Saturday, October 17, 2009

“She loves work more than eating”

Although my last post was quite long, it failed to mention a conversation I had with Bu Jilah. It was a conversation that is probably best to reserved for a separate post, as it brings up some interesting implications and questions for this project.

When I met Bu Jilah at Cemeti on Thursday, I asked her if she could stop her work for a moment to chat about the project. I just wanted to ensure she understood the project and what was expected of her.

I was lucky enough to have Antariksa as my interpreter. Antariksa is a respected arts writer here in Yogya, working for iCAN and Kunci. He is also the man who makes the phone calls, the ones that get you bicycles, or warehouses, or press conferences. The South Project artists have been running him ragged with our requests (he looks really tired in the photo below), and I cannot gush enough about him.

So with Antariksa’s help, I chatted to Bu Jilah. Bu Jilah, I have noticed, is more than happy to talk. She is also more than happy to feed people, and while responding at length to my questions, she prepared us a heaped plate of rujak, slicing up fresh fruit, and grinding a dipping sauce of peanuts, chillies, palm sugar, tamarind and fish paste in a motar and pestle.

Bu Jilah told us she has a reputation for being a hard worker, that someone had even said she loved work, more than eating. She explains the key to happiness is to love your work. At 52 years of age, she imagines she could live another 100 to 200 years more, happily working.

On Wednesday, I had heard through Rachel, that Bu Jilah was intending to work on her day off. She had mentioned Bu Jilah wanted to sell jewellery or take bottles for recycling. However, Rachel was keen to see Bu Jilah do something nice for herself, and urged her to go on a tour to Borobudur. But Bu Jilah had no interest in going on a tour to touristy sites.

So on Thursday, I asked Bu Jilah if she understood she would receive 200,000 rupiah for the project and she was allowed to take the day off if she wanted. Bu Jilah explained her choice. She said she had never been to Borobudur or a shopping mall, and although they did interest her, she said she’d feel strange and uncomfortable going. She asked me if it was okay if she stayed at home and did her errands instead. I said it was perfectly okay.

Bu Jilah’s choice has interesting implications for this project. When Tori and I came up with our idea for the Yogyakarta Gathering, we were fully aware that our notions of travel and leisure are very western in nature, and we were not sure if the project concept would translate well in the social context of Indonesia. We were curious about the Indonesian concepts of “leisure”. Did they experience “holidays” as Australians do? We did not know.

As Tori mentions in the post below, we are conscious this project could easily become gimmicky, where we do little more than mimic a reality TV show playing a cheap game with the gap between rich and poor. To ask Bu Jilah to “become a tourist in her own city for a day”, and expect her to seize that opportunity to take laps in a pool, or spend her “travel allowance” on clothing at a shopping mall, now seems kind of cheesy.

Bu Jilah’s plan for her day off is far more revealing. When you never have the money, time or opportunity to indulge in thoughts of cocktails by swimming pools, and tours to exotic destinations, what then do you want from a day off? Instead of getting holiday snaps of Bu Jilah visiting tourist sites and buying souvenirs, we will gain an insight much more complex and interesting than that.


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