To Sarkini, and Thousand Others Like You

My Dear TKI, My Poor TKI

Dear Sarkini,

First, in the spirit of honesty.. I’m sorry for not remembering your name! Other possibilities run through my head (Sakirni? Sarkani?) as I type this up, but I hope you don’t take this personally… I am exceptionally bad at remembering people’s names. I do however remember that you were born sometime in January, 1988 (yes, date forgotten) in a village (forgotten its name too) near Cirebon, West Java.

And that you have worked in Malaysia for 2 years as a housemaid, where you had to sneak behind your boss’ back just to make a quick phone call or send a text message to your family back home.

I acknowledge we did not meet in the best of circumstances: I kicked you out of my seat — not harshly but I admit I could have been a bit nicer (my excuse: fatigue after 5 days of travel, PMS, and the thought of having to go back to work tomorrow) — and then pretty much ignored you throughout the trip.

Ah yes, I did help you fill out the immigration and customs card. And did try, to the best of my ability, to “smuggle” you out with me through the “normal” custom lane before one of the officials caught you out and sent you back towards the TKI*-only terminal. The rest of us “normal” Indonesians can only speculate what happens in there, but if stories are to be believed, it will involve the customs/immigration/police officials ripping you off of your hard-earned money simply because they can and you don’t know any better. Or that you do, but are powerless to fight back as those who are supposed to be looking out for you are in fact the ones that take advantage of your naivety and trust.

And so, as I snuggle under my blanket in my air-conditioned room, I can’t help but wonder where you are. I can only hope that you have managed to exit the airport with your hard-earned income more or less intact, and that you did not come to any physical/mental harm. And I hope you are now safely on a train/bus,  heading to your home-sweet-home where no doubt your family will be excited to have you back after 2-years of minimal contact.

I apologize I couldn’t (wouldn’t?) do more to help you. Should I have followed you into the TKI-only terminal, and debated with the officer in there and persuade them to let you go with me into the “normal-people” terminal? Would I be willing to put my right, social standing and financial comfort at risk to fight for yours? Does being a good citizen mean letting you enter into the lion’s den alone simply because it’s the rules, and I exit risk-free and guilt-free because they say I can and you can’t? Or am I just being chicken sh*t? Am I now one of those that should have protected you, but chose not to because I didn’t want to risk my good life?

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” — Edmund Burke

While I know the chances of you reading this is pretty much zero, I apologize for not trying harder. I apologize for letting bad governments and leaders fail you, and others like you, over and over again. May God protect you and your family, as I and others like me have failed to do so. May you continue to be as strong and brave in facing this world.

With the utmost respect,

your fellow passenger on flight QZ7695 (KL-JKT)

*TKI: Tenaga Kerja Indonesia, or simply the blue-collar workers (e.g. drivers, maids) that Indonesia exports to Singapore/Malaysia/Taiwan/Middle East/etc. Mostly from the rural areas and of low socioeconomic background, they become easy preys to the airport officials who harass them for money.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. This is a powerful post. Thank you. May we all develop courage and step up to the plate!
    Cecelia

    Reply

  2. Those immigrant workers always humble me.

    Reply

  3. […] Maids from Indonesia often work far away from home in terrible condition, and when they finally get back, they are fleeced by the immigration officials at the airport. You have worked in Malaysia for 2 years as a housemaid, where you had to sneak behind your boss’ b… […]

    Reply

  4. @cecelia: Amen! Like all good things, it’s always easier said than done.

    @john: They are a hard lesson in humility, courage.. and hope.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Vani on June 27, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    That’s very honest of you. That takes courage and I want to acknowledge that. It’s not easy to know what is right and what is enough and sometimes I doubt what I should have done as well. That is a very powerful quote and I think of it often. I did not know about the TKI terminal, how horrible!

    In Singapore now, they are debating whether maids should be given one day off a week. I remember going to Indonesia for the first time in 2008 and at Lombok airport, seeing a group of sobbing women clinging on to their children who stood around dazed and other relatives pulling them away. I didn’t understand what was happening at first. And here we are, “debating” whether to give one day off. For all their hard work and sacrifice…

    ~V

    Reply

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