Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ladies lunch

Still on the topic of lunch, but of the literal kind.

I drive down South of Jakarta to where my pretty young ladies have assembled. We are like sex and the city. A group of attractive and stylish career women who've known each other since we were still unattractive. Apple has perfect tresses of hair and is in a steady relationship with a boyfriend who demands to know her every movement wherever she is, and had just been to a wedding party with her boyfriend's mother. She is distressed. Oh, why is she distressed? Because the mother, for the first time, asked her seriously whether she is serious about her son. Apple smiles, surprised, happy, and says, "yes".  Yes and why is she distressed?  Because the mother then said, "Please be patient my dear.  Wait for his elder brother first."

Apple understands, but she cries. She anxiously wonders how much longer she will have to wait to wed the boy. She laments that the elder brother is not outgoing, she wonders how on earth he can be encouraged to find a girlfriend and get married. She presses her palms against her pretty cheeks and her pretty cake lies abandoned on the table, half-eaten. 

The conversation swings here and there and after a while, Cherry announces that she will be getting engaged next month. A sudden rush, rather like a graceful stampede, occurs as the girls fling themselves around Cherry and shower her with emotional hugs. They demand to know how it happened, whether he proposed, when's the date. She calmly explains that, during her two-week bed-rest recovering from typhoid, she grew bored and restless and decided to browse wedding sites.  She then got a little over-excited and decided to call one of the venues to see if they were available.  When the venue responded favorably she decided to just book the damn thing. Her mother set the engagement date. The boyfriend, who had been ready for a long time, was informed of the developments. 

Berry, a sexy divorced single-mom whose first marriage happened when she was 22, fixes Cherry with a radiant gaze and rubs her bare caramel-colored arms and declares she is getting goosebumps. She herself is hopeful on and likely to be getting engaged soon. However, she is likewise distressed.  Because her boyfriend's father insists that they must find a house before they marry, whereas her mother insists that she must stay in her mother's house after they marry. She says she shed tears at the nerve-wracking dilemma. She sees no way out of the current situation. 

Other stories become intertwined. Of the wedding of Apple's close friend, and how pretty the bride was, and how dashing the groom was. Of what color our uniforms should be at Cherry's wedding next year. Of our countless friends or people we know of from people we know. 

Of not being able to get married before the eldest does, and deciding weddings because of typhoid, and mothers who demand their children stay in her house after marriage. And then incoherent buzzing and humming as I start to disconnect.

I go to the bathroom to breathe and look at myself in my pretty pink summer dress.

"What am I doing here?" I ask.

From the window I see a foreigner sitting alone on the outdoor patio, working on his laptop.  I suddenly envy him.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Free lunch

The unexpected mid-year salary raise offered to me on a silver platter did, in fact, occur, and it came with a pile of work because there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch. 

The new housemaid, 15 years old, left again after two weeks of employment.  I am back to washing dishes and bearing mother's lamentations on doing the laundry.  I secretly suspect she enjoys the leverage of driving me to guilt for never being home with enough time to do the laundry. But my guilt is purely based upon her pleasure or displeasure, and nothing to do with my time or the laundry. Obviously if I had my own way I would invest in a one-touch button washing machine and come home to find my clothes dry.  It would of course be a waste of Jakarta's scorching hot sunlight to use a drying-machine, but I would of course be using solar cells to power it so that should be fine. 

I digress.  The maid resigned, saying she was tired and wanted to go home. Mother asked whether she wanted a raise, whether she wanted less work, whether she wanted to go to school. She said, no, she just wanted to go home. Mother asked what she was going to do back home and she replied that she didn't know. I heard the story over the phone, in my office, at my desk littered with a thousand-million to do's. My primary concern was for mother, but we had gone through so many long periods without a maid it really wasn't anything out of the ordinary or insurmountable. My other concern was if her parents had no money and she would not go to school and she did not want to work then what did she want to make of her life? 

I was overworked, harsh, and prejudiced. I knew nothing of her 15 year old mental situation. If her parents were anything like typical uneducated parents in this country they would hope to just marry her off as soon as she came of age and hope for the best. But I wouldn't know.

All I knew was that I had no patience for her lazy explanations because nobody should expect a free lunch, not the rich and certainly not the poor. That said, she is too young to be working. If it weren't for the thought that she needed the work to help her get by in life, what reasonable person could hire a child? 

On that note I shall make myself imagine that she is going back home to follow her heart, defy her parents,  tell them that she has her whole life in front of her, that she is not ready to work or get married, and she wants to just sit home and read whatever she can read so that she can get a scholarship to school.

What are the chances of that being the case?

I regret that I wasn't home enough to talk to her properly.