Thursday, October 22, 2009

A post from Nuning.

I decided to contribute raw materials that might be useful for the development of this project at its later stage. When I said “raw materials”, I am thinking about a collection of interviews and excerpts from personal websites or relevant texts that serve as plausible explanations for the existing local concept of work, leisure, time, and the work/life balance.

What I am going to write in this post is the fragments of my interview with Bu Jilah, on October 19th, 2009 at the Cemeti Studio. The conversation was conducted in Javanese, mixed with Bahasa Indonesia. She talked about her principles of money, work ethic, time management, the relationship between men and women, and so forth. Reflecting on our talk now, I feel that she was actually trying to show her values for living life.

Cemeti Studio, October 19, 2009

She was late. It was already past 9.00AM. I sent her a text message, and the reply was short one: “I am half way to the studio”. Then I finally saw her motorcycle entering the front gate. I greeted her. “Hello Bu Jilah. Nuning here. I am the one who just sent you a text”. “Hello Mbak Nuning. Sorry for being a bit late. I went to the PLN (Nuning: Perusahaan Listrik Negara or the State Electric Company) office first to pay the electricity bill. Wait Mbak, I need to fasten the screws of my motorcycle’s front lamp,” she said. With the screwdriver in her hands, she continued talking, “I have to handle virtually everything in my house, starting from regular house activities, paying bills, to trivial matters such us fixing the lamp of motorcycle…I am easily feeling stressed out because of these small things…Last night, I talked to my son. Well he is not my real son, I adopted him, anyway I said to him to not speed at our kampung, because our neighbors like to talk and gossip about that you know…And I said to him to always think about me, the mother who is working really hard for the family”. She talked fast, with a casual tone, as if she was facing me, her old friend. Or perhaps it was because we used Javanese that she spoke rather freely and broke all the boundaries between us? Probably.

Then we sat on a bench at the rear of the studio. “My mom has just passed away,” she said. “Was she sick?” “Yes, various kind of illness”. She pulled a photo album out of her bag. Browsing through it, she continued the story. “This is my mother when she is still sick”, said Bu Jilah pointing at the picture of an old woman lying on the divan bed. “And this is my mom when she has just passed away. I spent quite a lot amount of money for the funeral ceremony. It cost me 450 thousand rupiah only for getting the ambulance taking my mother from our house at the village to here. Plus I still need to pay my mom’s debts…” “Did your mother have many debts?” “Well yeah actually not so many…It is just because I said to the lady who own the food stall at the market of our village to let my mom eating there whenever she wanted it to…I am holding many responsibilities…”

“Do you have many people borrow money from you?” “Not anymore. I do not want anybody to borrow money from me again.”

“Do you save the money you earned?” “Absolutely. I own lots of jewelry, especially gold.”

“So you do not have a bank account?” “No. I prefer to save my money in the form of jewelry and keep them all inside my own house.”

“Do you ever have a wish for using some of your savings to go on a holiday?” “Oh no, and what for? It would be better if I used the spare time to work and get more money. If I am not cleaning up houses, I sell herbal drinks or used bottles, and provide massage services for those who need it. Often I come home late.”

“Or perhaps you want to spend the money to buy more electronic stuff?” “I do not have any particular desire for it. I already have a refrigerator. I have six motorcycles. And I always pay the installments on time.” She pulled a small book containing the record of the installment payments from her bag. “Look, never once have I exceed the deadline of paying it. And because of it, the motorcycle dealer always grants my proposal to installing another motorcycle”.

“Do you know what I really want now? I want to have a washing machine. I want to have a laundry business someday. Students would be our main targets. And we are going to use a pick-up-service method. I used to have a business laundry a couple years ago. It was a traditional laundry since we washed all clothes by hands. Then there was this neighbor starting to build a competition by establishing a more modern laundry. They used a washing machine. But their business died in short time too.”

“I have worked since I was a little girl. As far as I remember, when I was still sitting at the junior high school, I started to earn my own money by selling many things…Then I worked for the lady working at the post office, cleaning up her house...I cannot remember exactly when was that. She liked me because I have always been a diligent person. She introduced me to a foreign lady called Tessa. So that was the beginning of me working for expatriates. Tessa started to introduce me to her fellows…And that is how I get the job, from mouth-to-mouth advertisement…I always try to be trustworthy. I never show a slight attitude of asking-things to any employer I have. For example, many friends sometimes feel happy on hearing their employers will soon return to their homeland, because they wish to be sent many gifts or money or something like that. Well I never have such a thought. What I want is to be paid for what I do. In bidding farewell to any employer, I always say: Goodbye. Have a safe and nice trip. I hope you all can visit Indonesia again someday, so that we will have an opportunity to meet again.”

“Is your husband working somewhere?” “No. He stays at home”. “He is not working?” “No. He is at home, taking care of our house”. “Is he sick or something?” “Oh no. I think it would be better for all of us if he stays at home, for otherwise there would be nobody taking care of our cats”. “Do you have many cats?” “Yes, there are around 10 cats at my house”.

Bu Jilah mentioned that she always tries “to follow the social rules”. And she said it in an unusual phrase; I believe she has invented it herself, that is “ikut sosial” which literally means “following the social”. By that she means that the everyday relationship between her and people in her neighborhood should never to be disregarded. No matter how busy she is, she remains willing and ready to help a neighbor who needs support. In the case of a neighbor who is about to have a wedding ceremony for their children, unlike the other women in her kampung who help to cook for the ceremony for a whole day, Bu Jilah prefers to come to say her best wishes at night. “And of course I do not come there with empty hands”, said Bu Jilah. Her neighbors, she continued, understand that she has a tight work schedule during the day. “After all, I usually contribute a lot amount of money…That’s what makes them even happier…” she laughed.

“Did you go to school, when you were younger?” “I did. I got a degree from a vocational school, from SMEA (Nuning: Sekolah Menengah Ekonomi Atas means Senior High School specialising in Economic Studies)”.

“Don’t you want to work in an office? I mean to work in the formal sector?” “I used to want to work in an office. But my father forbade me from working at places too far away from our house. I think that was because I am the girl he loved the most…”

“The neighbors used to express their negative gestures whenever seeing me wearing jewelry.” “Why would they do that?” “Because they thought I was wearing the fake ones! Until one day I showed them the letters of my jewelries, then they started to understand…People are always like that you know…They just do not know how hard one has to work to get all that. I always come home very late at night. Also everyday, usually at 3AM in the morning, I wake up, to sincerely ask God for blessing me, my family, as well as this city.”


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