An unnecessary necessary post: Why do I even have to explain that maid are humans?
I came across these comments (see image) while following some tweets by my friend, Kirsten, on the recent debate on the mandatory weekly day off for domestic workers in Singapore. It was quite disgusting for me to see comments such as “Maids are inferior creatures” or not “REAL humans”.
As a large part of domestic workers in Singapore are Indonesian, I feel personally insulted for my fellow country people and am also grieved by the fact that workers who are looking for better opportunities in Singapore should be treated in that manner. It’s terrible to see news of domestic workers committing suicide over failing their English test or being ill-treated by their employers.
I don’t think this problem occurs in Singapore alone; it has happened in many countries from Saudi Arabia to Malaysia. I find that even in Indonesia, some families treat their maids poorly. Let me focus on Indonesian domestic workers for a bit, since I am much more familiar with them. I’d like to debunk the myth that employers think they are doing their maids a huge favor by hiring them. Please, it’s just a job to them.
In a recent poll, Indonesians has been rated as one of the happiest people in the world. People from the villages live a simple and happy lifestyle. Young women from the villages sometimes venture outside to get some experience and money, with the intention of returning home, getting married and starting a family. Older women also seek outside work to help out their husbands. Working is seen as an alternative by women to staying home and helping out at the house or in the fields. They usually send a part of their wages home to their family, who can use it to buy luxury items such as a television or a cell phone. Otherwise, the family usually lives a stable lifestyle, eating simple self-grown vegetables and other local foods from the villages. (On a side note, families from the villages usually do not put a strong emphasis on higher education. That is both a political and financial issue. )
While some choose to work within the country, many are choosing overseas destination for better pay and also a chance to see the world outside. (General wages in Indonesia is about $100+ USD a month) Being away from their home for probably the first time of their lives, some of them may seem a bit meek or scared at first. Instead of understanding their situation, I find it ridiculous that some employers should treat that weakness of a sign of inferiority.
In addition, Southeast Asia has a culture of politeness. When speaking to a male stranger in Indonesia, “Mas” or “Pak” is used as a term of reference. “Mba” or “Bu” is used for female. Employers may be unused to this level of politeness and think themselves a somehow superior breed or the masters when they hear the translated version of “Sir” or “Ma’am” spoken by their domestic workers.
Last night, I had a long talk with my former Mba (A term used to refer to young women). Her name is Rum (pronounced ‘room’), so I would call her Mba Rum or Rum . I had not spoken to her in ages and she had called me from her village, dying to speak to me.
“I miss you so much Bel!” She professed in Indonesian.
My mother had brought her to care for me when I was a teenager schooling in Singapore since my mother was often in Indonesia. She would cook and do general cleaning but most times, she was just like a housemate. We spent afternoons taking long walks at grocery stores, drooling at chocolates, shopping and watching movies. I still vividly remember sitting in the living room together on a cold, rainy afternoon and watching “The Day After Tomorrow” and feeling the movie come alive with the cold weather.
For the next hour, we caught up on each others’ lives on the phone. She now lives in Central Java, about 3 hours away from Semarang. Happily married, she is hoping to have a child sometime soon.
“Do you still have a picture of Matthew Marsden in your wallet?” I asked.
She giggled. She was a huge Matthew Marsden fan. We had seen him in “Helen of Troy” and she obviously went ga-ga and had me print out his pictures and put it in her wallet. I admit we wasted some precious times ogling at movie stars on the computer on some days. Each time she went home for a visit, she would come back with stories and even tell me about boys in the villages (none of whom she married, unfortunately for them).
She went on to recount the past memories we had together, remembering most details better than I did.
“Oh, remember omelette rice?” She asked suddenly.
I had almost forgotten. Omelette rice or omu rice is basically a Japanese dish with rice inside, topped with mayonnaise and tomato sauce (sometimes curry). We once went out to eat some omu rice, I had told Mba Rum that while I liked it very much, but it was too expensive to eat regularly. She told me that it was very simple and she could make it herself. So as a treat, she would sometimes make me omu rice.
I told her she could make an Indonesian style omu rice and sell it in her village. We got into a interesting discussion of how some pecel (a spicy sauce with peanuts) could be “hidden” inside the omu rice.
“Surprise hidden pecel!” Mba Rum said excitedly.
At the end of the conversation, she asked for my Blackberry pin, which I didn’t have. I promised to call her more often instead. We’re hoping that sometime during Lebaran, we could meet up in Semarang or she could come over to Jakarta.
And YES, I’ve been talking about a real human.