Friday, October 16, 2009

This project is not in turmoil!

Often people warn me that things take time in Indonesia. That I should not expect to get as much done here as I would in Melbourne. On one level that is true. The heat limits your ability to achieve more than two tasks a day alone, and then when your push bike breaks, or you can’t find an interpreter, or your important request has been lost in translation, you can go a whole day thinking your art project is in turmoil.

But our art project is not in turmoil (I promise, Tori). Because there are also days when you ask for a new bike, someone picks up the phone, and in a few minutes there is a pink 18 speed, functioning bicycle delivered to your door. If there is one thing you can count on in Yogyakarta, it is people’s easy-going generosity - where no random artist’s request can cause too much trouble – that goes well beyond anything I have experienced in Melbourne.

Which leads me to the main subject of this entry. We have found this project’s first participant! Her name is Bu Jilah (pictured below) and she is a Pembantu (helper/housekeeper). She became an obvious person to approach about this project, as we had crossed paths twice already, and I figured that since she works for many artists in Yogya, she would be a little used to unusual requests and art projects.

When I first arrived in Yogya I spent a night at Performance Klub, a friendly sharehouse that also doubles as the base for many of Yogya’s best performance art and music gigs. It was there that I first met Bu Jilah, a smiling Ibu who persistently offered me food and drink. Later, when I was staying at Cemeti Residency House (below), it was Bu Jilah who was doing my dishes and changing the sheets on my bed (pictured below).

So to arrange a meeting with Bu Jilah, I contacted Rachel Saraswati from Performance Klub, who had a good relationship with her. Rachel instantly enjoyed the idea of giving Bu Jilah a day off, and set about convincing her to participate. On Wednesday morning, when I arrived to meet with Bu Jilah at Performance Klub, Rachel had already got her to agree to do the project.

Bu Jilah speaks loudly and lengthily in Javanese, and probably knows more English than I know Indonesian, but not enough for either of us to communicate in any meaningful way. But through the fabulous Rachel, I was able to explain the finer details of the idea. The plan was that I would take over Bu Jilah’s day of work next Monday, and in return she had the opportunity to enjoy being a tourist in her own city. In order to make this more conceivable for her, I offered her 200,000 rupiah to spend at her leisure.

We had weighed up the idea of whether or not to give participants a travel allowance, but it seemed a strange deal to make – “let’s swap roles for a day” – if a person had no money to spend on their possible holiday. People here, I have discovered, are often earning only 500,000 to 1 million rupiah a month (which equates to about AUD $60-120). So the 200,000 rupiah (under $25) I offered Bu Jilah is then a significant amount for a local person. Yet, for a tourist, it is only a moderate budget for one day of touring around Yogya.

Bu Jilah, herself, earns maybe 2-3 million rupiahs a month, but for that she works extremely hard, 7 days a week. I was told that not only does she work for various houses in Yogya, but she also cleans a Dutch school, makes jewellery and herbal remedies to sell, gives massages in private households and collects beer bottles from all the big drinking artists she knows, to recycle for money. This is one busy 52 year-old lady, who finds herself sleeping only 3-4 hours a night! It is not surprising, then, that she has consented to the idea of a day off. (But it may have just as equally been down to Rachel’s persuasion!)

The fact that I will do Bu Jilah’s work on Monday is creating great amusement for people. It seems she has a reputation for being a very hard worker. Something that I did not appreciate until I spent the day with her yesterday... On Thursdays, Bu Jilah works at the same places as she does on Mondays. So yesterday was the perfect opportunity to learn the tasks I will be expected to do when I take over for her. We met at 7.30am - which my fearless interpreter, Boy (pictured below), was not so impressed about – beginning our work at the Dutch school.

(Just as a side note: to get permission to do this project in a school was only a small matter of a phone call to one of the teachers. I was astounded. In Melbourne it would take weeks to get all the parents consent to do something like this in a school! People in Yogyakarta are just spectacularly chilled out!)

Following 300 plus years of colonisation, there are still many Dutch people living in Yogya, and their children attend this school to learn the Dutch language and culture. Here, I watched Bu Jilah scrub toilets, sweep, mop, wipe bench tops, tidy away toys and dust every book, and every surface, meticulously.

Bu Jilah, who has no children of her own, freely admits that she tends to go beyond her role as a cleaner at the school, happily stopping her cleaning to play with the pre-schoolers, prepare snacks or break up fights between the boys. There is one chubby 18 month-old boy that needs a lot of attention (and a lot of snacks) which Bu Jilah seems more than willing to assist with.

Following, our work at the school from 8-11am, where I made friends with the pre-schoolers despite not having a common language amongst us, Bu Jilah arranged for us to meet at the Cemeti Residency House at 2pm. In the break in-between she said she would go home and have a rest and a mandi (a wash).
At 2pm we met at Cemeti, where again I watched her clean everything precisely and methodically. Although I am no longer staying at the house, it was odd to watch her hand wash the bedding and scrub the toilets used by my friends (P.V.I. and Panther) knowing that I’d be doing these tasks on Monday! However, I am very determined to do her job to her standards, as it is obvious she takes great pride in her work. I have been a room attendant in a hotel before, so it is not beyond me to change sheets and clean bathrooms, but I reckon hand washing the bedding shall be a fair challenge. Hopefully, the crew staying at Cemeti will give me some slack… but judging by their comments yesterday, I think they plan to make my job harder. Yikes!

Our day finished at around 6pm. Before we parted ways I handed Bu Jilah the 200000 rupiah and said I’d call her before Monday to finalise our arrangements. I hope to give Bu Jilah a little camera to document her day with (not an easy request since she has never used a camera before!) and organise for Nuning to go talk to her sometime during the day. Otherwise it looks like we are all set for Monday. Ahoy!

Okay, so this has been a very long entry. Although there is still much more to talk about, I will sign off here and write more very soon. Promise.


1 comment:

  1. Awesome post and a fascinating idea. I can't wait to see where Ibu goes for her touristing...send my love to Boy!