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Stories of Two Female Indonesian Workers (1): Tika’s Story


by: Laraswati Ariadne Anwar *


Tika’s Story

Twenty-six year old Tika was born in the city of Cirebon, West Java Province, Indonesia. She is the fourth out of eight children, and is the first born daughter to her parents. When she was three years old her family moved from Cirebon to her mother’s village. Her mother is a home maker, and her father used to have many pedicabs. When Tika was four her father faced bankruptcy as he was tricked by his own subordinates, causing him to lose everything. He then went to Jakarta to work as a house guard for a Dutch businessman for the next twenty years.

“It was a good thing that we lived in a village. My dad worked in Jakarta whilst my mum took care of us at home. It was difficult for them to put me and my three elder brothers to school, but we never worried about house or foods. We weren’t that poor, we were very modest.”

Their house was old and small. Tika said her mother loved the family so much. Every month her father received Rp 1,200,000 salary (US$ 120). She would save Rp 400,000 and used Rp 800,000 for monthly necessities such as children’s tuition fees and food. For eighteen years her mother saved Rp 400,000 monthly, after the money was accumulated she used it to rebuild their house. The new house was quite spacious, consisted of four bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and bathrooms.

“Mum really wanted a house that could fit our entire family, eight children plus grandchildren. So she used the family’s saving to build a big house. But it was only enough for setting the foundation, so she had to borrow money from others to cover the fee of setting walls, tiles, paints, everything else needed to be done.”

Tika finished her junior high at the age of fifteen and decided not to continue her education; she wanted to help her family. She was afraid her mother would get depressed thinking about her debts. Her father was also concerned with his wife; he decided to quit his job as a security guard and was released with Rp 25,000,000 (US$ 2,500) severance. He used the money to pay off his wife’s debts and after that he stayed at home. He rented a rice field for Rp 3,000,000 (US$ 300) per year, the crops the divided between him and the landlord.

“I was really worried, both of my parents didn’t work and dad’s crops only enough to feed us. I have three younger sisters and one younger brother; I didn’t want them to not go to school. It was better for all of us if I didn’t go to school and worked in Saudi Arabia instead.”

It was a difficult condition for Tika. No one would hire a sixteen years old, if she worked as a housemaid in Jakarta, her salary would not be enough to support her family[1]. Opportunity came when an agent who was looking for those interested on working in Saudi Arabia came to her village. Tika immediately applied.

“Applying to work in Saudi was really easy at that time. I was sixteen and actually it was illegal for them to send me, so they had to fake my papers and wrote my age as twenty-one. You can’t do it nowadays[2]. But at that time as long as you have the gut, they’d send you.”

Her parents disagreed because they thought she was too young to go. Tika was determined, so her parents had to let her go. For one month Tika stayed in the company’s dormitory, learning some basic skills for working abroad including simple Arabic. In 2003 recently turned seventeen years old Tika was sent to work in Saudi Arabia. She was placed in a city called Al-Ghasim where she worked as a housekeeper for two years. Both of her employers were teachers and according to her, they treated her nicely. Tika was young and inexperienced; more over her Arabic was far from fluent. But her female employer patiently taught her Arabic and how to do chores properly; within three months Tika’s Arabic improved drastically.

“I was very lucky. Coming to Saudi was easy and free of deductions. I only paid Rp 1,000,000 for agency fee and they gave me plane ticket and visa; if you have gut, you can go. But working in Saudi was also very risky; because it was very easy and cheap, you wouldn’t have any warranty or insurance once you get there. You were all alone. Thank God my employers were educated and my job was to babysit their child and look after the house.”

After finishing her two years contract Tika came home to Indonesia, she stayed only for three months. During her contract in Saudi Arabia, Tika developed a long distance relationship with a man. She wished to marry him as she came home, but her parents did not like her boyfriend. Tika was angry at them, also her family still needed money to survive, so Tika decided to go back to Saudi Arabia using the same agency. This time she was sent to Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh.

Her working environment was different this time. Her male employer was a police officer who had two wives and eight children. The first wife and her children lived on the first floor while the second wife and her children lived on the second floor. Tika was employed by the second wife. Although she had more workload than her previous contract, her employers and their children treated her nicely. One of her employer’s children was blind, so she had to attend special school every afternoon. It was Tika’s job to take her to that school with a driver. Next to the school was an Indonesian grocery shop, so sometimes while waiting for her little employer to finish school Tika would go there to buy refreshments. She became close to one of the shopkeepers, a fellow Indonesian, and they became an item.


Taichung Mosque during Ied Mubarak (photo: Laraswati Ariadne Anwar, 2013)


Tika finished her second working contract and went home. She told her parents that she would like to marry this man, this time her parents gave her consent and she was soon married. The newlyweds stayed in Indonesia for several months before returning to Saudi Arabia using free visas[3]. Using this free visa Tika was able to choose who she would work with. She used her contacts in Saudi Arabia to find her employment. One of her contacts gave her a phone number of a family; Tika phoned the family and asked if they needed a housekeeper. They soon discussed about salary and how many days per month would they require Tika’s help[4]. After reaching an agreement, Tika went to work for them the very next day.

During these times Tika and her husband rented a small flat, but sometimes Tika’s employers asked her to stay in their house for one or two weeks. Tika soon found out that her husband was having an affair with an Indonesian worker. Tika also found out that she was pregnant. Her husband never financially supported her as Tika used her own money to support herself. After one year working for her new employers, in September 2009 a heartbroken Tika came home to Indonesia to finalize her divorce. She stayed home to give birth to her son. At this time her divorce was finalized and her ex-husband went back to Saudi Arabia leaving Tika and the baby with her parents.

“I’ve paid all of my mother’s debts and managed to save money for myself. My dream was raising our son together with my husband. But turned out he took another wife in Saudi through a siri[5] marriage. They didn’t even hire an official clerk. It was just a group of Indonesian workers; one of them spoke fluent Arabic and could recite the Quran and hadits[6]. He performed the marriage ceremony, so actually their marriage wasn’t a valid one. I broke all contacts with him and got sole custody for my son.”

Tika was back with her parents raising her son; she soon realized that she needed money for that. Her savings was not going to be enough if she wanted to put him in a good school, so she was thinking to go back working abroad. She did not want to go back to Saudi Arabia as it was risky and the salary was unstable, so she was looking for a different option. Fortunately one of her elder brothers was working in a factory in Taoyuan and he offered her to work in Taiwan. The only difficult thing was going to Taiwan was much more expensive than going to Saudi Arabia[7]. Tika had to pay agency fee, training fee, tickets and visa fees that accumulated for Rp 40,000,000 (US$ 4000). Because she could not pay the fee in the beginning, agency would deduct it from her monthly salary.

“I agreed with my brother’s offer and signed in with his agency. I knew it was really expensive to get here [Taiwan], but everything is assured; I have health insurance, protection from both Indonesian and Taiwan governments, so there wasn’t any huge risk like in Saudi. I receive a monthly salary of NT$ 15,800 here in Taiwan, which is more than twice of my salary back in Saudi. My agency deducts my salary every month until I can cover my forty million debts to them. The first month working here I only received NT$ 2,000, but the deduction gets less and less every month. After eleven months I received full salary.”

After signing with the agency Tika was put in a company’s dormitory for four months. There she learned Chinese language and specific trainings on how to look after senior citizens such as bathing them, feeding them, putting them to bed, and so on. She imagined that she would work as a caregiver, taking care of disabled grandmother or grandfather. After four months training, on early 2011 Tika was sent to Taiwan. Arriving in Taiwan she spent one night at her agent’s home and the very next day was taken to the house where she is currently employed.

“I really didn’t know anything about Taiwan. My brother said houses in Taiwan looked like chicken coops. I didn’t know what he meant because in my imagination Taiwanese houses looked like Japanese houses; spacious but only had one floor and with a garden. When I arrived here I found out Taiwanese attitude toward money is different than Indonesian. We [Indonesian] spend our money on our houses, make them as comfortable as we can, not luxurious, but nice looking and comfortable. They [Taiwanese] have a lot of money, but don’t spend it on their houses. Their houses are boxy and shabby, although the owners are rich.”

“Taiwan turned out to be similar with big cities in Indonesia, the only different is that Taiwan has many open parks.”

Tika thought that she would look after an invalid senior citizen, but the she found out that her employer is a healthy seventy-nine years old grandmother whom she fondly calls Nainai. Nainai is a widow of a college professor, her husband was a professor in a distinguished public university in Taichung, Nainai lives alone, her children are scattered in Taiwan and United States, although the one who lives in Taipei visits every weekend with his family.

“The first time I arrived here, I was really confuse. I didn’t expect Chinese language to be so hard; it was much different than what I’ve learned back in the training camp. I knew my job was to clean the house, but I didn’t understand specifically which room or which object I had to clean. I had to use lots of Tarzan’s language (body language). Luckily Nainai could speak a bit of English and used it to explain things to me. She is very nice but gets irritated easily if I can’t get the job done quickly. I guess it is old people’s attitude, I remember my grandmother was also like that.”

Tika likes her job in Taiwan so much better than when she was in Saudi Arabia. During her time in Saudi Arabia she had to take care or ten people in the house. Woke up at six o’clock in the morning preparing breakfast for them, cleaned each of the rooms and the entire house, after that she had to prepare lunch for the children who came back from school, then she took the blind child to special school until 6 o’clock in the afternoon, after she came back to the house she had to prepare dinner for the family, she cleaned up after dinner and she finally went to bed around twelve midnight.

“There are only me and Nainai living in the house, plus the house is not that big and Taiwan’s weather is not that dusty. I wake up in the morning around five thirty and then I clean the house, the house usually stays spotless for about three to four days before it needs to be cleaned again. Then Nainai wakes up and we go to the park where she joins other elderly people for morning exercise, after that we go home where I cook breakfast for ourselves; usually simple oatmeal or bread. Nainai always thinks where we should go out for lunch during breakfast time, she hardly stays at home. Then I help her shower, after that I shower and change, then off we go again.”

Sometimes when the weather is too hot or too cold Nainai chooses to stay at home, but she does not allow Tika to go out alone. During these days Tika’s chores usually finish around nine o’clock in the morning, she has hours to spend before cooking or buying lunch, but she is not allowed to go outside of the house.

“After I finish my chores I’m free to watch TV, chat with my friends and family on Facebook, sleep, whatever I want, as long as I don’t leave the house. Nainai fears if I go hang out in Pyramid or other places where migrant workers hang out, I’ll get bad influence.”

Tika’s life in Taiwan is quite isolated from other Indonesians. The only Indonesian she often sees is another housekeeper who works in a house nearby. They usually meet few times in a week at nine o’clock at night while waiting for garbage truck. Tika says they chat for five minutes, exchanging news about families and then go home. She rarely calls or texts this other housekeeper because this girl has to look after an invalid old man, so her mobile phone is always off from morning until evening. August 19th 2012 was an important day for Muslims. It was Ied Mubarak, a holy celebration after one month of fasting. That day Tika was allowed to go out for more than half a day. She went to the mosque first thing in the morning to join the holy prayers, and then she went to Pyramid to meet a friend. This other girl also comes from the same agency with Tika and works in a nursing home in Chiayi. Tika said that they met at an Indonesian warung, chatted for some times about how they have been doing, and then at 3 o’clock in the afternoon Tika went home.


A view of packed Indonesia warung from the outside (photo: Laraswati Ariadne Anwar, 2013)


Tika is allowed to go out only once in a month when she needs to transfer money to her family in Indonesia. She has two hours of free time where she goes to Pyramid and transfers her money in one of the remittance shops, after that she would eat in one of the Indonesian warungs, she browses the shops when she needs to buy necessities such as shampoo, soap, or snacks, then she will return home.

“Two hours every month is enough for me. I just send the money, eat, browse some stuff, and go home. I enjoy the atmosphere around Pyramid and the taste of Indonesian food there, but I don’t like hanging out with strangers; wandering aimlessly or singing karaoke. No need to waste my money for that. All of my friends from the same agency with me are in other cities; we just use text messages and Facebook to contact each other. Besides, I go out a lot with Nainai anyway.”

There are times when Nainai is feeling adventurous; she will take Tika on a bus ride to another town such as Lugang or to visit hiking areas in Taichung. Tika says most of the time it is exhausting for her to follow Nainai around.

“I can’t read Chinese characters, and I don’t know where we’re going. The problem with Nainai is that she often forgets things such as which bus we should take, which bus stop, stuff like that. We have to spend one or two hours asking people around for directions, I’m already tired before the trip even begins.”

“Two weeks ago we went hiking. I forget the name of the place. Nainai walked excitedly she didn’t pay attention where we headed, so we got lost. For half an hour we tried to find our way and the day is getting dark. We started to get worried, she clutched my hands tightly. Luckily we heard footsteps; it was a couple of hikers going back to the entrance, so we tagged along with them. Oh… Nainai… we almost became food for wild animals because of her!” (Laughing fondly)

Coming from a middle-upper class socio-economic background makes Nainai a world traveler. According to Tika Nainai has travelled to United States, Europe, Thailand, and Vietnam. Nainai once expressed her interest on travelling to Indonesia to Tika, but her old age and health prevent her from doing so.

“She said she wanted to see the culture where I came from to understand it better. She does think Indonesia is a beautiful country; she saw the pictures on the internet. But she’s too old to travel far now. Even her children forbid her to visit them in United States; they’re coming to Taiwan instead. Nainai likes some Indonesian snacks I bought her from Pyramid such a kerupuk[8], I made her spicy fried potatoes once and she liked it. I reduced the spiciness, of course.”

Nainai is also quite open-minded. She is fully aware that Tika is a Muslim and gives her freedom to practice her religion at home. Tika is given a private room where she can sleep and pray five times a day. Apparently the reason that Indonesian workers are predominantly Muslims was one of the reasons Nainai employs Tika.

“Nainai is originally from Beijing. She once told me a story when she was young, she went to the market. She bought a bag of pork then she wanted to buy chicken. So she went to the chicken vendor, while waiting for her chicken she put her bag of pork on the counter. The vendor was a Muslim and he got upset when he saw Nainai putting pork on his counter. He scolded Nainai and told her that it was forbidden for Muslims to consume or touch pork, since that day Nainai understood. She never forces me to eat pork and she allows me to pray in my room. When I cook for her I usually keep a little portion without pork for myself and she doesn’t mind.”

“Before I came here Nainai had a housekeeper (I decided not to reveal the previous housekeeper’s nationality for ethical reason). Nainai said this girl stank so badly, she couldn’t stand her smell, no one could. When Nainai’s son came to visit on weekends, he wouldn’t take this girl in his car to go sightseeing, they left her at home because she smelled. They never do that to me, they always take me with them. They understand that I’m Indonesian and Indonesians shower twice a day. Plus I’m a Muslim, so they know that I love hygiene. The other thing about Indonesians that Nainai likes is that she considers Indonesians to be docile and obedient.”

Despite her rather good life in Taiwan, Tika considers it to be pure luck. It is because according to stories her friends told her, some Taiwanese employers keep their workers’ passports, Alien Residence Certificate (ARC), and even health insurance card, making the workers vulnerable[9]. When Tika feels ill, she can go to the clinic by herself, she can also go to the hospital for routine medical check-up.

“I’m blessed to have an employer who is educated. Nainai’s daughter-in-law can be quite bossy whenever she visits, but she never treats me badly. My other friends work for people who are uneducated, their employers with hold their passports and other documents so they can’t go out. Some of my friends are not allowed to have mobile phone, their employers are afraid they [workers] will spend too much time playing with mobile phones.”

Tika admits that sometimes the behavior of Indonesians she sees in Pyramid is too much. She generally does not have any problem on how Indonesian workers carry themselves in public, but there are few things she is not comfortable with.

“Sometimes I see Indonesian couples kissing in front of public or sitting on each other’s lap. In my mind I would say ‘get a room, you guys’. I go out a lot with Nainai and her family; to Taipei, Kaohsiung, many places. I never seen Taiwanese or other foreign couples behave like that. They might hold each other hands, but never overdo romantic actions in public. Sometimes too much freedom is bad.”

In Tika’s opinion Indonesian workers do not leave bad impression on Taiwanese because of the fact that they are diligent and the numbers of demands upon Indonesian workers continue to increase. She claims that Indonesians who have work for a long time in Taiwan can be very arrogant toward newcomers as if there is seniority amongst workers. They are arrogant because they speak fluent Chinese and have more understanding about their employers, also perhaps about Taiwanese culture. Tika is a very practical girl; her motto is “you take care of yourself, I take care of mine”, so she is not fussy about how Indonesian workers should behave in Taiwan.

Tika wishes to finish her contract in 2015 and goes home to her family in Cirebon. She wants to raise her son and find a good husband who can love her and her son. She also wants to find a good job although if things do not go as she plans, she might reconsider to go back to Taiwan. For now Tika is happy that she is healthy and can provide for her son.

[ Next: Stories of Two Female Indonesian Workers (2): KR’s Story ]


10 November 2013


* Master of Arts in History, National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan.

F o o t n o t e s

[1] According to a famous Indonesian portal that supplies domestic housekeeper, http://pembanturumahtangga.com/ a half-day work housekeeper usually receives a salary of Rp 350.000 (US$ 35) per month.
......A stay at home housekeeper receives around Rp 400.000—Rp 500.000 (US$ 40—US$ 50) per month, while housekeeper who doubles as babysitter receives Rp 700.000 (US$ 70) per month.
[2] Penggerebekan Penampungan PJTKI: PT. Duta Tangguh Selaras tampung calon TKW di bawah umur dan buta huruf (Raids on Shelter for Migrant Workers: Duta Tangguh Selaras Inc. accomodates potential
......female workers who are underage and who are illiterate) http://yustisi.com/  Retrieved 13 August 2013.
[3] A free visa is a visa made by a Saudi citizen. If a Saudi citizen wants to look for a migrant worker, she/he applies to the Saudi government to release a free visa. The Saudi then citizen sells the visa to a migrant
......worker. Nowadays any migrant worker can buy a free visa from any Saudi citizen without the requirement to be working for that particular person.
[4] Saudi Arabia does not have limitation for number of years migrant workers can stay. Migrant workers can also apply to become Saudi citizens after living there for 10 consecutive years.
[5] A siri marriage is a type of marriage ceremony in Islam where the ceremony is performed just using religious ritual, but is not recorded officially; thus making the validity of this marriage unrecognized by
......the government’s law.
[6] Hadits is the collective words of Prophet Mohammed that acts as further explanation of the Quran.
[7] According to Indonesia’s National Institution of Migrant Workers Placement http://www.bnp2tki.go.id/ the official cost for Indonesian workers to go to Saudi Arabia is around Rp 22,000,000 (US$ 2200),
......while going to Taiwan costs around Rp 25,000,000 (US$ 2500). This cost can be more expensive depending on the agencies.
[8] Kerupuk is traditional Indonesian cracker.
[9] One of example of a similar case reported to IETO is the Safitri’s case where a female Indonesian worker named Safitri was physically abused by her employers. They also withheld her ARC, mobile phone,
......passport, insurance card, and passbook for bank account. http://kdei-taipei.org/id/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=396:penyelesaian-kasus-safitri&catid=34:berita&Itemid=55

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