Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I’m smacking the table as I say “waduh” which is much like saying “oh my god” in Indonesian. The last three days have been really busy, crazy, fabulous and very, very hot!

It’s something like 38 degrees here, which is the kind of temperature that gets even the locals complaining. On Monday, when I was doing Bu Jilah’s work, the heat was relentless. Luckily I spent most of the day splashing around in water, scrubbing bathrooms and hand-washing bedding - which was some small relief from the heat.

I apologise in advance, but I am going to make no effort to write this post well. What is called for is a brain dump of mammoth proportions. I may need to even revert to bullet points. There is so much to say.

Things are happening very quickly, and they must. I present this project on Friday 23rd October at 3.30pm. That gives me less than 48 hours to compile all the research and documentation, and put it together in an interesting and engaging presentation. However, tomorrow I spend from 8am - 4pm at Via Via, taking over the job of a kitchen hand (more detail on that later), which means the next 2 days are going to be intensely hectic!

But I’m going to stop whinging a moment, to gush about this project instead. Monday was an amazing success. Not only did I manage to complete most of Bu Jilah’s responsibilities (minus a bit of dusting and sweeping here and there) but Bu Jilah seems to have had a really great time. Unexpectedly, she didn’t spend the whole day working and took some time out to have adventures in a shopping mall! She returned with some great stories and some amazing photos (see below)!

So the day of the big “role swap” began at 9am on Monday, with a meeting between Bu Jilah, Nuning and myself. This was an opportunity for Nuning to meet and interview Bu Jilah (later Nuning will post something on this blog based on their discussion), and for me to show Bu Jilah how to operate a digital camera. Bu Jilah has never used a camera before, but she took to it like a duck to water (her photos, a selection from the 40 she took, will appear later in this post).

Up until this meeting it seems Bu Jilah was under the impression she needed to accompany me as I did her work. When we clarified that she had the whole day off to do as she pleased, it was a revelation. Bu Jilah had a “waduh” moment and slapped the table in front of her. After this small detail was revealed to her, she was more than happy to hand over the keys to the Dutch school and Cemeti House and leave me to it!

My day as Bu Jilah began at 1pm where I was scheduled to go to the Dutch School to clean. I decided I’d get there an hour early so I could get a head start on scrubbing the toilets and the kitchen. By the time the kids arrived for class at 2pm, I had finished most of the hard work. The rest of the time was spent dusting, tidying and sweeping, as well as fetching drinks for the kids and joining their games. Not so hard really, despite the heat… I was introduced to a few of the children’s parents, who were bemused to hear that I was taking the place of Bu Jilah for the day. Remarkably however, they were also very accepting of the idea and had no problem with a strange artist spending the afternoon cleaning their children’s school.

At 4pm I moved on to Cemeti house where I had a list of tasks to get done by 7pm. This was a little daunting, as this time I had no head start and I was already quite tired. It was also still very hot. I started with the kitchen and dining room, scrubbing the remnants of a small dinner party that had happened the night before, and then moving on to the bedrooms.

Bu Jilah had been very clear that I had to wash and change everyone’s bedding, so with two and a bit hours left to go, I stripped the beds and began hand-washing the sheets. An hour later I was done, completely soaked in water and soap suds. After a quick cigarette break, I realised there was not much time left, so I perfunctorily did a quick sweep of the 4 bedrooms, made the beds and set to work on the bathrooms. At 7pm I had arranged to meet up with Bu Jilah at Cemeti, and when she arrived I was more or less done, though perhaps not quite up to her standard.

Bu Jilah seemed unconcerned though. She had a big giggle over the wet sheets hanging on the line, and asked if I was tired. I said I was and she had another giggle. She appeared to have had a good day. She spoke rapidly in Javanese, beaming and laughing as she showed me her photos. Boy, my interpreter, said she had found it tiring to be a tourist. Below are some of her photos from the day.

So it seems Bu Jilah did give herself the day off, spending most of her day at Progo shopping mall, a place she had never visited before. She marvelled at the Teflon saucepans and the washing machines (which doesn’t supprise me, after my hellish hour of hand-washing sheets!), and took delight in the array of shoes and clothing. She told us at one point she got lost in the shopping mall, trapped on a certain floor that only had escalators, contraptions she didn’t know how to use. Laughing at herself, she said she had felt “groggy”, having never spent a day with no purpose before.

On Monday evening, I was invited back to Bu Jilah’s house, as a kind of thankyou for involving her in the project. At her house I met her son and daughter-in-law (a photo of them by Bu Jilah is above) and together we ate mangos and biscuits, and sipped on coffee. I saw photos of Bu Jilah’s family and friends and learnt that her son hires out karaoke equipment. On that note, Bu Jilah, who loves singing, demonstrated her vocal skills belting out a song in Indonesian (see below). At the end of my visit, Bu Jilah put me on the back of her motorcycle, where we sped back to my place, with my head towering over Bu Jilah’s helmet (Bu Jilah is quite short). We made a funny pair. When we arrived, she handed me a bag full of mangoes and tempeh, and we exchanged some heartfelt “terimah kasies” (thankyous).

So Tori, I have no idea what all this means. Perhaps I can leave it to you to decipher, while I hectically try to get this project completed by Friday? Honestly, all I can say is that beyond the critical and artisitic outcomes that will come from this project, I think on a purely human level I have enjoyed doing this project with Bu Jilah. It has been a very remarkable encounter with a Pembantu that I may have easily passed-by - quite likely paying her minimal attention as she made me coffees and attended to my sheets. And I feel an elated kind of satisfaction that she enjoyed her unusual day off.

So tomorrow, I take over the work of Iput at Via Via resturant (pictured above). Iput, 25, thinks she might spend her day off with her husband at Maliboro, selling keyrings and trinkets at their street stall, and taking her son to the swimming pool. Meanwhile I’m told my day will be spent chopping vegetables and washing dishes. Stay tuned to see how it all eventuates.


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