Growing up I was always accompanied by a housekeeper, butler, driver, nanny, etc. Before you say “OMG, she’s spoiled”, it is common for an Indonesian household to have helpers; whether that me a distant cousin or someone from a maid agency.
When I was younger my parents were busy, many nights and even months at a time I would be left at home with a guardian. Now this may be the cause of my mother issues, and while I could have grown into the stereotypical bitch that many of my in the same sort of family were, I didn’t.
My parents taught me to treat everyone that worked for us as equals, because at the end of the day we are human.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents. But my driver was the one who taught me how to drive a car, my nanny helped me with my braids every morning in kindergarten, my butler knew where my best friends lived, my housing complex’s security guards sent my lunch to school when I had forgotten them and my maid was the one who without fail made me a cup of tea when I was revising my exam notes.
These people whom others see just as employees, are the ones who taught me to stay humble. With a salary that is easily a fragment of my allowance, they feed their families. While they stay invisible to most, the moment they go off for holidays or finish their term of contract, their work matters.
The ironed shirts before a meeting, the brew of fresh coffee in the morning, the dust bunnies under the bed.
I am letting go of one of my family’s best employee today, my dad is moving back to the States while I start my own life in an apartment I hope I can manage myself.
Ismiyati has 5 children, she’s a widow that stands as a backbone to her family. While she wasn’t educated, she has the determination to make sure her children will be. I see her video call her youngest while I have my cigarette in the back yard, he’s 6 years old but for the past 4 years, his contact with his mother has only been through the telephone. Her eldest got married and lives away from her siblings, and despite having her own family, her mother is the one that still sends her money.
Manci was our driver back in Indonesia, I’ve known him for nearly 2 decades – that’s most of my life. I call him ‘uncle’ because he was that to me, more than the uncle I have from my mother’s family. He has 3 sons, the eldest is a year younger than me. Uncle Manci worked with our family until his eldest graduated college. I remember him being my safe place whenever I had a heated argument with my mother, he taught me how to drive around the housing complex we lived in and then giving me the wheel to drive home from school when I got my permit. He sent me on my dates and told my mother I went to meet my girlfriends and he hid my secrets when I needed him to.
When I was living in Cambodia back in 1997, I had a nanny named Sophie. She had barely passed puberty at that time but she had to work to help support her family. I don’t remember much about those days but I remember her teaching me how to french braid my hair, I remember her playing with my barbie dolls in the playroom, and I remember her keeping my nightlight on because she knew I was afraid of the dark.
When I was 8 years old, my mother had gone through a divorce and I had to move to a new school. I spoke no Indonesian but I wanted to follow my cousins in the red and white uniforms to the public school near my aunt’s house. My butler, Boy (yes his name was Boy) followed me everywhere, I still hear the stories about how I would sit nicely with my friends while my butler peaked into the class and wrote down my assignments. Sadly last year, he passed away… however the anecdote about my math class stayed alive I came home confused and asked my mother “Mom, what is 2 river 2?” – in Bahasa Indonesia the word multiply is the same as the word river… my butler then had to explain that I had learnt mathematics that day, “Sayang, they mean times… 2 times 2 is 4” my mom explained.
Before the divorce in 1998, we were living in Malaysia with a young Pilipino couple as our maid and butler, Rose and Mel. Because of Mel, my papa and I the treehouse in our back yard was clean of snakes from the mango tree it sat on. While Rose always helped me with my bake sales and kept me company when I wanted to go swimming at the country club down the road.
Over the years and houses we’ve lived in, I am grateful for the help they’ve granted us. While yes, there have been cases where the person we employed did us wrong but I would say that my family and I have been blessed with the people who comes through our doors and have helped us keep the house a home.
I realize how privileged I am, and I am blessed with an extension of non-blood related family. Those mentioned in my stories above or the ones whom I’ve left out. Which leaves me to the point that I am sad whenever I have to say goodbye because they were the ones whom I shared stories or ranted to, the company on Pokemon hunts, the midnight cups of tea, the wake up calls, and the reminders of the tiny things that adds up.
To those who are in these positions, on behalf of the children you raised, thank you. To those who have these people in your lives, please treat them well. I’ve seen and heard about the injustice done to them by the people who they take of and I am angered.
Most of these ladies and gentlemen have to leave their families behind to earn a living, so if you are privileged to have them stay with your family, please be grateful.