Stanley Ann Dunham, better known as President Barack Obama‘s mother, passed away in 1995 before seeing her son become the most powerful man in the world.
In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Dunham gets a long profile adapted from Janny Scott‘s forthcoming book, A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother.
The article paints a portrait of a complex woman who traveled to Indonesia with her second husband, battled the customs while raising her son and new daughter, and eventually returned to Hawaii.
As Scott writes, “To describe Dunham as a white woman from Kansas turns out to be about as illuminating as describing her son as a politician who likes golf.”
The President described his mother as “single constant in my life.”
'By the early 1970s, Lolo and Ann had moved into a rented house in Matraman, a middle-class area of Jakarta. The house was a pavilyun, an annex on the grounds of a bigger main house. It had three bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, a library and a terrace. Like the households of other Indonesians who could afford it, it had a sizable domestic staff. Two female servants shared a bedroom; two men -- a cook and a houseboy -- slept mostly on the floor of the house or in the garden. The staff freed Ann from domestic obligations to a degree that would have been almost impossible in the United States.'
''I worked at the U.S. Embassy in Djakarta for 2 horrible years,' she wrote to a friend.'
'On Aug. 15, 1970, shortly after Barry's ninth birthday and during what would turn out to be the only visit by her mother, Madelyn Dunham, to Indonesia, Ann gave birth to Maya Kassandra Soetoro at Saint Carolus Hospital, a Catholic hospital thought by Westerners at that time to be the best in Jakarta. When Halimah Brugger gave birth in the same hospital two years later, she told me, the doctor delivered her baby without the luxury of a stethoscope, gloves or gown. 'When the baby was born, the doctor asked my husband for his handkerchief,' Brugger said. 'Then she stuffed it in my mouth and gave me 11 stitches without any anesthesia.''
''She didn't know, as little I knew, how Indonesian men change when suddenly their family is around,' Renske Heringa, a Dutch anthropologist and close friend of Ann's in the 1980s who herself married a man who was half Indonesian, told me. 'And how Indonesian men like women to be easy and open abroad, but when you get to Indonesia, the parents are there, the family is there, you have to behave. You have to be the little wife. As a wife, you were not supposed to make yourself visible besides being beautiful. By the time I knew Ann, she was a hefty woman. She didn't care about getting dressed, wearing jewelry, the way Indonesian women do. That was not her style. He expected her to do it. That is one reason she didn't stick it out. She absolutely refused to. I understand why he couldn't accept it.''
''She was a very strong person in her own way,' Obama said, when I asked about Ann's limitations as a mother. 'Resilient, able to bounce back from setbacks, persistent -- the fact that she ended up finishing her dissertation. But despite all those strengths, she was not a well-organised person. And that disorganization, you know, spilled over. Had it not been for my grandparents, I think, providing some sort of safety net financially, being able to take me and my sister on at certain spots, I think my mother would have had to make some different decisions. And I think that sometimes she took for granted that, 'Well, it'll all work out, and it'll be fine.' But the fact is, it might not always have been fine, had it not been for my grandmother... Had she not been there to provide that floor, I think our young lives could have been much more chaotic than they were.''
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