegal due to Indonesian laws. According to Indonesian laws, only intercourse rape is illegal, and the victim needed a test (visum) to even prove it.

I have since then reached out to Sophia Hage of Lentera Sintas Indonesia. We collaborated and created a huge awareness campaign for International Women’s Day last year, in 2020. I’ll share it in my next post (to be released exactly on International Women’s Day this year). Of all the things, we chose to tell the story through the medium of a stage musical. A Musical, can you believe it!

But that’s for the next post. For now, I’m so proud to have been able to write this down. I hope it benefits #metoo research, campaigns, and efforts on this issue. Most of all, I hope it benefits my fellow survivors.

The Indonesian version is available here, in an interview with feminist psychologist Zoya Amirin.

If you need someone to talk to, you can also contact me.

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A Survivor’s Response to Theologian Ravi Zacharias Sexual Abuse Reports

Recently Christian religious communities around the world have been shocked and aghast by Ravi Zacharias sexual abuse reports. He was a superstar preacher and theologian, with many books on Christianity. Apparently, he had as many pictures of naked women as books. He died at the age of 74 in May 2020, after denying allegations by Lori Anne Thompson since 2017. Many people did not believe her and actively slandered her. The organization (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) finally took action to investigate, and recently published a report on his many sexual abuse cases. (Trigger warning for the rest of the post!)

As a survivor of sexual harassment, one of my worst experiences was in a church setting, by the son of a deacon (church leader). Listen to the whole story here on Zoya Amirin Youtube Channel. It’s in Indonesian, but I’ll give an English translation in the next blog post. I first started speaking up on my experiences back in 2016. As a result of that, I met Sophia Hage of Yayasan Lentera Sintas Indonesia. This non-profit hosts private closed group discussions to support survivors. Lentera also actively campaigns about sexual harassment awareness and laws that need to be changed in Indonesia (RUU PKS). RUU PKS is a proposed bill focusing on the prevention of sexual violence in Indonesia while increasing victims’ rights. It was proposed in 2016 but dropped by DPR (People’s Representative) in 2020.

Back to the Ravi Zacharias scandals. I observed quietly as many people in my Whatsapp groups bravely attempted to digest this difficult news. I would like to share my voice here from a survivor’s point of view.

Not surprised at all.

All the signs were there-superstar, powerful, rich figure of patriarchal background. It is all too easy for someone in that position to abuse well, everything and everyone, really. Unless there are proper checks and balances set in place, then it’s just much too easy for him to do whatever he wants. Especially to village girls that have limited options in life due to poverty.

I wish discussions would be more empathetic and supportive of survivors.

Can you imagine how you would feel if your pastor was groping your thighs? Or how you would feel, if you were looking for a job because you desperately needed money to get through the week, and your boss offers you financial support in exchange for sexual favors? How would you react?

Statistics say that 1 in 3 women worldwide has experienced physical and/or sexual violence. They just haven’t spoken up about it. This is a staggering number.

What will you do about the issue?

Do not think your place is exempt from this social issue. Use the momentum of this news to bring it up to the leaders of your religious organization, workplace, school, to see if there are protocols set in place to ensure that everyone is safe. That people can speak up if they feel they have been mistreated. It can be as simple as an anonymous abuse hotline where you can report your case. Or an email where people can send anonymous stories to. Or let your family members (especially your children) know that if anyone ever touched them without their consent, then they can talk to you. You will not judge them. You will listen and believe them, and you will love them.

Let your children know that if anyone ever touched them without their consent, you will not judge them. You will listen, believe, and love them.

However you choose to act, my plea is this: do not stay silent on this issue. International Woman’s Day is coming up on 8th of March. They are campaigning for the hashtag #ChooseToChallenge. Speak up, use your voice. If you have money, find a campaign you like and donate to it. If you are in a leadership position, use your power to create better systems for your community.

What you do now will not be forgotten by your sons and daughters.

If you have been sexually abused, you can talk reach out to Lentera Sintas Indonesia, Zoya Amirin, or many other nonprofits and worldwide organizations. Have hope. The world is changing-slowly, but surely.

You can also talk to me. I’ve been there. You’re not alone.

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Towards International Women’s Day 2021

For International Women’s Day this year, I am so excited to be doing a campaign on my various digital channels. For each day from the 1st of March to the 8th of March, I will do one activity with the hashtag #ChoosetoChallenge. Here is my plan.

March 1

Publish a picture of myself with my hand raised, as suggested on International Women’s Day official website. I am going to tag 5 friends and see if any of them take up the picture challenge before the 8th of March.

March 2

I am going to research and choose 3 international nonprofits working towards women empowerment and gender equality and invite my followers to take a look and donate to the charities.

March 3

Publish a blog post as my response to the recent Ravi Zacharias scandals, writing from a survivor’s point of view.

March 4

Lobby at least one of the 5 friends I tagged to join the picture challenge. Hopefully one of them does! If you would like to join, please go ahead, and tag my Instagram.

March 5

Publish a blog post of one of my #metoo stories-the one in 2014 by a church member who turned out to be a sexual predator.

March 6

I am going to research and choose 3 local (Indonesian) nonprofits working in this field and invite my followers to take a look and donate to the local charities.

March 7

Make a TikTok video for Breaking the Silence- a 58-minute episode from the Leap Forward Podcast by the Global Network. I was one of the five people invited to discuss domestic sexual violence along with Sophia Hage of Lentera Sintas Indonesia, Kumudini David (Voice with Kumu), Jerry Winata (Bawa Anambas Foundation), and Ayesha Shaukatullah Awan (SEALA Network Manager).

March 8

I will be sharing the recording of Belakang Panggung the Musical, an original musical on the topic of sexual harassment which I initiated for International Women’s Day 2020 in Jakarta. If you are interested to watch the recording, you can contact me to request the link.

That’s my plan for this year’s International Women’s Day! #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021

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Orange the World 2020

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign initiated in 1991 by Center for Women’s Global Leadership. It starts on 25 November and runs until 10 December (International Human Rights Day). UN Women’s activism this year is coordinated under the global theme Orange the World : Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect.

I’d like to shine some light on this issue through one of my short stories, Hazelnut and Potato. It is based on too many true stories, and fits all the global statistics regarding the issue.

  • 1 in 3 women have experienced physical/sexual violence.
  • Most of this violence is from people close to the women.
  • In many societies, it is still a taboo to speak about these issues.

Here is an excerpt of the short story.

When Hazelnut was younger, Father made Mother stay home to watch out and take care of the lovely little one. Now that Hazelnut had been taught to care for herself at home, Mother also joined Potato and Father outside. It was necessary : the rice fields called for all the hands they could get. It was difficult toil. Grab and cut, grab and cut. They only paused for lunch break. They had their lunch out in the fields, underneath the shade of the bamboo gazebo. Hazelnut was not allowed to go out during the heat, so she always stayed at home having her lunch alone.

Potato’s back hardened, and her hands became rough and calloused. At night, Hazelnut would massage Potato’s hands with oil from the white wood trees. Father carefully watched the sisters, while Mother prepared food and various delicious spices.

One particular afternoon, while Mother and Potato were eating lunch, Father got up suddenly without finishing his rice. “I heard a strange sound from our house. There has been rumors of a buffalo gone mad. Hazelnut is all by herself there. I must see that she is alright. I will make sure, and return soon.”

Potato became sick with worry, but Mother said, “There will be nothing you can do against such a large animal, Potato. It is not a small field rat. If there is indeed any danger, let your Father see to it. We must tend to our fields, for the greater danger of the smallest creatures here might destroy all our hard work this season.”

After what felt to Potato like hours, Father returned to the fields.

“It was nothing,” he said. “Perhaps I heard it in my mind. I am getting old. The heat of the sun is getting to my brains, and my back.”

“What about Hazelnut?” asked Potato.

“She is perfectly fine. Perfectly fine,” Father replied.

The complete story is available in the shop. Gender-based violence is too real all around us, especially if you live in a patriarchal society. Please, please, please educate yourself on the topic. If you have daughters, find out how to raise them so that they can protect themselves. Don’t pretend gender-based violence doesn’t exist, or it will be too late when you or your loved one is the next one taken prey.

Visit WHO statistics to understand the actual data on this issue. To know more about the campaign globally, visit the 16 Days of Campaign’s website.