Like many others, when it comes to leaving Jakarta in the summer or otherwise, sometimes the goodbye that you may find most difficult may be to the housemaid, may even more than family and friends. After all when did traipse up the down with stairs with armfuls of laundry and smile happily when doing so. When did a brother or sister ever arrive at eight every morning and immerse themselves fully into washing the floors, sitting room first, bedrooms next, then the kitchen, just as you requested and when did a husband ever arch his back to bend down and pick up the dirty socks he left on the floor the night before, just right of the laundry basket. So it stands to reason that the housemaid is significant contributor to the quality of life to the expat wife.
Whether it be chopping vegetables, cleaning, ironing or cooking, the housemaids of Jakarta are the ones that are keeping the show on the road, certainly my own one-act performance which possibly wouldn’t see a curtain opening unless Yanti arrived at her usual eight in the morning to do so.
Not totally oblivious to the assumed poverty that Yanti returned home to each night, I have always commended her on her good grace and professional attitude, in light of the fact that she had presumably come from such a humble abode.
But as time clapped by in big dirty Jakarta, I noticed the flair she appeared to have when caring for a home. Polishing up the marble floors beautifully and using her magical yellow cloth for the shower enclosure in order to keep it shone up real bright, now ya’hear.
Then I got to thinking perhaps Yanti is not a poor maid, perhaps she just wants to work a little for sake of independence and enjoy the added bonus of having a little pocket money on the side. Rather like a part-time PR gig or something. Day, weeks and months faded away and it was obvious that Yanti was not just any old maid, after all she could decant a bottle of Merlot beautifully and whip up a Waldorf salad in no time.
Fearful that my intended leaving present of cash and food supplies such as rice, noodles, tea, oil, sugar and flour would offend the quietly affluent Yanti, I did what any woman would do and I tried to wangle an invitation for myself to see her house after all she was in mine every day, it was only fair.
When she agreed and said that she has no problem with the visit, come anytime, I jumped at the opportunity, I would go that day, see the house when she had no time to prepare, that way it would be an accurate portrayal and therefore not a false account.
Well, the one kilometre walk along the filthy walkway to Yanti’s house confirmed one thing that she was working as housemaid because she needed the money and not for any other reason. Her home was approximately twenty four metres squared with three areas, each separated by plastic streamers, where a door might be.
I scanned the house, wanting to notice what item would be most useful for me to donate to her and her husband. Thinking along the lines of the fridge, a cooker, a microwave, a replacement sofa, mattress, etc. However, humble as it was, there was nothing missing, except for a roof in the ‘kitchen’ area and running water.
I asked the question, ‘Yanti, is there anything that I have in my house that you think you could use here’. The reply was instantaneous, ‘yes’ she said, ‘you have two TV’s, I would like one of them’. A little surprised I reply, ‘so, not a newer bigger fridge, not a freezer, or a washing machine, not a mattress or even a door, but a flat screen TV, why?’, ‘I would like to watch the world cup ma’am’. Now why didn’t I think of that!