LIN Marina had flown in from Medan to Ipoh, Perak, one rain-drenched November night with nothing more than a patched-up suitcase and slippers to work for a family with whom she had no relations.
She had left her 3-year-old son behind in the care of her sister. Afraid and uncertain, the 34-year-old single mother had no idea what she was getting into, but for the hope of a better life for her only son, she ventured out, nevertheless.
Some 20 years on, Lin, 56, is back in her hometown, Kg Paluh Manis, Pangkalan Brandan, to prepare for the wedding of her son, a grown man of 26 years old.
My family and I attended the wedding reception two weeks ago. It was a simple, yet “grand” affair. Lin is our domestic helper — the family she had come to work for many moons ago. She is still with us, and, as cliched as it sounds, Lin has become “family”.
The reception was steeped in Javanese and Mandailing tradition. It started with a solemnisation ceremony at the bride’s home in Kg Sungai Buaya, Bangun Purba, four hours away from Paluh Manis. The second day was a “feasting” for relatives and close friends — the main dish was roasted kid (goats), cooked over hot coal. The third was
the reception at the groom’s house.
Lin’s son, Egi Asykarilah Manurung, is a final-year Economics student at Universitas Sumatera Utara, Medan, while the bride, Ayu Sri Indriani, also 26, is hoping for a career in syariah banking.
That’s wow for a domestic helper, whose pay was only RM350 when she first started.
Lin has come a long way, not only in her own personal growth but also in her relationship with the people around her. When she first arrived, she was dour and uncommunicative. My son, who, coincidentally, was also 3 at that time, took some time getting used to her. But Lin was a fast learner, and soon she had taken my son under her wing and did the household chores with ease.
Initially, I had doubts about hiring a maid with the many reports of them running away after earning their first pay, or those being abused by their employers. On the contrary, Lin was a godsend for the family. When I later had my two girls, she took them on like her own.
It was different for some of my friends who had maids. The stories they told were scary — one claimed her son had bruises all over his body, another told of how she discovered that the maid had often brought her 2-year-old son along riding pillion on a motorcycle with her “boyfriend”.
Heartwarming stories of maids and their employers are not often heard, but that does not mean there aren’t any. Lin had once related to me of her friend who had worked for a family for 10 years in Terengganu and when she went home, she was able to build a home for the family. But, she came back to work for the same family three years later because the money had run out.
There are currently an estimated 250,000 registered domestic workers in the country. And, recent statistics showed that one in every 20 maids runs away from her employer. Among the reasons cited were abuse by employers, misleading job descriptions by employment agencies, poor working conditions and better opportunities elsewhere.
Lin and her ilk are certainly not easy to come by. They are serious about their jobs and they have only one thought on their minds — to make good on their stay here. They save every penny and send home money whenever possible. But, more than that, they have a special bond with their employers, a certain closeness nurtured over the years with honesty, respect and love.
Looking at Lin with her family members, I can’t help but wonder, how many more of her “kind” made it when they left home for greener pastures elsewhere. Lin has certainly done good, to give her son “the wedding of the year”.
It was an adventure for my family and I, travelling to a village in Medan that still holds customs and traditions of old, just as it was an adventure for Lin when she first came to Malaysia.
Takeaways from this? Honesty and being true to one self keep one on a straight path; hard work and determination are the bedrock of success; and respect for fellow human beings goes a long way in cementing a relationship, for, without respect “what is there to distinguish men from beasts?” (Confucius)
The writer is editor for Leader, Oped/Forum